Publication date: 22 July, 2014, 10:33 PM
By Safa Rasti
Incredibly, the authorities continue the denial of discrimination against Baha’is in Iran.
Incredibly, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues its denial of discrimination against Baha’is in Iran. Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and Sadeq Larijani, head of Iran’s judiciary, have claimed that the Baha’is in Iran have complete freedom and enjoy the same equal rights as other citizens when it comes to employment and education.
Amongst dozens of examples of violations, such as closing all the Baha’i businesses in Semnan, totaling 16 stores, 3 centers for medical and health equipment distribution, and two operating factories, and the resulting loss of employment for dozens of workers; in addition to denying Baha’i youth an education at universities in Iran by suspending them and not accepting them to university due to baseless excuses such as incomplete applications, are two examples of severe and pervasive economic pressure on the Baha’is of Tonkabon and Hamadan.
Economic Assault on the Baha’is of Hamadan
On November 17, 2012, without prior notice, all Hamadan Baha’i shops were closed on the same day by order of the Intelligence and Security Ministry. Inquiries of the business owners from all legal provincial entities and the Office of the president, the Supreme Leader’s office, the 90th Amendment Commission, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the judiciary, the Attorney General, the Court of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, Mr. Ali Younesi, Senior Assistant to the President for Ethnic and Religious Minorities , in-person appointments with Members of Parliament and the Armed Forces were fruitless. All of them (except The Supreme Leader’s office) expressed regret and sympathy but ultimately stated that it is out of their hands. It seems that all roads lead to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and to the extremists in that office.
The publication of the story of closing the stores and businesses of the Baha’is and the spread of this news amongst the population, and given the knowledge that Baha’is are well known as trustworthy and honest amongst the people, drew certain reactions from the citizenry. In the city of Bahar, the neighborhood produced an elaborate petition (over forty signatures) in support of Kamran Aqdasi Yekta, a Baha’i owner of an automotive oil change business, which was unprecedented in its kind. Also, in some cases other business owners invited the Baha’is to use their shops to run their affairs, which indicates the general population’s empathy and solidarity with Baha’is.
Accusation of Smuggling of Goods
Under the initiation of the News Branch of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, charges of rice smuggling have been brought against Na’im Aqdasi Yekta. His rice shipment, which had been purchased from Mr. Davud Lapechi, who is a known rice trader on Mulavi Street in Tehran, and which had been shipped to Hamedan through loading terminals, was confiscated as smuggled goods, and his business was shut down. Na’im Aqdasi’s lawyer, Hamid Soleimani Fard, writes in his defense statement: “How could a shipment which entered the county through the two companies ‘Rahrovan Durandish’ and ‘Afaq Shahid Somal’ in a totally legal manner and was transported to Tehran, with a massive weight of 530 Tons, and with a certified green pass, on each bag of which the name and specifics of the importing companies are clearly stated, but then this client buys a very small amount of it to take to Hamedan for his business – how can this be called smuggled goods? And if this is so, then how come the two thousand tons of goods in the warehouses of the above-mentioned companies, or the warehouses of known and trusted traders in this market, are not taken in to custody? Despite all certified documents, the court finally ruled that half of his rice was not contraband, but that for the other half he must pay a fine of 27 million toumans (approx $10,000). And the appeals court indicates that since in the certification papers the name of the rice is not specified, therefore technically the goods are considered illegal imports, which is in reality completely false.” With the lawyer’s persistence and proof that the name of the rice was indeed designated on the bags, and although in Tehran promises were made to coordinate with Hamedan as necessary about these findings, nevertheless, on Tuesday 26 November 2013, upon visiting the Hamedan court, he was detained and asked to immediately transfer 18 million Toumans (approx $6,800) to the court’s account or go to jail, hence his family was forced to pay the mentioned fee. Even after all this, finally on the 25th of December of the same year they revoked his business license.
People are Forbidden from Cooperating with Baha’is
The solidarity and cooperation of the fair and good-hearted people of Hamadan with their Baha’i compatriots did not sit well with the Ministry of Intelligence and Security officials. This time non-Baha’is were the targets of threats. After closing the optician’s store of Mozafar Ayoubi, Hamid Azizi, one of his employees, along with a non-Baha’i friend, opened another store, but after three or four months the Office of Properties visited them and gave them an explicit warning that if they continued to help Mr. Ayoubi their store would also be shut down; once again Hamid Azizi became unemployed.
Mansur Ayoubi, another Baha’i who owned a heavy machinery repair shop, started working for one of his previous employees after his business was shut down. Again the Office of Properties visited them and asked them their reason for helping Mr. Ayoubi. The former employee said, “I do not have enough know-how and skills, so he can help me.” After that, the employee was summoned to the Office of Properties and was told, “Mr. Ayoubi is being thoroughly monitored by us and we know that he works here full time.” Eventually, this shop was also shut down on the twenty fifth of November ,and M. Ayoubi became unemployed again. Another one if his friends invited him to join him, but again after some time, with the interference of the Office of Properties, lost his job again. For the third time he started working at a spare parts store, and this time too the Office of Properties summoned the three partners of the spare parts store and threatened them and forced them to fire Mansur Ayoubi.
Khosro Ma’budi, another of Hamadan’s Baha’is, after the closing of his engine tuning shop, continued to work in front of his closed store, and then started working in the shop of one of his non-Baha’i friends; this time too, due to threats by the Office of Properties, he lost his job again.
The wife of Mr. Arsalan (Solomon) Aqdasi used to teach in a school once a week. The principal of the school was threatened that if that cooperation continued, they would shut down the school entirely. At first he resisted this unreasonable demand, but he was ultimately forced to dismiss Ms. Aqdasi.
Shahram Rajabi, who started working with another individual after the closing of his own shop, was summoned to the Office of Properties. The interrogator tried to lure him and at the same time threaten him into accepting a proposal to cooperate with the News headquarters, which he did not accept.
The neighbors of Mehran Khandel, as well as neighbors of Kamran and Samandar Aghdasi in the city of Bahar, Hamadan, have been clearly warned and threatened not to cooperate with or help Baha’is.
Fruitless Pursuit of Justice
Repeated visits of Baha’is to various institutions have produced no significant outcome. The tangible and intangible presence of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is visible in all institutions. No one admits any guilt. Everyone passes the issue to the next institution. Some, using sarcasm and ambiguity, insinuate, and others implicitly and explicitly state that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is involved. The people in most institutions lament the current situation.
Mehran Khandel submitted a complaint to the Fairness Court, but on 17 October 2013 the 5th Branch of the Fairness Court dismissed the complaint submitted by Mehran Khandel, and by this move, confirmed the orders of the Office of Properties.
Shujahuddin Jahangiri, who had requested the re-opening of his Optical store, was denied his request by the 6th Branch of the Fairness Court, on the 22 June of 2013. He requested a meeting with Advisor to the President and former minister of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Ali Younesi, which was not accepted; other officials offered merely offered sympathy and a vague hope of a better future.
Preventing Baha’is from making a living is not limited only to shutting down their businesses. There is another hidden problem which is often not considered. For example, Attaollah Rajabali and his brothers worked together on a farm in the nearby village of Hamadan. In early summer 2013 they were accused of unlawfully taking over the land of some villagers, and told to leave most of the farmland by the end of the year. Mr. Rajabali responded that he holds the legal deeds and records of the land in question, and asked about the proof of their claim. The person then claimed that the deeds were not valid and that Mr. Rajabali had acquired it by paying people off and bribing. He was threatened several more times by such accusations. In the fall the same person along with his father and two other people came to the farmland and this time they threatened Mr. Rajabali with death and told him:”If you don’t leave this land, killing you is a piece of cake for us.” It is highly unlikely that any person could make such statements without backing from a higher power. Sherwin Rajabali, his son, was also summoned by the President of the Azad University of Hamadan, and without presenting any written orders, only verbally told him that he was being expelled from the university.
So why has the Office of Properties shut down Baha’i businesses? Apparently the Office of Properties’ excuse for shutting down Baha’i businesses is due to the businesses being closed on Baha’i holy days, but there is evidence that show this is simply an excuse to conceal their real aim of crippling Baha’is economically. The first supporting evidence is that the Office of Properties is an executive agent of the orders and policies of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. These policies were devised by the Cultural Revolutionary Council and approved by the Leader of the Revolution in 1990; based on these plans the economic and cultural growth of Baha’is was to be stifled at any cost. Next, after the shutting down of the Baha’i businesses in Hamadan agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security monitored the actions of these Baha’is and took careful measures to block their employment in other places as well (as the above examples demonstrate). Sahba Khademi, the wife of Salar Seifi, started working as a beautician, serving some of her friends out of her own house after the closing of her husband’s shop; she was forced to stop after agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security threatened and warned her. Parviz and Khosro Ma’budi were allowed to keep the doors of their store open but were not allowed to operate their business. All this aside, the neighbors of the affected Baha’is reported that individuals dressed in civilian clothes had questioned them about how these Baha’is were now providing for their families. The methods employed to counter Mansur Ayoubi, Kamran and Samandar Aghdasi, Shahram Rajabi, Hamid Azizi, and other Baha’is are all indicative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security’s aim to cripple Baha’is economically.
Given the atmosphere of intimidation and fear in Hamadan, the courageous acts of the non-Baha’i citizens of Hamadan in support of their Baha’i neighbors are very considerable. It seems that after many years, the collective spirit of fighting oppression has taken on new dimensions, which is not good news for oppressors. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security is trying to prevent the publication of such news to create a gap between Baha’is and other layers of society. Kiumars Rashedi Radis one of very few Baha’is who has been able to re-open his business, but he was summoned by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and told to give a commitment to not talk to anyone and not mention to anyone that his store was shut down due to his religious beliefs, and also he is banned from hiring any Muslim workers. They forced Shervin Rajabali to sign a commitment to not tell anyone that he is a Baha’i and not to teach anything about the Baha’i faith over the years of his studies, and not to wear or possess anything that is in anyway attributable to the Baha’i Faith, such as written material, books, CDs, bracelets and the like. In order to demonstrate his pure intentions, and out of respect for the President of the University he agreed, but he reiterated that his commitment only applied on the University grounds, and was not valid outside of the university. The Head of the University did not even tolerate this condition, and ordered him to be expelled. Is it not true that the President of a University is only responsible for what takes place in his own university, and not the entire country?
Economic Storm in Tonkabon
The events in Tonkabon also are very similar to events in Hamadan. Since about 4 years ago more than 20 stores have been closed. Siamak Ebrahimi (Nusrat Arzani), Misagh Ismaelzadeghan, Ruhollah Vahid Ighani, Omid Ghaderi and Mojgan Samavi, Sorush Garshasbi and Mahvash Khazei, Sina Garshasbi, Iran Mirza Aqa, Mahyar Lotfi, Saleh Ashkurian, Jamaluddin Ismailpur, Khalil Naghipour, Payam Haghighat, Zia Ullah Qadri and Mr. Nassiri (all in Tankabon), and Michel Esmailpour, Armin Esmailpour and Badiullah Abolfazli (all three in Nashtarud), Senobar (Tarami) Mohsennejad and Haydar Mohsennejad, Eshagh Mohsennejad, Nushin Masudian (all four in Khorramabad Tankabon), used to be the owners of businesses such as computer electronics, appliance stores, appliance repairs, refrigerator and television repair, tailor shops, clothing shops, blacksmith and cabinet-making, and earned a living this way.
Wherever they have inquired, they have not received an appropriate answer. The main responsible party, which is the Office of Properties, claims that their orders were from the Department of Mining and Technology. But this one says the Office of Properties has more clear information about this, and added that “the order came from the City procurement council and has nothing to do with us; we just executed their orders.” The district attorney’s office said, “this serves you well, because you play tricks by presenting yourselves in a good light, and you sell your merchandize at a reasonable price and are nice to everyone so you can teach.” Using some of their friends they bring these issues up with the Governor who explicitly stated that he was not able to do anything for them. They demanded to meet with the city representatives in the parliament to no avail.
Another group of Baha’is in Khoramabad reached out to the District Attorney again, who told them he would not do anything for them, and the Governor said he needed to look into this. The meeting with one of the city council representatives only brought them a lot of sympathy. The Baha’is of Khoramabad Tankabon traveled to Sari another time to see the Security Manager of the Province, who received their letter, expressed plenty of regret and promised to help. Then they went to the Provincial Court and handed a similar letter to the head of the office. The next person to see was the Director General of the Department of Mining and Technology. The Director General expressed surprise at first. He immediately contacted Tonkabon and asked for information, and was told that this was not a civil issue and that the order had come from elsewhere – the final result of this meeting too ended up as a worthless expression of regret.
Another team went to Sari again within 48 hours and spoke with Mr. Faraj Poor (human rights lawyer), and began to speak about some legal measures. Then they traveled to the Provincial offices and spoke with the same person in charge, who invited them to be patient and told them that a new administration had been elected, and that human rights would be considered, “and as a result you will have a better experience too” – in short, he was very optimistic. The next day they went to the Department of Interior and spoke with the person in charge of minority affairs (Dr. Parvizi), who listened to them with a pleasant attitude, but told them “this issue has nothing to do with the Department of Interior, and you need to go through the Attorney General” (Mr. Bakhtiari). Then they went to visit the Office of the President and Mr. Younesi the First Advisor to the President, but they only succeeded in speaking with his assistant by the name of Mr. Mofidi, which ultimately resulted in an apology and an expression of regret, and obtaining a Letter of Grievance, a phone number and a promise to follow through Mr. Younesi and a follow-up contact, which does not come through. Some authorities seem to have learned to keep up appearances by showing a pleasant attitude, but in practice they do not do anything to help the situation.
The following week another group of 10 Tonkabon Baha’is went to see the same person in charge of Security at the Provincial Office, who was very optimistic, who finally told them that it was out of his hands and suggested that they follow up through the Judiciary: this huge change in perspective was quite a surprise. The next person was the Security and Political Deputy of the Governor – he promised to open the stores within the next three or four days, but during the next meeting he clarified that he had meant the stores would open “soon”. An effort to reach out to Mr. Younesi on the sidelines of his speaking event in Karaj on November 2013 was useless.
What is noteworthy is that the endless effort by Baha’is to gain their citizenship rights through legal and democratic means, and avoidance of any sort of unlawful acts, although this path may take a lot longer. But another important subject which can be highlighted is that the method of taking employment away from the entire Baha’i population of a region causes them not to be able to help each other, since the financial situation of everyone is in a dire state for a while. Although all the Baha’is in Iran struggle with many issues to make a living, they are worried that what happened in Hamedan, Tonkabon, and Semnan are test implementations of a wider plan to determine the results before implementing it throughout Iran, so that they can suppress the entire Baha’i population financially at the same time. This is the same policy approved by the Supreme Leader in 1990, that aimed to stifle the development and expansion of Baha’is*.
*A description and full translation of the letter can be found here: http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/education/feature-articles/secret-blueprint