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Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Bahai temple, Haifa, Israel

Espionage Accusations Highlight Persecution of Bahais in Iran

February 18, 2009 05:28 PM
by Josh Katz
Iran has charged members of the Bahai faith with spying for Israel, underscoring the religion’s contentious relationship with the Iranian government.

Bahais Charged With Espionage

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Iran has officially charged seven leaders of the Bahai faith with espionage; they have already been jailed for more than eight months. The religious group denies the accusations and the indictments are expected to occur within a week. They were arrested in May 2008, according to The Washington Post.

Deputy public prosecutor Hassan Haddad recently said the charges against the seven, two of whom are women, would include, "espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic," CNN reports.

Iranian prosecutor general Ayatollah Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi said, "The ghastly Bahai organization is illegal on all levels, their dependence on Israel has been documented, their antagonism with Islam and the Islamic System is obvious, their danger for national security is proven and any replacement organization must also be dealt with according to the law,” reported the Post.

One of the lawyers for the prisoners says that the Iranian government is not allowing him to meet with his clients. "How can I make my case ready? I'm only their lawyer in name," said Abdolfattah Soltani, according to the Post.

The current Iranian government has persecuted those of the Bahai faith and accused them of espionage before, asserting that the faith is heretical, according to CNN. Some Bahais think Iran often ties them to Israel because the Bahai World Center is located in Haifa, Israel, even though it was built there before the Jewish state was founded. 

Iran and Israel are bitter enemies. Iran does not recognize the Jewish state and has supported militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas in their fights against Israel. Israel also fears Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities, according to CNN.

The United States also lambasted Iran for its actions. U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, “The accusations reported in Iranian and international media are part of the ongoing persecution of Bahai in Iran,” the Post reported. Amnesty International argued that the charges are “politically motivated” and “If convicted, they would face lengthy prison terms, or even the death penalty," CNN wrote.

Background: Bahai

Bahai was founded in 1863. Bahais consider their founder, Baha'u'llah, to be “the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad." Muslims, however, believe that there are no prophets after Mohammed, according to CNN.

The founding of Bahai in the 19th century led the Ottoman government to banish Bahá'u'lláh to the city of Acre. From his base in Acre, Baha'u'llah called upon his followers to unify all people under one religion and to break down the barriers of racial, gender and class-based prejudices. In 1873, Baha'u'llah wrote “Kitab-i-Aqdas,” “The Most Holy Book,” which outlined the laws and beliefs of the Bahai religion. For the rest of his life, Baha'u'llah spread his teachings of universal brotherhood throughout the Middle East.

Members of the Bahai faith believe that all religions are aspects of a universal truth. They are required to abstain from all alcohol and drug use, and to fast for 19 days every year. Although there are no clergy, Bahai temples have been built in many countries. The Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, interprets and administers the laws of the faith.

No independent statistics exist on the number of Bahais in Iran, but the denomination says there are 300,000 adherents in the country, according to the Post. Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are regarded as “monotheistic religions” by the Islamic republic and therefore are allowed to hold religious meetings; Iran considers the Bahais as an “organization” and prohibits them from holding religious meetings. Bahais who publicize their faith “are banned from studying at universities, serving in the army and working in government offices,” the Post writes.

Reference: Religion and spirituality

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