By Michael Lipin
Source: Voice of America (VOA)
The U.S. Baha’i community has welcomed a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives condemning Iran for “state-sponsored persecution” of minority Baha’is in the Islamic Republic.
The House resolution, which also condemns what it calls Iran’s “continued violation” of the International Covenants on Human Rights, passed without objection Wednesday.
The resolution urges President Donald Trump and the State Department to immediately issue a similar condemnation of Iran and demand the immediate release of prisoners held solely on account of their religion. It also urges the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and other individuals directly responsible for serious rights abuses, including abuses against Iranian Baha’is.
In a statement emailed to VOA Persian, U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs Director Anthony Vance expressed gratitude to the House for reiterating its concern about rights abuses to which he said Iranian Baha’is are “unjustly subjected.” The Baha’i Office of Public Affairs represents the U.S. Baha’i community in its relationships with the U.S. government, media and public.
“In spite of extraordinary levels of (Iranian) state-sponsored hate propaganda against the Baha’is, as highlighted in the congressional resolution, we are greatly encouraged by reports of the fair-mindedness of the vast majority of Iran’s citizens,” Vance said. “(They) have come to realize in recent decades that their fellow Baha’i citizens are peaceful and seek only to contribute to the progress of their country.”
Iran considers its Baha’is to be heretics with no religion. Rights groups say authorities routinely arrest members of Iran’s estimated 300,000-strong Baha’i minority for expressing or practicing their beliefs.
U.S. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch introduced the resolution condemning Iran’s treatment of Baha’is in April 2017.
After the resolution passed, Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement saying Iranian Baha’is are a “frequent target” of rights abuses by Iran’s Islamist leadership, who she said subjects them to arbitrary arrest and harassment, denial of employment, refusal to recognize marriages and destruction of cemeteries and holy places.
“By passing Ted’s and my resolution, Congress is sending a strong message of support to those suffering in Iran and making it clear that those responsible for this persecution will be held accountable,” she said.
A similar resolution won unanimous approval in the Senate on Dec. 21, 2017.
There was no immediate response from the Trump administration to the passage of the House resolution.
In May, the State Department said it was horrified by reports of Iranian government persecution of religious minorities. Its 2017 International Religious Freedom Report said Tehran continued to harass, interrogate and arrest Baha’is, Christians, Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities and to use anti-Semitic and anti-Baha’i rhetoric in official statements.
The report also said members of Iranian religious minorities, especially Baha’is, continued to face societal discrimination and harassment, with employers experiencing social pressures not to hire Baha’is or to dismiss them from their private-sector jobs.