Semnan: A microcosm of Iran

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Without mincing words, the story of Semnan is a chilling tale of organized, religiously motivated action against Baha’is. There is a subset of the population which is different only in belief; well-wishers of the nation, productive members of society. Actions against them in the past two years have become more ominous, with spontaneous acts of the ignorant replaced and bolstered by an actively organized campaign designed to whip the populace into a frenzy: both to perpetrate crimes against and to applaud injustice towards the hapless, harmless Baha’is.

Iran is a vast country, and the long story of the persecution of the Baha’is spans its breadth for over 150 years; it is difficult to grasp so much history in its totality, so I won’t presume to deal with it. However, the past few years have witnessed a surge in coordinated attacks on Baha’is throughout Iran. So let me present that story in a manageable format – call this the Cliff-notes. Semnan is a model of this intensification – the outrages in this city of 120,000 are generalizable to the nation as a whole. I wish I were making this up, or being dramatic.

The story travels down three main veins: organized seminars vilifying the Baha’is, resulting in assaults perpetrated against person and property – both by organs of the state and by the laity – culminating in summary arrest and incarceration on charges which are obviously false, though sadly they are enforced. Semnan’s size allows us to follow individual families, to see what it is to be a Baha’i in such troubled times.

Assaults

During December 2008, in the early hours of the morning, the houses of twenty Baha’is are descended upon by officers of the Ministry of Intelligence. Unmarked cars disgorge up to twelve officers, who first seize mobile phones, cut landlines, stop children from attending school – sometimes refusing to show any official documents. The houses are then upturned; paperwork, documents, personal belongings, laptops, computers, peripherals, satellite dishes, Baha’i Holy texts and all are confiscated. Especially unfortunate was Mr. Behrooz Khanjani, who had a quantity of cash, deeds to properties, licenses for conducting a business and work permits stolen from his safe-box, an insult which was followed in March 2009 by the forced shuttering of his store, without any charge – sadly this was just the beginning for Mr. Khanjani’s family.

These raids were centrally organized, as indicated by the status of the offices and the provenance of their vehicles (Tehran, which is ~220km distant), and had not the least bit to do with intelligence gathering – they stole valuables, not “evidence”; some officers hadn’t any idea what they were looking for; they were more looting than spooking. Some were even ashamed of their acts: “I have been ordered to do so. Please believe me.” Or “Please pardon what I’m doing.” And most saying “For God’s sake, do not suppose that Islam is perpetrating these acts!” Why send in the troops if they don’t know what to do? To terrify and demoralize, and to further impoverish a community that has been economically strangled (http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/03/economic-strangulation/ ).

April 2009: The cars of two Baha’is were vandalized, including the Fanaian family car. Rocks broke their windows, and a chemical agent was applied that damaged the exterior of the automobiles, coupled with a pleasant note “This is how the Baha’is will end up.”

February 2009: Home-made incendiary devices (Molotov cocktails) were thrown at the windows of three Baha’i residences, including the Khanjani household – all three had been victims of the December raids. They thankfully failed to break the windows or cause any injury. These occurred less than a week after a seminar held by the chief cleric of the city (Imam Jum’ih), who expressed a desire to “rid this nation of the Baha’is”.

February 2009, Semnan Baha’i cemetery. Even the deceased don’t escape, as fifty headstones and trees grown in honor of the dead were irreparably damaged, and the room used for funerals was trashed and torched. Graffiti both inaccurate and misspelled (implicating youth or laypersons as suspects) besmirch the gas and water tanks:

  • The cemetery of the infidels living in Semnan.
  • [We] spit on the souls of Baha’is and on their dead.
  • We will kill each and every one of you. Baha’is are big fools!
  • Baha, Bab, the Ruhi program (the Faith’s twin Founders, and a deepening program based on the Baha’i texts respectively); All of you [Baha’is] are impure. Get the hell of out here!
  • Your browser may not support display of this image.Bastard Baha’i!
  • Your browser may not support display of this image.Get the hell out of Iran! Death to Israel and England!
  • Death to the infidel Baha’is!
  • Filthy, infidel Baha’i!
  • Death to Israel!

Why are they afraid of the dead? (http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/01/why-are-they-afraid-of-the-dead/ )

March 2009, A family who were raided in December were further insulted: their store was attacked and half of the merchandise that provided their livelihood was stolen.

April 2009, A victim of the car vandalization discovered the threats were not empty – he had the windows of his house broken on three separate occasions within the month. The assailants were on motorbikes; to date the authorities have not taken any action.

Arrests

December 2008: Mrs. Fanaian, at the time a member of the local Baha’i administration, was arrested and held without charge, after having her home invaded and her car vandalized in the previous months. Finally she was sentenced to 3years and 8 months imprisonment, and transferred to the infamous Evin prison in Tehran. Her sentence has more recently been reduced by 8 months, for which she is grateful.

January 2009: Three former members of the local Baha’i administration were summarily arrested after security agents descended on their homes. These same three had been jailed unjustly three years ago, and released on a suspended sentence, a precedent that was cited in their current conviction, which carried a six month sentence. To date the judiciary has not stated the reasons for the arrests or the charges upheld against the three.

March 2009: A twenty-four-year-old male was arrested at his workplace by the Ministry of Intelligence. He is guilty of being a Baha’i (though not in the – now disbanded – administration [http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/03/in-memory/ ] ). He was sentenced to two and a half years of incarceration for “propaganda against the regime”, “activities against national security” and “teaching the Baha’i religion”.

April 2009: A twenty-nine-year-old, a victim of earlier raids, was summoned to the office of the Ministry of Intelligence purportedly to answer some questions. After being interrogated, a bail of 40,000,000 Tuman (approx. $41,000; for reference, yearly GDP per capita in Iran is $12,800) was demanded, but as it was the end of the day the bail was not processed. The next day his family took the amount in full to the court, but were refused without explanation. More heart-rending is that he has a wife and two children (aged five and seven years), and that on the same day his medical and dental supply store was broken into by the authorities without a warrant, and everything – including the office furniture – was transferred to the Bureau of Intelligence. Stripped of husband, father and livelihood in a single day!

His crimes? Verbally communicated, they were: propaganda against the regime, and – stunningly – lack of labels on store items – honest!

April 2009: Two Baha’i business partners, both victims of the raids, were arrested at their store. One – a relative of the twenty-four-year-old – has intermittently been allowed to have her eighteen month old daughter to stay with her in prison. She also has a seven-year-old son who was denied his wish to accompany his mother into prison. No other details are available about these imprisoned Baha’is or the charges against them.

Seminars

These public gatherings are characterized by three things: slander against the Baha’is, exhortations for the common people to rise up against them, and the fact that they are shortly followed by attacks on the local Baha’is.

November 2008, Halal Ahmar lecture room. Muhammad Anjavinejad gives a seminar on the “Sinister Shadow” regarding the relationship of the wayward sect (the Baha’i Faith) and Zionism. (a baseless claim, explained here: http://www.iranpresswatch.org/post/1983 ). The audience targeted for this exposition of the false were teachers, religious instructors and youth.

February 2009, Friday sermon: Ayatollah Siyyid Muhammad Shah-Cheraqi the Imam Jum’ih of Semnan (the supreme religious authority) referred to the letter of the Attorney General to the Minister of Intelligence (http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/03/najafabadi-moi/ ) which appealed for severe and final confrontation with the Baha’is through legal channels (curiously this document admits that Bahai’s undertake socio-economic, humanitarian and educational development programs, but are still, somehow, inveterate enemies of Iran) and elaborated that “In the same way that the people were able to throw the Shah out of Iran, they can rid this nation of the Baha’is.” As if a veiled reference to purging or mass exile of some 300,000 innocents was not enough, he salted the wound: business with or marriage to a Baha’i is condemned.

March 2009, ‘Abedinih Mosque: Nasiri-Fard gave a public seminar titled “Ways to Combat the Wayward Sects of Baha’ism and Wahhabism.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabi ) Large advertisements were posted across the city inviting the populace to this public seminar.

Some may call me disingenuous, because I, a Baha’i, am campaigning to have the stories of Baha’is heard. Some may argue that the world is lousy with suffering, why should anyone be concerned about a handful of people in a relative backwater? Yes, I am a Baha’i! and because I know that a Baha’i is a well wisher of the world, how could I not give voice to my heartbreak, that they’re suffering by the hand of the country that they succor, that they love! And lousy indeed would be a world that ignores suffering because there was too much of it, in which we wring our hands but keep on, as if doing something to aid the helpless is somehow beneath our station as human beings. The world is full of grey areas – this is not one of them! There is systematic, orchestrated injustice and attempts to agitate the fervor of the populace, all for the persecution of a minority that is the stark opposite to their official vile depiction. Historically, similar situations have resulted in world-horrifying outcomes: I pray that it doesn’t happen here.

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18 Responses

  1. Kiumars

    June 7, 2009 6:22 pm

    Baha’is cannot live with the Muslims because their religion not only is against Islam but also rejects Islam. Why they don’t go to Israel where their head office is? This would solve the problem for everybody!

    Reply
  2. Hitman

    June 7, 2009 7:35 pm

    The Bahá’i Religion does not reject Islam. But I think your post is a good example for how the regime in iran uses lies to frighten the people against the Bahá’i.

    It’s like a christian guy in our city who said: The muslims are terrorists. Why are they living in germany. We should kill them all!

    Bahá’i loves humans, they serve whereever they can. In every free nation, all europe countries Bahá’i are very likened and all the gouvernments loves how the Bahá’i participate and promote tolerance and love between all religions.

    You tried to kill them for over 160 years. Thousands of thousands were killed. Millions were persecuted, but you have still no chance and you won’t have any chance. Because Love will beat Hate and the cause of god cannot be stopped by ignorant and fanatic people!!

    Reply
  3. Bill D. Johnston

    June 7, 2009 8:35 pm

    The Baha’is are no threat to the Iranians. They are productive and would be a welcome addition to full citizenship in the country of Iran.
    The persecution of Baha’is and other minorities in Iran needs to come to a stop.

    Reply
  4. Ali

    June 7, 2009 8:44 pm

    Kiumars Jan, brava babajoon. You have solved this centuries old problem of who accepts Islam and who doesn’t and what should be done with them. Please continue your studies and help find a solution to solve the Sunni/Shia/Wahhabi problem that has killed millions and what should be done on that front as well. After that the world could use your talents to find a solution on what to do with all the Christians, Buddists, Jews, Krishna, Zoroaster and Mohammadans to accept each other and the Oneness of Humanity, religions and God. Apparently the solution is out there but needs to be discovered. So hopefuly you can find it someday for all humanity.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    June 7, 2009 9:08 pm

    Thank you Kiumars for helping bring reality to Westerners who have difficulty understanding or believing what is happening in Iran. The author writes, “I wish I were making this up, or being dramatic.” You have confirmed the veracity of his description of what is happening is Semnan as a microcosm of what is happening in greater Iran.

    Reply
  6. mali Rouhani

    June 7, 2009 11:31 pm

    I recall a wise man saying, “when we consider all the peoples of the earth as creations of the same God, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity,…, then we are living in a garden full of beautiful, colorful and bright flowers.

    However, when we hate others because they don’t believe in the same things as we do, then we are living in an infested swamp, where we need to watch ourselves constantly in order not to get contaminated by those around us that are not like us or don’t follow the same path as we do”.

    I feel sorry for Kiumars and others like him that choose to live in such a hate filled swamp.

    Reply
  7. Puzzled

    June 8, 2009 12:21 am

    Farnaz:

    I am the Anonymous person and I assume you were addressing the question to Kiumars.

    I believe it matters a great deal what happens in Iran or anywhere else because the World is so much smaller and if you live in Teheran and I live in Dallas Texas we are hours away versus years away from each other and there is no escaping the news even if a State censors it. (Those pictures are egregious but I am glad they are being broadcast around the World)

    It matters to me what happens to Iranian prisoners of conscience because I am “involved in Mankind” as the great English metaphysical poet John Donne wrote, and if I don’t care or show concern for people who are oppressed, who will speak up for me if I am oppressed and the death tolling bell could be for me.

    Kuimars could be based everywhere not only in Iran. He could be my neighbor.

    Reply
  8. Ali

    June 8, 2009 1:43 am

    Enshallah Kiumars jan understands by now that there is more to this story than what he reads in Kayhan. Hopefuly this will cause him to embark on his search after Truth. What this also means is that you Baha’is have to reach and teach more people.

    Aya Khamanei has been using Semnan as a test center on how best to defeat your Cause. As the Supreme Ruler of Iran for the past 20 years, he has personaly authorized and is still authorizing these persecutions against your coreligionist and Christian converts in Iran. He hides behind others and uses low level agents fearing conviction by International Criminal Court (like the president of Sudan) for his human rights and religeous rights violations once the case is taken there. But the enormity of these violations and his complete control over these actions is such that he can not not be held liable.

    Reply
  9. AR

    June 8, 2009 5:15 am

    I have two basic questions to ask Kiumars. I am sure he is inelligent enough to answer them. Christians also believe that Christ is the last one until His second coming. So, they do not accept Mohammed as a massenger of God.
    What would you do if ,in western counteries, they start herrasing Muslims? How about if they call ever single Muslim a terrorist and start arresting them?
    I would like to hear you comments. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Irani

    June 8, 2009 8:04 am

    According to my limited knowledge, Bahai’s live in almost every single country in the world and have a great reputation for being law abiding and peaceful contributors to their societies (documented fact). This proves, due to their teaching and beliefs, they can live successfully amongst any culture or religious beliefs. They are only prosecuted in a handful of Muslim countries by religious fanatics.

    Reply
  11. tooba

    June 8, 2009 2:39 pm

    Kiumars!

    Expelling Baha’is from Iran would only “solve” the problem of people like you: those whose hatred prevent them from thinking.
    For your information, as hundred times has been explained, in Isreal ONLY some 700 Baha’is are living to serve the Baha’i World Center, on a temporary basis.

    It is truly a shame to see in such times, years 2009, there is even one person who shamelessly defends bigotry, crulty, and hatred. Your thoughts, Kiumars, is a reminder of Nazism.

    Reply
  12. tooba

    June 8, 2009 2:42 pm

    IPW,

    Thank you, thank you for bringing this important case to the attention of the English speaking world. This is a great service. If the IRI is using Semnan as a pilot project for wider persecution in Iran, then such consciousness raising on your part would, hopefully, somehow help stop that wicked plan.
    I suggest that those of us who are on the facebook, bring this article to the attention of all our friends/contacts.

    Reply
  13. sb

    June 8, 2009 3:12 pm

    Dear Kiumars,

    What do expressions of intolerance do for Iran? If the policy of the IRI continues to resemble what you have written, what will the future of Iran be? Has any nation that preached hatred and intolerance in the past survived? No! Think about this please, if you love God and do His will as a good Muslim, can you continue be hateful to anyone?

    Baha’is are full of love and tolerance for you, Kiumars. They are also full of love for Iran and believe in Iran’s ability to live in harmony with the members of all religions. The sun is shining upon us all, Kiumars.

    So I will pray for you, Kiumars. By the way, I co-exist exceedingly well with all kinds of Muslims here in the US. They accept me and I respect them very, very much. When I became a Baha’i, my eyes were opened to the profound beauty of Islam and the wonders of the Quran. Nothing else could ever have made me see the truth of Islam. Salaam, Kiumars!

    Reply
  14. nury Khozein

    June 8, 2009 3:47 pm

    Recently I saw a one hour documentary on NBC titled “Inside Iran” that did not mentioned about persecution of Baha’is. It is time to have a media campaign and send this article to all the TV, Radio and News papers all over the world. It seems the world is ignoring this “Crime against humanity”.

    Reply
  15. Glenn Franco Simmons

    June 8, 2009 7:25 pm

    With the suffering persecution brings, the onward march of this religion will proceed undaunted. All Iranians are our brothers and sisters, so we must pray for them all, even those who persecute our brethren in Iran. May God forgive their trespasses as he forgives our own.

    Reply

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