To be a Baha'i is a crime in the Islamic Republic
Thursday, 17 Tir 1389 [8 July 2010]
Report of Rooz on human rights violations in Iran
Baha’i citizens, whose homes in Ivel village in Mazandaran were destroyed by trucks and loaders last week, announced through an interview with Rooz that their complaint about the destruction of their homes had so far been ignored and justice authorities had so far given them no response. Dian Ala’i , the Representative of the International Baha’i Community at the United Nations in Geneva, identifies the Ministry of Information, the Security agencies and some religious authorities behind the issue of the destruction of homes and property. She mentions to Rooz that to be a Baha’i is considered a crime by the Islamic Republic. Reza Sabetan, the spokesman for the International Baha’i Community, also calls the destruction of property and places belonging to Baha’i citizens an organized program set by the order of the government or supported by it.
Ministry of Information and religious authorities behind the destruction
Last week, 50 homes belonging to Baha’is in Ivel village in Mazandaran were razed to the ground by bulldozers and trucks. According to village citizens, the houses were so completely destroyed that one would not know if any houses existed there. The issue raised many reactions but the destruction of Baha’i homes was not the first time; during the past 31 years, repeatedly news of setting fire to Baha’i homes and destruction of their cemeteries have been published.
Reza Sabetan, spokesman for the International Baha’i Community, stated to Rooz ; ‘ In Iran in general, the destruction of Baha’i property and places is an organized preconceived plan. Several Baha’i cemeteries in Isfahan, Qa’imshahr, Shiraz and some other cities have been destroyed. Baha’i holy places, as well as several homes have been destroyed and set on fire. It is quite evident that either the government issues such orders or supports those who perpetrate such deeds. Because, when appeals are made to judicious bodies they deny such things and no security is provided to Baha’i citizens, as citizens of Iran.’
Dian Ala’i, Representative of the International Baha’i Community at the United Nations says:
‘ This is a widespread issue which is in reality supported by the Ministry of Information and some religious authorities. In reality, those who carry out the destruction are encouraged beforehand and know that they would not be held responsible in any way.’
But who carries out these acts? According to owners of the homes destroyed last week in Ivel village, those who carried out the act of destruction had no government clothes and were locals. Farideh Rohani, owner of one of the 50 homes destroyed in Ivel village says:’ We do not know from where the order arrived but the non-Baha’i residents of our own village, the locals, destroyed our homes.’
Why are these locals engage in the destruction of Baha’i homes and properties? Reza Sabetan provides an answer: ‘ It seems that these issues occur more in areas where people are more prejudiced and the government abuses their religious prejudice, capitalizing on their predisposition.’
He adds: ‘ At the start of the revolution, the government acted more directly and killed Baha’is. But, in recent years, especially during the past year, the repression has been intensified and its nature has changed. Now, attacks on Baha’is is more in the form of publications and propaganda. A day does not pass without something against the Baha’is appearing in governmental communications. The emphasis is more on ordinary people, i.e. ordinary Baha’is lose their jobs or are prevented to carry on with their business. ln Shiraz, a list of 400 of Baha’i businessmen is published and people are told not to carry on business with them. The Islamic republic sends religious students to different villages and propaganda is made against the Baha’i religion and Baha’i citizens; people are told these Baha’is are Israeli spies and act against the national security and…’
140 arrests in one year
But, does the encounter with Baha’is of Iran end with the destruction of their homes and property? Farideh Rohani, a Baha’i citizen states: ‘ They destroy our homes. They prevent our children from studying at the universities or dispel them after a term or two. We have not yet seen a Baha’i child graduating from the university”
Natoli Darakhshan also states : ‘ They tell us not to speak to Moslem citizens because you intend to attract them. No such thing . We are all Iranians and can not stop talking to our fellow citizens.’
But the issue goes beyond the words spoken by these two citizens. Seven members of the Baha’i leadership have long been in prison and according to Reza Sabetan, after the disputed 22 Khordad 1388 elections, more than 140 Baha’i citizens have been arrested. Although 100 have been released on bail, 40 Baha’i citizens continue to be held.’
Mr Sabetan adds: ‘ Fortunately, no one has lost their lives in these years. Of course, early on in the revolution, when they attacked Baha’i homes, some Baha’i citizens were also burned but in recent years no such event has happened. Although in Shiraz a Baha’i citizen was repeatedly threatened, was captured, tied to a tree with chains in order to set him on fire but were unable to do so as a few people arrived and prevented it.’
Dian Ala’i, referring to the arrest and court hearing of the 7 Baha’i leaders says: ‘ Their hearing is finished and they are awaiting their judgment to be issued. We are quite concerned about their condition and about the judgment to be issued. Previously, their families could visit them once a week in a cabin but unfortunately after the court hearing was concluded, they have been advised that the visits would be once every two weeks.’
Results of Baha’i complaints
According to Baha’i citizens, so far none of the Baha’i complaints submitted to judicial authorities have been responded to.
Reza Sabetan says: ‘Generally, when Baha’is refer to judicial authorities about the destruction of their homes and property or for other harms, the matter is either denied or no action is taken. For instance when the Shirazi fellow who was tied to the tree and was going to be set on fire, complained to judicial authorities, he was told that it would be pursued. But in reality, no follow up took place and no reply was given.’
Natoli Darakhshan says about the destruction of Baha’i homes in Ivel village: ‘ We officially complained. Locals had told us that they had coordinated the matter with government centres. When we had noted this in our complaint, they objected that our complaint was against the regime.”
She adds: ‘ We have now complained to all centres; including judicial authorities, the home of the Supreme Leader, and to Imam Jom’eh for Sari, Ayatollah Va’ez Tabasi, to the parliamentary representatives of Sari at the Islamic Council and have asked for a review but so far no reply has been received and we are waiting.’
Dian Ala’i says Bahai’s follow up their complaints through human rights institutions of the United Nations.
According to her, all the destruction and attacks on Baha’is are supported by the Ministry of Information and judges can do nothing.
She adds: ‘ We follow the matter through the United Nations; in reality, speciaI reporters of the United Nations ask the government of Iran and demand an answer and then publicize their finding that, for instance, the government of Iran replied or did not reply or what it said. In general, this is a long process. But unfortunately, except for the report of the special reporters and the declarations of the General Council of the United Nations, we can do nothing else. ‘
Ms Ala’i, referring to Ivel village matter says: ‘ Nothing further can be done for this village, as it is done. But perhaps because of the reports submitted and being submitted to human rights institutions of the United Nations, it may prevent further threats and similar actions in other villages and towns.’
Issue of being a Baha’i in submissions
Why does this type of encounters occur with Baha’i citizens in Iran ? Their complaints are not attended to and in some submissions against those who objecte to the disputed elections of Khordad 22nd, to be a Baha’i or connection with Baha’is is mentioned as a charge?
Reza Sabetan replies: ‘ It is quite clear that the only reason for repressing Baha’is is their religion and belief. Although the Islamic Republic asserts that they do not imprison anyone for the sake of his faith and belief, there are many documents to the contrary. Many individuals are arrested on a false accusation of spying and acting against the national security and are asked to state on the form that they are not Baha’is, in order to be set free. Well, if they are telling the truth, what kind of spy is this that can be set free with such a statement?’
He adds; ‘ Not only it is a crime to be a Baha’i in the Islamic Republic, anyone else who helps or is sympathetic to Baha’i citizens is also exposed to such a charge. As we saw with Mrs Ebadi, who solely due to defending Baha’is was charged with being a Baha’i and …’
Ms Ala’i, stating that the severe repression against the Baha’is during last year and the past few years has been happening, adds ; ‘ When in court submissions being a Baha’i or having connections with Baha’is is stated as a charge, this shows the Islamic Republic’s view about Baha’i citizens. But the point is that if religious freedom exists in Iran, then being a Baha’i should not be a crime.”
She adds; ‘ 22 of Khordad became another excuse for further repression against different thinkers, reporters, civic activists, religious minorities including Baha’i citizens. On Ashura, several Baha’is were captured, charges were made that events of Ashura were instigated by them and they had orchestrated them. Those who leveled these charges knew themselves that such was not the case.’
According to Ms Ala’i ; ‘ The event of 22 Khordad was a breach of human rights for all Iranians. But, when the breach of human rights occurs on a widespread level, more pressure is put on Baha’i citizens, who are one of the weakest groups, and the breach becomes more widespread.’
What was the story of Ivel village?
Who and with what backing destroyed this village and where were the inhabitants at the time of the destruction?
Natoli Darakhshan one of the Baha’is whose home was destroyed along with 49 others, explains the events as follows; ‘ Nowhere in the world do we know that 50 homes are suddenly destroyed like this; we were truly stunned’
Farideh Rohani, the Baha’i citizen whose home was among the 50 destroyed homes, says;
’27 years ago our homes were set on fire and we were dispelled from our homes. But our homes remained half upright. Every year we would get a letter from the Kiasar guardhouse and, accompanied with two agents, we would return there and would plant the parts of the land still not removed from our possession. Sometimes, we would remain in our home in Ivel village, while planting or harvesting, with the agents always staying with us. But even this did not save us from harm. They’d come and throw stones, shouted slogans and caused midnight strife, until last week they completely eradicated our homes.’
Natoli Darakhshan also describes; ‘ 27 years ago, precisely on 7 Tir 1362 we were threatened that we must either turn Moslem or leave. They attacked and beat severely some people, injuring them with spade and pick-axe, and burned homes. Some were imprisoned in “takyes”. Every day the preacher would advise them that they turn Moslem and go to paradise. Then, they expelled all form the village. As much as we took our complaint to governmental offices, no one provided an answer. We even presented different “fatva” –
edicts — saying we were citizens, to no avail. We were expelled and the majority of our land was confiscated and they built villas for themselves. Finally, two days before the destruction, we heard murmurs from locals about the destruction plans but we did not believe it.’
She then refers to the activities aimed at preventing the destruction: ‘ We notified the provincial, the municipal and the local authorities but they told us that such a thing could not happen either from a legal or jurisprudence point of view and the matter was a lie. On the appointed day, one of our friend goes to his mother’s grave at the Baha’i cemetery and is attacked on the spot. He and and his family, under attack notice that they were destroying the homes. With this news we went to the government office. While the destruction was happening the officials were denying the matter and no step was taken to prevent the destruction. This showed that the words of the locals who said they were doing this with the knowledge of governmental authorities was true. We even went to the Kiasar courthouse and launched a complaint but were told that legal routes had to be followed. We told them that they were currently destroying and they should stop the destruction but they paid no attention.’
But Farideh Rohani is talking about the hope of returning to their homes after 27 years; ‘ We were hoping that after 27 years we could return to our homes and repair them, but they took all the possessions and threw them on the street, removed all usable pieces of lumber and then leveled the homes to the ground.’
She adds; ‘ 27 years ago they held everyone at the “takye”. They would not even provide food and water until we became Moslems and recant our Faith. But when it did not happen we were all expelled and they have done the same this time around. We are all Iranians. I am an Iranian Baha’i. Ivel is my birth place. I was born and raised there. But now we were not even allowed to go to our cemetery there to say prayers for the deceased.’
Natoli Darakhshan, thanks non-Baha’i citizens who help Baha’i citizens, saying; ‘ These days many of our Moslem citizens came and shed tear with us and apologized and held our hands. We are thankful to all of them.’
Translation by Iran Press Watch.