Translation by Iran Press Watch
Date: September 17, 2016
As reported by the No to Harassment and Imprisonment of Baha’i Citizens Campaign, according to Iran Wire, Revolutionary Guards from Semnan Province demolished the largest apple orchard in the Mehdi Shahr region of Semnan Province, by declaring an area in Mehdi Shahr a military zone, followed by the expulsion of 80 families who lived in that area.
Families living in the area have been cultivating land and making a living from their orchards and agricultural land in this area for the last 150 years.
In 1991, with the reduction of agricultural land, these families established agricultural and husbandry companies and cooperatives, and cultivated all the land in the area, creating Semnan Province’s largest apple orchard. The company maintains 35 hectares of almond trees and 50 hectares of apple trees.
Siavash Khanjani, a family member involved in the registration of this agricultural company, says: “The company, in order to supply water and electricity to households and for agricultural activities, at the members’ personal expense and with the approval of the Office of the Provincial Electric Power Company Administration, installed more than 5 km of power lines in the region. Utilizing the same license, they also built three earth dams.”
Describing the work carried out within the territory of the company, he said: “To avoid dangerous regional floods and to prevent weeds on the surface of water, three earth dams were planned; two of them with a water-holding capacity of 80 and 120 thousand cubic meters were put into operation in 1999.” This company, in recent years, had acquired permits for a 30-year lease on this national land from Iran’s Department of Forestry and Pastures, and started to keep and breed sheep for meat production.
According to him, since 1999 the pressure on these families intensified in many different ways, beginning with stopping them from using the pastures, then cutting off the power from the regional power company. It appears that the aim of imposing these measures was to force the families to emigrate from the region.
Many of these households are Baha’is; Jamaloddin Khanjani, one of the imprisoned leaders of the Baha’i community of Iran, is one of the shareholders in this company. For this reason, these measures are considered to be a continuation of economic pressure on Baha’is in an effort to further restrict them.
Complaints, perseverance and follow-up efforts by these families seemed to have reduced pressure. In 2013, however, the Revolutionary Guards of Semnan Province declared the area a military zone, which paved the way for the expulsion of the families and confiscation of the fields, gardens and property, under the pretext of military security. The Revolutionary Guards then proceeded to demolish two of the earth dams, then destroyed the well which had been drilled in the area and filled it with dirt to dry it out. The construction of the well had taken place in 1995, using government-issues construction permits to build it, and all legal steps were followed.
In the past four years these families have been under heavy financial pressure; their 150 year old property was seized by the military establishment and their sheep were auctioned off. The families’ lawsuit is currently in the Court of Administrative Justice. In the two years since the complaints were made, no investigation has yet been done in this case.