Baha’is in Iran

On Wednesday February 9, 2011, Iraj Kamalabdi and other Baha’is told Washington how severe the conditions are for Baha’is in Iran.   Baha’is are a minority religious group in Iran where Kamalabdi’s sister and six others have been imprisoned because of their faith. Kamalabdi came to Washington with the hope of gaining the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom support and more recognition of the Baha’is in Iran.

Kamalabdi’s sister, a volunteer Baha’i leader, and other members of the Baha’i community were accused of espionage and other crimes against their State. Kamalabdi’s sister was convicted after a short trial containing no evidence. She and other Baha’is have been sent to prisons with brutal conditions: there are a limited amount of rooms and many prisoners are forced to sleep on the floor.

Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, the founder of their faith, is God’s most recent messenger. The founders of the Baha’is, who were originally Muslim, formed this new religious sect. This is what led to the current conflict between Muslims and Baha’is. Muslims in Iran view the Baha’is as renouncing their Islamic faith.

Iran stated that Baha’is were free to live in Iran and that the imprisonments were based on illegal activities against the government and not the prisoners’ faith. Leonard Leo, the Commission Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, was outraged but not surprised at Iran’s actions. Iran classifies itself as an Islamic State and renouncing this religion is contrary to that. The Iranian Constitution lists religions that Iran respects, but Baha’is is not listed. Iran has banned any form of Baha’is administration and leadership but has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of the Baha’is.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is a branch of the federal government whose members are appointed by the White House and Congress. What recommendations should the Commission make to the President and Congress about the Baha’is in Iran? Do you think that political pressure from the U.S. will influence the Iranian government? Should other nations, aside from the U.S. get involved if basic human rights are at stake?


  1. The Baha’is are the largest religious minority in Iran, about 300,000 in number. They have been subject to persecution and discrimination for over a century and this discrimination became systemized after the Islamic revolution in 1979. While the mistreatment of religious minorities is not something that the US should stand by and let happen I do think that the US should hesitate before making a decision to intervene as the US presence in the Middle East has been very controversial. As the US Commission on International Religious Freedom can make recommendations to Congress and the President they could recommend allowing the Baha’i to seek asylum here but again, because of the US’s unpopular involvement in the Middle East I don’t think that the US, if it was to act, should act alone. Perhaps this could be something that the UN could get behind and that way it could hopefully not cause any unnecessary tensions between the US and the Middle East while still providing aid to these people who are being faced with such unfair treatment.

  2. I agree that some kind of multinational solution to this problem would be ideal. If the UN would sponsor an effort to stop the discrimination in Iran, tension over the Baha’is could be kept to a minimum. The UN, however, is not really set up to pursue this kind of measure. Within the structure of the UN, only the Security Council is authorized to actively intervene in internal state affairs and its main mandate is to maintain international peace and security. The Security Council was created after World War II to respond to outbreaks of international armed conflict, namely military offensives such as invasions. Legally, humanitarian goals of promoting antidiscrimination and equal treatment within states’ national borders aren’t something that the UN has the prerogative to enforce in any concrete way. Humanitarianism is more the stuff of international treaties, which are binding on state parties that have signed and ratified them. A solution for the Baha’is, then, really must take the form of political pressure.

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