Two Iranian courts issued orders that declared ownership of lands by 27 Baha’is in the village of Ivel to be illegal.
Recent rulings decided that all properties belonging to Baha’is in the village of Ivel—some of which they have owned since the mid-19th century—be confiscated on the basis that Baha’is have “a perverse ideology” and therefore have no “legitimacy in their ownership” of any property.
In late 2020, two Iranian courts issued orders that declared ownership of lands by 27 Baha’is in the village of Ivel (pron. ee-vell) to be illegal. The court documents indicate that the confiscation of their land is due to their religious beliefs. These decisions followed decades of persecution against the Baha’is of Ivel, hard-working and low-income agricultural workers with no other assets and means of earning a livelihood but their homes and agricultural land.
The land seizures take place within the context of recent escalating raids on Baha’i-owned homes and businesses in Iran. On 22 November 2020, over a hundred government agents raided the shops and homes of dozens of Baha’is in seven cities, and demanded that they hand over their property deeds.
In its earliest days, Ivel was the summer residence for sheep farmers from the surrounding region of Mazandaran. There have been Baha’is in the remote village for more than a century and a half. Indeed, since the years immediately following the establishment of the Baha’i Faith in mid-19th century Iran, Baha’is have comprised about half of Ivel’s total population.
From its inception, the Baha’i community promoted social, economic and cultural developments in Ivel. In addition to the role they played in the area’s agriculture, they established a school at which local children, regardless of their religion, were educated. The Baha’is also built a bath house for use by the villagers, which included modifications to the local reservoir and the introduction of modernizations to improve the facility’s levels of hygiene.
A History of Persecution Through Expulsion and Displacement
Another incident occurred in June 1983. The Baha’is were forced out of their homes and transported by bus to the nearest major city, Sari. When they arrived, the authorities made them go back. Returning to Ivel, more than 130 of them were imprisoned and held captive in a mosque for three days without any food or water.
Since then, most of the Baha’i homes have remained unoccupied, their residents having fled incidents of violence or as a result of official displacement. Many of the Ivel Baha’is have resided nearby and return to the village only in the summer to plant and harvest their crops and tend to their properties. This required written permission from the police and the court. Baha’is were regularly harassed during their short stays.
In 2007, six of their houses were torched. In 2010, homes belonging to some 50 Baha’i families were demolished and burned. At the time, reports indicated that 90 percent of Baha’i-owned homes had been demolished. The demolitions were part of a long-running campaign to expel Baha’is from the region. The intention of this campaign has been for the Baha’is to never return to Ivel and to take over their lands.
Baha’is have pursued legal remedies for more than three decades, to no avail. Numerous complaints were filed with authorities at all levels but, in general, they were met with indifference. In every case, knowledge of the demolitions or the motive behind them was denied by local government officials. In some cases, the verdicts have been in favour of the Baha’is. However, authorities claimed that there was little they could do to implement the decisions in the face of the opposition Baha’is face from local residents.
On 1 August 2020, Branch 54 of the Special Court for Article 49 of the Constitution in Tehran issued a final and binding order determining the ownership of the lands belonging to the Baha’is of Ivel to be illegal.
On 13 October 2020, Branch 8 of the Court of Appeal of Mazandaran ruled against the legitimacy of the ownership of lands of 27 Baha’is of Ivel and endorsed the decision in favour of the Sitád-i-Ijrá’íy-i-Farmán-i-Imám (the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, known as EIKO) to sell the lands owned by the Baha’is. Following this order, the case was then closed.
The two judges who passed these rulings are: in August, Mr. Hassan Babai, and in October, Mr. Mohammad Sadegh Savadkouhi.
Property confiscation as a feature of religious persecution
These developments are the latest in a pattern of property confiscations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Since that time hundreds of private and business properties belonging to Baha’is have been arbitrarily confiscated, including homes and farms.
On 22 November 2020, over a hundred government agents raided the shops and homes of dozens of Baha’is across Iran and demanded that they hand over their property deeds. The simultaneous raids were staged in at least seven cities around the country and came just hours into a 15-day national lockdown imposed to slow coronavirus infections in the country.
The belongings that were taken included smartphones, computers and tablets, books, including Baha’i texts, and other items. Several of the raided homes belonged to Baha’is who had previously been targeted by the authorities. The Baha’is were also ordered to report to Iran’s Bureau of Investigation.
The raids took place in the capital Tehran, as well as Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Kerman, Shahin-Shahr and Baharestan. Witnesses reported that the agents ignored all the government’s own health protocols while at the homes of the Baha’is.