IRAN: Oppressed in life and persecuted in death: Baha’is prevented from dignified burials in their own cemetery
Bahá’í International Community (03.04.2023) – A brazen and barbaric act by the Iranian authorities has emerged in recent days in Tehran. A deceased Baha’i was buried on 30 March at Khavaran cemetery near Tehran by an agent of the Ministry of Intelligence without notifying the family of the deceased and violating Baha’i burial practices.
The agent had demanded that the family pay an exorbitant fee for burial within plots already owned and previously managed by the Baha’i community. He threatened the family that failure to meet his demands would result in the burial taking place in a site adjacent to the Baha’i cemetery previously used by the government to bury executed political prisoners.
And in a further development over the weekend, the same intelligence agent threatened to bury another Baha’i under the same circumstance if the family of the deceased also refused to yield to his demands.
“What threat do the dead pose that justifies this ruthless treatment by the Iranian government,” said Simin Fahandej, a Representative of the Baha’i International Community (BIC) to the United Nations, “that they extend the persecution of Baha’is even after their death, following a lifetime of oppression imposed on them in every aspect of their living moments?”
The previous Tehran Baha’i cemetery, a beautifully cultivated site of about 80,000 square meters built before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was confiscated in 1980. A smaller barren plot of land adjacent to a mass grave site was then transferred to the community by Tehran’s Deputy Mayor.
Now the Baha’is are being asked for high fees to bury their dead in their own cemetery land and prevented from doing so according to Baha’i burial practices. Baha’i cemetery staff have been imprisoned and even bereaved family members threatened with imprisonment.
Numerous other Baha’i cemeteries around Iran have also been confiscated or desecrated over the past 40 years.
“Baha’is have faced burial issues for over four decades. But now, adding to the burden of grief of both those Baha’is whose family members are being buried without formal burial rites, as well as those families whose loved ones are already buried in a previously used plot of land, is beyond cruel,” Ms. Fahandej added.
Two years ago, as part of a systematic 43-year campaign to persecute the Baha’is, the Iranian authorities began to block the community from using their part of the Khavaran cemetery and demanded that Baha’is use an adjacent site which was previously used as a mass grave.
The Baha’is refused out of respect for the dead and their bereaved families.
Earlier this week, when the Baha’is wished to bury a prominent member of the community, Mr. Behzad Majidi, the Ministry of Intelligence agent Masoud Momeni attempted to charge the Baha’is an exorbitant sum to allow the burial within the Baha’i-owned cemetery plot. The Baha’is refused this on principle, as other minority communities with plots in the same larger complex do not face such fees. The action meant that the Baha’is were barred from using their own cemetery.
Mr. Momeni, who in April 2021 wrested management control of the Baha’i cemetery from the community, and whose Ministry of Intelligence affiliation was revealed by Tehran municipality staff, then buried Mr. Majidi atop the mass grave site without respecting Baha’i funeral practices or informing his loved ones, depriving them of the opportunity to be present.
His action was an obvious retaliation against the Baha’is and a violation of their property rights and funeral practices. Mr. Momeni has also instructed cemetery workers to remove the barrier dividers between the Baha’i cemetery and the mass grave—in a further attempt to erase the ownership and identity of the Baha’i cemetery.
“The inhumane actions of the Iranian government have no limits, not even in death,” said Ms. Fahandej, “Now the authorities are trying to persecute many at the same time, both out of disrespect for the burial rights of the Baha’is, and by the desecration of the resting place of thousands of others. Baha’is do not accept these efforts on principle.”
The latest persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community—which targeted individuals even as they grieved the loss of loved ones—comes as hundreds of families across Iran are mourning a widespread loss of life.
- Before the Revolution the Baha’i community in Tehran owned a beautifully landscaped and befitting cemetery land of about 80,000 square meters. In 1980, this central Baha’i cemetery in Tehran was confiscated. The government then leveled the grounds, the site of more than 15,000 burials, removing gravestones and selling off those of value. In the 1990s, the grounds were further desecrated when the bodies of the Baha’is were exhumed and ignominiously loaded onto trucks. Bulldozers were then used to clear the grounds for the construction of the “Khavaran Cultural Center”.
- The executive director of the Behesht-e Zahra Organization (the agency that manages Tehran’s large Khavaran cemetery) later announced that a parcel of barren land of 27,000 square meters with no facilities was legally transferred to the Baha’i community in replacement, to which the community have sacrificially developed open green space, a mortuary, a surrounding wall, and entrance and exit gates on the Khavaran Road. Other minority communities also have separate cemeteries within the same larger complex. The new Baha’i cemetery was next to the Armenian cemetery, within the same larger complex, and adjacent to a mass grave of political victims.
- Tehran’s Khavaran cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of political victims executed in the 1980s by the new Islamic Republic and placed in a mass grave
- Attempting to charge bereaved Baha’is exorbitant sums to use the Baha’i-owned cemetery in Tehran, and then burying the deceased atop the 1980s mass grave when they refuse on principle, is an attempt to both erase the memory of thousands of political victims while inflicting further harm on the persecuted Iranian Baha’i community.
- Iran’s government has hindered and even blocked the ability of the Baha’is to bury their dead ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
- Baha’i burial and funeral practices call for the deceased to be treated with dignity and respect and for a specific prayer to be read – neither of which was observed for Mr. Majidi.
- Since 1979, the Baha’is have been systematically persecuted in Iran by being arbitrarily detained, sentenced to jail on baseless charges, denied educations and livelihoods, their homes are confiscated and destroyed, they are smeared by hate speech, and their graves are desecrated, as part of a campaign to destroy Iran’s Baha’i community.