On Wednesday, September 1, Arsalan Yazdani, a Baha’i citizen living in Tehran, was arrested by security agents and taken to an unknown location. His wife Samira Ebrahimi has told IranWire about the shocking violation of their rights as Baha’i citizens in the course of the arrest, which also led her to suspect security agents had previously burgled their home. Arsalan Yazdani’s whereabouts, and his condition, are currently unknown.
Samira Ebrahimi is panic-stricken. Her concerns have only intensified in the period between the arrest of her husband, Arsalan Yazdani, this week and the time of writing; she still has no idea where he is or if he’s alright. Her efforts to obtain any information on his case have so far come to nothing.
“On Wednesday, September 1, 2021,” she said, “at about 11.45 am, they knocked on our door. When my son and I went to open it, a female officer in chador called my name. When I confirmed I was Samira Ebrahimi, she forced her way into our house and said there was a complaint against me. This wasn’t true; there was no complaint against me. And Arsalan has never been arrested or summoned before.”
A large number of officers then swarmed into the house, turning it upside down and detaining her husband. “Behind two female agents, eight male ones entered the house. They showed an arrest warrant for Arsalan and said that they intended to search the house. In addition to my husband’s stuff, my husband’s workplace, they went through the safe in our apartment and our car.
“We have two children, aged 12 and six. I asked the officers not to begin searching the house until my father-in-law came to pick them up. When I insisted, an officer approached me and told me loudly: ‘You’re abusing our kindness!’ Eventually, they began their search inside one of the rooms.”
In the aftermath of Arsalan Yazdani’s arrest, some social media users claimed the officers were armed. Ebrahimi isn’t sure where this came from: “I don’t know if the officers were armed or not. If they did have weapons, they didn’t use them or show them to us.”
Yazdani’s father came to the Baha’i couple’s house to take the children away. When he saw the situation, Ebrahimi says, he got very stressed: “My father-in-law was so weak I suggested a car be called for him to take the children home. An officer who seemed more violent than the rest said one of them would accompany him.”
The officers confiscated many of her husband’s personal possessions. Throughout the search they never specified which institution had sent them. Ebrahimi says she and her husband were not even allowed to see the arrest warrant or informed of the details: “We don’t know at all why Arsalan was arrested. Even on the insistence of my son, they only said they had ‘a few questions’ for him because of his job.
“They only said the [official] reason for Arsalan’s arrest was ‘acting against national security’, ‘propaganda against the regime’, and ‘forming communities against national security’. Of course, they added that there were other things that would be explained to him later.
“Aside from my husband’s laptop, they took his mobile phone, the books and all the religious pictures in the house. Despite the fact that my name was not on the warrant and no arrest warrant had been issued for me, my mobile phone and iPad, and my son’s mobile phone and laptop, were also taken.”
The search of Arsalan Yazdani’s home lasted until around 2pm, after which officers took him to inspect his workplace. In addition to the 10 officers who entered the apartment, another team had been stationed outside the building, and a third team took him away.
“My husband is a graphic designer and he had rented a room in a building to work in,” she said. “At the moment, due to the spread of the coronavirus, he was only going there for business appointments and generally worked from home. He explained as much to the officers, but they said they needed to see it.”
Samira Ebrahimi then received an email on Thursday, September 2, informing her that all the information on her personal pages had been downloaded and her email password had been changed: “This is a clear violation of privacy. Why should all my personal account information, along with my family photos, be available to officers without permission?”
She went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on her husband’s case. But the office turned out to be closed on Thursdays. A lawyer the family consulted told them nothing would be done until at least Saturday. “We don’t even know where the detention facility is. It’s only based on the experiences of mutual friends, who have already been detained, that we think it’s likely he has been detained by the Ministry of Intelligence.”
For years before Arsalan Yazdani’s arrest, the family had received a variety of threats from the security forces because they were Baha’is. They have also mysteriously been stolen from five times in a single year. “Our house was burgled once, our car three times, and once my husband was extorted and they took his mobile phone,” Ebrahimi says. “But now that I think about it, the theft of our house on August 7 last year was very suspicious.
“Surprisingly, they didn’t take the dollars or the Parsian gold coin that were in the house; just my husband’s laptop and some jewelry. Yesterday, I mentioned to the agents searching the house that we didn’t own anything of great value, and that we’d been robbed before. They said they were aware of that. I was shocked. ‘Perhaps it was your job?’ I said. They replied, ‘You accuse people that easily?’. I pointed out they were making baseless accusations against my husband.
“I can’t say with certainty the robbery was part of the campaign of pressure against Baha’is, but the attitude of the agents reinforced that theory.”
The arbitrary detention of Baha’i citizens is part of a decades-long drive by the Islamic Republic to marginalize this religious minority group. Last week, the Baha’i International Community published an open letter urging the international community not to remain silent over the Iranian regime’s blatant abuse of Baha’is.