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Iran has been an Islamic republic since 1979, when the previous, pro-Western regime was overthrown. The constitution stipulates Shia Islam to be the official religion and that the official interpretation of Sharia law is the basis of the legal system. The constitution does set out Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians (excluding converts from Islam) as being accepted religious minorities although in practice they, along with other religious minorities, are widely suppressed.

One such minority is the 350,000-strong community of Baha’is, who form Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. The Baha’i faith is not recognised in the Iranian constitution and Baha’is are considered to be “unprotected infidels” according to the 2019 annual report of the UN Special Rapporteur to Iran. As such they have been a particular target for repression, persecution and victimisation over the last 40 years. Hundreds have been executed or imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Baha’is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations and are denied the right to higher education and prevented from finding work. They are barred from the military and denied public sector jobs and pensions. They are subject to arbitrary shop closures, unfair dismissal from employment and the confiscation of businesses, property and land. They also have no right to inherit property and the government does not recognise Baha’i marriages.

In recent years, Baha’is in Iran have faced increasingly harsh treatment. Attacks on private homes, businesses, and personal and community property are reported to be increasing. Baha’i cemeteries have also been desecrated and seized. In January 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, published a report outlining current human rights concerns in the country.

Among other issues, the Special Rapporteur noted deep concern that discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities persists, including forced evictions and land confiscation in minority areas. In 2020 hundreds of people were reportedly arrested for resisting land confiscation and house demolitions, despite presenting evidence of ownership. The report notes that in November 2020 over 100 Iranian security agents undertook raids, without cause, against Baha’is, reportedly demanding deeds and confiscating items.

This has led to longer term fears of the widespread and unlawful seizure of Baha’i owned property. In a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2021, Javaid Rehman, stated:

I am disturbed at the harassment, arbitrary arrests and imprisonments of religious minorities, particularly members of the Baha’i faith who have experienced a new wave of house raids and land confiscations in recent months.

A global campaign calling for the end to the persecution of the Baha’is and the return of ancestral lands that were confiscated by an Iranian constitutional court in August 2020, has also been gaining international support in the last few months.

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