Baha’is accused of ‘colonialism’ and ‘infiltration of kindergartens’ as 52 new acts of persecution add to more than 100 in recent weeks

Geneva, Aug. 01, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence issued a horrific statement of oppressive hate propaganda against the persecuted Baha’i religious minority yesterday, July 31, in an attempt to justify raids on 52 Baha’i homes and businesses across the Iran and the arrest or imprisonment of 13 people.

The Ministry of Information issued an official statement on the moves – which came after weeks of escalating pressure on Baha’is – and claimed the arrests involved members of “Baha’i espionage [political] party” and that those arrested were “propagating the teachings of fabricated Baha’i colonialism and infiltrating educational settings” including kindergartens. The reference to kindergartens is an obvious pretext for targeting some Baha’is who are preschool teachers.

The Bahá’í International Community rejects these absurd and preposterous claims as outright fabrications. What the Iranian government is doing is both an act of brutal oppression and a gross example of the worst kind of hate speech.

Thirteen people – including Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, former members of the community’s leadership and prisoners of conscience who spent a decade in prison – were arrested during the raids. One is being held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison and the whereabouts of the other two are unknown.

“We are outraged that a significant number of Baha’is, including Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, have been re-arrested in Iran,” said Diane Alai, spokeswoman for the Baha’i Community International (BIC). the United Nations. “And it is even more frightening that the Ministry of Intelligence is trying to portray these individuals as agents of foreign powers trying to undermine Iran’s security. The Ministry’s statement is completely incoherent and self-contradictory and the allegations are clearly absurd and baseless. The authorities of Iran, instead of facing the challenges of their country, direct their attacks on innocents and try to incite religious hatred.”

“The government of Iran has for more than 40 years claimed that the Baha’is are spies for foreign countries, but, in all this time, has not provided a shred of credible evidence. Now they are limited to attacking kindergarten teachers and kindergarten teachers as a threat to national security,” Ala’i added.

Sabet, Kamalabadi and Naemi were members of a group of people known as the “Yaran” or “Friends” of Iran, who until 2008 served as the informal leadership of the Iranian Baha’i community. All seven of its members were arrested in 2007 and 2008 and imprisoned for a decade. The Yaran met the basic pastoral needs of the community—Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority—and did so with the knowledge and acceptance of the Iranian authorities at the time. But the Yaran disbanded as a result of their initial arrests and never regrouped or re-founded. The implied statements of the Ministry of Intelligence, that they are part of a so-called “core membership” of the Baha’i “spy party”, are therefore absolutely false in every way.

The raids and arrests come days after 20 Baha’i businesses were arrested, jailed or closed in Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd and Bojnourd, and less than a month after 44 others across Iran were arrested, taken or jailed . Twenty-six people among the 44, who were in Shiraz, were sentenced to a total of 85 years in prison.

As a result, more than a hundred Baha’is have been targeted in Iran in recent weeks.

Mahvash Sabet, who wrote poetry during her decade in Tehran’s Evin Prison, which was shared during her incarceration and later published in English under the title “Prison Poems”, was recognized in 2017 as an International Writer of Courage English PEN (link is external) .

“We are very concerned by reports that Mahvash Sabet, the winner of the 2017 PEN Pinter Award for an International Writer of Courage, has been arrested again in Iran,” said Daniel Gorman, Director of English PEN. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Fariba Kamalabadi, a developmental psychologist, was arrested in 2008 and also spent a decade behind bars. In 2017, the United States Commission on Religious Freedom recognized and endorsed her as a religious prisoner of conscience (link is external).

Afif Naemi, an industrialist also arrested in 2008, spent much of his 10-year prison sentence in poor health but was denied the medical treatment he needed. He was released in 2018 along with the other members of the former Baha’i leadership group.

“The detention of these Baha’is demonstrates the senseless cruelty of the Iranian government in its systematic campaign to persecute the entire community,” Alai said. “Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi are symbols of resilience in Iran, known around the world for their courage as prisoners of conscience, and no one will believe the Iranian government’s justifications for attacking a helpless, peaceful community. But this relentless and escalating psychological warfare is setting the stage for additional persecution of Baha’is in the coming weeks and months.”

CONTACT: James Samimi Farr U.S. Baha'i Office of Public Affairs 202.833.8990

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