Iran Facts
Area:    1,648,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Tehran
Total Population:    68,960,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The outlook for Baha'i in Iran is not good. Although the general political situation in Iran has improved since the election of President Khatami in 1997, the status of the Baha'i has worsened. A covert university which offered the Baha'i the only possibility for higher education was closed in 1998, and as long as the government is controlled by a Shi'i Muslim clergy that considers them heretics, the Iranian populace will maintain its prejudices against the Baha'i. While nongovernmental organizations such as the Baha'i International Community (UN) and Baha'i World Headquarters (based in Haifa, Israel) provide ideological encouragement, there is little force behind their demands for better Baha'i treatment in Iran.

Analytic Summary

The Baha'is of Iran are likely the most persecuted minority in the country. The Baha'i faith began as an offshoot of Shi'i Islam in Iran in the mid-1800s. Iran's relatively small Baha'i community is distinct from the dominant Shi'i majority due to their religious (BELIEF = 3) and cultural (CUSTOM = 1) differences, but the Baha'i are Persian speaking (CULDIFX2 = 0) and of Persian origin (CULDIFX1 = 0). The Iranian Shi'i Muslim clergy considers the Baha'i to be heretics and has opposed them since the inception of the religion; accordingly, the Baha'i have been mistreated in Iran for over a century and a half, and especially in the post-1979 era.

The observance of the Baha'i faith is prohibited by the Iranian constitution (CULPO103 = 3), as is the celebration of holidays (CULPO403 = 3), and organizations that promote Baha'i culture (CULPO703 = 3). In April 2001 however, the government announced the elimination of the requirement that citizens indicate religious affiliation at the time of registration of marriage, which effectively allows Baha'i' to register their marriages officially and for Baha'i children to inherit legally, mitigating some of the legal obstacles that they face (CULP0600 = 2, CULP0601-03 = 0).

In the economic sphere, Baha'i face discrimination by the frequent confiscation or plunder of their homes by government officers (DMEVIC03 = 2). Seizure of personal property, in addition to the denial of access to education and employment (POLIC603, POLIC703, POLIC803 = 2), is eroding the economic base of the Baha'i community. And in the political realm, the Baha'i are prohibited from expressing themselves freely (POLIC103 = 2), and are restricted on their rights during judicial proceedings and on political organizing (POLIC303, POLIC403 = 2).

Coupled with this ongoing discrimination is an explicit policy of group repression by the Iranian government. Arrests, show trials, and systematic domestic spying are all frequent occurrences that have been levied against members of the Iranian Baha'i community (REP0103, REP1503 = 3, REP0400, REP0401 = 3, REP0402, REP0403 = 0). While no execution of an Iranian Baha'i has been reported since 1998, several Baha'i are currently imprisoned under the sentence of death. Baha'is were subject to arbitrary arrest and detention by Iranian authorities throughout the 1980s. Many of these detainees were tortured and executed. There were more than 200 such executions during the 1980s and many more arrests. The Iranian government claims that these arrests and executions were for "criminal offenses" but it is far more likely that these "criminal offenses" were fabricated. Despite such brutal conditions, there are no reported instances of Baha'i protest or rebellion in recent years (PROT01-03 and REB98-00 = 0); this may be due to the Baha'i's small numbers, primary urban dispersal (GROUPCON = 1), and the effectiveness of the Iranian government in curbing all forms of Baha'i association and organization.


Amnesty International Report 2001-2003: Iran.

Cooper, Roger The Baha'is of Iran, Minority Rights Group, 1985.

Helfgott, Leonard M. "The Structural Foundations of the National Minority Problem in Revolutionary Iran" Middle East Studies, XIII (1-4), pp.195-213.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001-2003: Iran.

Meron, Theodore "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights" Human Rights Internet Reporter, 13 (1), Spring 1989, pp. 8-13.

Metz, Helen Chapin Iran: a Country Study (4th ed.), Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1987.

Richard, Yann "The Relevance of 'Nationalism' in Contemporary Iran" Middle East Review, Summer 1989, pp. 27-36.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-1994.

Lexis/Nexis, All news files, 1990-2003.

UN Commission on Human Rights Report on the Islamic Republic of Iran, 12 February 1990.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports on Iran for 1991 & 1993, 2001-2003

The Washington Post, 1990-1994.


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