Over the past several years, the Iranian government has also sponsored an intensive defamation campaign that provokes discrimination and hatred against Baha’is. During a recent 16 month period, the campaign included at least 365 articles and numerous conferences, television and radio series that vilify and demonize the Baha’i faith and community. The government-controlled newspaper Kayhan, whose managing editor is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, regularly publishes articles that distort Baha’i history and paint Baha’is as tools of foreign governments such as Great Britain, Russia and Israel, instigators of government opposition, and brainwashers seeking to entice Muslims away from their faith.
Religious discrimination in Iran is not limited to the Baha’is. Iran routinely persecutes members of nearly all non-Shia Islam minority groups, including Sufi Muslims, Christians and Jews. Last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that religious freedom and human rights conditions in Iran had regressed to a point not seen since the Islamic Revolution. Reports issued in 2013 by the UN Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran express deep concern over Iran’s violations of universal human rights, including serious discrimination against Baha’is and other religious minorities. The State Department’s new International Religious Freedom Report further details Iran’s increased harassment of Christians, including several hundred reported arrests. The authoritative U.S. report singles out Iran for worrying expressions of anti-Semitism manifested by Iranian officials, including state-sanctioned Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic propaganda that contributes to increased concerns about the future and security of Iran’s Jewish community.
Victims of Iran’s increasing assault on human rights extend beyond religious minorities to include human rights defenders, women’s rights advocates, journalists, lawyers, opposition activists and ethnic minorities.
In the lead up to Iran’s June 14 presidential elections, reports of increased repression of human rights advocates are surfacing, as well as tight restrictions on who may run for president. Only eight of some 700 registered candidates have received approval from Iran’s Guardian Council to stand for election. The sanctioned list excludes both former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad’s preferred successor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
Now is the time to draw attention to increased repression of religious freedom in Iran and recommit to promoting human rights for all Iranian citizens by rallying the international community. A good place to start is with the immediate, unconditional release of the seven Baha’i leaders and all other prisoners of conscience imprisoned in Iran.
Felice Gaer and Marra Guttenplan serve as director and advocacy officer of AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.