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Iranian government orders teachers to identify children of persecuted Baha’i minority

Members of the Baha’i religion demonstrate in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach on June 19, 2011 asking Iranian authorities to release seven Baha’i prisoners accused of spying for Israel and sentenced to 20 years in jail – AFP

The Iranian government is ordering teachers to identify children of the persecuted Baha’i minority to convert them to Islam, leaked documents show.

The move forms part of a plan to intensify the monitoring and suppression of the Baha’i people, one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world.

Local authorities in the city of Sari, in the northern province of Mazandaran, plan to “conduct strict controls” on Baha’i people and track “their operations”, according to a new directive given to officials.

Children are specifically singled out, with teachers directed to “identify Baha’i students” and “bring them into Islam”.

“Clear plans to change children’s beliefs is a galling violation of human rights,” said Diane Ala’i, the Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Natins in Geneva.

The Baháʼí faith originated in Iran during the 19th century, but now has an estimated six million followers around the world.

According to the UN there are about 350,000 Baha’i in the Islamic Republic, making them the country’s biggest religious minority, but they are considered heretical by the Iranian regime.

 Baha'is decry cultural cleansing in Iran

Baha’is decry cultural cleansing in Iran

Hundreds of followers have been executed or jailed since Iran’s 1979 revolution, the UN claims.

The document, handed to The League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran and the International Federation for Human Rights, represents an escalation of Iran’s ongoing war against religious minorities.

They warn that it outlines a “detailed plan” to “rigorously” control aspects of the community, including their “public and private meetings”.

The Commission on Ethnicities, Sects and Religions in Sari allegedly issued the document, which operates under Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, a body chaired by the county’s president.

It is thought to stem “from national government entities at the highest levels”, according to Ms Ala’i, and “suggests that similar meetings and directives about the Baha’is may be occurring across Iran”.

“Despite constant claims from the government that Baha’is are not persecuted for their beliefs, the Iranian authorities have once again exposed their true intentions.”

Local officials at all levels received the document, including police and military organisations, educational institutions and economic bodies.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei  - Shutterstock

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Shutterstock

“This revelation is strikingly reminiscent of examples in history when governments have monitored minorities with draconian measures ahead of even more sinister actions,” Ms Ala’i explained.

Although Iran discriminates against many religions, including christianity, the plight of the Baha’is is particularly severe.

Over the last 40 years billions of dollars worth of land and property is thought to have been seized under Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Firebombings, imprisonment and bans on employment in the public sector are common, as well as systematic attacks. Iranian authorities removed the Baha’i faith as a recognised religion on national ID cards last year.

Recently universities were ordered to uphold a policy prohibiting Baha’is from enrolling. The ban stems from a 1991 memorandum designed to systematically prevent their “progress and development” and was signed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In 2016, a directive issued by Mazandaran officials resulted in mass Baha’i shop closures across the province, leaving economic devastation in its wake. It was approved by the Guardian Council, one of the most influential bodies in Iran.

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