Bahai' Most Persecuted Religion in Iran; Christians Also Threatened

A U.N. special report on persecuted religious minorities in Iran has found that the Baha'i faith is the most targeted in the Islamic country, and it has warned that further economic sanctions may make life more difficult also for all people in Iran.

"By and large I would say the Baha'is are the most persecuted religious minority in Iran," Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran said before a seminar at the International Peace Institute in New York on Monday.

As both President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney made clear in Monday night's foreign policy debate, they plan to impose further sanctions on Iran to make it more difficult for the Middle Eastern country to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities. However, Shaheed has warned that this would also have harsh consequences for everyday Iranians, as they will suffer from a lack of accessible medicine and other basic human needs.

The Baha'I faith is a relatively young religion, founded in the 19th century and borrowing from a number of already established religions, taking from the teachings of Jesus Christ, Moses, Muhammad and Buddha to preach spirituality and unity for all beings. There are estimated to be between five to six million adherents of the faith worldwide, but in some countries, like Iran, Baha'I is not recognized as a legitimate faith and is seen as heretical.

"The numbers of Baha'is that are in prison have increased, over a hundred at the present time according to the information I have," Shaheed continued in his report.

"They face a whole range of discrimination, from being unable to practice their faith, being denied access to basic services," he said. "And often they face charges unrelated to their faith, national security charges."

Shaheed's full report will be presented later this week, Reuters noted, and will detail how human rights activists are often beaten with batons, raped, and have family members threatened. Members of other religious groups, even those that are officially recognized by Iran, are also mistreated, the U.N. special rapporteur reveals. Among them include Christians, Sunni Muslims and Dervishes. More than 90 percent of people in Iran identify as Shi'a Muslims.

"The broad picture is the harassment continues, and the same goes for other minority religions which are ... recognized in the constitution," Shaheed continued, revealing that more than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010 for their faith.

"Targeting of new converts is what's really at issue at the present time, those who convert from, say, Islam to Christianity are targeted for persecution and those who proselytize or evangelize are targeted for persecution," he added.

Iran continues to deny charges of persecution against religious minorities and maintains that its nuclear program that has much of the rest of the world up in arms is only for peaceful purposes. Western countries warn that sanctions will continue mounting if there is any suspicion that Iran is aiming to acquire atomic bombs.

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