UN EXPERTS HAVE CALLED ON IRANIAN AUTHORITIES to stop the persecution and harassment of religious minorities and end the use of religion to curtail the exercise of fundamental rights.

Speaking on 22 August, the experts said: “We are deeply concerned at the increasing arbitrary arrests, and on occasions, enforced disappearances of members of the Baha’i faith and the destruction or confiscation of their properties, in what bears all the signs of a policy of systematic persecution.”

The UN experts said the acts were not isolated but formed part of a broader policy to target any dissenting belief or religious practice, including Christian converts, Gonabadi dervishes and atheists.

“The international community cannot remain silent while Iranian authorities use overbroad and vague national security and espionage charges to silence religious minorities or people with dissenting opinions, remove them from their homes and effectively force them into internal displacement”, the experts said.

The Baha’i community is among the most severely persecuted religious minorities in Iran, with a marked increase in arrests and targeting this year. By April 2022, the experts received reports that over 1000 Baha’is were awaiting imprisonment, following their initial arrests and hearings. Since July 2022, security agents have raided the homes of over 35 Baha’is in various cities, and arrested several individuals across the country. The arrests included three former leaders of the Baha’i community, Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naimi, who were subsequently charged with “managing the unlawful [Bahá’í] administration.” The charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Notably, Mr Naimi was forcibly disappeared for over a month, until his fate and whereabouts were disclosed.

In August 2022, while using pepper spray to disperse people, the security and intelligence agents violently demolished at least eight homes belonging to Baha’i families in Mazandaran Province and confiscated 20 hectares of their land. Those who tried to challenge the operations were arrested.

In a communication to Iranian authorities in February 2021, the experts raised concerns about the systematic  violations of property and housing rights of the Baha’i minority.

So far in 2022, over 90 Baha’i students were barred from enrolling in the country’s universities. In August, the Ministry of Intelligence accused members of the Baha’i community of being involved in espionage, propagating Baha’i teachings and infiltrating educational institutions.

The experts called for the immediate and unconditional release of all individuals detained on the basis of their religious affiliation, and accountability for the systematic persecution of religious minorities by authorities.

“We are seriously concerned that provisions of the Penal Code are used to prosecute individuals on grounds of religious affiliation and based on allegations that they expressed views deemed to be critical or derogatory towards Islam”, the experts said.

The experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the criminalisation of blasphemy under Iran’s Penal Code that carries severe penalties, including life imprisonment and capital punishment, contrary to international human rights law.

“Such state-sanctioned intolerance furthers extremism and violence. We call on the Iranian authorities to de-criminalise blasphemy and take meaningful steps to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of opinion and expression without discrimination”, they said.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights