09.29.10

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on the Persecution of the Baha'is in Iran

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I want to take a moment to call the Senate’s attention to members of the Baha’i faith who have and continue to suffer severe persecution by the Iranian Government.  

Senators should be aware that seven prominent Iranian Baha’i leaders are currently in prison, facing sentences of up to 10 years, charged with espionage, establishing an illegal administration, and promoting propaganda against the Islamic order.  These spurious charges are only the latest example of the mistreatment of the largest religious minority in Iran.

Ironically, the Baha’i faith originated in Iran during the 19th Century, separating the Baha’is from their previous affiliation with Islam. The founder of the faith, known as The Báb, was then arrested, locked in a dungeon, and executed, as were some 20,000 of his followers.  These atrocities devastated a religion whose tenets include global unity, peace and diversity.

Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran continued into the next century, with the Iranian Government’s destruction of Baha’i literature in 1933, and in 1955 the demolition of the Baha’i national headquarters.  Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the government has stepped up its active discrimination against the Baha’is.  Children are prohibited or discouraged from receiving higher education, Baha’is are unable to practice their faith in public, they are prevented from opening businesses or advancing their careers, and Baha’i cemeteries are destroyed.  Baha’is are slandered by the Iranian media, often called worshippers of Satan.

The arrests of the seven Baha’I leaders are the latest official Iranian abuse against members of this religious faith.  These men and women led the “Friends in Iran”, a Baha’i group working to meet the needs of the Baha’is in Iran.  After their arrest, the group disbanded, reducing the much needed support to the Baha’is. The leaders were incarcerated in 2008, and were not brought before a judge for over 20 months.

The systematic abuses of the Baha’i by the Iranian Government are clear violations of provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, on economic and educational opportunities, religious freedom, and due process.  They are also violations of Iran’s own laws.

Prominent global leaders are speaking out in support of the Baha’is in Iran, including Secretary of State Clinton, her British counterpart William Hague, and the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek.  They have each expressed concern and disapproval with Iran’s mistreatment of Baha’is.  They are joined by a long list of human rights groups, such as the International Federation for Human rights, Human Rights Watch and the Iranian League for the Defense of Human Rights.  I want to add my voice in condemning Iran’s persecution of its Baha’i religious minority.

Mr. President, our nation stands for fundamental rights and freedoms.  We are not perfect, and I have not hesitated to speak out when I felt we fell short of our own values and principles.  But I also believe we have an obligation to speak out when the fundamental rights of citizens of other nations are being denied.  The Baha’is of Iran deserve our admiration and support. 

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