A new social media campaign was launched recently regarding the Baha’is in Iran who, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, have been arrested and jailed in a fresh wave of persecution of Baha’is across the country.
The fresh effort to persecute Baha’i citizens began with the summoning of 30 Baha’is to the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Shiraz in early March (Persian link). These summonses came even as instructions had been issued a few days earlier by Mohsen Ejeie, the first deputy head of the judiciary, advising courts to temporarily refrain from issuing unnecessary summonses or arrests to prevent the spread of coronavirus during the crisis.
The 30 Baha’i citizens were together sentenced to 150 years imprisonment by various branches of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts. Four Baha’i women sent to Birjand prison were later released on leave due to contracting the coronavirus inside prison.
Among those summoned, four Baha’i citizens who had been summoned to the women’s ward of Birjand Prison to serve their sentences were sent on leave a few weeks later due to being infected with the coronavirus.
In late June or early July, eleven Baha’i citizens living in Shiraz were sentenced by a provincial court of appeals to a total of 33 and a half years in prison on charges of propaganda and of following the Baha’i Faith. These Baha’i citizens are waiting for their sentences to be enforced – even as Shiraz is a hot spot of for the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.
The “#NoPrisonForBahais” hashtag was created in response to the sentencing of the 11 Baha’is in Shiraz. One of the campaign initiators, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told IranWire: “Unfortunately, while different places in our country are facing the Covid-19 crisis and many of our compatriots are suffering from this disease, instead of protecting the citizens and maintaining their health, the Iranian Government has increased judicial pressure and attacks on Baha’i citizens, and by issuing court rulings and sending Baha’is to prison, it has increased their risk of contracting this disease. Imprisoning these citizens under these circumstances is equivalent to having them sentenced to death. Through this hashtag, we want to bring the voice of the oppressed Baha’is to their compatriots.”
The eleven sentenced Baha’is are as follows:
Bahareh Ghaderi, born in Tehran in 1977-78, and Navid Bazmandegan, born in Shiraz 1973-74, are the parents of seven-year old Darya Bazmandegan. The couple were married in 2007-2008 and, since they were both already active in various social issues before marriage, such as the public health and environmental projects, cultural heritage, and serving young people, they continued in these activities after marrying and despite the challenges that exist for Baha’is.
Darya was born in 2013-14 and, when she was 11-months old, she was hospitalized for chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukaemia. Owing to the fact that Darya was a young child and her disease was aggressive and severe, the family went through difficult days during the treatment, but continued to do everything to keep Darya alive. The couple started a site called “Cancer and Childhood” and shared their experiences and knowledge with others. In addition, they gradually started discussing other topics on this site, such as getting acquainted with the side effects of tobacco smoke, the importance of hand-washing and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The family also was sheltering at home to protect Darya’s health – her immune system was severely compromised by her cancer and chemotherapy – so they started an environmental affairs site called “Let us be green” and provided simple and practical training to live an environmentally-friendly life.
On 15 September 2018, Navid and Bahareh were arrested simultaneously but at different locations. Navid was arrested at his father’s house while studying life skills with a number of his friends, and Bahareh was arrested in at their home, in front of her five-year-old daughter.
The initial charge against them was collaborating with groups hostile to the Islamic Republic, and after days of interrogation and individual detention, 38 days for Navid and 49 days for Bahareh, they were released on a 150 million toman bail.
In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Bahareh and Navid were tried in Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz, presided over by Judge Seyyed Mahmoud Sadati, on charges of “membership in groups hostile to the regime,” “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime,” charges which were linked to their membership of the “perverse Bahaist sect.” Both were sentenced to six years in prison. In July, Branch 17 of the Shiraz Court of Appeals reduced their sentences to two years and nine months apiece.
This ruling was communicated to these Baha’i parents at a time when their young daughter needed care and peace of mind for her cancer treatments. Her doctors have said that the shock of losing her parents to prison may cause her illness to return.
Bahareh and Navid’s friends had not known that the couple were Baha’is.
Niloufar Hakimi, born in 1991-92, worked as an instructor of children’s drama and creativity in Shiraz for two years. The children at her school, and their parents, did not know that Hakimi was a Baha’i. On 6 October, 2018, she was arrested and was released on bail after 12 days.
Hakimi faces initial charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “membership in groups hostile to the regime,” but after her release, seven months later, other baseless allegations were brought including “insulting the leadership” and “blasphemy.” The preliminary court sentenced Hakimi to 13 years in prison which was reduced to 5 years and nine months according to the ruling of the Court of Appeals. Today Hakimi faces unemployment and no source of income while also awaiting a summons to prison.
Elaheh Samizadeh is a married mother of a seven-year-old child and was a creativity and crafts teacher for a preschool. Samizadeh was arrested on September 15, 2018, and was released after 28 days. The initial charges against her were “propaganda against the regime” and “membership in groups hostile to the regime.” But after seven months and with an increase in bail, a new charge, “use of scientific terms,” was added to the charges against her. The preliminary court sentenced her to seven years imprisonment, and the subject ruling was reduced to two years and nine months in the Court of Appeals.
Farham Sabet was arrested on February 12, 2017, for membership in a Baha’i-related Telegram channel and for writing an article and presenting it to the Irfan Colloquium, a Baha’i studies group, and was released after 11 days of solitary confinement. Charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “membership in hostile groups,” the preliminary court sentenced him to six years in prison, reduced to two years by the Court of Appeals. Farham believes that, in the eyes of the authorities, “You should not read anything about your religion, let alone write about it.”
His father’s cousin, Akhtar Sabet, was executed at the age of 25 in Shiraz, in 1984, on the charge of being a Baha’i.
Noura Pourmoradian, born in 1990-91, is a children’s music instructor. Pourmoradian was detained on September 16, 2018, for 27 days, due to working with children as a music instructor. Charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “membership in groups hostile to the regime,” the preliminary court sentenced her to six years in prison, reduced on appeal to two years and nine months in prison.
Soudabeh Haghighat, 32 years old, married, has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education and a Master’s degree in Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health from London Metropolitan University. Prior to her arrest, she provided psychological services and counselling in a clinic under the supervision of the Welfare Office. She was arrested in September of 2018 and was released on a 150 million toman bail after 25 days. The bail was increased to 210 million tomans about a year later.
The clinic where Haghighat worked was sealed for a month after with her arrest and its managers were warned to sever their ties with her. Haghighat was told during her interrogations that part of the reason for her arrest was working with Muslim clients. But the house she used to meet Baha’i clients was also sealed after her release.
No witnesses were brought by the authorities to substantiate the charges against Haghighat.
Soheila Haghighat and Shahnaz Sabet were arrested in August and September of 2019, respectively, due to their volunteering work with the Naranan organization that helps the families of addicts. Charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “membership in groups hostile to the regime,” both of which are in reference to being followers of the Baha’i faith, these two Baha’i citizens were sentenced to six years imprisonment on the ruling of Judge Sadati, which the Appeals Court was reduced to two years imprisonment.
Shahriar Atrian was arrested on October 29, 2019 by the agents of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization at a Baha’i religious meeting in Shiraz. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz sentenced him to six years in prison, based on the charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “membership of groups hostile to the regime.” Atrian was tired in absentia on June 18, 2020, without his or his lawyer’s knowledge. The preliminary sentence of six years imprisonment was upheld.
Farzan Masoumi was arrested along with two other Baha’i citizens on the morning of October 21, 2019, by agents of the Intelligence Office of Fars province, after their homes were searched. The Baha’is were arrested for holding a religious gathering. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Courts of Shiraz, presided over by Judge Sadati, sentenced Masoumi to six years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “membership in a hostile group,” reduced on appeal to two years.
Ehsan Mahboub Rah-e-Vafa was arrested on September 15, 2018, by agents of the Fars province Intelligence Office in Shiraz, and was released on bail a month later. He was sentenced to a year imprisonment in the preliminary court, which the Appeals Court reduced to one million toman fine.