After a hiatus of relative freedom during the Pahlavi era (1925-1979), the Islamic regime that came to power in Iran immediately restarted a systematic campaign of state-sponsored oppression against the Baha’is. This is one early report from that time period:
…during the month of October 1978 a list of 93 cases dealing with personal injuries inflicted upon individual believers and of damages to houses, shops, crops and livestock, as well as to local [Baha’i centres]. During the month of December organized mobs attacked Baha’is and their properties in Shiraz and its environs. As a result of these attacks over 300 homes were either burned or destroyed, and some 200 looted. In these events 15 believers were beaten or wounded, and two were killed. …the spirit of aggressive animosity towards the Baha’is spread to several centres throughout the province of Fars, including the town of Marvdasht, where 31 Baha’i homes were looted and the imposing structure of the local [Baha’i centre] reared by that community was razed to the ground. – The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 392.
As reported by numerous sources including the United Nations’ Office of Public Information of the Baha’i International Community, for more than three decades now, despite a tremendous international outcry, the government and ecclesiastical authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) has tortured, imprisoned and executed hundreds of innocent Baha’is; expelled tens of thousands from governmental jobs; denied Baha’i students entry to colleges and universities; incited fanatics to burn down houses and workplaces; encouraged the harassment of Baha’i children by school administrators and teachers; and even ordered the bulldozing, desecration and destruction of Baha’i cemeteries.
In the last century and a half, the fundamentalist Islamic clerics of Iran constructed a powerful taboo surrounding the name “Baha’i”. The majority of the population of the entire nation, heavily influenced by the powerful clerics and their virulent campaign, grew up thinking of “the misguided Baha’i sect” , as they branded the Baha’i Faith, as the worst and the most wrong. The clerics achieved this goal by a campaign of continuous slander and by strictly prohibiting the availability of any unbiased literature or informational sources for the public on the beliefs and practices of the Baha’is.
This has led to a universal lack of factual knowledge about the Baha’i Faith among the Iranians, and a deeply entrenched psychological reluctance to investigate it. As UCLA’s Dr. Nader Saiedi notes:
[Iran’s] collective cultural unconscious has been so dominant and powerful that it has deprived many of our thinkers from the courage to think for themselves, leading to a situation that inserts the unconscious in place of consciousness, and collective prejudices and lies in place of scientific and rational investigation. – “Why the Ideals of the Iranian Revolution were Condemned to Failure.” Iranian, March 27, 2009.
Many Iranians believed the clerics’ propaganda, which has long claimed that Baha’is were agents and spies of foreign governments. And, those few among the general public or the intellectuals who have known about the truth of the matters have been, for the most part, unwilling to openly speak about it, for fear of being branded a Baha’i or a Baha’i sympathizer. Even expressing high regard for Baha’is often took the form of: “He/she is such a wonderful person; too bad he/she is a Baha’i.”
However, during the thirty-five years of IRI rule, and especially during the past few years, more and more Iranians have become aware of the facts surrounding the issue, to a degree that it can now be confidently asserted that the majority of the Iranian people have turned against the injustices and oppression directed toward the Baha’is. In this relatively short period, group after group of Iranians from other minorities and from political movements were drawn into the same whirlwind of repression that had engulfed the Baha’is for so long. They too became targets, and began to see the true faces of those who had made accusations against the Baha’is to keep the public afraid and resentful of them.
With each passing year, Iranians become more certain that Baha’is follow the laws of the land, and have a shining record of service to their fellow countrymen in all the fields and spheres of activity.
The dictatorship which came to power in 1979 has had access to all the documents of the previous regime, and the books and belongings that have been confiscated from Baha’i houses and workplaces. But despite its old accusations against the Baha’is as stirrers of mischief, or spies of foreign powers, it has not produced a single document proving its claims. On the contrary, numerous once-secret government documents and accounts point to the fact that the Baha’is are discriminated against solely on religious grounds.
Time and again, for instance, imprisoned Baha’is have been offered their release if they recant their beliefs. Stanford Professor Abbas Milani says:
There is a new surging consciousness amongst millions of Iranians, dozens of intellectuals, and even a handful of Shiite clerics that the treatment of Baha’is has been a shameful part of our past. More and more people are convinced that Baha’is have, like any other Iranian citizen, the inalienable right to practice their faith, and that as citizens of Iran, they should be entitled to all the rights allotted to any other citizen, from any faith. – “In Support of the Baha’is of Iran.” Iran Press Watch. Iran Press Watch, August 16, 2009.
Recently, many reports have surfaced of individuals who have evinced extraordinary courage in defending their Baha’i neighbors or co-workers against government attacks. Many Iranian human rights organizations, political parties, and scholarly associations have, likewise, begun to advocate for the rights of Baha’is in Iran.