Orders targeting Iran's Baha'i religious minority and instructing local security agencies and government departments to "conduct strict controls" on the Baha'is were revealed this week by two human rights groups. The directives were issued by a "high-level government commission" for the city of Sari, in the country's northern Mazandaran province, and a copy was received by the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI), according to a joint statement by LDDHI and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
“These measures reflect the Iranian government’s intensifying persecution against followers of the Baha’i faith,” according to LDDHI president and FIDH honorary president Karim Lahidji. “In contravention of Iran’s international legal obligations, the authorities consider them heretics, ban their religion, and view the practice of the Baha’i faith as a subversive act.”
Sari's Commission on Ethnicities, Sects and Religions met on September 21, 2020, joined by representatives of 19 security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and government departments, to "review the latest status of the Dervishes and the subversive Baha’i sect," according to minutes from the meeting. The minutes show that the Commission agreed to "adopt a detailed plan in regard to cultural and educational institutions" to control dervishes and the Baha'i community.
Recent court orders to expel Baha'is from their ancestral lands in the village of Ivel, also in Mazandaran, may be a result of the orders issued by the Sari commission. IranWire has previously reported that the court orders were against Iran's own laws.
Diane Ala'i, Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, said the policies in the Sari document were "strikingly reminiscent" of past examples of governments "monitor[ing] minorities with draconian measures ahead of even more sinister actions."
The Sari commission operates under a provincial body which is connected to Iran's Supreme National Security Council – a body chaired by President Hassan Rouhani.
"We can say with a high degree of certainty that, while the latest document is linked to a local body, it stems from national government entities at the highest levels and suggests that similar meetings and directives about the Baha’is may be occurring across Iran," Ala'i added.
Iran's Baha'i community, the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority, has been systematically persecuted since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The country's constitution recognizes Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews as religious minorities. Baha'is are excluded from the constitution and have no protections under Iranian law.
More than 200 Baha'is were executed after the Islamic Revolution and thousands have since been arbitrary detained, jailed on false charges, their homes raided and they have been denied higher education and livelihoods.
Gonabadi dervishes have also come under increasing pressure in recent years. A former grand master of the Gonabadi order, Noor Ali Tabandeh, was critical of the "guardianship of the Islamic jurist" that underpinned the formation of the Islamic Republic. Many dervishes have been arrested, tortured, executed, and some killed in clashes with security forces during public demonstrations.
The orders from the Sari commission also targeted Baha'i business owners and even school children. Education officials were instructed to “increase the level of alertness and awareness” among teachers and principals regarding “their handling of Baha’i students in order to bring them to Islam.” Local universities were also reminded that Baha'is are barred from higher education – as first detailed in a 1991 memorandum signed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and uncovered by the United Nations.