The Tom Lantos Human Rights commission (TLHRC), co-chaired by Congressmen James McGovern (D-MA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), held a hearing on The Worsening Plight of Religious Minorities in Iran. Photo: iran.bahai.us
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran’s outlawed Baha’is living in the country’s Kurdish regions enjoy good relations with the local Sunni community, compared to those in Shiite regions, members of the persecuted faith say.
“Baha’is living in Sunni areas of eastern (Iranian) Kurdistan have good relations with local people and there is mutual respect between both sides, but this is not the case in Shiite areas such as Kermanshah,” said Jamal Haeiri, a Baha’i Kurdish activist.
The faith has about 300,000 followers in Iran. Though exact numbers are unavailable, a considerable number live in the country’s western Kurdish regions.
Haeri, who left for Australia to escape continuous pressure from Iranian authorities, said that dozens of families live in the Kurdish areas, including in his native Sanandaj, or Sina in Kurdish.
Following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, the new regime began persecuting followers of the Baha’i faith. Some 200 Baha’is have been executed in Iran to date, and about 100 are in prison.
Under the Islamic Republic, Baha’is have been deprived of cultural, political, civil, and religious rights, and some sources say that persecution has intensified recently.
“In the beginning of the Islamic rule in Iran, the government tried to convince Baha’is to convert their religion to Islam, but now the government is pushing Baha’is out of Iran,” Haeiri said.
A common issue faced by Baha’is in Iran is that they are deprived of higher education. In 2006, 70 Baha’is were expelled from university, and the year after the Payameh Noor University expelled another 30. In 2011, 20 Baha’is were banned from entering universities.
Recently, a Baha’i cemetery in Sina was destroyed by a court decision, and the land seized by authorities. Haeiri said that the cemetery contained 40 Baha’i graves, including his mother’s.
The Iranian government has faced frequent condemnation from the international community and human rights organizations for denying the rights of religious minorities.
Simin Fehendej, a representative to the United Nations, believes that Iran’s persecution of Baha’is is over the question of prophethood. Muslims regard Muhammad as the last prophet, but for Baha’is, the 19th century founder of their faith Bahalluah, is God's latest messenger.