An organization known as Iran Human Rights Documentation Center has recently published an impressive monograph that we like to bring to the attention of our readers. This monograph is titled Community under Siege: The Ordeal of the Baha’is of Shiraz, and can be downloaded from http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/pdfs/Reports/community_report.pdf

The Baha’i faith was founded in the mid-nineteenth century on the foundation of the Babi religion which had its beginning in Shiraz, a much-admired town in central Iran. It was in this town that the Bab was born and raised in a family that traced its heritage to Prophet Muhammad and his family. It was in Shiraz that the Bab declared himself in 1844 to be the promised one of Islam and the herald of a great dispensation. It was also in Shiraz that the religious orthodoxy unleashed its first wave of persecution against the young Prophet and his followers. Ever since those early days, waves after waves of persecution have beset the Baha’is of that town. (For a history of the Babi and Baha’i faiths in Shiraz see, http://ahang.rabbani.googlepages.com/shiraz )

Community under Siege documents the arrest of a group of 22 Baha’is in Shiraz in 1982, and their subsequent execution the following year. The oldest victim, Abdu’l-Husayn Azadi, was 66 years old and the youngest, Mona Mahmudnizhad, only 17 years old. They found themselves pitted against the full weight of the Iranian state simply because of their religious beliefs. The head of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Hojjatolislam Qaza’i, denounced the 22 Baha’is prior to their execution as “puppets of Satan and the superpowers and their agents such as the Universal House of Justice of Israel.” Their interrogators repeatedly accused the prisoners of nebulous acts of espionage for which they offered no proof.

Religious persecution was the primary motive for the Shiraz arrests and murders. In custody the Baha’i detainees were classified as ‘unclean’ by the prison authorities and forbidden physical contact with the general prison population, a prohibition which extended to their personal belongings. They were forbidden to worship openly or talk about their faith. Community leaders were singled out for torture. All the prisoners were placed under great pressure to recant their faith.

It would be tempting to dismiss events in Shiraz as a local aberration if it were not for the personal intervention of Ayatollah Khomeini in the case. As an international chorus of protest grew in volume, Ayatollah Khomeini dismissed pleas for clemency in a widely published speech casting the Baha’is as a political party rather than as a religion and the prisoners in Shiraz as nothing more than spies. The majority of the Shiraz victims were executed less than a month later.

The story of the Shiraz executions is one of devotion to the cause of peace and brotherhood in face of extraordinary pressure to recant one’s convictions. It is a dark stain on the dark record of Iran’s human rights violations.

To this day, the government of Iran continues to refuse to recognize the Baha’is as a genuine religion and to extend to them the same rights accorded to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians in the Iranian constitution. It is our hope that this report will bring attention to the historic and ongoing oppression of a minority religious group in Iran and give the current regime in Tehran cause for reflection.