Translation by Iran Press Watch
By: Morteza Esmailpour 3/18/2015
In an interview with Peace Activists in Exile Campaign (PAEC), Behnam Roghani, a Baha’i citizen who was previously sentenced to death, talked about his death sentence for being a “heretic”. Roghani describes the status of the Baha’i community in Iran as “extremely critical”. “Considering the harsh approach of the hardliners in society, violence and the violation of the rights of Baha’i citizens are increasingly growing in Iran.” He explained the persecution, repression and other problems of Baha’i citizens. Below is the text of the interview of Morteza Esmailpour, a reporter and a human rights activist, with Behnam Roghani, a Baha’i citizen.
(ME): How do you evaluate the situation of Baha’i citizens after the revolution of 1978?
(BR): After the Islamic revolution in Iran, a systematic campaign against the Baha’i Faith and Baha’i citizens started at the top level of the leadership of the Islamic Republic. The leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have ideological problems with Baha’is, have always planned the physical elimination of Baha’is from Iranian society. This is taking place even though Baha’i citizens, because of their religious beliefs, always have avoided violence, emphatically have not participated in politics and have obeyed the laws of their country of residence
(ME): Were attacks on Baha’is performed by inglorious forces, or was it orchestrated by the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
(BR): The late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini many times attacked Baha’is (in his talks) and in one of his strange speeches called Baha’is “Animals that should be feared”. His talks provoked and gave the green light to hardliners in Iran to persecute and repress Baha’i citizens. The level of this harassment against Baha’is was to such a degree that 200 Baha’i citizens and Baha’i Assembly members in Iran were executed in the early days of the revolution; for many years after, Baha’is faced issues such as confiscation of their possessions, prevention from pursuing higher education and finding jobs, and long prison terms. At the same time a campaign against the Baha’i community began to intensify; even in school textbooks several pages were allocated to promote hatred against Baha’is. In addition, in mosques and Friday prayers, the Imams leading the prayers harshly attacked Baha’is in their sermons. The campaign was so powerful and systematic that some Iranians believed it to the extent that they joined the persecution and repression of Baha’is.
(ME): Did the situation change after Khomeini’s death?
(BR): After Khomeini’s death Ayatollah Khamenei succeeded him; the environment was a little more relaxed and open. However, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had only lately joined the top rank of the religious hierarchy, in his answers to questions about the status of Baha’is, issued edicts against them. In one of his edicts, he declared all Baha’is to be “unclean” and “untouchable”, and forbade dealing with them. He prohibited his followers from utilizing tableware and utensils that Baha’is had used for drinking or eating, and asked them to confront this religious minority in Iran.
(ME): In recent years, we have seen the issuance of many decrees against the Baha’i community. Have you personally had any problem encounters?
(BR): Issuing religious decrees is not new in Iran; since the Islamic Republic selected Shi’ite Islam as the official religion in Iran, everyone was supposed to seek the advice of top clerics about questions and issues. A group of hardline lobbyists who have a special relationship with some of these clerics have been asking for “special religious decrees” from them which have resulted in hefty court sentences against Baha’i citizens and other religious minorities as well as new converts and a few other Iranian citizens, which resulted in enabling the hardliners to confiscate the property of these victims “lawfully”. I was a victim of such a “special decree” sought by an Islamic hardliner group, and was sentenced to death.
(ME): Did issuance of this decree against you serve as propaganda, or was it personal?
(BR): Of course it should be noted that edicts like the one issued for me were more political, with a purpose of creating fear, panic and repression among new converts from Islam, who intend to reveal and promote their new-found beliefs. In my case the decree mentions that I am a “heretic” and my blood must be shed. In their definition, a heretic is a Muslim-born citizen who wishes to belief in something other than Islam. The blood of such person is worthless and must be shed, and this religious decree would serve as his death sentence.
(ME): Finally, how do you evaluate the situation of Baha’is, and what is your wish?
(BR): The situation has not changed for Baha’is. Right now, there are around 100 Baha’i citizens still in jail, and quite few of them are on a waiting list to be admitted. Banning Baha’i student from seeking higher education has intensified, and restrictions and exclusions have increased in general. That having been said, it should be said that with the advent of cyber space technology and communication tools, as well as more awareness of people about the situation of Baha’i citizens and more knowledge about the Baha’i Faith, the anti-Baha’i campaigns of the Islamic Republic have increasingly become unpopular and resented among the people of Iran.