Weekly Review of Censorship: A Baha’i Historian Jailed Because of His Faith

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Source: iranwire.com

Niloufar Rostami

Touraj Amini, an Iranian writer and researcher of the Qajar era and Constitutional movement who is also a Baha’i, was taken to prison on January 29, to serve a six-month prison sentence on charges of spreading “propaganda against the regime” through his books and research.

According to an informed source, for two days, Amini’s family has not known where he was taken: “Touraj was summoned to the Judiciary and Revolutionary Court in Karaj on January 29 and transferred to prison from there, but his family does not know which prison. They speculate that he has been transferred to Karaj Central Prison, the city where he lives.”

The researcher was taken to prison as the coronavirus outbreak was growing again in the city. Amini was not granted the right to take any of his personal belongings with him.

“We believe that such restrictions were imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Not taking personal belongings means that prisoners have to get everything from the prison shop, which are at many times the market price,” the source told IranWire.

Amini who has written several books including Documents from Contemporary Iranian Zoroastrians, Reopening the Relationship between Babi and Baha’i Religions with Iranian Intellectuals, and The Relationship Between Religious Minorities and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. He was convicted of spreading propaganda because of these books – which are mainly about the Qajar (1789 to 1925) and Pahlavi (1925 to 1979) eras and have nothing to do with the 42-year history of the Islamic Republic.

Touraj Amini was born in 1968, Karaj, is married and has a young daughter. Like other Baha’is, he had no right to higher education, the same as his 23-year-old daughter, who is now barred from university. (Iranian Baha’is pursue post-secondary studies through an unofficial or “underground” university they organized called the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.) But Amini has long had an interest in scholarship and research.

His book Documents from Contemporary Iranian Zoroastrians, published in 2001 by the Iranian Documents Organization, looks at Zoroastrian documents from the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar to the middle of the reign of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. His other two books were published outside Iran.

On August 5, 2019, during a previous incident, Ministry of Intelligence agents went to Amini’s house in Karaj, and after hours of searching his home, they confiscated away his laptop, most of his books and his manuscripts.

Later, in July 2020, at a session in the Revolutionary Court of Karaj, Amini was sentenced to a year in prison and two years in exile for his research. The course cited Article 500 on propaganda against the regime.

But the Alborz Province Court of Appeals reduced the sentence to six months in prison and lifted the two-year exile.

Regarding the court’s argument regarding Mr. Amini’s accusation, the informed source said: “The reason for the accusations is the content of Touraj’s books … which explain how a genocide [of the Baha’is] was carried out during the Qajar period and continued even during the Pahlavi era. The only difference was that the harassment was not perpetrated by government officials but religious fanatics … to harass the Baha’is. In fact, even if the books are propaganda against the regime, it is about propaganda against the Qajar and Pahlavi periods related to the Baha’is, and no propaganda has been made against the Islamic Republic because the books are written about the time before the Islamic Republic.”

“On the day when people came to search my house,” Touraj Amini wrote in part of his defense, which was obtained by IranWire and its sister project, Journalism Is Not A Crime, “I asked them: ‘Why do you take the books? They said that books are criminal tools. … I really do not understand this behavior of taking personal books that … do not even have any relevance in proving the [alleged] crime.”

Amini’s defense, which he read in court, also stated that the agents had confiscated all the books in his library, including his Bible and Old Testament, though they left the Qur’an and Mafatih al-Janan: “On my bookshelf, the Holy Quran, the Old Testament, the Bible, the Mafatih al-Janan and Baha’i prayer books were side by side, and I do not know on why, in addition to Baha’i prayer books, they confiscated the Old Testament, which was very exquisite and precious, as well as the Bible, but left the Quran and Mafatih al-Janan? Are the books of the Bible, the Torah, or Baha’i prayer books, which are to worship God, instruments of crimes?”

The source added that none of the books taken have yet been returned.

Amini’s wife suffers from acute multiple sclerosis; Amini, as her carer, will now be in prison for six months. “Touraj’s wife needs special care and the most worrying thing for him in prison is his wife’s condition in his absence,” the source said.

Amini’s nephew, Iqan Shahidi, when announcing his uncle’s transfer to prison online, tweeted on January 30: “When I was released from prison after give years, my father, mother and aunt were arrested; then my uncle and aunt; and finally my uncle. Today, my uncle, Touraj Amini, a Qajar and Constitutional Movement historian, went to prison. The story of our family is the story of most Baha’i families in Iran.”

Criticizing the accusations, Shahidi added: “Touraj, who was accused of propaganda against the regime, had said in court: ‘I am a historian and my books and articles are related to the historical issues of the Qajar period. What does the judiciary have to do with the accuracy of what is relevant to Qajar history? What is the purpose in charging me with propaganda against the regime in my research?’”

Shahidi also said the government’s actions were aimed at eradicating the Baha’is from Iran.

“Increasing pressure on the Baha’is of Iran has various aspects: deprivation from university education, confiscation of property, widespread arrests and imprisonments, spreading hatred in the media, cuts in pensions and denial of all government administrative jobs and many freelance jobs, and so on. The objective is to eradicate the Baha’i community in Iran,” he said.

The detention of Baha’i citizens on trumped-up charges is a recurring fact in the Islamic Republic. But the trial of a Baha’i for writing historical books that have nothing to do with the Islamic Republic is a new twist in an old tragedy.


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