Iran arrests Baha’i group accused of spying on behalf of Israel

A spokesperson for the persecuted religious minority rejected the charge outright.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A dozen young members of the persecuted religious Baha’i minority have been arrested in Iran on charges of spying for Israel, Iranian news agency IRNA reported Saturday.

The report quoted the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security as saying that “the members of the organization communicated in secret, relying on the basis of messages sent from Haifa and the Zionist regime. These messages were used by the organization’s members in the country.”

The Baha’i governing body, the Universal House of Justice, is located in Haifa. Their founding prophet is buried in nearby Acre, and Baha’is around the world pray towards Israel.

The General Intelligence Department of Mazandaran Province, where the raids took place, said that two of those captured had “trained” at Haifa’s Baha’i facility and then entered Iran to form the espionage network.

The Baha’i International Center (BIC), which represents the religious group, rejected the spying claim outright, and contested the number of those arrested as well.

“Fourteen Baha’is, including 13 youths, were arrested yesterday in the northern Iranian city of Qaemshahr,” it said in a statement Thursday. “Most of the arrests occurred at a private home where the youth were studying and discussing together the role of education in social progress.”

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This is the second time in a month that Iranian intelligence has claimed to have caught local Baha’is spying for Israel.

In the first incident, the exact number of those arrested was not revealed, but the same charge was reported – that they were working for the Haifa center and had illegally passed information on to it.

According to the Baha’i International Community, the Iranian government has cracked down especially hard on Baha’is since that time.

“Authorities have targeted Baha’is in 245 incidents of persecution over the past 32 days,” the statement continued. This has included “arrests and imprisonment, the destruction of homes and confiscation of properties, raids on private and business premises, beatings, the denial of medication to detainees and the denial of higher education to more than one hundred young people.”

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights condemned Iran in late August for its heavy-handed behavior against those professing a religion it has banned.

“We are deeply concerned with the increasing arbitrary arrests, and on occasions, enforced disappearances of members of the Baha’i faith and the destruction or confiscation of their properties, in what bears all the signs of a policy of systematic persecution,” it said, demanding the release of all those detained.

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“The Iranian government’s cruelty breaks every measure,” said Simin Fahandej, representative of the BIC to the United Nations in Geneva. “Not only does it deprive these youth of entering universities and developing their intellectual capacities, it also denies them the simple right to gather as young people to discuss issues of importance to their generation.”