The religious persecution of Bahá’is in Iran has escalated in recent years, resulting in increased arrests, seizure of property and other efforts to curb the freedoms of Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. In response, Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] has introduced the resolution S.Res.183 in the U.S. Senate denouncing Iran’s actions and its transgressions against international human rights policies.
Religious Persecution of Bahá’is in Iran
The Bahá’i community has been a significant target of persecution in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after which Shia Islam became the official state religion. As a result, more than 200 members of the Bahá’i community were killed, executed or died in prison. Members of the Bahá’i minority have also faced an increased risk of arrest and imprisonment. This is in addition to being denied admission to Iran’s public universities and becoming subject to economic and employment discrimination.
In 2021, the government denied Bahá’is in Tehran the right to bury their dead in a space previously designated for their use. However, in the past, the government has also destroyed these sacred spaces as part of its campaign. In addition, there has been a significant number of house raids and property seizures. In 1983, the government demolished 50 Bahá’i homes in Ivel, a village that has historically housed a large number of adherents to the Bahá’i faith. The government’s actions became supported by Iran’s courts in 2021.
Evidence of state-sanctioned repression of the Bahá’i community became documented in multiple governmental documents over the years. A recent article from DW outlines a leaked 2020 policy directive. The directive advises key members of government, law enforcement and educational and commercial officials “to gain control over the misguided movement of the perverse Bahá’i sect.” Further, current President Hassan Rouhani’s Citizenship Rights Charter omits any reference to religion in terms of illegal discrimination. The religious persecution of Bahá’is in Iran has been ongoing for several decades. This is a tragic infringement on human rights and religious freedom.
Sen. Wyden led the introduction of S.Res.183 in the Senate on April 28, 2021, with original cosponsors Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL], Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL] and Sen. John Boozman [R-AR]. Identical resolutions had also been introduced in both the House and the Senate in previous congressional sessions. S.Res.578, led by Sen. Ron Wyden, was introduced in the 116th Congress on May 14, 2020, but unfortunately did not receive a vote to push the resolution forward. However, the simple resolution H.Res.823, introduced by Rep. Theodore Deutch [D-FL] on January 20, 2020, passed on December 7, 2020.
The current resolution notes the multitude of discriminatory actions the Iranian government has taken against the Bahá’i community. Not to mention, the international condemnation of these human rights abuses. It also cites the U.N. General Assembly Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in the 2020 Islamic Republic of Iran. This U.N. resolution states that there remain “ongoing severe limitations and increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief,” leading to further violence and religious persecution of Bahá’is in Iran.
Taking A Stand
S.Res.183 resolves to stand against the Iranian government’s campaign against Bahá’is. It calls on the government of Iran to halt its discriminatory programs immediately. This includes retracting policies or programs designed to harm other religious groups. Finally, the resolution appeals to the president and secretary of state to publicly declare their own condemnation of Iran’s actions. They are to “impose sanctions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for serious human rights abuses.”
If agreed in the Senate, the resolution will demonstrate the U.S.’s commitment to religious freedom and upholding of human rights. It would also put pressure on the Iranian government to halt the religious persecution of Bahá’is in Iran. This provides security and equal opportunity to thousands at risk of violence or human rights violations, thus decreasing overall conflict.
Next Steps for the Resolution
After its introduction, S.Res.183 became referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations and is awaiting further action. If the Senate agrees to the resolution, the document condemning the actions of Iran’s government and its continued targeting of the Bahá’i minority would be put into effect. The resolution could be a significant directive for foreign policy relating to human rights and religious persecution of Bahá’is in Iran — leading to more stability and opportunity for further development in Iran.
– Sarah Stolar