“Our Homes are No Refuge” Baha’i Minority in Iran Facing Intensified State Assault
UN and International Community Must Spotlight Cases, Demand End to Escalating Oppression
180 Reports of Baha’is Targeted by State Security Forces in Last Year
August 17, 2023 – The escalating surge of arrests, imprisonments, and ceaseless oppression of the Baha’i minority community in Iran demands resolute action from the UN and global leaders, especially those currently engaged in negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, declared the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Given the rising wave of Baha’i arrests and detentions, even our homes are no refuge,” said Elham Shaygan, the wife of Payam Vali, a Baha’i citizen currently imprisoned on sham charges in Ghezalhesar prison in the city of Karaj after being violently arrested in his home.
Long one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in Iran, CHRI calls on the international community to address the grave deterioration in the Baha’is’ status in Iran, in which unlawful arrests and imprisonments of members of this community have dramatically increased.
“For decades, Baha’is in Iran have endured imprisonment and intense discrimination in all walks of life, merely for practicing their faith. What we are witnessing now is a deeply concerning escalation of this repression,” stated Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of CHRI.
“Global leaders must demand an end to the Islamic Republic’s severe oppression of this community and take measures against judges who unlawfully sentence Baha’is to prison,” said Ghaemi.
“International indifference to the Baha’is’ plight in Iran will ensure more women and men from this community will not only continue to be deprived of their most basic rights, but also spend decades behind bars,” he added.
The re-imprisonment on trumped-up charges last week of two prominent Baha’i women in Iran, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet—who were sentenced to 10 years in prison each for the second time in six years—was followed this week by an Appeals Court upholding of 3.5-year prison sentences against the married Baha’i couple Anisa Samieian and Vesal Momtazi.
These instances are among 180 reports of Baha’is being targeted by the state in Iran during the last year alone, according to the Baha’i International Community non-government organization.
“The treatment of Baha’is by the government stands in stark contrast to that of other religious minorities,” said Saeid Dehghan a human rights lawyer who has defended Baha’is in Iranian courts.
“While Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian communities in Iran face certain limitations, they are still granted the right to live, work, and even have representatives in Parliament,” he added. “In contrast, identifying as a Baha’i is effectively treated as a crime in the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite no explicit legal designation to that effect.”
Dehghan further highlighted that the Iranian judicial system not only engages in severe discrimination against Bahai’s but also goes as far as penalizing the lawyers who bravely stand up to defend them.
“Some of the judges within the Revolutionary Court openly denounce us for representing Baha’is, often referring to them with derogatory terms like ‘najes’ [impure],'” he said. “Astonishingly, they even subject us to a client tax, despite the fact that we voluntarily waive any traditional lawyer’s fee when advocating for Baha’is.”
Dehghan continued: “In response to these unjust actions, I confronted these judges with a thought-provoking question: If Baha’is are deemed impure, then accepting a fee from them would ostensibly be tainted as well, rendering the tax imposed on it equally impure. The logical extension of this would then cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the salaries that these judges receive, as they are inherently tied to these fees. Strikingly, they were rendered speechless, though regrettably, they did resort to issuing threats against us.”
Bearing Witness to Injustice: Baha’i Wife’s Call for Change
Payam Vali, whose manufacturing business was shuttered by the government in his hometown of Karaj in 2008 because of his religious beliefs, is among dozens of Baha’is who have been either imprisoned, arrested or prosecuted in the past 10 months.
When Vali was arrested in September 2022 without a valid arrest warrant, he was beaten in front of his children, his home was raided, and the children’s electronic devices, which they used for studying, were seized.
“This unjust process, which persecutes and imprisons people based on their beliefs … leads to a pervasive feeling of insecurity among all Baha’is and their loved ones,” said his wife Elham Shaygan.
Yet when asked if she felt similar discrimination by the general public in Iran, Shaygan was adamant that she felt the opposite.
“Not only does the public not practice these discriminations, but in the social interactions that we have through work and study, we have witnessed people’s compassion and sympathy,” she said
“Many people, when they become aware of these injustices and discriminations that happen to us, reject these actions by the government and acknowledge that belief and faith are personal matters and individuals should not be harassed and mistreated for them.”
Vali is currently serving a 9.9-year prison sentence simply for being a member of the faith, on unsubstantiated charges of “collaboration with enemy governments,” “inciting people to commit violence,” and “propaganda against the regime” in a sentence that was issued on May 18, 2023. He has also been denied contact with his family.
“The international community must not remain silent about these injustices,” she added. “They should not only highlight them but also, through legal channels, compel the Islamic Republic to respond and halt the systematic pressures and discriminations against Baha’is.”
Chronicle of Injustice: Recent Cases of Baha’i Discrimination in Iran (April-August 2023)
The following is a compilation by CHRI of just some of the other recent events connected to the state’s campaign of persecution against the Baha’is between April 2023 and August 2023. Prosecutions in these cases were carried out without any adherence to the most basic international norms of due process, and with a significant lack of any substantial evidence to support grave national security charges.
- The August 13, 2023, arrest of Jamaloddin Khanjani, a 90-year-old Baha’i in poor health who had already served 10 years in prison for his Baha’i beliefs, is the most recent occurrence in Iran amid a state campaign to eliminate prominent members of the faith and those accused of practicing their faith openly.
- On August 6, 2023, Baha’i citizen Sabin Yazdani was transferred to Kachuei Prison in Karaj, Alborz province, to begin a three-year prison term on charges of “acting against national security by promoting the Baha’i religion among children and adolescents,” and “propaganda against Islam through [life] coaching.”
- Negin Rezaie, Nakisa Sadeghi, Rameleh Tirgarnejad, Kamyar Habibi, Mahsa Tirgar Behnamiri, Elham Shareghi Arani, Sadaf Sheikhzadeh, Saman Ostovar and Shahrzad Mastouri reported to two prisons in Karaj, west of Tehran, on August 5, 2023, to begin sentences ranging from two to five years in connection with their Baha’i faith. They were charged with “acting against national security by promoting the Baha’i religion among children and adolescents,” and “propaganda against Islam through [life] coaching.”
- Persecuted for his Baha’i beliefs, Hami Bahadori must spend five years behind bars as Iran’s Appeals Court upheld his sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state” on July 31, 2023.
- On July 24, 2023, security agents arrested Shiva Kashaninejad Samieian, the mother of Anisa Samieian, who along with her husband Vesal Montazi were sentenced in June 2023 to 3.5 years in prison each for being followers of the Baha’i religion.
- Baha’i citizen and former prisoner of conscience Keyvan Rahimian was arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents at his home in Tehran and taken to Evin Prison on July 18, 2023.
- Five followers of the Baha’i faith—Foad Shaker, Shahram Fallah, Behnam Pourahmadi, Yekta Fallah and Paridokht Shojaie—were arrested when security agents raided a home in Kerman on July 12, 2023.
- On July 5, 2023, 14 Baha’is were handed prison sentences by a Revolutionary Court in Ghaemshahr, Mazandaran province, for “deviant and anti-Islamic teaching activities.” Bita Haghighi and Hekmat Shoar were given 3-year prison sentences and 12 others—Mani Gholinejad, Negar Darabi, Sam Samimi, Mahsa Fathi, Samieh Gholinejad, Mojir Samimi, Anis Sanaie, Afnaneh Nematian, Basir Samimi, Hengameh Alipour, Golbon Fallah and Nazanin Goli—received 25-month sentences.
- Four Baha’is—Mansour Amini, Shadi Shahidzadeh, Valiollah Ghadamian and Attaollah Zafar—were sentenced on July 5, 2023, to five years in prison each by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran for “membership in a group acting against national security,” (meaning the Baha’i faith).
- Sepideh Keshavarz and Mahvash Edalati Aliabadi were transferred to Evin Prison on July 4, 2023, to start their one-year prison term on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”
- Anisa Samieian and her husband Vesal Momtazi, followers of the Baha’i faith, were sentenced on June 29, 2023, to 3.5 years in prison each for “propaganda against the state, insulting Islam, and teaching deviant beliefs contrary to Islam,” by a Revolutionary Court in Rasht, Gilan province.
- Sports instructor Houshidar Zarei must be incarcerated at his home for six years (five years mandatory) with an electronic ankle tag based on a ruling by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Shiraz on June 26, 2023, for “cultish propaganda for an opposition organization” (Baha’i community) and “propaganda against the state.”
- Roya Sabet Rasekh must endure five years behind bars as Iran’s Appeals Court upheld her sentence on bogus national security charges on June 25, 2023.
- Arrested in September 2022 in Karaj, Alborz province, Payam Vali was sentenced to nine years and nine months in prison (six years mandatory) for “collaboration with enemy governments,” “inciting people to commit violence,” and “propaganda against the regime,” on May 18, 2023.
- In April 2023, state authorities withheld the body of Maryam Moinipour, threatening to bury her in secret in Tehran’s Khavaran Cemetery if her family did not pay a ransom of 30 million tomans (nearly $580). Moinipour, a member of the Baha’i faith, died on April 11, 2023, but the authorities have refused to hand over her body to the family. That month, three other Baha’is were buried in Khavaran without their families’ consent.
- Nahaleh Shahidi Yazdi, a children’s rights activist and member of the banned Baha’i faith, has been in detention in Kerman since March 28, 2023, without access to a lawyer, the Committee to Follow the Status of Detainee reported on April 29, 2023.
The Iranian constitution does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an official religion (it only recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism). Although Article 23 states that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” followers of the Baha’i faith in Iran are routinely imprisoned for the practice of their religion and are denied many basic rights—including land and business ownership, equal access to employment, equal access to education (Baha’is are routinely denied the right to higher education in Iran, either by being banned from enrolling in a university or being expelled without a proper explanation once enrolled in the school), and equal burial rights.
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