90-year-old man in Iran among dozens of Bahais arrested

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A 90-year-old man is among dozens arrested in past weeks in a new crackdown by Iranian authorities against Bahais, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, a group said Wednesday.

The Bahais, whose faith is not recognized in the Islamic republic, say they have been the victims of a new wave of repression over the past year.

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In the latest crackdown, almost 60 Bahais were reported to have been arrested in Iran in the last weeks, said the the Bahai International Community (BIC), which defends the interests of members of the faith.

Another 180 incidents of persecution, such as interrogations or raids against businesses, have been recorded in recent weeks, BIC said in a statement.

Those arrested include Jamaloddin Khanjani, a 90-year-old who had already served 10 years in prison.

Khanjani, a former member of a now disbanded informal leadership group for the Bahais in Iran, was detained with his daughter Maria Khanjani on Sunday, it said.

Two other former members of the group, Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, who were arrested in July 2022, received confirmation of their 10-year prison terms which were upheld this week on appeal, it said.

Acclaimed writer and poet Sabet, 70, suffers from significant health issues and has been transferred to hospital from prison numerous times in the past year, it added.

Like Khanjani, Sabet and Kamalabadi had completed previous 10 year sentences and were released in 2018.

“The cruelty meted out to the Bahais in Iran has no limits,” said Simin Fahandej, the BIC’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Arresting a 90-year-old and others with health issues who already spent 10 years in prison for their faith shows the government’s desperate attempt to continue its fruitless efforts to destroy the Bahai community in Iran,” she added.

Nine other Bahais were arrested on the same day as Khanjani, including the owners and employees of a number of pharmacies which were shut down by the authorities, it added.

Iranian authorities earlier this month said nine followers of the Bahai faith had been arrested on corruption charges, linking the arrests to the alleged hoarding of pharmaceutical goods.

The Bahai faith is a relatively modern monotheistic religion with spiritual roots dating back to the early 19th century in Iran.

Iran brands Bahais “heretics” and often accuses them of being agents of arch-foe Israel, as the spiritual hub of the faith is headquartered in the Israeli port city of Haifa.

But the community dismisses such suggestions, saying Haifa emerged as a center of the faith well before the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Bahais in Iran complain of discrimination in their daily lives, making it a struggle to open businesses and even bury their dead.

They also complain that they are systematically denied access to higher education in Iran.

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