Bahá’ís are accused of “colonialism” and “infiltrating kindergartens” as 52 new prosecutions have been added to more than 100 in recent weeks

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Geneva, Aug. 01, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Iran’s Intelligence Ministry yesterday, July 31, issued a horrific statement of oppressive hate speech against the persecuted Baha’i religious minority in an attempt to justify raids on homes and businesses of 52 Baha’is across Iran and the arrest or imprisonment of 13 people.

The Ministry of Intelligence issued a formal statement on the actions – which came after weeks of increasing pressure on Baha’is – and claimed the arrests were directed against members of the “Baha’í espionage service. [political] party” and that the detainees “propagated the teachings of fabricated Bahá’í colonialism and infiltrated educational environments,” including kindergartens. The mention of kindergartens is an obvious pretext for targeting some Bahá’ís who are kindergarten teachers.

The Bahá’í International Community dismisses these absurd and ridiculous accusations as outright fabrications. What the Iranian government is doing is simultaneously an act of gross repression and a brutal example of the worst form of hate speech.

Thirteen individuals — including Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, formerly part of the community leadership and prisoners of conscience who each spent ten years in prison — were arrested during the raids. One is being held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison and the whereabouts of the other two are unknown.

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“We are outraged that a significant number of Baha’is, including Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, have been detained again in Iran,” Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community (BIC) told the United Nations . “And what’s worse is that the Ministry of Intelligence is trying to portray these individuals as agents of foreign powers who are trying to undermine Iran’s security. The ministry’s statement is completely incoherent and contradictory and the allegations are clearly absurd and baseless. Instead of addressing the challenges of their country, the Iranian authorities are targeting innocents and trying to foment religious hatred.”

“The government of Iran has claimed for more than 40 years that Baha’is are spies abroad, but in all that time has not provided a shred of credible evidence. Now they are limited to attacking kindergartens and nurseries as a threat to national security,” Ala’i added.

Sabet, Kamalabadi and Naemi were members of a group of people known as the “Yaran” or “Friends” of Iran, which served as informal leadership of Iran’s Baha’i community until 2008. All seven members were arrested in 2007 and 2008 and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Yaran provided for the basic pastoral needs of the community – Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority – and did so with the knowledge and acceptance of the Iranian authorities. But the Yaran were disbanded as a result of their original arrests and have never been regrouped or reinstated. The Ministry of Intelligence’s implicit statements that they are part of a so-called “core members” of the Baha’i “espionage party” are therefore completely false in every respect.

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The raids and detentions come days after 20 Baha’is in Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd and Bojnourd were arrested, imprisoned or subjected to searches and business closures, and less than a month since 44 others across Iran were also detained, arraigned or imprisoned. Twenty-six of the 44 who were in Shiraz were sentenced to a total of 85 years in prison.

More than a hundred Baha’is have therefore been targeted in Iran in recent weeks.

Mahvash Sabet, who wrote poetry during her decade in Tehran’s Evin Prison, shared during her incarceration and later published in English under the title “Prison Poems”, was recognized as an English PEN International Writer of Courage in 2017. (link is external).

“We are deeply concerned about reports that Mahvash Sabet, the winner of the 2017 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage, has once again been detained in Iran,” said Daniel Gorman, director of the UK’s PEN. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

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Fariba Kamalabadi, a developmental psychologist, was arrested in 2008 and spent ten years behind bars. In 2017, the United States Commission on Religious Freedom recognized and defended her as a religious prisoner of conscience (link is external).

Afif Naemi, an industrialist who was also arrested in 2008, spent much of his 10-year prison sentence in ill health but did not receive the medical treatment he needed. He was released in 2018 along with the other members of the former Baha’i leadership group.

“The detention of these Baha’is shows the senseless brutality of the Iranian government in its systematic campaign to persecute the entire community,” Ala’i said. “Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi are symbols of resilience in Iran, known around the world for their bravery as prisoners of conscience, and no one will believe the Iranian government’s excuses to attack a helpless, peaceful community. But this relentless and escalating psychological warfare sets the stage for additional persecution against Baha’is in the weeks and months ahead.”

CONTACT: James Samimi Farr U.S. Baha'i Office of Public Affairs 202.833.8990 [email protected]