As the Iranian authorities move to confiscate properties belonging to six Baha’is in the province of Semnan, a fresh wave of attacks on businesses is being unleashed on the Baha’is of Iran. The Baha’i International Community (BIC) has submitted formal letters of concern United Nations Special Rapporteurs on this development, calling on the UN and other international actors to engage with Iran’s government to ensure Baha’is are not further dispossessed of their properties.
In the past four decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly used confiscation of property as an additional means of marginalizing Baha’is. Recently the judiciary published a notice on its website informing six Baha’i property owners in Semnan of an imminent seizure. It followed a co-ordinated series of raids on Baha’i-owned properties across Iran by security forces in November 2020.
Then February 2021, IranWire reported on the confiscation of no fewer than 27 homes owned by Baha’is in the village of Ivel in Mazandaran province. A special court in Mazandaran, and subsequently the Court of Appeal, ruled that the confiscation of these homes by the Headquarters of Imam’s Directive (Setad), a parastatal foundation under the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, were entirely legal.
Notices served on Baha’is who have been dispossessed generally state that the properties have been confiscated because they belonged to “Baha’i institutions”. In fact, during the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, all the real Baha’i institutions were promptly shut down and formally dissolved in 1983. Consequently, the BIC’s communiqué emphasizes, “no properties currently belong to Baha’i institutions in Iran”: they are all personal homes and commercial premises.
According to the judiciary’s notice, the confiscated properties in Semnan will also be handed over to Setad. The BIC points out that these confiscations are justified by a “discriminatory interpretation of Article 49” of the Iranian Constitution, which states: “The government has the responsibility to confiscate all wealth accumulated through usury, usurpation, bribery, embezzlement, theft, gambling, misuse of endowments, misuse of government contracts and transactions, the sale of uncultivated lands and other resources subject to public ownership, the operation of centers of corruption, and other illicit means and sources, and restoring it to its legitimate owner; if no such owner can be identified, it must be entrusted to the public treasury.”
This article was not meant to be used as a justification to persecute people for their religious beliefs – nor to enrich the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic personally. The BIC writes: “Semnan has previously been used as a ‘laboratory’ by the authorities to execute systematic campaigns of persecution against the Baha’is in Iran. Attacks on Baha’is in Semnan have been notable for their particular intensity, for the mobilization and coordination of official and unofficial elements including police, courts, local authorities and the clergy, and for persecution ranging from hate speech to economic strangulation, arrests and physical attacks.”