BIC Geneva: Iranian thought leaders call for an end to the “historical shame” of Bahá’í persecution

BIC GENEVA — A group of more than 150 Iranian human rights advocates and social and political activists have signed a powerful public statement (in Persian with English translation) condemning the “new wave of arrests against Bahá’ís and their deprivation of basic human and civil rights.”

Joining countless others in echoing the spirit of the Our Story Is One campaign, the group has urged their compatriots to “raise their voices” in solidarity with Iran’s Bahá’í community.

“The Bahá’ís in Iran have faced systematic ideological, political, educational, and economic pressure,” for more than 150 years, the statement says, adding that the repression gained “wider dimensions and a more inhumane intensity” after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Prominent human rights activists, academics, lawyers, artists, and former officials are among the signatories.

This is the latest in a series of statements issued in recent years by prominent Iranians in support of the rights of the Bahá’í community in that country. Bahá’ís are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority and have faced 44 years of persecution by the Islamic Republic. In December of last year the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) warned that the Iranian government was using “intensified and brutal new tactics” to persecute the community.

A remarkable aspect of the new statement is that it is signed by leaders of thought from a broad spectrum of perspectives and political opinions in Iranian society—all denouncing the persecution of Bahá’ís in unequivocal terms.

“No citizen should be punished just because of their beliefs,” the statement says. “No citizen or minority in society should be judged, discriminated against, socially deprived, and systematically suppressed due to religious prejudices, dogmas, or political delusions.”

The public statement was published at the midpoint of the BIC’s yearlong Our Story Is One campaign—launched in June 2023 to commemorate 40 years since the execution of 10 Bahá’í women in Shiraz and to honor the historic efforts by ordinary Iranians to achieve equality between women and men.

“Our Story Is One calls on Iranians to see one another beyond the narratives of ‘otherness’ and division created by the Iranian government—and instead to see all individuals and groups as human beings whose stories, lives and wellbeing are interconnected,” said Simin Fahandej, the BIC’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. “This statement, by more than 150 Iranian leaders of thought, is an affirmation of this same message. Despite years of hate propaganda, the Iranian people have the capacity and willingness to transcend the differences that have divided them—beliefs, ethnicities, other backgrounds—and instead see each part of their society as integral parts of a diverse but single family.”

Ms. Fahandej added: “By signing this powerful statement, these activists have taken another step forward, encouraging their fellow Iranians to value shared principles, a common vision, and to work for a prosperous future.”

The statement also denounces 44 years of “all-round deprivation of Bahá’ís from their civil rights,” including the rights to education and disruption to employment and livelihoods, as well as the confiscation of Bahá’í-owned homes and farms, and the desecration of the remains of deceased Bahá’ís. Iran’s judiciary has subjected the Bahá’ís to “unjustified arrests with heavy judicial sentences based on fictitious and false cases,” the group said.

“Prejudiced judgments and cruel and inhuman treatment of a century and a half, not only by some religious institutions and radical clerics and accomplices or complicit governments but also, at times, an important part of the masses … due to unfair judgments and wrong, oppressive, and humiliating behaviors,” had “placed a heavy burden on the collective cultural, religious, and political conscience of our country,” the statement said.

“This historical shame should be compensated in action and ended,” it added.

Iranian society had been struggling for years to “overcome the ‘demonization’ [of Bahá’ís] … based on ignorance and dogma” and to “change the cultural and political atmosphere of civil society in relation to Bahá’í compatriots, to be humane and based on human rights,” the statement further added.

And while the signatories said there is a “long way to go,” to achieve these aims, they declared that the “common desire” for human rights shared by all Iranians is a “fundamental and national step forward.”

The “believers of all religions, non-believers, and owners of different intellectual and political ideologies can work together with each other and with equal rights for the all-round development of Iran and the realization of freedom, justice, and democracy and the elimination of all types of discrimination in society,” they said.

“The Bahá’í International Community is immensely grateful to these Iranians leaders of thought, and indeed many hundreds of thousands of others, for their courage, for their commitment to justice, and for championing the rights of Iranian Bahá’ís over recent years and in this statement,” Ms. Fahandej said.

She added: “Gone are the days when the diverse family of Iranian citizens could be driven apart. The statement signed by these leading Iranians is a symbol of unity, a unity in diversity. This is a value that can carry Iran to a future free of injustice and pain. Every passing day seems to offer new examples of why, amongst Bahá’ís and all others in Iran, our story is one.”

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