Human Rights

In Iran, the religiously motivated murder of a Bahá’í draws condemnation and concern

NEW YORK—The assassination-style murder of a prominent Bahá’í in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas in August has drawn international condemnation—and expressions of concern over evidence that the killing was religiously motivated.

Ataollah Rezvani was shot in the back of the head in his car by assailants who apparently forced him to drive to an isolated location near the railway station on the outskirts of Bandar Abbas sometime on 24 August 2013. His body was discovered the next day after he failed to return home.

His murder came after a series of threats and incidents that were apparently designed to force him and his family to leave the city. To begin with, he had come under pressure from agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, who instigated his dismissal from a job in water purification. He had also begun to receive menacing telephone calls from unknown persons.

Recently, as well, local Bahá’ís and the Bahá’í Faith generally had been attacked from the pulpit by senior clergymen in the region, according to several reports.

“There is little doubt that the killing of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was motivated by religious prejudice,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations. “Therefore, it is essential that the government at the highest levels investigate this without delay under its international obligations.

“In recent years, clerics and the authorities in Iran have sought to create an atmosphere of anti-Baha’i hatred, using the pulpit and state-sponsored media.

“The newly instituted government of President Hassan Rouhani now has a clear choice. It can continue as his predecessors have, allowing such incidents to take place with impunity, indicating to the world that nothing has changed. Or it can show the world that it is committed to upholding justice and human rights for all Iranians.”

Since 2005 in Iran, at least nine Bahá’ís have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances, and another 52 have been physically assaulted, both by government agents and plainclothes or unidentified attackers—all without prosecution.

“Mr. Rezvani had been well-known and respected by ordinary citizens in Bandar Abbas as a man of honesty and helpfulness,” said Ms. Dugal, noting that he is survived by a wife and two children.

“Yet sinister forces sought to drive him from the city he sought only to serve, leading ultimately to his untimely death,” she said.

Governments, civil society and news media around the world have expressed concern about Mr. Rezvani’s killing.

In the United Kingdom, more than 20 Members of Parliament signed a motion urging the UK government to press Iranian authorities for a full investigation of Mr. Rezvani’s murder.

In Brazil, Federal Deputy Walter Feldman delivered a statement to the Brazilian Congress on 28 August taking note of Mr. Rezvani’s murder and calling on Iran to demonstrate its commitment to religious freedom by releasing prisoners of conscience.

The group Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a statement of concern over Mr. Rezvani’s death, noting in particular the role played by hate speech. Coverage of his murder appeared in The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspapers.

A number of commentators connected the murder with the recent publication of a series of fatwas issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Among them was an edict calling the Bahá’í Faith “deviant and misleading,” and calling on Iranians to avoid all dealings with Bahá’ís, according to the Associated Press.

Perhaps the most interesting expression of concern came from a group of prisoners in Iran’s notorious Rajai Shahr prison in Gohardasht, where members of the Bahá’í Faith are also being held. According to www.rahesabz.net, some 49 prisoners signed a letter objecting to “this terrorist and inhuman act” and calling for an immediate investigation.

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