Prejudiced Courts Aiding Land Grabs of Baha’i Properties in Iran

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Source: iranhumanrights.org

Bigoted statements against Baha’is (in this photo calling them “infidels”) have been written in graffiti on their properties in Iran.
Bigoted statements against Baha’is (in this photo calling them “infidels”) have been written in graffiti on their properties in Iran.

Court Rulings Based on Unsubstantiated Claims

An ongoing campaign of religious persecution by the Iranian government has so far resulted in more than 1,000 members of the Baha’i minority faith awaiting jail sentence announcements, confiscation of Baha’i-owned lands and properties, raids on dozens of Baha’i homes, as well as the destruction of Baha’i properties.

More than 60 Baha’is have meanwhile been banned from attending university despite passing the country’s prequalifying and highly competitive national entrance exams.

The Baha’i community, which allows converts and is headquartered in Israel–which Iran severed ties with after the 1979 revolution–is one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in the country.

The Iranian constitution does not recognize the faith as an official religion (such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism). Although Article 23 states that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” followers of the faith are denied many rights—including property ownership, and equal burial rights.

Baha’is are also routinely denied the right to higher education in Iran, either by being banned from enrolling in a university or being expelled without a proper explanation once enrolled in the school.

The renewed campaign has been internationally condemned, including by UN human rights experts as well as the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Iranian Courts Aiding “Project Gradual Genocide”

A court ruling approving the Iranian government’s confiscation of Baha’i properties in the city of Semnan, east of Tehran, by order of the Intelligence Ministry was described as “Project Gradual Genocide” by human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan, who revealed and analyzed the ruling on Twitter.

“The new legal assault against the Baha’is in Semnan becomes more important when we look at the bigger picture, framed within the Islamic Republic’s project to gradually commit genocide against Baha’is in Iran, especially when considering the injustices carried out by security officials against Baha’i compatriots in Semnan in recent years,” Dehghan tweeted.

He continued:

More than 20 of their shops have been shuttered by orders of the ‘Semnan Commission on Sects and Religions;’ their machinery and industrial units have been confiscated; their pastures and farms have been seized; their agricultural lands have been turned into military zones… and their electricity and diesel fuel rations have been cut off by order of the provincial security authority; their bank accounts have been sealed; they have been expelled from jobs and universities; their cemeteries have been destroyed, and they have been denied the right to live, in order to successfully carry out the gradual genocide project.

Flimsy Allegations, Prejudiced Rulings

The case was opened in 2019. At the time, the Semnan branch of the Headquarters for Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO), a state conglomerate, filed a suit to confiscate several Baha’i properties based on Article 49 of the Iranian constitution, which grants the state authority to confiscate “all wealth accumulated through … the operation of centers of corruption, and other illicit means.”

Religious persecution and discrimination are allowed in the Islamic Republic of Iran according to a version of Iran’s constitution that the government implemented shortly after the 1979 revolution. According to this constitution, Shia Islam is the state’s official religion, while only Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are officially allowed. No other religions are tolerated.

In February 2022, Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Semnan, presided by Judge Mohammad Ghasem Eynolkamali, ruled in EIKO’s favor and ordered the transfer of ownership.

Later, Branch 54 of the appeals court in Tehran upheld the decision and added unsubstantiated espionage allegations against the Baha’i defendants.

The appeals court ruling was issued based on a single Intelligence Ministry report falsely referring to the discovery of property deeds belonging to Baha’is that were confiscated when agents searched the home of Jamaleddin Khanjani, “the person in charge of the illegal Baha’i organization,” as declared—again, with no evidence—by Judge Eynolkamali.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has banned the Baha’i faith and declared it “illegal” on the basis of unsubstantiated and false statements by intelligence agents claiming that Baha’is–despite being ethnically Iranian and repeatedly declaring their allegiance to Iran–have allegiance to Israel and engage in espionage.

Court Ruling Based on Unsubstantiated Claims

The properties had been bestowed to the Baha’i community, the report alleged, again with no substantiation, to generate revenues for “investments” and “organizational expenses” of an illegal religion, i.e. elicit means that provide justification for property seizures under Article 49.

However, the Intelligence Ministry’s claim about discovering property deeds in Khanjani’s home, or that he is the leader of the Baha’i community in Iran who engaged in generating funds for members of the faith, are false and based on flimsy allegations.

When Khanjani’s home was initially raided by state intelligence agents, a piece of paper was found with the names of several Baha’is written on it with addresses of their homes and shops. That piece of paper is the sole “evidence” that was used by the Iranian government and accepted by the court for the entire case against Khanjani.

Countering the court ruling, human rights lawyer Saied Dehghan explained in a series of tweets on August 18:

“A) Not a single document was discovered in Mr. Khanjani’s home.

“B) There was an A4-size piece of paper that had the names and information of several individuals with addresses of their homes and businesses, but it did not necessarily show intention to officially transfer property ownership [to the Baha’i community],

“C) The Islamic Republic disbanded the Baha’i administration in 1984, therefore there’s no foundation for referring to ‘the person responsible for the organization.’

“D) As for ‘the illegal circle’ mentioned in the preliminary ruling, if the court is referring to the Yaran [Baha’i leaders in] Iran, the Intelligence Ministry… is reminded that this body, which functioned as a board of trustees to oversee the personal affairs of Baha’is, was disbanded by that same ministry in 2008.”

Dehghan further noted:

“Branch 54 of the Appeals Court in Tehran, presided by judges Hassan Babaei and Behzad Ebrahimi, upheld the Seman Revolutionary Court’s ruling, under the order of the Intelligence Ministry, by delivering a new and bizarre opinion that ‘[Baha’is] spying for foreigners is incontrovertible.’

“However, A) [Baha’is] were never charged with spying; not even during the trial in Semnan Revolutionary Court!”

“B) Even when the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran were sentenced and endured 10 years in prison, they were never charged or convicted of ‘spying’ and now the three, who have been rearrested in recent days, have not been charged with that either so it’s unclear how this spying accusation entered the final ruling.”

In reality, the confiscations violated respect for private property under Article 47 of the Iranian constitution, which states that “Private ownership, legitimately acquired, is to be respected,” as well as Articles 30 and 31 of the Civil Code, which emphasize the sanctity of private property.

More importantly, the Law for Implementation of Article 49 of the constitution gives the courts the authority to rule on the basis of fatwas (religious decrees) issued by the founder of the Islamic Republic, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, including his ruling in December 1983 regarding respect for property owned by non-Muslims.

However, the courts have chosen to ignore this law.

Instead, the courts referred to Article 5 of the Law for Implementation of Article 49 of the constitution, which states: “The prosecutor is obliged to seek a competent court’s ruling on the basis of evidence indicating the illegitimate ownership of individual or institutional property and wealth, and confiscate them in favor of the national treasury or charitable causes.”

According to Note 2 under Article 5, anything is considered illegitimate if owned by “persons who are members of, or active in, the Freemasonry organization and in contact with international espionage services,” thus providing the legal loophole to confiscate properties of Baha’i “spies” in Semnan.

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