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updated: 5/25/2014 8:07 AM

U.S. must condemn persecution in Iran

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  • Senator Mark Kirk.

      Senator Mark Kirk.

  • durbin_3ne052908JL Cook Photo0704305photo by Joe Lewnard//////U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., meets with the Daily Herald editorial board to discuss his various initiatives.

      durbin_3ne052908JL Cook Photo0704305photo by Joe Lewnard//////U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., meets with the Daily Herald editorial board to discuss his various initiatives.

 
By Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk

Sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wilmette, is the breathtakingly beautiful Bahá'í House of Worship, one of only seven temples of its type in the world.

The temple, which was dedicated May 2, 1953, is the oldest standing Bahá'í temple in the world -- and the only Bahá'í temple in the United States.

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Grounded in the principles of unity, peace, and understanding, the Bahá'í Faith -- is one of the world's fastest-growing religions, with more than 5 million followers worldwide and thousands of followers right here in Illinois.

It began as an independent world religion in 19th-century Persia, now present-day Iran. However, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, membership in the Bahá'í faith has made its followers a target of systematic persecution in the very state in which it was founded.

May 14th marked the sixth year that seven Baha'is, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naemi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mahvash Sabet and Vahid Tizfahm have been behind bars in Iran simply because of their faith.

The case of the imprisonment of the seven Bahá'ís, who make up the former leadership group of the Bahá'í Faith in Iran, epitomizes the ongoing persecution the community faces and the blatant violation of basic human rights in Iran.

The Iranian constitution fails to recognize the Bahá'í Faith as a legitimate religion, and the lack of these legal rights leaves them particularly vulnerable to discrimination and harassment. Seen as heretics, Bahá'ís are restricted from filling public and private jobs, denied business licenses, excluded from attending university and are often victims of raids and violent attacks.

Members of the Bahá'í Faith are routinely and arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned. More than 700 worshippers have been arrested or jailed in the past 10 years based solely on their faith.

The 2012 State Department International Religious Freedom Report states that the government continues to "prohibit Bahá'ís from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religious groups."

Under the new government of Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, hope existed that life would improve for those who were religiously persecuted. Yet, there are currently 136 Bahá'ís behind bars -- a 20-year high, according to the U.S. Bahá'í Office of Public Affairs.

The Iranian regime has long engaged in a campaign to eradicate the Bahá'í Faith. Ensuring that none of these acts go unnoticed is fundamental to preventing human rights violations.

As part of that effort, we introduced a resolution in the United States Senate that condemns the Iranian regime's continued persecution of members of the Bahá'í Faith and calls on them to release all those unjustly imprisoned.

On December 20, 2013, it passed with the full support of the Senate, sending a strong message that the U.S. will not stand for Iran's intolerance of the Bahá'í Faith and other religious minorities who face opposition and pressure from their government.

The Iranian regime has imprisoned and violated the rights of their people for far too long. We must stand up to those who strike fear into the hearts of their people by abusing their basic human freedoms.

We reaffirm our solidarity with the Bahá'ís in Iran and call upon the Iranian regime to release the seven Bahá'í leaders, and to grant freedom to the countless other men and women who are unjustly persecuted for their beliefs.

• U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is a Democrat from Springfield. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is a Republican from Highland Park.

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