Below is a great op-ed that appeared in a Malaysian newspaper about the prolonged persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran. The writer, a Malaysian Baha’i, points out that the persecution of Baha’is violates Iran’s obligations under international law, and when the intentional community condemned these violations, the persecution subsided.

End genocide amongst the Baha’i
by Liva Sreedharan | MalaysiaKini
November 4, 2010

For the past 29 months, they’ve been held captive, shielded from sunshine or even the slightest allure of humanity. They have had to bear with the stench of stale, putrid air. They are permitted to have fresh air only two hours each week.

For some time, they were held in solitary confinement and denied access to their families. They are deprived of basic humane facilities. Forced to sleep on the cold, hard, floor. Packed in a tiny cell less than 2m by 2m that made it hard for them to move around or obtain the smallest measure of rest.

These circumstances have quite understandably had a deleterious effect on their health.

The severe and inhumane conditions under which they are being held clearly violates the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that no one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

These seven people are being imprisoned for no crime committed. These are people being punished and persecuted because of their religious beliefs. These seven people are members of the Baha’i community in Iran.

These detentions are not isolated cases. From August 2004 till May 2010, 300 followers of the Baha’i community in Iran have been arrested. Thirty-two are currently imprisoned, while 125 have been released on bail awaiting trial.

The rest have been released without bail or are free pending appeal against their sentences; some have had their verdicts overturned, or had completed their prison terms and have begun their terms of exile after serving their prison sentences.

Since its inception in 1844, Baha’is have been persecuted in their homeland (Iran). The progressive ideals of the Baha’i faith such as the elimination of all forms of prejudice, equal rights for men and women, and compulsory education for all seem to remain a constant struggle between the Republic of Iran and modern civilisation.

From 1979, attacks on Baha’is in Iran have reached a new level; that of official government policy. When the Republic’s new constitution was drafted in 1979, the rights of the Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians in Iran were specifically mentioned.

No mention whatsoever was made regarding the rights of the Baha’i community which incidentally is Iran’s largest religious minority.

Men, women and children alike have been persecuted in Iran for their religious beliefs. Courts in Iran have denied the Baha’is the right to redress or to be protected against assault, killing, injury or other forms of persecution because they are not being provided for.

Without any claim to civil rights, the conditions of the Baha’i community in Iran have deteriorated. By 1981, courts in Iran were openly sentencing Baha’is to death for their religious beliefs.

A more dramatic incident occurred in 1983 where ten Iranian women, including two teenage girls were hanged to death for conducting Baha’i moral classes for children.

These women were subjected to intense physical, mental and emotional torture in the hope that they would recant their faith; an option that was almost always presented to Baha’i prisoners proving that the persecutions were based solely on their religious beliefs.

The early 1990′s saw a shift in the trend of the persecutions to social, economic and cultural restrictions in order to block the advancement of the Baha’i community in Iran.

The Iranian government has violated almost all of the human rights under international law and under Iran’s own national obligations. The systematic elimination of the rights of the Baha’is in Iran is a clear warning sign of the government’s attempt to wipe out the Baha’i community there.

The harassment of Baha’is is persistent and pervasive and they include arbitrary arrests and detention, with imprisonments lasting for days, months, or even years.

Searches of homes and businesses, confiscating of Baha’i books and other items, school expulsions and harassment of school children by classmates, teachers and school administrators alike, and prohibition on Baha’is attending universities.

The bank accounts of Baha’is are being monitored and their movements and activities restricted. They are subjected to official interrogations requiring them to divulge information about their lives and of other Baha’is.

The renewal of their business licenses are not permitted and existing ones are confiscated including evictions from their places of business, not to mention Baha’i doctors from their offices and clinics.

They are denied work opportunities in general. They are victims of physical assaults. Efforts to drive Baha’is out of towns and villages are being pursued. The desecration and destruction of Baha’i cemeteries and harassment over burial rights is continuing.

The dissemination in official news media of misinformation about the Baha’is, and the incitement of hatred against them is ongoing.

Intimidation of Muslims who associate with the Baha’is, attempts by authorities to get Baha’is to spy on other Baha’is, threatening phone calls and letters to them, denial of pension benefits, denial of access to publishing or copying facilities for Baha’i literature and confiscation of property are yet other forms of persecution prevalent in the lives of Baha’is in Iran.

One theme that is common in the persecution of the Iranian Baha’is is the fact that they are not given the chance to defend themselves.

The Baha’i community in Iran seeks no preferential treatment or special privileges. All they want is for the basic rights as human beings to be restored to them.

23 out of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been violated by the Iranian government in their treatment meted out towards the Baha’is. Iran is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but it violates these very rights that it claims to defend.

Such violation is not merely to be lamented or condemned on the grounds of morality. More has to be done as it constitutes a breach of a binding international law and an attempt by a government to suppress an entire religious community.

What are needed to stop the atrocities of the Iranian government against its Baha’i citizens are legal and public measures. Persecution of the Iranian Baha’is was at its highest but it subsided a little when international communities intervened and condemned it through different forums.

Any lessening in support from domestic and international communities would be deemed by the Iranian government as approval of their behaviour and persecutions against Baha’is will undoubtedly be intensified.

I am a member of the Baha’i community of Malaysia and am saddened by what is happening to my brothers and sisters in Iran. I feel defenceless and powerless, so this is my appeal on behalf of those imprisoned Baha’is in Iran to those in authority here to play their role in appealing to the Iranian authorities for the unconditional and immediate release of these prisoners of gross injustice.

The author has a Masters in Criminology with Forensic Psychology and performed her research on genocide and religious and cultural cleansing. An earlier version of the author’s article was presented at the Common Studies Session in Critical Criminology at the University of Barcelona, Spain.