Kirk Takes Up Baha'i Fight

August 14, 2008

Author: Ken Goze

Source: Wilmette Life,WI-temple-081408-s1.article

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-10th and Wilmette-area Bahá'ís are speaking out against what they say is a stepped up campaign of persecution against Bahá'ís in Iran, the birthplace of the religion.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bi-partisan resolution authored by Kirk and New Jersey Democrat Rob Andrews condemning arsons, detentions and other forms of intimidation they say has worsened over the past year. Bahá'ís, who acknowledge Mohammed as one of many divine messengers, have nevertheless been branded "apostates" by the fundamentalist Islamic regime, and have faced intense repression since the 1979 revolution.

Over the past two years, the situation has worsened as the government began to develop lists of Bahá'ís, had them expelled from universities and licensed professions. A draft penal code published late last year demands the death penalty for "apostates." Seven members of the faith's national leadership have been imprisoned without charges or access to attorneys, a move reminiscent of similar roundup in 1980 that led to the disappearance and presumed execution of Bahá'í leaders.

Kirk said he believes the crackdown is motivated in part by a desire to find a scapegoat for Iran's internal problems which include an economy which is faltering despite record oil revenues. He worries that the pattern of escalating harassment and violence has the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing campaign.

"We worry that when you throw all Bahá'ís out of universities and then you register all Bahá'ís and you start to commit arson against their homes, that is exactly the path that happened in Bosnia," Kirk said.

A strongly-worded resolution might seem like lost effort against a regime which seems to taunt the U.S. with its nuclear ambitions and contempt of world opinion. Kirk said Iran cares about its image more than it lets on, and many within the country's power structure are unhappy with the their nation's increasing isolation. The European Parliament recently adopted a similar resolution.