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CHICAGO: The Iranian regime has sanctioned a “hate campaign” to fuel public animosity against the country’s Baha’i religious community, Baha’i officials told Arab News.

Anthony Vance, director of Bahá’í public affairs in the United States, said Iran had passed laws targeting its 300,000 Bahá’ís, barring them from entering universities and public sector jobs, as well as confiscation of their property and arrest of their leaders.

The religious group was founded in the mid-19th century in what was then Persia and today has around 8 million followers worldwide.

Over 2 million Bahá’ís live in India and there are sizable communities in the Middle East, Africa, and the United States.

“After the 1979 revolution, between 1979 and 1992, more than 200 Bahá’ís were executed, killed in Iran, most of them by execution. Most were elected members of administrative institutions (Bahá’ís). It is clear that the (Iranian) regime was targeting those it saw as the leaders of the Baha’i community, ”Vance said.

“Bahá’ís are excluded from university education. They are prohibited from employment in the public sector, by the government or in government-owned entities. Since the public sector represents more than half of the Iranian economy, this is quite a disadvantage in this society, ”he added.

“There are genuine efforts to impoverish the Bahá’í community. There have been confiscations of Bahá’í property, several thousand since the revolution. But more recently there have been attempts to make it a normal legal attempt in the country. Just to illustrate, last year two appeals court rulings confirmed that the lower court in Mazid Darran province ruled that the Baha’is are ritually unclean and have no property rights.

Vance said the persecution by Iran “is fairly systematic” and has kept the Baha’i community from growing in recent years.

The Bahá’ís are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran. The religion’s main founder, a merchant who adopted the name Bab (“The Gate”), was executed in 1850 after he began to preach that another prophet similar to Jesus and Muhammad would appear. Persecution increased under the Ayatollahs after the 1979 revolution.

Vance said the Bahá’ís respect and recognize the importance of Christian and Muslim traditions and that this is a monotheistic religion.

Iran’s persecution of the Bahá’ís was at the center of a resolution introduced on October 25 in the US House of Representatives, which condemned Tehran’s state-sponsored persecution of the community. There are over 180,000 Bahá’ís in the United States, Vance said.

The resolution called on Tehran to immediately release any Baha’is imprisoned or detained and all other prisoners detained solely because of their religion; end the hate propaganda campaign against the Bahá’ís; and reverse state-imposed policies that deny them and members of other religious minorities equal opportunities to access higher education, earn a living, enjoy a due process in accordance with the law and the free exercise of religious practices.

He also calls on US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to condemn the Iranian regime’s continued human rights violation and to demand the immediate release of prisoners detained solely because of their religion.

The resolution, introduced by Florida Democrat Ted Deutch and backed by a bipartisan group, also calls for sanctions against Iranian regime officials for human rights violations against the Baha’i community.

Vance praised the support of the governments of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where there are small Baha’i populations.

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