On Tuesday March 8, while most Iranians were preparing for Persian New Year festivities, authorities arrested four members of the Baha’i minority in Tehran, Karaj and Sari. Their names are Rouhie Safajoo, Sarmad Shadabi, Tara Houshmand and Behzad Zabihi Mahforouzaki.
“On Tuesday morning,” an informed source tells IranWire, “agents of the Intelligence Ministry, who had presented themselves at the door as employees of the gas company, entered the home of Rouhie Safajoo in Karaj. They searched her home thoroughly and seized her mobile phone, laptop, books, pictures and anything related to the Baha’i religion. Then they arrested Rouhie and took her to an unknown location.” Her family later learned that she had been taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison.
“Rouhie is a 20 year-old woman who wants to study at university like other people her age,” said the source. “Two years ago she was prevented from entering university because of her faith. To secure her rights, she repeatedly appealed to authorities including National Testing Organization, the Ministry of Science and members of parliament. She and 360 other young Baha’is, who have also been deprived of higher education, wrote an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani explaining their situation, and asking him to pursue the matter.”
Three days before her arrest, Rouhie Safajoo had written an emotional article about a Baha’i couple who had been sent to prison, and were forced to leave their five year-old child behind. When she posted it on her Facebook page, it received considerable attention. This could be one reason for her arrest. For nearly a week, her family heard nothing. Authorities now say Rouhie’s interrogation is over, and she will appear in court.
On the same day authorities arrested Safajoo, they also arrested Tara Houshmand and Sarmad Shadabi in Tehran, and took them to an unknown location. They arrested Houshmand at her home. Shadabi, says on of his relatives, was arrested before entering the campus of the Roudehen branch of Islamic Azad University, where he had been admitted to a computer science program. Security agents had been waiting for him. They took him to his home and confiscated his mobile phone, his laptop and his religious books.
“Considering that Tara Houshmand and Sarmad Shadabi are among the Baha’i youth who have been denied a college education, it would seem that their arrest is a result of their activities in this regard in the past two years,” the informed source tells IranWire.
A fourth member of the Baha’i minority, Behzad Zabihi Mahforouzaki, was also arrested in the northern city of Sari. “At 8 am,” a relative told IranWire, “five plainclothes agents, who said they were from the Intelligence Ministry, entered Behzad’s home with a summons that was not stamped or signed by judicial authorities. They searched the home from top to bottom.”
During the search, the relative says, an agent tore up a picture of the Baha’is’ religious leader, and insulted the faith. Another agent pushed Mahforouzaki violently. After confiscating his mobile phone, laptop and religious books, they took Behzad to the Intelligence Bureau. At 2 pm the same day, they went to his business and locked it up. This is the third time in the past few years that Mahforouzaki’s business has been forcibly locked up.
According to another informed source, authorities first told Mahforouzaki that charges against him had nothing to do with his religion. But when authorities read his charges to him officially, he was accused of propaganda against the Koran and Islam. Mahforouzaki has been arrested and jailed four times in the past four years.
Read Rouhie Safajoo’s poem “For Bashir”