Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Bahai'i Faith and Abuse of its Leaders in Iran

Posted on December 8, 2010

Mr. President, I rise today to discuss an issue that some constituents of mine brought to my attention when I was Nashville this August.  We met to discuss the plight of the Baha’i in Iran.  The Baha’i Faith was founded in Persia in 1844, and is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, with more than 5 million followers in more than 200 countries and territories.  It is the largest non-Muslim religious community in Iran today.

Baha’i followers have been persecuted for their faith by the Iranian government since their religion was established, but the frequency and severity of the persecutions has increased under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  More than 2 years ago, a group of seven Baha’i leaders, often referred to as the “Yaran” or “Friends,” were arrested.  They were charged with pursuing propaganda activities against Islam and for spying on behalf of Israel.  After more than 2 years of “temporary” confinement, the seven were tried in a closed court proceeding that did not meet even the minimum international standards for proper criminal procedure and protection of civil rights.  The six men and one woman were each sentenced to 20 years in prison on August 8.

This is yet another example of the Iranian government striking out against its own people.  We saw violent examples of this in June of last year when Iranian citizens began protesting the unfair presidential elections.  Those who dare to differ with the government face baseless charges, closed court proceedings, extremely harsh sentences, and possibly even death.  The international community has expressed its outrage about the sentencing of this group, and Secretary of State Clinton issued a statement on August 12 that reaffirms our country’s commitment to protecting religious freedom around the world, including that of the Baha’is in Iran.

This is more than a story from the other side of the world.  There are more than 168,000 Baha’i in the United States and more than 2,000 in my home state of Tennessee.  The men and women with whom I met in August have family members – fathers, mothers, sons, brothers, and in-laws – who have been arrested and imprisoned in Iran simply because of their faith.  Their only request was that we, as Members of the United States Senate, continue to do all that we can to keep the spotlight on Iran and its persecution of peaceful citizens. 

That is why I wanted to bring this matter to the attention of the Senate today.  The United States Congress has already imposed sanctions on Iran by passing the [Iran Sanctions Act].  But I hope that by shining a spotlight on this extreme and continued abuse of peaceful adherents of the Baha’i faith by the Iranian government, we can (1) reaffirm our commitment to religious freedom around the world and (2) make a little more uncomfortable the regime in Iran which perpetrates these crimes against its own people.