Iran subjects its Baha’i community to arrests and demolitions

Iran has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on its Bahá’í community, a long-persecuted religious minority, arresting dozens of people and destroying property belonging to members of the group, according to reports this week from the government, residents and human rights groups.

Iran’s intelligence ministry said in a statement on Monday that an unspecified number of people from the Bahá’í community have been arrested on charges of espionage related to Israel and promoting the Bahá’í faith by “infiltrating various educational institutions around the world.” country, including kindergartens.

Bani Dougal, UN Representative in Bahá’í International Community, which speaks for the group around the world, said Iran arrested 52 Baha’is in July, ransacked dozens of homes, closed businesses and destroyed property. She said the reasons for the timing of the action are still unclear.

“We don’t know why,” said Miss. Dougal said. “They are unleashing a crackdown and we are concerned that this is a new chapter in the persecution of Bahá’ís because the nature of the current attacks has been very systematic, brutal and violent.”

The community has long faced harassment and discrimination in Iran due to the government’s lack of acceptance of this belief. The Baha’i belief that there was another prophet after Muhammad is anathema to Islam, and the fact that the Baha’i people are headquartered in Haifa, Israel, although their roots are in present-day Iran, adds to the mistrust. Tehran has for the group.

On Tuesday, about 200 security and intelligence officials arrived in the tiny village of Roshankuh in northern Iran, where Baha’is have lived for more than a century, according to interviews with a local resident, residents’ relatives and human rights groups. They reportedly blocked the access road, fired shots into the air and sprayed pepper spray on the villagers.

The bulldozers followed. Their goal: six houses and farmland owned by Baha’i members.

A few days earlier, security agents 13 Bahá’ís arrested from four cities of Iran, including three prominent public figures, Mahwash SabetAfif Naimi and Fariba Kamalabadi, who have all previously served 10-year prison terms, according to Ms. Dougal, representative of the Bahá’ís.

Baha’i attacks follow recent wave of broader repression in Iran this included the arrests of prominent filmmakers, politicians from the reformist faction, activists, and women publicly opposing the mandatory hijab rule.

According to eyewitnesses, the house of one family turned into ruins, and their furniture, clothes, toys and carpets were thrown to the side of the road. Witnesses said the farmer’s land was confiscated and declared public property, adding that an elderly man who protested was beaten and several residents who protested were pepper sprayed, handcuffed and briefly detained.

According to a 58-year-old resident of Roshankou, cell phones were confiscated to prevent the raid from being documented.

“They want to isolate our community, strangle us economically and disturb our peace,” a local resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said in a telephone interview. He added that he won a lawsuit to save his house, but on Tuesday some of his farmland was confiscated.

About 52 people live in the village, according to state television. Residents said that about 70 houses were owned by Bahá’í families, most of whom were seasonal residents. According to local residents, there were fewer than a few houses belonging to Muslim families.

Local officials from Mazandaran, the province that includes Roshankou, walked around the village this week, accompanied by guards and gave an interview to state television on Tuesday in which they defended the actions as environmental protection. They stated that the demolished houses were damaging the forests and the land was being cultivated illegally.

“The orders issued have nothing to do with any sect or faith,” said Mohamad Sadegh Akbari, a cleric who is Mazandaran’s chief prosecutor, according to official news outlets.

Members of the Bahá’í community have said the government’s actions amount to collective punishment due to the legal battle over property rights that has been simmering since 2016, when Roshankou was mapped and officials ruled parts of it were within state-owned and protected forests. .

Last August, the government demolished three small shacks in Roshankou, saying they were built on protected land, according to local residents and local news.

State Department Office of International Religious Freedom posted on social networks that “the US calls on Iran to end its ongoing oppression of the Bahá’í community and uphold its international obligations to respect the right of all Iranians to freedom of religion or belief.”

Bahá’ís face widespread discrimination in Iran and are effectively barred from working in government offices and pursuing higher education. Sectors of the service industry, including food, hospitality and medicine, are also closed to members of the group, Ms. Dugal and interviews with believers in Iran and beyond.

“We have almost 150 years of history in Roshankou, dating back to the earliest days of the Baha’i faith,” said Badi Daemi, a 64-year-old Baha’i Iranian who has relatives living in the village. mr. Daemi spoke on the phone from Andorra, the European country where he now lives.

“There are building violations everywhere in Iran,” he added, “so why are they bulldozing this tiny village in the mountains?”