Baha'i temple
A Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, Illinois. A letter has called on Iran not to persecute business owners who follow the faithReuters

With economic links between the West and Iran expected to become stronger in coming years, more than 50 business leaders and economists have signed a letter to the Islamic republic's supreme leader calling on Tehran to stop its harassment of Baha'i business owners.

Although one of the biggest non-Muslim faiths in Iran, followers of Baha'i are marginalised in the Islamic republic, whose constitution does not recognise them.

The UK Baha'i Office of Public Affairs says that since October 2014, at least 80 Baha'i-owned businesses in the cities of Kerman, Rafsanjan and Sari were sealed by authorities because their owners had temporarily closed their doors in observance of a Baha'i holy day.

The letter, which is signed by key figures from Goldman Sachs, DropBox and Advent International, says that authorities have also attempted to force some Baha'i business owners to sign pledges affirming that they will not close their shops on holy days in future.

Iran's Ayatollah al-Khamenei called for Saudi Arabiatoapologisefollowingthe
The letter has been addressed to Iran's Ayatollah al-Khamenei Reuters

Further closures are anticipated when business owners shut their doors for the 12-day festival of Ridvan, which starts on 20 April and celebrates the revelations to Bahá'u'lláh, the faith's founder.

The letter, addressed to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, states: "These actions are particularly troubling because of the context in which they take place. As Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority, Baha'is are subject to systematic repression, including severe economic pressure."

The faith is one of the world's youngest religions, founded in 1863 in Iran, and accepts all beliefs as having true and valid origins. The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, has repeatedly outlined cases of widespread abuse and discrimination against Baha'is in Iran.

UK spokesperson for the Baha'i faith, Padideh Sabeti, told IBTimes UK that her community welcomed better economic ties between Iran and the west in light of the progress made in the P5+1 nuclear talks, which have allowed western companies into the country's economy.

However, she said that Tehran should also guarantee the economic freedom of its own citizens.

"Baha'i are not allowed to have governmental jobs and young people cannot continue with their education. I think the attention of the authorities has now shifted to businesses.

"The government is operating at a different level to go under the radar. As you can imagine with all the atrocities going on around the world, the closure of businesses could go unnoticed but it is happening.

"Now with the establishment of trade with Iran the issue of trade needs to be highlighted. We feel the desire is there for businesses to do some good to bring about change," she said.