Amidst the emboldened opposition in Iran today, and the regime’s corresponding attempts to crack down brutally, religious minorities face special peril. In recent years, the regime has singled out Christians, Jews, and Bahai’s for special humiliation, and now it does so again.
On January 12, the trial of the seven Bahai’s about which I have blogged before will reconvene. The charges include “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” The government later added the charge of “spreading corruption on earth,” punishable by death.
In recent days, anti-Bahai rhetoric and activities has increased. Over the past weekend, security forces arrested 13 young Baha’i in Tehran, ten of whom remain in prison. The daily Kayhan pretty much serves as the voice of the Supreme Leader, who appoints its editor. On Jan. 5, 2010, the newspaper’s headline read, “The So-Called God-Loving Mousavi’s Men Turned Out to be Baha’is and Terrorists.” So now, it appears, the government with the highest sanction will use religious hatred to justify its own repression of political opposition. The Baha’i International Community has issued a statement, here.
The Obama administration has sent a couple letters to the Supreme Leader. They remain secret, and so we cannot see how obsequious President Obama was. Still, in recent days, the Obama administration seems to have begun to come around on issues of human rights in Iran, although there are surely still those inside the administration and State Department who believe that moral clarity hampers engagement. During the last administration, John Limbert, now deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran, served on a board of advisors for an organization that repeatedly threatened to sue Radio Free Europe, various Iranian television stations in Los Angeles, and Voice of America for airing criticism of Iran.
Still, Iranians — with the exception of some clerical factions and Shi’i populists — have always embraced diversity, at least relative to Iran’s neighbors. Iran is a nation that predates Islam, and predates nationalism based on ethnic identity. Let us hope that U.S. officials will not stand aside while the Iranian regime works to unravel this, and that the Obama administration will stand tall for religious freedom.