SEATTLE, Washington — The population of Iran predominantly follows the religion of Islam, with only a small percentage of people following minority religions. The Government of Iran has a history of persecution of these minority religious groups. One such minority group is the Baha’i community which Iran has systematically persecuted by placing “limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.” On May 14, 2020, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden introduced S.Res. 578 to condemn Iran’s Baha’i persecutions and its violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights. The resolution demands that the Government of Iran releases all imprisoned and detained Baha’is and that the U.S. President and State Department impose sanctions on Iranian officials, who are responsible for human rights abuses, including those committed against Iran’s Baha’is.
Iran’s Persecution of the Baha’i Community
According to Philippe Nassif, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Iran has a long history of persecution of religious minorities, including the Baha’is. The Iranian Revolution strengthened and codified this discrimination. The Iranian regime views the Baha’i religion as heretical and a threat. Iran also scapegoats its Baha’i community whenever political unrest occurs.
The Government of Iran’s human rights violations against the Baha’is includes attacks on Baha’i places of worship, harassment, intimidation, incitement of violence, denial of education as well as arrests and detention of Baha’is on the basis of their religious practices.
In Iran, Baha’i schools are raided, with books, computers and other educational materials often being confiscated. At the same time, Iranian schools have barred Baha’is from attending. In addition, the Baha’i community’s higher-education teachers and faculty members have been arrested and jailed.
While Baha’is can vote in Iran, they cannot play any other role in the political system, including holding public office or occupying a position in Iran’s criminal justice system. According to the Baha’i International Community, hundreds of Baha’is have been killed and thousands have been imprisoned since the Revolution. Iran’s Baha’i persecutions include conducting systematic searches of Baha’i homes to find and confiscate prayer books or pictures of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a central figure in the Baha’i faith. Furthermore, Baha’is must bury their family members in unmarked graves at government-designated wastelands. The government designs laws to exclude Baha’is and puts out anti-Baha’i propaganda to incite community outrage against the Baha’i group.
Senate Resolution 578
In response to these violations, the Senate bill condemns Iran’s Baha’i persecutions as well as its violation of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The bill demands that the Government of Iran end its anti-Baha’i propaganda campaign and immediately release every person imprisoned or detained solely because of their religious affiliation, including imprisoned Baha’is. It also asserts that Baha’is must get equal opportunities and access to higher education, employment, due process and religious liberty.
To enforce this stance, S.Res. 578 directs the President and Secretary of State to cooperate with other nations in condemning Iran’s persecution and imprisonment of its Baha’i population and to impose sanctions by “utilizing available authorities” on government officials and other individuals in Iran who are “directly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Iranian Baha’i community.”
Status of the Bill
On May 14, 2020, Senator Wyden [D-OR] introduced S.Res. 578. The bill, which has three cosponsors (2R, 1D), was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for further consideration. S.Res. 578 is still in the first stage of the legislative process.
The House version of the bill, which has 24 cosponsors (15D, 9R), was introduced on January 30, 2020, and is also in the first stage of the legislative process.
Freedom of thought, belief and religion are fundamental human rights. S.Res. 578 is a call to protect and uphold those basic human rights for the Baha’i people of Iran. Moreover, as noted by a member of the ADL’s Task Force on Middle East Minorities, the passing of the bipartisan resolution “would encourage additional American gestures of solidarity with vulnerable Baha’i people.” S.Res 578 plays an important part in ensuring that human rights violations on the basis of religion or belief no longer continue.
– Sarah Frazer