The Baha’i International Community (BIC) at the United Nations has expressed alarm over a spate of arrests of Baha’i faith members in three Iranian provinces by agents of the Intelligence Ministry.
“Baha’is have been arrested since the inception of the Islamic Republic. But this new wave of arrests, that is taking place more rapidly and throughout Iran, raises concern for the BIC about their situation and the fate of all the Baha’is living in Iran,” said Diane Ala’i, the non-governmental organization’s representative to the UN in Geneva, in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 25, 2018.
On May 1, Baha’i faith member Kaviz Nouzdahi was arrested at his home in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province, and taken to the city’s Vakilabad Prison. He had been previously arrested in 1989 and spent two years in prison, according to Ala’i.
On May 3, a man identified only as “Motahhari” was arrested at his home in Isfahan, central Iran, and on May 6 four individuals were taken into custody in Karaj, west of Tehran, including Noushin Afshar, Neda Sabety and Forough Farzaneh.
They were all arrested by agents of the Intelligence Ministry, which confiscated their personal items, including computers, phones and religious books.
Some of the detainees were released after a few days but are facing charges because of their religious beliefs according to the BIC representative.
A statement issued by the BIC in Geneva on May 25 said the systematic nature of the arrests “suggests a coordinated strategy on the part of government authorities.”
“In many cases, detentions have been accompanied by raids on personal homes and the seizure of religious books and writings. This upsurge in orchestrated persecution has been noted by a variety of news agencies and is the latest in the ongoing campaign of harassment against the Baha’is in Iran,” said the statement.
Iran’s Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Although Article 23 states that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” followers of the faith are denied many basic rights as one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in the country.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on April 23, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that Baha’is are persecuted in Iran for their religious beliefs.
“Being a Baha’i is not a crime,” he said.
He continued: “We do not recognize somebody as a Baha’i, as a religion, but that’s a belief. Somebody can be agnostic; somebody can be an atheist. We don’t go—take them to prison because they are an atheist. So this is the difference that you need to make. But being—also, being a Baha’i does not immunize somebody from being prosecuted for offenses that people may commit.”