Translation by Iran Press Watch
In an interview with the Human Rights Campaign in Iran, Shohreh Khalokhi, shared concerns regarding the health and well-being of her husband, Afif Naeimi, a former member of the Yaran-i-Iran (Baha’i Community Leadership Group in Iran) who was returned to Rajai Shahr Prison (also known as Gohardasht Prison) on Monday April 23, 2018, following sick leave. Mrs. Khalokhi shared that her husband, “was suffering from severe illness and does not have the strength to endure captivity, and at any moment a tragic health incident may occur”.
Mrs. Khalokhi explained to the campaign that Mr. Naeimi‘s sentence had been paused by the judiciary medical committee to allow for sick leave, but the sick leave was ended, and he was returned to prison despite his condition having worsened.
Mr. Naeimi, along with Vahid Tizfahm, Fariba Kamalabadi, Mahvash Sabet, Behrooz Tavakkoli, Saeed Rezai and Jamaloddin Khanjani, were members of the “Yaran”, the Baha’i Leadership Group of Iran. They were arrested by authorities during March and April of 2008 and tried by the Revolutionary Court on charges of spying for Israel, insulting the sacred, and propaganda against the regime. Despite the fact that the judiciary never provided evidence of these allegations, all were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, each.
Except for Mr. Naeimi, all the members of the Yaran have completed their sentences and been released over the last few months. Mr. Naeimi is being required to make up several months of the time that he was kept on sick leave.
During her interview with the Human Rights Campaign, Mrs. Khalokhi shared, “After ten years, this is the first time we give an interview, because of our problems and concerns about the physical condition of my spouse. My husband developed two illnesses during his prison term. Prior to his ten-year imprisonment, he was a healthy man, but he developed two severe illnesses in prison. The first is Syncope Disease, which causes him to at any moment lose consciousness without warning. The cause of this disease is still unknown. He had experienced sudden loss of consciousness several times in prison. His second major complication is a form of heart disease, a thickening of the heart muscle. The problem is essentially that these two illnesses have no definitive cure and can only be controlled with medication.”
Regarding the details of his sick leave and the pause in his sentence, Mrs. Khalokhi told Human Rights Campaign that, “When the authorities recognized the dangerous nature of these illnesses, they offered him sick leave. The first sick leave began in July of 2016. We thought he would only be on leave for three days, and we were very happy as each additional day would pass and he was not called to the prison. Every week he would visit the prosecutor’s office, and he had also written some letters. After two-and-a-half months, every time he visited (the prosecutor’s office), they informed him that “you are still on leave”. However, after seven-and-a-half months they called to say that his leave had been over for a long time, and he needed to visit the office to get his letter. When he went to the office to receive his letter, he was told that he has been absent for five-and-a-half months. He was returned to prison in January 2000. Two months of the seven months were considered leave, and the remaining five months were considered prison time not served.”
Mrs. Khalokhi told the campaign, “The second time that he was on leave, it lasted about 6 months, which was last year. This time too, they considered 4 months as prison time not served, and only about 50 days of the six months as sick leave. The pausing of prison time served was an indication in our family’s mind, that they too recognized the severe nature of the illness. In fact, my husband was let out of the prison two times over the last two years with the permissions of the judiciary’s medical commission, with a type of illness which is untreatable and should only be controlled with medication and under the supervision of a doctor. Given the untreatable nature of my husband’s illness, we expect the period of time that he spent out of the prison, under the supervision of doctors, to be considered as sick leave and not a moratorium of his prison term. This way he can be freed and monitored by doctors to keep his illness under control.”
Referring to the fact that pausing the sentence does not reduce from the prison term, Mrs. Khalokhi told the campaign, “The law states that someone who is imprisoned and is transferred outside of prison to receive treatment due to illness, it would be in a way that the time that the prisoner spends outside of prison for treatment is considered pausing of the prison term, but this timeframe will not be taken away from the prison term. Now my husband is likely to be kept in prison for another ten months until his term is over, but we request that the sick leave time not be considered as pause, but be counted as term served. We are extremely worried about his illness. The Syncope Disease poses a danger of passing out at any moment, and I’m worried that, God Forbid, he loses consciousness in prison when he is alone, and his head hits a hard place, and result in a terrible outcome.”
“We have tolerated everything and continue to do so, but the issue with my husband’s illness is quite critical. I’m just waiting for him to be released and come home, so we can keep his illness under control. While he was with us during his most recent leave from prison, his illness was continuously worsening, even though he was under constant care of a doctor with regular visits to the hospital and had an increase in the dose of his medicine. When his illness is becoming so much worse while at home under the care and supervision of a doctor, it is even more disturbing and cause for concern if he has to spend time in prison, under such conditions.”
Mr. Naeemi, 56, was the director of a textile factory, which was shut down after his arrest and imprisonment.
Response to Javad Zarif‘s Misconceptions about the Situation of the Baha’is
In response to the recent speech by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said that “Being a Baha’i is not a crime in Iran”, Mrs. Khalokhi told the campaign, “I think it should be considered a joke. If for nothing else, simply, for the fact that our children cannot even enroll in universities and are forced to be content with home grown schools. A clear indication of how the situation really is.”
“It seems that these words come from Mr. Zarif as a cover for his own position. Reminiscent of the year when seven members of the Yaran, which my husband is also one of them, were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Mr. Ahmadinejad was headed to the United Nations, and so there was a one time talk of reducing the 20 years to 10 years sentence. But when he returned from the UN, the sentence was back at 20 years, which, later, with the extremely hard work of the lawyers over the many years, the sentence was turned back to ten years again.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in his speech at a meeting of the Foreign Relations Council in New York, on April 24th, that, “Being Baha’i is not a crime in Iran.”, Mr. Zarif further stated that in Iran no one will be sent to prison due to “being Baha’i or not believing in God.” “We do not recognize the religion of Baha’i, but this is a belief. Someone can be agnostic, someone can be atheist. We will not go and imprison them due to being atheist.” He continued, “This is a difference that we should allow for. But also, being a Baha’i would not make someone immune to the law if they commit a crime.”
Despite Mohammad Javad Zarif’s claim that no one is imprisoned due to being a Baha’i or for being an atheist, there are many Baha’is, Christian converts, and those who have written something contrary to Islamic beliefs in the social media space, who have been detained and sentenced with heavy crimes.
Baha’is suffer extreme pressure in Iran, including loss of employment, denial of university education, confiscation of property, and even death, because of their Faith. Mr. Zarif‘s claims are contrary to the systematic oppression and mistreatment that Baha’is have endured over the last forty years.
This is not the first time that false statements have been made by Iranian authorities regarding the situation the Baha’is in Iran.
At the Human Rights Council, in 2010, Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s human rights office of Iran’s Judiciary, was repeatedly questioned and criticized on the condition of Baha’is and other religious minorities in the country, he said that Baha’is are free live and study like the rest of the citizens.
On April 2014, in an interview with ILNA news agency, Javad Larijani stated, “The authorities have never confronted Baha’is due to being the followers of this religion, because based on the constitutional law, every Iranian citizen has rights and cannot be barred from his/her constitutional rights.”
Members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran constitute the largest non-Muslim religious group in Iran. In recent years, mistreatment of Baha’is has been exacerbated, including the destruction of their cemeteries, arbitrary arrests, house attacks, property seizures, employment dismissals, and denial of basic civil rights. Iranian Baha’i youth continue to be denied the right to a university education, and any university where Baha’i students are studying are forced by the government to expel them. Baha’i experts are deprived of appointment to government jobs and are discriminated against by private companies on the grounds of their beliefs. Fellow citizens who defend Baha’is find themselves targets of attack.