Alongside the ongoing crackdown by the Iranian government on peaceful political opponents-- including students, labor leaders, women's rights activists, and journalists -- there is another group being targeted by the regime: Iran's Baha'i community.
Founded in Iran in the 19th century, Baha'ism is considered by Iran's clerical government to be apostasy. Baha'is are not allowed to openly practice their faith, and they endure a range of governmental persecution from discrimination in education and employment to imprisonment and murder.
Human Rights Watch has issued a statement outlining the harassment and arbitrary detention of Iranian Baha'is by the government in recent months, saying this is "only the latest chapter in the government's persecution of the Baha'i."
Human Rights Watch reports that since October 2009, at least 47 Baha'is in Tehran, Mashhad, Sari, Semnan and Yazd have been detained. In January and February alone, twenty six Baha'is were arrested. In the spring of 2008, seven leaders of the community were arrested and have been in prison ever since. The two women and five men are charged with a series of national security offenses, including espionage, which carries the death penalty. They have had limited access to their lawyers or families.
In testimony before the United Nations Human Rights Council in February, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner spoke, among other issues, of the plight of the Baha'is in Iran. "More than 200 Baha'i leaders have been executed since 1979. We are concerned about the welfare and legal rights of seven Baha'i leaders imprisoned for more than a year and now on trial on unsubstantiated charges." Along with prominent Shi'a reformers and members of Iran's Sufi minority, Mr. Posner said Baha'is "are increasingly subject to surveillance, harassment, prolonged arbitrary detention and unsubstantiated legal proceedings."
"The United States strongly condemns the recent violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens," said Assistant Secretary of State Posner. He called on the government of Iran, among other measures, to uphold its constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of worship, end its severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association and assembly, and respect all of its international human rights treaty obligations.