The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes today’s announcement that the United States Treasury has sanctioned Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani for directing “the regime’s systematic blocking of social and economic progress of the Baha’i community, a religious minority group in Iran.
This includes expelling members of the Baha’i faith from universities and denying them employment.” This is the first time the Treasury Department has sanctioned an individual specifically for his role in orchestrating the persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
“Today’s designation of Mohammed Golpayegani for his role in directing the eradication of Baha’is is a clear signal that the United States will act with the full array of tools at its disposal against officials responsible for violating religious freedom.” said USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins.
“The message of today’s designations is clear: America will act when foreign officials commit severe religious freedom abuses.”
“Iran’s Baha’i community has long been the target of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations by Iran’s government. USCIRF welcomes today’s news as a significant step toward accountability for religious minorities persecuted by governments around the world,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin.
As reported in USCIRF’s 2019 Annual Report in the chapter about Iran, Iran’s government considers the Baha’i faith a heretical “deviant sect” whose members are de facto apostates.
As reported by the Baha’i International Community in 1991, Mohammed Golpayegani issued a confidential memorandum to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei outlining a plan for the systemic persecution of Baha’is in Iran, including expelling them from universities, destroying their cultural roots, and denying them employment and positions of influence. He then collaborated with the Ayatollah to ensure the actualization of the plan.
Since 2005, more than 1007 Iranian Baha’is have been arrested. Most of the arrests and detentions follow a similar pattern: Agents of the Ministry of Intelligence arrive at the homes of Baha’is, search the premises, confiscate items such as computers and books, and then make arrests.
Often Baha’is are arrested individually, or in twos and threes, after authorities raid a Baha’i home. Large groups of Baha’is are also often arrested. In January 2017, seven Baha’is were arrested in Yazd, for example, and on 28 September 2016, 14 Baha’is were arrested in Shiraz and Karaj.
There are currently 97 Baha’is in prison, all on false charges related solely to their religious belief. The list includes six of the seven national-level Baha’i leaders, who currently remain in prison for allegedly “disturbing national security,” “spreading propaganda against the regime,” and “engaging in espionage.” As noted, one among them, Mahvash Sabet, who was the first to be arrested, was released on 18 September 2017 after completing her sentence.
Their arrests in 2008 and sentencing in 2010 provoked an international outcry. In December 2013, the seven wrote to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express their views on his proposed “Iranian Charter of Citizen’s Rights.”
Since 2005, there have been at least 68 documented instances of physical violence against Baha’is, ranging from simple assault to murder, all of which have gone unprosecuted.
Since 2005, there have been more than 1,170 incidents of economic persecution against Iranian Baha’is. These include shop closings, dismissals, the revocation of business licenses and other efforts to block Baha’is from earning a livelihood. Recent examples include the sealing of 16 Baha’i-owned businesses in July 2017 in Khouzestan Province after shop-owners closed to observe a Baha’i holy day and the sealing of at least 124 Baha’i-owned shops and businesses in the provinces of Mazandaran, Alborz, Hormozgan, and Kerman in November 2016 after the owners closed their businesses to observe a pair of important Baha’i holy days.
In October 2015, The Baha’i International Community issued a major report on the economic oppression of Baha’is titled “Their Progress and Development Are Blocked: The economic oppression of Iran’s Baha’is.”
Since 2010, USCIRF has recommended sanctioning individuals specifically for their role in violating religious freedom. Today’s announcement marks one of the United States government’s most explicit designations on this basis to date.