Seven Baha’i leaders kept locked up

Supporters, faithful say their arrest and prosecution have been for religious reasons

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The Iranian government only recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as official religions.A confidential 2005 document by the Iranian government required a census be taken for every Baha'i. Since then, the intelligence services, police and military have since identified them and are monitoring their activities.

“The Baha'i have no protections. Their blood can be spilled with impunity,” said Dwight Bashir, deputy director for Policy and Research for the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “They are considered an illegal organization or sect and can be sent to prison for apostasy. This is a classic case of a disfavored minority over a long period of time, and the policy of the Iranian government has made it very clear that they want to destroy them.”

The Baha'i are not the only religious group who are being arrested and killed for their faith. According to Abe Ghaffari, executive director of Iranian Christians International, pastors have been executed as well and their churches closed. Some Christians are also imprisoned in Evin.

“We hear that Christians have been killed but we only hear about these facts until years later,” he said.

Although the Islamic revolution in 1979 resulted in human rights violations of minority religious groups, the current presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has intensified persecution, according to human rights groups.

The USCIRF, which released its eleventh annual report on religious freedom in April, recommended that Iran be placed under the category of “countries of particular concern,” which includes the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.

And Ms. Bigelow says persecution of the Baha'i will only get worse.

Still, “There is an extremely spiritual community of support and devotion about their sense of identity and spiritual connection with God,” she said. “They have tremendous strength.”

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