Supporter of Persecuted Spiritual Leader Arrested at Tehran International Airport
Masoumeh (Pegah) Zia, a follower of imprisoned spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri, was arrested on January 6, 2017 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by an unknown security agency after returning to Iran from a trip to Turkey. She is currently being held in Evin Prison, but her family has been struggling to confirm who abducted her and what she has been charged with.
“Our mother tried to find out why my sister was detained, but the authorities didn’t give her a reason,” said Maryam Zia, in an interview with the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “My sister wasn’t involved in anything other than totally peaceful activities with [Taheri’s] Erfan-e Halgheh group.”
“The security officials have said that her detention is not connected to her previous case,” she added. “We have only been told that she is in Evin Prison, but we don’t know in which ward. We think she’s in Ward 2-A run by the Revolutionary Guards because they were handling her previous case.”
Iran’s security establishment has come down hard on Taheri and supporters of the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual group, viewing it and any other alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order.
Taheri remains in prison despite completing his five-year prison sentence in February 2016 for “insulting the sacred,” “immoral contact with women,” and “carrying out illegal medical procedures.” Prior to his arrest he taught at Tehran University and practiced a form of alternative medicine based on spirituality. He was later given the death penalty for allegedly spreading “corruption on earth” through his books, but the Supreme Court struck down the sentence in December 2015.
In July 2015, Masoumeh Zia, a 39-year-old geologist, was sentenced to a year in prison and 74 lashes for “disturbing public order” and taking part in a peaceful demonstration calling for Taheri’s release from prison. The sentence was upheld by the Appeals Court, but not carried out.
Many of Taheri’s followers have been arrested and prosecuted, including Sara Saei, Vahid Pourtahmasb, and Ziba Habibpour.