On February 2, 2021, Branch Two of the Hormozgan Court of Appeal upheld the prison sentences of eight Baha’i citizens.
The court, presided over by Judge Mashaleh Afsharpour and Counsel Ebrahim Mohammadi, rejected the group’s appeal and each of them remains sentenced to between one and two years behind bars.
Maral Rasti, Arash Rasekhi, Nasim Ghanavatian, Mahnaz Janansar, Mehrollah Afshar, and Omid Afaghi are each sentenced to two years in prison while Farhad Amri and Adib Haghpajooh are sentenced to one each. Their only crime is being adherents to the Baha’i faith.
The reason the Court of Appeal gave for rejecting their case was as follows:
“Any group whose formation and activity is not in accordance with the law and whose acts are proven contrary to the security of the country will not be allowed to operate, and their actions will be considered anti-security.
“The existence and activity of the errant Baha’i group does not comply with any of the instances of Article 22 of the Constitution of recognized parties, communities, or religious minorities. Therefore, the court does not recognize them.”
Article 22 of the Iranian Constitution states that the dignity, life, property, rights, housing, and occupation of persons are inviolable “unless the law prescribes otherwise”. Baha’is are not legally recognized as religious minorities in Iran and have been persecuted on spurious security grounds ever since the foundation of the Islamic Republic.
The eight were sentenced on December 12, 2020 in Branch Two of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Bandar Abbas, presided over by Judge Blade. The charges were “conspiracy to commit a crime against national security and membership in the Baha’i community”.
The sentence was in turn based on Article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code, which applies to “two or more persons” who “conspire to commit crimes against internal or external security, or provide the means to commit such crimes”.
These Baha’i citizens have also now been barred from membership in political and social organizations as a supplementary punishment, and have been banned from holding Baha’i banquets and gatherings for two years. They must also undergo are five sessions of counseling on sectarian issues under the supervision of lecturers at the Sajjadieh Institute of Thought in Bandar Abbas, and if they do not comply, their deferred sentences will be increased by a third and may be actuated together with a fine.
“These eight Baha’i citizens,” a source close to the case told IranWire, “were arrested in April 2017 in Bandar Abbas and Gheshm and were released on bail after two months. Some of them were first charged with ‘propaganda against the regime’ and some with ‘acting against national security’ by an Investigator Bahrami.
“After a few months, their case was taken forward. By the order of the then-prosecutor, Investigator Rahimi was put in charge of handling the case, and all of them were charged under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code for proselytizing Baha’ism.”
From Acquittal to Imprisonment
“After several interrogations,” the source went on, “Rahimi told the Baha’i defendants that there was no evidence of their guilt and that they would be acquitted.
“But then in December, he was summoned to court. In the summons he himself was charged with Baha’I propaganda. The court heard a new investigating officer named Taheri had replaced the previous one, and according to the final court order signed by Taheri, they were all charged.
“The movement of the charge from being under Article 500 to being under Article 610, which was made without notice, was challenged by the defendants’ attorneys. At the same hearing, the judge notified the defendants of the charges for the first time, and issued a verdict.”
A Baha’i citizen with knowledge of the case also told IranWire: “The initial verdict and the verdict of the Court of Appeal clearly show that these citizens have been sentenced to prison solely on the charge of being Baha’is.
“This contradicts the years-long claim of Islamic Republic officials, including [Foreign Minister] Mr. [Javad] Zarif, who repeatedly claim in interviews that no one is in prison for being a Baha’i. In the verdict of the court of first instance, it was explicitly stated that membership of the Baha’i community meant being a Baha’i, leading to a community and collusion against the security of the country, so it was a crime. According to this ruling, any member of the Baha’i faith could be convicted on a similar charge.”
He further added that there was no evidence in the indictment that the eight Baha’is posed any danger to the security of the Islamic Republic. Just a few of their individual activities were mentioned: “These included consulting and paying for the opening-up of sealed Baha’i shops, membership in the youth council (35 years ago) and publishing news about judicial proceedings such as inspections and arrests, and sending reports to ‘enemy news agencies’.”
The Court of Appeal also overturned any notion of Baha’i Iranians having civil and human rights in Iran by ruling that Baha’is did not meet the requirements of Article 22.
Counseling Sessions: A Further Breach of the Constitution
Notably, the five counselling sessions the eight Baha’is are being forced to attend are taking place via the Sajjadieh Cultural Institute of Islamic Thought: a body established in December 2016 outside the country with the aim of reviving and disseminating Shiite religious teachings, under the auspices of Imam Sajjad.
The director if this institute is a man named Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Labkhandan. Here, students are sent abroad to propagate the ideals of Imam Sajjad and according to Hojatoleslam Labkhandan, its envoys have been active in no fewer than 26 countries and have held congresses in Honduras, Colombia, and Myanmar. By promoting a particular set of beliefs, ie proselytizing, this organization is freely doing the same thing that the eight Baha’is stood accused of.
The eight are being made to attend these sessions in order to have their beliefs scrutinized and denigrated. This sentence is itself also a clear violation of the twenty-third principle of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which states: “Inquisition is prohibited and no one shall be subjected to belligerence and interrogation because of having a belief.”