Translation by Iran Press Watch
23rd March 2015
By: Kiyan Sabeti
Within the last few years, persecution and pressure on the Baha’is of Iran has increased, but it could be said that it reached peak during the year 2014 1.
Although the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran unremittingly deny the persecution of Baha’i citizens, nevertheless reports of human rights violations, which occurred from the first day of 2014 until the last day of the same year, indicate otherwise.
Similar to previous years, in this year arrests, interrogations, house searches and confiscation of property continued.
More than twenty Baha’i houses in Shiraz were searched within the last month of the year alone. This is just one of the obvious examples of the nature of the pressure placed upon Baha’is.
The conviction of twenty Baha’is by the Revolutionary Court of Yazd and fifteen Baha’is by the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz, followed by a few other Baha’is in the cities of Mashhad, Tehran, Ahvaz, and……are among the many sentences passed on Baha’is in 2014.
Nika and Nava Kholoosi
As in previous years, Baha’i’s were also placed under economic pressure. Fifty businesses were closed down in Kerman, twenty-three in Rafsanjan, six in Jiroft, six in Nashtaroud of Tonokabon and few more in Yazd, Ghaemshahr, Vilashahr and Najafabad. These are just a few examples of Baha’is being put under economic burden and pressure which started in previous years.
Baha’i youth, as on previous occasions, were barred from continuing their education in universities, under the accusation of not submitting correct documentation. Some of these students had very high scores on the University Entrance Examination. In order to find out what was wrong with their documentation, students contacted the Administrative Tribunal, but were rejected by the Number One Branch of that institution. They were told that according to directives approved in 1984 by the Cultural Revolution Review Council, they do not fulfil the requirements needed for continuing education at university.
In addition there were some cases where the civil rights of Baha’is were not respected which were unique to this year. As an example, a youth (Kalim Jahandari) in the city of Bandar Abbas was kidnapped by a group of unknown people in broad daylight on February 14th, 2015 at about noon and taken to a secluded area, beaten, insulted and told to stop teaching the Baha’i Faith, otherwise he would be dealt with more severely in future.
In another case, an 18 year old Baha’i youth, Farhood Yazdani, was arrested, sentenced and imprisoned, because on July 15th 2014 he, along with a few other youth, participated in a water splashing game in Be’sat Park in Shiraz. He was sentenced to one year imprisonment for being a Baha’i, though other participants were released. This social activity was organised by some community members at large via Facebook – he was just an invited guest.
Further examples include abusive graffiti on the walls of Baha’i residences and arson against two houses of Baha’is in Ojtappeh and Amzajerd (dependencies of Hamadan) on 1st and 2nd February 2015 by some unknown elements of the public.
In addition to the above cases, the regular pensions of three Baha’i war veterans was stopped in another instance of the government of ignoring the civil rights of Baha’is. These three individuals were summoned to the Shaheed Foundation and were told that if they did not choose Islam as their religion, their entitled payments would be stopped. They refused to deny their own faith, and hence their pensions were cut off. According to law all war veterans must be paid some form of regular compensation.
These are examples of the reports of atrocities being heaped upon Baha’is; it is probable that there are more cases which have not come to light and are left unreported.
All statistics indicate that in the solar year 2014 the desecration of Baha’i cemeteries and arrests of Baha’i’s increased.
Denying Baha’is the right of burying their dead
In the early months immediately after the Iranian Islamic Revolution all Baha’i cemeteries were destroyed. After some time the Islamic government felt obliged to allocate some lands for Baha’i burial, but they were far away from cities.
Baha’is were using these allocated lands, which finally became the new Baha’i cemeteries, for the burial of their dead under the supervision of security forces for more than three decades. As the cities grew larger, and with the government adopting a new approach towards Baha’is, the issue of Baha’i cemeteries arose once more.
During the last years in office of former president Mahmood Ahmadinezhad, the destruction of Baha’i cemeteries re-emerged in many cities; Baha’is in those cities were barred from burying their dead.
Initially the government intimated that the destruction of Baha’i cemeteries was organised by mobs, but in the year 2014 the process of destruction grew more severe, and the government no longer hid its support.
In all cities of Iran, Baha’is had great difficulty burying their dead, but the shape and form of these difficulties were fundamentally different in each city.
This variation can be attributed to official circulars from security forces or civil authorities ordering the local authorities to make it difficult for Baha’i’s to bury their dead, but leaving its implementation to their discretion.
In some cities the individual graves of Baha’i’s were destroyed, in others the land was taken from their possession entirely or the cemeteries were transferred to locations far from the cities, which were hard to reach.
In many cities, Baha’is were denied the burial of their dead altogether, or their burial was delayed for several weeks.
In the city of Semnan Baha’is were told to sign a document stating that on the tombstone nothing would be engraved except the name of the dead for issuance of death certificates, and they were told that should not beautify the cemetery environment, because this is considered to be an act of propagating the Baha’i Faith.
In this regard, Diane Ala’i, the Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, said “the general trend which is seen in this process is a systematic effort from the government’s side to eliminate the existence of Baha’is in Iran by destroying the last signs of their existence in cemeteries and trying to force them to follow the religion of Islam. This is another way of forcing Baha’is to deny their belief.”
Among the Baha’i cemeteries recently destroyed, the Shiraz cemetery is of particular note. The Shiraz Baha’i cemetery had belonged to the Baha’i community for more than three decades, and dozens of Baha’is, including those who were martyred in the 1980s, were buried there.
On the eighth of April 28th, 2014, agents of the Revolutionary Guards2 dug up the land with heavy machinery and started to lay the foundation of a Cultural Centre, completely ignoring the graves.
In the beginning of the last year the Baha’i cemetery of Sabzevar was also destroyed with heavy machinery and bulldozers. The local authority did not take responsibility for its destruction or follow up in any way.
During the year 2014, the entrance gates of a few Baha’i cemeteries in different cities, including the cities of Ahvaz and Mahmudiyyah in Isfahan, were sealed, and Baha’is were told to bury their dead somewhere else.
During the same year Baha’is were prevented from burying their dead in the cities they lived in. Mohanna Samandari3, a young girl of twelve years, was kept in a Tabriz mortuary for a month, and officials buried her without any religious rite in another city and without the knowledge of her family.
This treatment was repeated with some other Baha’is in Tabriz as well. The case of Ziba Rouhani is notable as her body was buried in another city after eight days without any religious ceremony. Shamel Bina4 died in Ahvaz, and his family was unable to obtain a death certificate for burial for more than two months.
Widespread arrests and enforcement of court sentences
From the early months at the beginning of the Iranian Revolution until the mid-eighties, many Baha’is were arrested and imprisoned. Toward the end of the 80s they subsided but never stopped completely until 2008, when the arrests increased again. Last year the number of arrests broke the records of the last 25 years.
In the year 2014 thirty Baha’is were sent to prison after receiving their sentences.
Two Baha’i sisters, Nika and Nava Kholoosi, were the first Baha’is who were arrested in 2014. On the 30th of March 2014, while travelling during the New Year holiday5, Nava was arrested by security guards in the city of Babolsar and transferred to Vakilabad prison in Mashhad.
Her sister Nika was also arrested on the same day in her house, and was transferred to Mashhad prison.
The names of those Baha’is who were summoned to fulfil their prison sentences are as follows:
- Nava Kholoosi, four years and six months imprisonment, arrested on 30th March 2014 in Mashhad
- Nika Kholoosi, six years imprisonment, arrested on 30th March 2014 in Mashhad
- Sonia Ahmadi, five years imprisonment, arrested on16Th April 2014 in Mashhad
- Naseem Bagheri, four years imprisonment, arrested on 27th April 2014 in Tehran
- Naseem Ashrafi, one year imprisonment, arrested on 6th May 2014 in Tehran
- Elham Farahani, four years imprisonment, arrested on 11th May 2014 in Tehran
- Shameem Na’imi, three years imprisonment, arrested 11th May 2014 in Tehran
- Shahab Dehghani, four years imprisonment, arrested on 24th May 2014 in Tehran
- Shomays Mohajer, one year imprisonment, arrested on 28th June 2014 in Tehran
- Sarang Etehadi, one year imprisonment, arrested on 19th July 2014 in Tehran
- Farhad Eqbali, five years imprisonment, arrested on 30th August 2014 in Tehran (transferred from Gorgan)
- Amir Ma’boodi, six months imprisonment, arrested on 9th October 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Adnan Rahmat Panah, one year imprisonment, arrested on 11th November 2014 in Shiraz
- Nooshin Misaghi, six months imprisonment, arrested on 29th November 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Soheila Aqdasi, six months imprisonment, arrested on 29th November 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Adib Shoaie, six months imprisonment, arrested on 29th November 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Fardin Aghsani, three years imprisonment, arrested on 1st December 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Neda Forsati pour, six months imprisonment, arrested in mid-December 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Farhnaz Moghddam, three years imprisonment, arrested on 10th December 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Sousan Tebyanian, one year imprisonment, arrested on 24th December 2014 in Oroumiyeh
- Shahram Fallah, three years imprisonment, arrested on 31st January 2015 in Kerman
- Navid Haghighi, three years imprisonment, arrested on 31st January 2015 in Arak
- Farmarz Lotfi, three months imprisonment, arrested on 3rd February 2015 in Tonekabon
- Soroush Garshasbi, three months imprisonment, arrested on 3rd February 2015 in Tonekabon
- Zia u llah Ghaderi, three months imprisonment, arrested on 3rd February 2015 in Tonokabon
- Farah Baghi, one year imprisonment, arrested on 10th February 2015 in Yazd
- Fariba Ashtari, two years imprisonment, arrested on 21st February 2015 in Yazd
- Khosrow Dehghani, three years imprisonment, arrested on 3rd March 2015 in Yazd (transferred from Isfahan)
- Fariborz Baghi, two years imprisonment, arrested on 7th March 2015 in Yazd
- Naghmeh Farabi, two years imprisonment, arrested in mid-March 2015 in Yazd (transferred from Najaf Abad)
- Iman Rashidi, three years imprisonment, arrested on 18th March 2015 in Yazd
- Shabnam Mottahed, two years imprisonment, arrested on 18th March 2015 in Yazd
The names of “Iraj Lohrasb” and “Tannaz Mohammadi” could be added to the above list. These two Baha’is of Yazd were arrested and reprimanded on 29th June 2015 because they were actively supporting Baha’is on social media.
Iraj Lohrasb was sentenced to two years imprisonment while Tannaz Mohmmadi was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment; both are presently serving their sentences.
Also according to the reports of human rights sources, from the beginning to the end of 2014 at least fifty Baha’is were arrested and released on bail in different cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Semnan and Hamedan.
The last member of the Baha’i community arrested in 1393 was “Laleh Mehdinezhad”. She was arrested in her house on 8th March 2015, and transferred to Evin prison.
It will be interesting to see whether in this New Year the pattern of persecution of Baha’is will take a descending trend or follow the same path as the last several years.
1. Actually the Persian year 1393, which precisely corresponds to 21 March 2014 to 20 March 2015
2. Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, or Revolutionary Guards. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army_of_the_Guardians_of_the_Islamic_Revolution
3. A photo of Mahna Samandari and an article on the plight of her body after her death can be found at http://en.iranwire.com/features/6125/
4. The story of the body of Shamel Bina’s body after death can be seen at http://news.bahai.org/story/1034
5. The Persian New Year is Nowruz, held on the 21st of March. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowruz