Reports and breaking news

Attempt to torch a Baha'i in Shiraz

After the recent news about the draft law in Iran that would lead to further discrimination against Baha’is and other religious minorities, yet more bad news emerges from Iran.

Baha’is in Shiraz are subjected to systematic persecution by a group that calls itself Sarbazan Gumnam Imam Zaman (the unknown soldiers of the Lord of the Age). On the 17th of March Baha’i living in Shiraz received accusing Baha’is of being infidels and spies for infidel. The letter (translated from Persian) further threatens him and 8 other Baha’is with public execution.

Therefore, in accordance with the research conducted by the Sarbazan Gumnam [the Unknown Soldiers] of the Imam Zaman, established in the city of the martyred at the altar, Ayatollah Dastghayb, you and eight other infidels [i.e. Baha’is] are condemned to revolutionary execution which will be soon carried out publicly.

Two days later, as he was opening the door of his car, he was approached by a man with a gallon size container, asking him for fuel for his vehicle. After providing the man with gas from his tank, the Baha’i (whose name is withheld) was surprised to find himself overtaken by two men.

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Saudi Rejects Int'l Agreement to Forbid Anti-Religions Offences

The Saudi Arabian Parliament Monday rejected a recommendation to adopt an international agreement that forbids insulting of religions, prophets and clerics, the Saudi daily Al-Watan reported.

Seventy-seven members of parliament rejected the recommendation, claiming that if they adopted the agreement, they would have had to recognize the legitimacy of idolatrous religions, such as Buddhism.

The recommendation was put forward by MP Muhammad Al-Quweiha's. In his recommendation, Al- Quweiha's wrote that the Saudi Foreign Ministry should cooperate with the Arab and Islamic bloc in the United Nations to adopt the agreement.

{josquote}The concept of religions varies from one country to the other and from one culture to the other. Buddhism and Bahaism are considered religions in some countries...{/josquote}

"The concept of religions varies from one country to the other and from one culture to the other. Buddhism and Bahaism are considered religions in some countries, but must Muslims respect these sects and not condemn them," said MP Khalil Al-Khalil, who rejected the recommendation.

Al-Quweiha's, who put forward the recommendation, explained that his incentive was to prevent the ongoing campaign of insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad, in particular the cartoons and films which are shown in America and Holland.

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Iran sentences Bahais for 'anti-regime propaganda'

Iran's judiciary said on Tuesday it has sentenced 54 members of the Bahai religious community, whose faith is banned in the Islamic republic, for anti-regime propaganda.

"Three Bahais have been sentenced to four years in prison for propaganda against the regime," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters, adding that 51 received suspended one-year jail terms.

He said the suspension of the sentence for the 51 Bahais was conditional on their attendance of courses held by state Islamic Propaganda Organisation.

The Bahais, who were arrested early last year, were proselytizing in the southern city of Shiraz under the cover of helping the poor, said another judicial official who asked not to be named.

In the past few months, conservative newspapers in Iran have criticised what they said was a rise in the activities of Bahais throughout the country, specially in Shiraz.

The Islamic republic does not recognise the faith of Bahaism -- which was originally developed in 1863 in Iran -- and it is officially prohibited. Its followers are regarded as infidels and have been persecuted since the 1979 Islamic revolution and also under the deposed shah.

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Follow-up story: Iran Sentences Baha'is to Prison

Israel's second life

You can now visit the Holy Land without leaving home. Rachel Fletcher logs on to an online virtual world.

Visitors to the online virtual 3D world that is Second Life (SL) have long been able to attend a computerised synagogue, yeshivah, pray at the Western Wall, and wander round a Holocaust museum. But with the launch of Second Life Israel this month, the possibilities to live a virtual Jewish life have increased enormously.

Avatars — the characters users adopt when they visit SL — can now take a dip in the Dead Sea, tour the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, get down on a Tel Aviv dancefloor, experience the brilliantly coloured underwater observatory in Eilat, or visit Yad Vashem’s Children’s Memorial.

SL Israel — Second Life account holders should log on to and then search “Israel” — is the brainchild of Chaim Landau, and the work of Beth Brown, the same Beth Brown who created SL’s first synagogue and many other Jewish sites.

“I was looking for ideas outside the box to allow me to reach out to a different audience,” explains Jerusalem-based Landau (whose avatar name is Hagibor Shepherd).

{josquote}Plans are under way to recreate Haifa’s Bahai Gardens.{/josquote}

“I was reading about Second Life in the papers, so I got an account. The Israel I have got to know is fun and entertaining, and Second Life has a global audience.”

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Newsnight rips apart mosque extremism report

Tonight's Newsnight investigation into Policy Exchange's recent report on extremism in British mosques found major irregularities with the receipts that the think tank handed them to investigate the issue further:

  • Receipts from North London mosque's bookshop, when the mosque doesn't have a bookshop. Forensic examination revealed that the receipt's heading had been printed on an inkjet printer - when usual procedure for such pieces of paper would be mass printing
  • Receipts from other mosques printed entirely on inkjet printers
  • A receipt for Euston Mosque with the address on it being for the mosque next door to it on North Gower Street (who would have thought that two mosques next door to each other would be an advantage one day!)
  • {josquote}The author of the report - Denis MacEoin - surely he has known about this all along?{/josquote}
  • Forensic tests that found handwriting matching on two separate receipts for different mosques
  • Forensic tests showing that the writing on one receipt had been done on top of another receipt for an entirely different mosque

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Story broken by Umm Yasmin