17 July 2015
NEW YORK — The recent experience of a Baha’i family in Sanandaj, a town in the Kurdistan province of Iran, highlights the cruel absurdities practiced by the Iranian authorities towards some of its citizens, members of this faith community—the largest non-Muslim religion in the country.
On 12 July 2015, a Baha’i, Mrs. Baji Muhammadifard passed away and her family sought a burial permit to inter her body in the Baha’i cemetery in Sanandaj. This was refused, with the officials insisting—against the existing laws in Iran—that Mrs. Muhammadifard’s body be laid to rest in the Baha’i cemetery in Ghorveh, a town located approximately an hour and a half’s journey from Sanandaj.
Agreeing to burial in Ghorveh would have forced the family to ignore the Baha’i burial law requiring bodies to be interred within an hour’s journey from the place of death. The road from Sanandaj to Ghorveh is extremely hazardous, passing as it does through mountains. Despite this, in an effort to persuade the family that Baha’i law would not be broken, the authorities told the family that an ambulance—which could exceed the speed limit—would carry the body.
Local authorities sympathetic to the plight of the Baha’is told the family that a memorandum from the Supreme National Security Council has stated that the Baha’is are only to be allocated one cemetery in any province, an inhumane and illegal directive applied to no other group of citizens in the country, which has never been shared previously with the Baha’is.
“The Iranian authorities seem to have brought themselves down to a new level of absurdity and malice; extending their prejudiced attacks on the Baha’i community beyond the grave,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community Office to the United Nations in New York.
The refusal to allow the burial to take place in the Baha’i cemetery in Sanandaj, an area made beautiful and verdant through decades of effort by the community, meant that the family had to keep the body of their loved one in cool conditions at home. This was done with the help of friends.
The family knew that if the body were in the public morgue, it would be taken by the authorities without their knowledge or permission and buried with no Baha’i rites being observed.
Members of the wider community who came to mourn Mrs. Muhammadifard’s passing were most sympathetic to the family’s situation. There was a swell of public support in the town, with attention being drawn to the unreasonable behavior of the authorities.
The officials responded by summoning the son of the deceased for interrogation. Finally, after four hours of grueling questions and threats, he was forced to give up his mother’s body. Soon after, just as the grief-stricken family had feared, the body was taken by the authorities, placed in an ambulance and sent, unaccompanied by any family member, to Ghorveh cemetery. The mourners were left in tears and distress. After an hour the family could not contain their anxieties any longer and travelled to Ghorveh to see what had happened to the body of their loved one.
Iranian law requires every town to provide, within its boundaries, cemetery plots for the burial of all its citizens and makes it unlawful for a municipality to accept for burial bodies from outside its jurisdiction.
“The Iranian government is now summarily breaking its own laws in its persecution of Baha’is. What is the reason for this behavior? The government of Iran should be asked to explain its actions to the international community,” said Ms. Dugal. “I wonder what the people of Iran and of the world—especially the youth—think of such actions being taken by a government that prides itself in its adherence to the sacred religion of Islam?”