Baha’is in Iran: Summary of latest human rights news

Further details

More Baha’is arrested

Fourteen Baha’is have been arrested or detained so far in March, five of them in the city of Marvdasht in Fars province, four in Mashhad, and the others in Semnan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kermanshah, and Sari. Most of the detentions followed the familiar pattern of agents of the Ministry of Intelligence showing up at the homes of Baha’is, searching the premises and confiscating items such as computers and books, then arresting the residents.

This brings to 50 the number arrested since the beginning of 2010. In addition to the towns listed above, arrests this year have occurred in Tehran, Babolsar, Karaj, Mashhad, Nazarabad, and Shahrekord.

Other cities where Baha’is were arrested last year include Babol, Bushehr, Delijan, Ghaemshahr, Hamadan, Kashan, Kerman, Khorramabad, Khouzestan, Mahforouzak, Miandoab, Najafabad, Qazvin, Tonekabon, Yasouj, and Yazd.

Some 45 Baha’is in prison

There are about 45 Iranian Baha’is currently in prison because of their religion.

The number of Baha’is in detention varies as new people are arrested but others released after posting cash, property deeds, or business licenses as collateral.

The deposit required for temporary release from custody is often exorbitant. One case this year in Semnan involved bail of 300 million túman (US$300,000). In other recent cases in Mashhad and Shiraz, prisoners have had to post the equivalent of US$150,000 to gain release on bail.

One Baha’i who had been jailed at Evin prison in Tehran for the past year under particularly disturbing circumstances finally gained release in early March after relinquishing a business license as collateral. He had originally been arrested for supposedly “insulting Islam,” but the only evidence against him was the complaint of a neighbor who had recently lost a court case against the Baha’i. Because of this unsubstantiated charge, the Baha’i man was jailed for a year before being allowed to surrender his business license as bail.

As of 21 March, the cases of at least 268 Baha’is were still active with authorities. These include individuals in prison, those who have been released pending trial, those who have appealed their verdicts, those awaiting notification to begin serving prison sentences, and a few who are serving periods of internal exile. Thousands more have been questioned, threatened, or deprived of pensions, livelihood, or education.

Next court session for Baha’i “leaders” to be 10 April

The trial of seven Baha’i leaders imprisoned since 2008 will continue on 10 April, according to written notice conveyed to their attorneys. The trial opened on 12 January with a closed session where charges were read. According to accounts in government-sponsored news media, the defendants were accused of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperation with Israel, sending secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth. The second session was on 7 February and reportedly involved mainly procedural matters.

All the charges have been categorically denied by the Baha’is. Attorneys associated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran – co-founded by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi – are representing the defendants.

The names of the seven are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm. Mrs. Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 and the others on 14 May 2008.

Jail conditions are harsh, and although all seven were at first held incommunicado, they are now allowed periodic visits with family members. The visits are often through a barrier and sometimes are canceled altogether.

Until their imprisonment, the seven Baha’is were part of an ad hoc group called the Friends in Iran that, in the absence of formal Baha’i leadership, helped tend to the needs of the 300,000 Baha’is in that country. The Friends group has now been disbanded, as have smaller committees that assisted Baha’is on the local level.

The Baha’i International Community has stated the following about the charges against the Baha’is:

  • The accusation of spying is contrived and has long been used as a pretext to persecute Baha’is and as an attempt to impede the progress of the Bahá’í community. Since the 1930s, Baha’is have successively been accused of being tools of Russian imperialism, of British colonialism, of American expansionism, and, most recently, of Zionism. The Baha’i Faith has never been a part of any of these movements. There is no truth to this allegation, nor is there any evidence to support it.
  • That the international headquarters of the Baha’i Faith is located within the borders of modern-day Israel is purely the result of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, being banished from his native Tehran and sent – by Persian and Ottoman authorities in the 19th century – to perpetual exile in the city of Acre, near Haifa. Baha’u’llah arrived in Acre in 1868, 80 years before the establishment of the state of Israel. The Iranian government is well aware of this history.
  • Accusations that Baha’is promote “propaganda against the Islamic order” are completely without foundation – Baha’is respect all religions, including Islam, and are loyal to government.

International reaction

On 15 February, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva conducted the Universal Periodic Review of Iran, with a number of countries and international human rights organizations expressing concern over Iran’s deteriorating human rights record. See article at http://news.bahai.org/story/757.

Also in February, Amnesty International criticized Iran for rejecting important recommendations by the United Nations to improve human rights in the country.

The European Parliament on 10 February adopted a detailed resolution about Iran in which it strongly condemned Iran’s human rights abuses. The resolution included mention of the Baha’is and other minority groups whose rights are denied, including Sunnis, Christians, Kurdish, Azeri, Baluch, and Arabs.

On 11 February, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights issued a joint statement titled “Stop the repression against Baha’i.” It referred specifically to recent arrests and to the trial of the seven leaders.

(For details of these and many other statements, see separate section on international reaction. Samples of media reports can be viewed here.)

Baha’i on trial in connection with Ashura demonstrations

A member of the Baha’i Faith was among the 16 individuals put on trial in Tehran on 30 January, apparently accused of participating in the Ashura demonstrations on 27 December. The trial is ongoing.

The Baha’i International Community issued a statement condemning the lack of due process at the trial and calling on fair-minded people everywhere to raise their voices against human rights violations in Iran.

See news stories at http://news.bahai.org/story/753 and http://news.bahai.org/story/751.

The situation overall

The government campaign to eradicate the Baha’i community of Iran continues, with arrests, confiscation of assets, closing of businesses, long and frightening interrogations, raids on homes, denial of education and employment, harassment of schoolchildren, and other forms of persecution.

Since the beginning of last year, Baha’is have been arrested, detained, interrogated, or had their homes searched in more than two dozen cities and towns, including Babol, Babolsar, Bushehr, Delijan, Ghaemshahr, Hamadan, Isfahan, Karaj, Kashan, Kerman, Kermanshah, Khorramabad, Khouzestan, Mahforouzak, Marvdasht, Mashhad, Miandoab, Najafabad, Nazarabad, Qazvin, Sari, Semnan, Shahrekord, Shiraz, Tehran, Tonekabon, Yasouj, and Yazd.

Harassment over Baha’i burials and the desecration of cemeteries are clear indications that the persecution is based solely on religion and not the result of any threat posed by Baha’is, as officials sometimes claim. In the past year, Baha’i cemeteries in Tehran, Ghaemshahr, Marvdasht, Semnan, Sari, and Isfahan have been defaced, bulldozed, or in some way blocked to the Baha’i community. There is a current case in Semnan where a Baha’i died on 15 February and 10 days later a burial certificate still hadn’t been issued.

Universities and other institutions of higher education to a large extent remain closed to Baha’i students. In recent years, those who do manage to get admitted generally have been expelled during the course of their first year. In an unusual case at Tarbiyyat Moallem University in Tehran, two Baha’is were able to get to their eighth semester but in February were finally expelled; one of them was told openly that by law, Baha’is have no right to post-secondary education. Other recent expulsions have occurred in Semnan, Zanjan, Yazd, Gonbad, Khoramshahr, and Chabahar. There are continuing reports of youth being denied enrollment in high schools and even primary schools. In Tehran recently, an eighth-grader who won a key competition and thus automatically qualified for a school for the gifted was denied admission because of her religion.

Home raids continue in various cities and usually follow the pattern of agents from the Ministry of Intelligence searching a home; confiscating computers, mobile phones, books, and other materials; and taking residents into custody. Authorities also apply pressure to Muslim citizens to discriminate against and mistreat Baha’is.

Trumped-up charges against Baha’is are used to justify arrests. A Baha’i woman in Semnan was sentenced to 3½ years in prison for, among other things, “membership in anti-regime groups associated with Baha’is.”

Economic persecution is acute, with both jobs and business licenses being denied to Baha’is. Numerous cases have been reported of long-time shop owners being forced to surrender business licenses under threat of arrest. The operator of one of five optical stores owned by Baha’is in Nazarabad – shops that were closed by authorities more than a year ago – managed to get a court verdict allowing her to reopen her shop, but the Ministry of Intelligence is preventing her from doing so. More recently, optical shops have been forced to close in Khomein and Rafsanjan.

Summary of types of persecution

Harassment of Baha’is is pervasive and includes many incidents of all of the following:

  • Arrests and detention, with imprisonment lasting for days, months, or years. In cases where the Baha’i is released, substantial bail is often required.
  • Direct intimidation and questioning by authorities, sometimes with the use of high-intensity lights and physical mistreatment.
  • Searches of homes and business, usually with Baha’i books and other items confiscated.
  • School expulsions and harassment of schoolchildren.
  • Prohibition on Baha’is attending universities.
  • Court proceedings where Baha’is are accused of promoting propaganda against the government “for the benefit of the Bahaist sect.”
  • Monitoring of the bank accounts, movement, and activities of Baha’is, including official questioning of Baha’is requiring them to give information about their lives, actions, neighbors, etc.
  • Denial or confiscation of business licenses.
  • Denial of work opportunities in general.
  • Denial of rightful inheritances to Baha’is.
  • Physical assaults, and efforts to drive Baha’is out of towns and villages.
  • Desecration and destruction of Baha’i cemeteries, and harassment over burial rights.
  • Dissemination, including in official news media, of misinformation about Baha’is, and incitement of hatred against Baha’is.
  • Evictions from places of business, including Baha’i doctors from their offices and clinics.
  • Intimidation of Muslims who associate with Baha’is.
  • Attempts by authorities to get Baha’is to spy on other Baha’is.
  • Threatening phone calls and letters to Baha’is.
  • Denial of pension benefits.
  • Denial of access to publishing or copying facilities for Baha’i literature.
  • Confiscation of property.

Bahá’í World News Service: Human Rights in Iran: http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/iran-update/#recentactsofpersecution

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