A member of Iran’s persecuted Baha’i faith has expressed serious concerns about two imprisoned ailing family members who are being denied early release despite being legally eligible.
The Intelligence Ministry is refusing to send Jamaloddin Khanjani, an elderly former Baha’i community leader who has spent more than nine years in prison, to the hospital for long-term care, his nephew, Siavash Khanjani, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Someone who’s 83-years-old needs special care,” he said. “He has prostate disease and needs an operation, but prisoners who get outside treatment are immediately brought back to prison where there are no facilities for post-operation recovery and therefore the family is not willing to risk it.”
The Baha’i community is one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in Iran. The faith is not recognized in the Islamic Republic’s Constitution and its members face harsh discrimination in all walks of life as well as prosecution for the public display of their faith.
“Also, a stent was placed in his heart several years ago, and he’s generally too old and needs to be taken care of by his family and doctors, but unfortunately no one pays attention and we’re worried about him,” he added.
“We have asked that he be granted furlough and followed up several times, but the Intelligence Ministry always stands in the way,” continued Siavash Khanjani. “Besides, the law says that prisoners who serve part of their time can be conditionally released. We have pursued that, too, but the authorities have rejected it. So my uncle is still sitting in prison.”
Furlough, temporary leave typically granted to prisoners in Iran for a variety of familial, holiday, and medical reasons, is routinely denied to political prisoners as a form of additional punishment.
Siavash Khanjani also expressed concern for his nephew, who has been imprisoned since August 23, 2012.
“My brother’s son Navid is still serving a 12-year prison sentence,” he told CHRI. “He has digestion problems and back pain. He is also eligible for early release, but requests for conditional release filed by his family have been turned down.”
He was arrested in Isfahan in August 2012 after volunteering to help the victims of a devastating earthquake in East Azerbaijan Province and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for “spreading falsehoods,” “disturbing public opinion” and “propaganda against the state.”
In 2008, seven leaders of the Baha’i community—Jamaloddin Khanjani, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet—were rounded up and charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “espionage.”
The “Baha’i 7” were each sentenced to 20 years in prison, but their sentences were reduced to 10 years imprisonment in 2015 upon appeal.
Article 58 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code authorizes the deciding court to grant conditional release for prisoners sentenced to more than 10 years in prison after they have served half their sentence.
“In April 2016, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran said elderly prisoners, including women over 55 and men over 65, should be freed,” said Siavash Khanjani. “Based on the leader’s order, we tried to seek freedom for my uncle, but unfortunately the judicial officials refused to comply.”
Born in the Shahmirzad district of Semnan Province, Jamaloddin Khanjani’s brick factory was confiscated after the 1979 revolution in Iran because of his religious beliefs.
Two years ago, his ancestral home, located in the family’s agricultural fields in the Dazgareh Afshar village, was also demolished.
“The family received a 48-hour demolition notice from the Intelligence Ministry and the Semnan Province Council on April 19, 2015,” Siavash Khanjani told CHRI at the time. “They had 48 hours to evacuate the property.”
“They went to Tehran with their lawyer and secured orders from the Supreme Court to stop the demolition operations, but when they returned, they observed that 270 square meters of the house had already been demolished and it was too late to do anything,” he said.