Iran persecution of Baha'is 'crime against humanity', HRW says

Iran persecution of Baha'is 'crime against humanity', HRW says
Human Rights Watch said that the Bahai's faced repression including arbitrary arrest, property confiscation, and restrictions on school and job opportunities.
3 min read
Human Rights Watch said Baha'is are prohibited from freely holding prayers, even in private [JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images-file photo]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that the Iranian authorities' persecution of the Baha'i minority since the Islamic revolution of 1979 constitutes a crime against humanity.

The New York-based group said that the Baha'is, Iran's largest non-Muslim minority, faced repression including arbitrary arrest, property confiscation, restrictions on school and job opportunities, and even the right to a dignified burial.

"The cumulative impact of authorities' decades-long systematic repression is an intentional and severe deprivation of Baha'is' fundamental rights and amounts to the crime against humanity of persecution," HRW said.

It argued that this fell within the scope of the International Criminal Court (ICC) whose statute defines persecution as the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law on national, religious, or ethnic grounds.

HRW said that while the intensity of violations against Baha'is "has varied over time", the persecution of the community has remained constant, "impacting virtually every aspect of Baha'is' private and public lives".

It said the Islamic republic holds "extreme animus against adherents of the Baha'i faith" and repression of the minority was enshrined in Iranian law and is official government policy.

"Iranian authorities deprive Baha'is of their fundamental rights in every aspect of their lives, not due to their actions, but simply for belonging to a faith group," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

Live Story

"It is critically important to increase international pressure on Iran to end this crime against humanity."

This is believed to be the first time a leading international organisation has labelled Iran's treatment of the Baha'is as a crime against humanity.

Unlike other minorities, Baha'is do not have their faith recognised by Iran's constitution and have no reserved seats in parliament.

How many members of the community remain in Iran is not known, but activists believe there could still be several hundred thousand.

The Baha'i faith is a relatively young monotheistic religion with spiritual roots dating back to the early 19th century in Iran.

HRW said that as a religious minority unrecognised in Iran's constitution Baha'is are prohibited from freely holding prayers, even in private.

They have been the target of "periodic state-backed incitement to hatred campaigns" while intelligence and judicial authorities regularly raid Baha'is' homes, confiscate their belongings, and arrest or summon them for questioning.

Live Story

Senior community figures Mahvash Sabet, a 71-year-old poet, and Fariba Kamalabadi, 61, were both arrested in July 2022 and are serving 10-year jail sentences.

Both had been previously jailed by the authorities over the past two decades.

Iranian authorities continue "to systematically prevent students who identify as Baha'i from registering at universities", HRW said, while Baha'is are effectively banned from most public sector jobs.

Even in death, "local authorities interfere with burial processes and refuse to allow Baha'is to bury their loved ones in historically Baha'i cemeteries", it added.