The Bahais, Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, follow the teachings of Bahaullah, born in Persia in 1817, whom they consider a prophet and founder of their monotheistic faith.
Iran brands Bahais “heretics” and often accuses them of being spies linked to Israel, as their world headquarters are located in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
“The General Directorate of Intelligence in Mazandaran province has identified and arrested 12 members of the Bahai Zionist organisation in different cities of the province,” reported Iribnews, the state television website.
“Two of the leaders of this spy organisation were trained in Bayt-al-Adl,” the Bahais’ Universal House of Justice in Haifa, it said about those arrested in the northern province.
Iran, where Shiite Islam is the state religion, recognises minority faiths including Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, but not Bahaism with followers estimated to number 300,000 in Iran.
Iran’s intelligence ministry had last announced in early August that it had arrested Bahais suspected of spying and of working illegally to spread their religion.
They had been instructed to “infiltrate educational environments at different levels, especially kindergartens across the country”, the ministry said then.
In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Iran to end human rights violations against minority religions including the Bahais, citing “harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention” among other breaches.
The Bahai faith is a relatively modern monotheistic religion with spiritual roots dating back to the early 19th century in Iran, promoting the unity of all people and equality.
The Bahai community claims to have more than seven million followers worldwide.