Iran Escalates Confiscation of Private Property Owned by Religious Minority Group

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images)
February 17, 2022

The Iranian government is quietly ramping up the confiscation of private property owned by the country's Baha'i faith community amid a "rising trend" of Iranian state-sanctioned land grabs and media propaganda campaigns targeting the religious minority, the Baha'i representative body warned on Wednesday.

Baha'i advocates said the Iranian government has been using court orders to seize the land in a "piecemeal fashion" in an attempt to "evade the notice of the international community."

The Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order (EIKO), a state-affiliated group controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seized six Baha'i properties in the province of Semnan, according to the Baha'i International Community (BIC). The move follows similar seizures in recent months and comes as the Iranian government has demanded that the Biden administration drop all U.S. economic sanctions, including those related to human rights abuses, in exchange for Iran reentering a nuclear deal.

"The seizure by the Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order of Baha'i properties is a novel and very worrying development for Iranian Baha'is," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, in a statement. "This development demonstrates that the highest levels of Iran's leadership are orchestrating the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran."

EIKO has seized thousands of properties since the Iranian revolution, based on government claims that the ownership is illegitimate. During Khamenei's leadership, EIKO's holdings of confiscated properties has topped $90 billion, according to a 2013 Reuters investigation.

The seizure of a mix of residential and commercial properties in Semnan was approved by an Iranian Revolutionary Court on Jan. 30, the Baha'i International Community told the Washington Free Beacon. Iranian authorities "are attempting to justify confiscation on the basis that these are properties owned by Baha'i institutions," which were outlawed in Iran in 1983, said BIC spokesman Saleem Vaillancourt.

"But the Baha'i community disbanded these institutions in 1983 to comply with the new law," said Vaillancourt. "Today there are no Baha'i institutions in Iran; as a result, no properties can be said to be owned by institutions, only by individual Baha'is."

The move follows similar appropriations of Baha'i land, according to the BIC. Last month, a 24-year-old Baha'i woman reportedly had her apartment in Mazandaran province seized by authorities after she was arrested on undisclosed charges. In December, the government confiscated 13 irrigated farmlands from Baha'is during a draught and placed the properties up for auction at below-market rates. Local Baha'is "were told that the auction was closed to Baha'is, and also to any Muslims that had dealings with Baha'is," according to the BIC.

"Iran's leadership is enriching itself while impoverishing and displacing the Baha'is," said Ala'i. "Seizures in Semnan, Mazandaran, and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces may be just the beginning … Supporters of human rights inside and outside Iran must condemn this outrageously unjust ruling and demand that it be rescinded without delay."

An estimated 300,000 Baha'is live in Iran, according to BIC. The faith community, which believes in some tenets of Islam and Christianity and objects to violence, has faced government persecution for decades. In addition to the government's ban on Baha'i institutions, the state-run media have portrayed the community as Satan worshippers and spies for the United States and Israel.

Iran has been demanding the withdrawal of U.S. sanctions, including those linked to human rights and terrorism, as it negotiates with the Biden administration over reentering the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Vaillancourt told the Free Beacon that the Baha'i community hopes U.S. and world leaders will press Iran to stop the property grabs.

"We hope that officials at international organizations and in the international community will now call on Iran to halt this latest seizure and reverse the others," Vaillancourt told the Free Beacon.