Religious persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran continues

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 22, 2009 

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the microphone at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva earlier this week, local Bahá’ís were hopeful that he would address human rights issues of special concern to them. Instead, he once more attacked Israel’s right to exist as a nation, prompting many delegates to walk out of the United Nations-sponsored event already boycotted by Canada, the United States and other nations, and also prompting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to publicly denounce the Iranian President’s abuse of the conference platform.

The purpose of the Durban Review Conference, often referred to simply as Durban II, is to evaluate progress towards the goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

According to a press release distributed by the Bahá’í International Community, United Nations Office, “If he desires to lend genuine support to the Durban process, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should address the severe forms of discrimination faced by minority groups in his own country.” This includes women in general and ethnic and religious minorities.

About religious minorities, the press release goes on to say:

“Discrimination is widespread in Iran, affecting Bahá’ís, Christians, Jews, Sufis, Sunni Muslims, and other minorities. Members of the Bahá’í Faith, in particular, face multiple forms of discrimination solely because of their religious beliefs. Over the last four years, more than 200 Bahá'ís have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, intimidated and harassed. When charged with crimes, they face false accusations, such as acting against national security. They are denied a decent livelihood through restrictions on employment and property confiscations. Students are expelled from universities as soon as they are identified as Bahá’ís.”

The Bahá’í Faith is a world religion with many adherents in the Cochrane area. It was founded in 1863 by Persian-born Bahá’u’lláh, believed by Bahá’ís to be the latest manifestation of God in a lineage of manifestions that includes Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. Bahá’ís believe that God has made His nature and will known through these manifestations, because direct knowledge of God is beyond the limits of human understanding.

At the heart of Bahá’í teaching is the idea of unity: the oneness of God, the oneness of the human race, and the oneness of religion. According to Bahá’í teaching, the sacred scriptures of all the major religions point to this oneness.

Since its founding, adherents to the Bahá’í Faith, including Bahá’u’lláh himself, have faced persecution, especially within what is modern-day Iran. Loss of life, property and basic human rights continues to this day.

“Of particular concern is the manner in which the government-controlled news media has vilified adherents of the Bahá’í Faith,” the above-noted press release states. “Hundreds of articles, radio and television programs, Internet postings, pamphlets containing hate speech have been disseminated in Iran since President Ahmadinejad took power. As well, clerics and officials who publicly incite hatred and violence have been condoned by the authorities – and Iranian Bahá’ís are denied their lawful right of reply. Attacks against Bahá’í homes, businesses and cemeteries are openly encouraged and conducted with impunity.”

Cochrane-area Bahá’ís have drawn my attention to the Iranian government’s current persecution of seven leaders of the Bahá’í Faith in that country.

According to a February motion adopted by the Canadian Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights demanding their immediate release, the seven outstanding Iranian citizens have been arrested and maliciously charged with “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic.”

The motion notes that even “Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi – who announced her intention to defend the Bahá’ís in court – has since been harassed and her offices have been closed.”

Members of the Bahá’í community in the Cochrane area stand resolutely with their courageous faith family in Iran, especially during the 12-day Festival of Ridvan (pronounced riz-wahn), which began April 21.

The festival is a commemoration of Bahá’u’lláh’s public proclamation of himself as the next messianic figure. Ridvan is the name of the Baghdad garden along the Tigris River where he made his proclamation before being exiled to Turkey.

In the spirit of universal freedom of religion, a coffee-cup toast to the Bahá’í community: Happy Ridvan! May justice prevail in Iran.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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