When President George Bush visited Beijing during the opening days of the 2008 Olympic games, he spoke about religious liberty after he visited a church there:
“You know, it just goes to show that God is universal, and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion.”
That is a message too often ignored by China and other non-democratic governments. Iran is one of them, as its recent treatment of seven members of the largest non-Muslim religious group in Iran – the Baha’is – shows only too clearly.
On August 3rd, an Iranian newspaper reported that seven Baha’is detained by the regime have supposedly confessed to operating an illegal organization with ties to Israel and other countries, in order to undermine the Islamic system in Iran. The Resalat newspaper cites the statements of a Tehran prosecutor and appears to refer to the five Baha’i men and two women, leaders of the Baha’i community, who were arrested this spring and have been held incommunicado for months.
Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations rejected “in the strongest possible terms the suggestions that Baha’is in Iran have engaged in any subversive activity.” She said, “The Baha’i community is not involved in political affairs. Their only [so-called] ‘crime’ is the practice of their religion.”
In its latest annual human rights report, the U.S. State Department noted that Iran’s approximately three hundred and fifty thousand Baha’is are not allowed to teach or practice their faith, and that the government continues to imprison and detain Baha’is based on their religious beliefs.
The United States calls on the leaders of Iran and all countries, which reject what President Bush calls the “precious liberty” of religious freedom, to respect the rights of those who only seek to worship God as they see fit.