Iran Targets Its Baha’i Community With Arrests And House Demolition

Iran has begun a sweeping crackdown on its Baha’i community, a long-suppressed religious minority, arresting dozens of people and destroying the property of its members, according to reports. This week’s reports from government, residents and human rights groups.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said in a statement Monday that an unspecified number of people from the Baha’i community have been arrested, accusing them of being spies with Israel links and propagandizing the Baha faith. i by “infiltrating various educational sectors across the country, including kindergartens.”

Bani Dugal, United Nations Representative of Baha’i . International Community, which represents the worldwide advocacy group, says that Iran arrested 52 Bahas in July, raided dozens of homes, closed businesses and demolished properties. She said that the reason behind the timing of the actions is still unclear.

“We don’t know why,” Ms. Dugal said. “They are conducting the crackdown and we are concerned that this is a new chapter in the Baha’is persecution because the nature of the current attacks is very systematic and cruel and violent. “

The community has long faced persecution and discrimination in Iran because the government does not recognize the faith. The Baha’i belief that there was another prophet after Muhammad according to Islam, and the fact that the Baha’i headquarters were in Haifa, Israel, although its origins are in present-day Iran, give rise to more suspicion. Tehran has for group.

On Tuesday, about 200 security and intelligence officers descended on the tiny village of Roshankouh, in northern Iran, where Baha’is have lived for more than a century, according to interviews with a resident, a relative of the Baha’is. residents and human rights groups. They closed an access road, opened fire in the air and sprayed pepper spray on villagers, according to accounts.

The bulldozer followed. Their goal: Six houses and farmland belonging to the Baha’i members.

A few days earlier, the security guards arrest 13 Baha’is from four cities across Iran, including three prominent community leaders, Mahvash SabetAfif Naimi and Fariba KamalabadiAccording to Ms. Dugal, the representative of Baha’i, who previously served 10 years in prison.

Attacks on Baha’i followed a recent broader wave of repression in Iran including the arrests of famous film directors, reformist politicians, activists and women who challenged the compulsory headscarf in public.

One family’s home was left in ruins, with their furniture, clothes, toys and carpets dumped on the side of the road, according to witnesses. Witnesses added that an elderly man protesting was beaten and several residents who spoke out were pepper sprayed, handcuffed and briefly detained.

Mobile phones were confiscated to prevent documentation of the raid, a 58-year-old resident of Roshankouh said.

“They want to isolate our community, strangle us economically and disrupt our peace,” said the resident in a phone interview, who spoke on condition of anonymity. name for fear of reprisal. He added that he won a court case to save his home but some of his farmland was seized on Tuesday.

The village has a total population of about 52 people, according to state television. Residents say there are about 70 homes belonging to Baha’i families, with most being seasonal residents. There are fewer than a few homes belonging to Muslim families, the residents added.

Local officials from Mazandaran, a province that includes Roshankouh, walked around the village guarded by security guards this week and gave an interview to the state broadcaster on Tuesday, in which they defended the actions as protecting the environment. They said that the houses that were demolished were an encroachment on the forest and that the land was illegally cultivated.

“The orders issued have nothing to do with a sect or a belief,” said Mohamad Sadegh Akbari, a cleric who is Mazandaran’s chief prosecutor.

Baha’i community members say the government’s action is a collective punishment because of a legal battle over property rights that has been raging since 2016, when Roshankouh was mapped and officials ruled. that parts of it are in state-owned and protected forests.

Last August, authorities demolished three small shacks in Roshankouh, saying they were built on protected land, according to residents and local news reports.

Office of International Religious Freedom of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs post on social media The United States calls on Iran to cease its ongoing Baha’i community oppression and to respect its international obligations to respect the freedom of religion or belief of all Iranians.

Baha’is face widespread discrimination in Iran and are banned by the government from recruitment and higher education. The service industry sectors, which involve food, hospitality and medicine, are also off-limits to group members, according to Ms. Dugal and interviews with members of the faith inside and outside. Iran.

“We have almost 150 years of history in Roshankouh from the earliest days of the Baha’i faith,” said Badi Daemi, a 64-year-old Iranian Baha’i whose relatives live in the village. Mr. Daemi is talking on the phone from Andorra, the European country where he currently lives.

“There are violations developing all over Iran,” he added, “so why are they bulldozing this tiny mountain village?”

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