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Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 12:01 am

Senate opposes persecution of Baha’is in Iran

 The Springfield Baha’i community is celebrating the recent approval by the U.S. Senate of a resolution condemning Iran’s continued state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i citizens. Senate Resolution 75 was introduced by Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

The Springfield Baha’i community is asking other area faith communities to offer prayers for the hundreds of thousands of Baha’is living in Iran who, since 1979, have faced a continuous wave of government-sponsored persecution, up to and including imprisonment and execution without due process. Toward that end, area Baha’is will be offering prayers at noon on Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Springfield Baha’i Center, 1131 S. Eighth St. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the devotional gathering, which will include a light lunch afterwards.

By passing SR75, the Senate has made it clear it sees human rights, including those of the Baha’is – Iran’s largest religious minority – as an important element in our nation’s renewed engagement with Iran, according to Grady Gilkey, chairman of the Springfield Baha’i Spiritual Assembly that administers the affairs of Baha’is living in the Springfield area.

“Springfield’s Baha’i community includes several families of Iranian descent with relatives currently imprisoned or previously executed by the Iranian government,” Gilkey said. “In practically all cases, Iranian Baha’is could avoid such persecutions by simply recanting their faith – something Baha’is in Iran traditionally refuse to do.”

The Senate’s actions, coupled with the Dec. 18 passage of a U.N. General Assembly resolution on human rights violations in Iran, make it clear the U.S. and numerous countries continue to hold grave concerns about the ongoing abuses against the Baha’is and others out of favor with the Iranian regime.

The number of Baha’is in prison currently stands at 116. It has more than doubled since the beginning of 2011 when the number was 57. Baha’is also face intense economic and social pressure, including denial of jobs and higher education, harassment of schoolchildren and desecration of cemeteries. Simply put, Baha’is in Iran are persecuted from cradle to grave.

SR75 calls on the Iranian government to immediately release all religious prisoners. Further, the resolution urges the U.S. president and secretary of state, together with responsible nations, to condemn the ongoing persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, and to utilize measures “to impose sanctions on officials of the government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Baha’i community of Iran.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the original cosponsor of the resolution, added, “I am glad to see the passage of this important resolution. The Baha’i community in Iran has already endured too much. This resolution takes important steps in condemning the Iranian regime’s violations of human rights and pushes the administration to do more to aid the situation. The Baha’is in Iran deserve the same religious freedoms enjoyed by the Baha’is in Illinois. I hope this resolution will serve as a reminder to the worldwide community that many religious minorities still fight for security and fairness today.”

S.Res. 75 gained strong bipartisan support with 35 senators cosponsoring the resolution – 22 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and one Independent. More information is available at the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs at (202) 833-8990, or by visiting http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/iran-update/.

Mike Lang is a longtime member of the Baha’i faith, and has served as the public information representative for the Springfield Baha’i Spiritual Assembly for more than 20 years. He is a founding member of the Springfield Race Unity Committee, which has membership from a wide range of social, religious and community-based organizations, and recently launched a “Mix It Up” program at District 186 middle schools. He plays bass in the Lincoln Land Community College Big Band.

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