Iran regime plans to enrich itself by seizing Baha’i properties, says NGO

Human rights experts have noted that the Baha’is are the most persecuted non-Muslim religious minority group in Iran.

A holy shrine of the Baha'i faith is seen in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in November 2006 picture. Founded in the 19th century by a Persian nobleman, Baha'i is considered by some scholars to be an offshoot of Islam. The faith sees itself as an independent religion and its 5 million followers  (photo credit: ISRAEL BAHAI/ REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD (ISRAEL))
A holy shrine of the Baha'i faith is seen in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in November 2006 picture. Founded in the 19th century by a Persian nobleman, Baha'i is considered by some scholars to be an offshoot of Islam. The faith sees itself as an independent religion and its 5 million followers
(photo credit: ISRAEL BAHAI/ REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD (ISRAEL))

The Baha’i International Community (BIC) has announced last week that Iran’s regime is seeking to increase its wealth by confiscating Baha’i properties.

“The seizure by the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order [EIKO] of Baha’i properties is a novel and very worrying development for Iranian Baha’is,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the BIC to the United Nations in Geneva. “This development demonstrates that the highest levels of Iran’s leadership are orchestrating the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.”

Ala’i added, “Iran’s leadership is enriching itself while impoverishing and displacing the Baha’is.”

The BIC wrote, “A Revolutionary Court in the province of Semnan has ordered that properties belonging to six Baha’is should be transferred to EIKO. Semnan Province manager for EIKO Mr. Hamid Ahmadi, initiated the action to secure a court order for the confiscations.”

Ala’i noted that “seizures in Semnan, Mazandaran and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces may be just the beginning. The risk is that more properties will continue to be seized, in a piecemeal fashion, in an attempt to evade the notice of the international community. Supporters of human rights inside and outside Iran must condemn this outrageously unjust ruling and demand that it be rescinded without delay.”

Members of the Baha'i faith hold flowers as they demonstrate outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow Baha'i man charged with seeking to establish a base for the community in Yemen, in the country's capital Sanaa April 3, 2016 (credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)Members of the Baha'i faith hold flowers as they demonstrate outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow Baha'i man charged with seeking to establish a base for the community in Yemen, in the country's capital Sanaa April 3, 2016 (credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)

Human rights experts have noted that the Baha’is are the most persecuted non-Muslim religious minority group in Iran. According to the BIC, Iran has executed more than 200 Baha’is since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The BIC said it “is gravely concerned that an organization entirely controlled by Iran’s leadership - a parastatal (sic) body called the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, also known as Setad, which controls extensive assets across Iran – is orchestrating a rising trend of confiscations of properties belonging to Iranian Baha’is.”

In a separate but related development, Oberlin College professor of religion Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, who reportedly laid the ideological foundation for the persecution of the Baha’is’ while serving as a diplomat at the UN in the early 1980’s, is facing new scrutiny that he allegedly whitewashed his family’s role in anti-Baha’i activities in Shiraz, Iran.

Amnesty International wrote in a 2018 report that Mahallati carried out crimes against humanity by covering up the massacre of at least 5,000 Iranian political prisoners in 1988 when he served as Tehran’s ambassador to the UN. Mahallati denied the allegation.

In 1983, Mahallati, as an Iran diplomat to the UN, denigrated the Baha’is by falsely comparing their activities to acts of immorality, sexual abuse and murder, according to critics and experts.

AFTER ARTICLES in The Jerusalem Post, on Fox News and in the student paper Oberlin College Review about Mahallati’s incitement against the Baha’is, Mahallati sent a letter to an Oberlin dean in late 2021. In his letter, Mahallati scrambled to present a different picture of his attacks on the Baha’i community by carting out the clerics in his family to show they allegedly sought to protect the Baha’is.

However, a 2011 report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center titled “A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran” revealed that Mahallati’s grandfather Ayatollah Bahaoddin Mahallati was complicit in the destruction of the Baha’i shrine in Shiraz. The report documents a conversation between a Baha’i and Ayatollah Mahallati.

The ayatollah “knew all the details and said, ‘Yes, that is the house of heresy. It has been so for 130 years and now it should be demolished.’’’

The Baha’i individual replied, “The brick and wood of a house cannot be heresy. Besides, what is the fault of innocent people living on this street or the houses in the vicinity that they should be constantly threatened with the demolition of their houses?”

Ayatollah Mahallati responded, “These people either should become Muslims, or anything may befall them.”

Dexter Van Zile , an analyst of human rights abuses in Muslim majority-countries, noted, “This testimony seriously undercuts Prof. Mahallati’s narrative that his family protected the rights of Baha’is in Shiraz. His own grandfather is accused of affirming the destruction of a Baha’i shrine in 1979.”

Van Zile added, “Mahallati’s self-serving declaration that ‘The efforts of the Mahallati family to protect religious minorities is exemplary in the history of modern Iran’ simply does not withstand scrutiny.”

Iranian-Americans and activists plan to protest against Mahallati on March 5 in Oberlin, Ohio. The flyer distributed by the group declares that Oberlin College should “stop harboring a criminal” and urges people to “contact Oberlin College board of trustees and ask them to urge President [Carmen] Ambar to meet with the families of the victims of crimes conducted by Oberlin College professor, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati.”

Ambar has taken a hard line and rejected meetings with the victims’ families since a campaign was launched in October 2020 to secure the dismissal of Mahallati. Ambar’s hostility toward Iranians whose family members were murdered in 1988 has prompted outrage on the Oberlin campus from students.

The protesters are increasing the pace of pressure by appealing to the board of trustee members, including the chair, Chris Canavan, vice-chair Chelsey Maddox-Dorsey, and Amy Chen, who is the first chief investment officer at the Smithsonian Institution. Canavan works for Lion’s Head Global Partners, an investment company. Maddox-Dorsey is the CEO of American Urban Radio Networks.

The emails of the three trustees were listed on the flyer. A new front – the largely closed and private world of the Oberlin College trustees – has opened in the battle over Mahallati and the administrators, Ambar and her chief of staff David Hertz, who are defending the controversial professor.

Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist, whose brother Bijan was murdered by Iran’s regime in 1988, told the Post, “Back in 2016, Marvin Krislov, Oberlin’s president, refused to push back against the antisemitic posts of Joy Karega, an assistant professor. But Oberlin’s board of trustees ordered school officials ‘to challenge the assertion that there is any justification for these repugnant postings’ and to report back to the board.”

She added, “But this time, Oberlin College’s president Ambar and the board have failed us and refuse to fire Mahallati, who is accused of crimes against humanity, antisemitic and genocidal comments against Israel, and racist and discriminative actions and comments against Baha’i people. This is a shameful failure of the administration.”