Sepehr Ziaei, a 62-year-old Iranian Baha’i, is one of several Baha’is who have been detained in recent weeks in the country. He has been held in Ward 209 of Evin Prison for more than 77 days. Ziaei has only been allowed one 10-minute meeting with his relatives – and that after waiting more than two months. Iranian authorities have not responded to Ziaei’s families concerns over his case or health.
No indication or evidence suggesting a connection between Ziaei’s arrest and the ongoing nationwide protests in Iran has emerged. Ziaie has no social media accounts. But a statement by the Ministry of Intelligence mentioned the arrest of three prominent members of the Baha’i community, early on during the protests, and it is almost certain that one of these three people was Sepehr Ziaei.
The detention of Baha’i citizens has continued in recent weeks – just as it has for the past 43 years. Dozens of Baha’is have been arrested across Iran and, like their fellow Iranians, they are being held in Islamic Republic prisons without being told of any specific charges. Officials refuse to provide families with any information.
Ziaei lives in Tehran, is married, and has three children. Along with other Baha’is, he was expelled from university after Iran’s Cultural Revolution in the early 1980s, which brought his studies to an abrupt end.
Ziaei was arrested once before, in 1987, by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. He spent a year and a half in Evin Prison and six of these in solitary confinement.
On the evening of September 24, 2022, 15 security agents stormed Ziaei’s home in Tehran. Agents searched through family belongings and confiscated five mobile phones, five laptops, a computer case, 12 million tomans in cash and checks from business customers.
The agents refused to give a list of the seized items to the family nor to return the checks which belonged to clients.
Ziaei was taken to Ward 209 of Evin and he has been imprisoned there for 11 weeks. He was in solitary confinement for 45 to 50 days and was then transferred to small multi-person cells. The reasons for his arrest and his charges are still unclear to Ziaei and his family.
Ziaei’s family has said that his interrogation is over and an indictment has been sent to the court. Repeated calls by Ziaei’s lawyer and family to the prosecutor’s office have yielded no results. Ziaei’s lawyer is denied access to his client’s file and this has caused the family to doubt that he will receive a fair trial.
A year ago, meanwhile, Ziaei suffered from sudden deafness. He later regained full hearing in his right ear and 80 percent of his hearing in his left ear. But the left ear has again lost all hearing in prison; it is not clear whether this was caused by physical trauma, or the psychological pressure caused by interrogation and incarceration. Ziaei has received no treatment for his hearing since his arrest.
Ziaei had previous established a habit of eating healthily and exercising daily – neither of which have been possible inside the prison.
The Evin Prison cells are small and overcrowded. Ziaei’s family has tried to send him money three times, to buy provisions from the prison’s own dispensary, but he has not received these sums. And although he entered the prison with some money, the shopping clerk has not visited Ziaei’s cell because of the overcrowding. Prison officials have even refused to pass clean undergarments from Ziaei’s family to the prisoner.
He is now also suffering from digestive problems, as during part of his solitary detention he was held in a cell without a toilet, and he was taken for a short time in a prison hospital. But Ziaei continues to suffer from digestive and other health issues and his wellbeing is at serious risk.