Translation by Iran Press Watch
Sepehr Ziaie is one of the Baha’is detained in recent weeks, during the new round of protests in Iran. While the authorities of the Islamic Republic have launched a show of public amnesty, Mr. Ziaie is one of the hundreds of prisoners who have not been released from prison.
Two weeks after the killing of “Mahsa (Gina) Amini”, a young Kurdish girl, by agents of the Islamic Republic, and intense wave of public protests were experienced in Iran. The Ministry of Intelligence statement in response to these protests, in typical fashion, chose to ignore the voices and legitimate concerns of the protestors and instead characterized them as elements linked to foreign media, foreign nations, monarchists, thugs, low lives, etc. and announced the arrests of a number of protestors.
The Ministry of Intelligence included in their statement accusations that Baha’is citizens participating in riots, vandalism, and destruction of public places, and announced the arrest of five Baha’is who they characterized as the secret and central nucleus of the Baha’i Faith, three of them as leaders and two as members of the Baha’i media team.
The government of Iran does not grant any citizenship rights to Iranians are adherents of Baha’i Faith. This has been used as justification for the past 44 years to claim Baha’is are in at least in part responsible for any protests, in order to claim protesters are not from the general population of Iran. Although these claims against Baha’is largely fail due to the lack of evidence, it has not prevented the Regime from routinely characterizing Baha’is as the leaders and the main protesters whenever protests break out among the general public.
In the early 2010’s, the Counselors of the Baha’i Community of Iran known as “Yaran” were arrested, tried and subjected to ten years in prison, solely due to their Baha’i Faith. From the time of the arrest of Iran’s Yaran until today, the world Baha’i community has repeatedly confirmed that the Baha’i Administration in Iran is completely shut down, and no Baha’i has any responsibility in the Baha’i Community of Iran. The Ministry of Intelligence’s claim the five Baha’is arrested were leaders involved in recent protests is a false claim, used to intensify harassment and imprisonment of Baha’i citizens.
In response to the Ministry of Intelligence Following Statement, Simin Fahandej, one of the representatives of the International Baha’i community at the United Nations, wrote on her Twitter account: “In the midst of the current bitter events, the government of Iran has arrested five prominent Baha’is in various cities of the country.”
Sepehr Ziaie. a 62-year-old citizen who had suffered repeated harassment from the republic throughout the past four decades, was among the Baha’is arrested.
What Information is there about Sepehr Ziaie?
Sepehr Ziaie is married and has three children. In 1979, he was admitted to the statistics and computer department of “Iran Meli” University (Shahid Beheshti today). He continued his studies for two years following the victory of the Islamic Revolution, until the universities were shut down for two years due to the Cultural Revolution. When the universities reopened, Mr. Ziaie and thousands of Baha’i students were expelled from Iran’s universities. Some statistics show that around 8,000 Baha’i students were expelled from Iranian universities as a result of the Cultural Revolution.
Twenty-one years later, his passion for education reawakened and he began his studies in sociology at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education of Iran known as BIHE. This institution was established by the Baha’i community of Iran for young people deprived of higher education. In this Institution university level courses are taught to those interested in higher education, by graduates of this institution and professors and teachers who were fired from their jobs.
In October 1987, Ziaie was arrested by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and was subject to harassment and pressured because of his religious beliefs. He spent six months in solitary confinement and was released from Evin prison after a year and a half of imprisonment.
2022 Arrest of Sepehr Ziaie in Tehran
The evening of Saturday, October 24, 2022, fifteen agents of the Ministry of Intelligence raided the house of Sepehr Ziaie in Tehran and took him into custody. Agents searched the home and confiscated personal belongings of Mr. Ziaie and other residents of the house, including five mobile phones, five laptops, a computer case, twelve million tomans in cash and the customers’ checks. Despite Ziaie and his family’s request, the agents refused to return the customers’ checks.
Interrogation in Evin prison
Sepehr Ziaie was transferred to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. He spent 50 days in solitary confinement before being moved to shared cells. For the first two months was forbidden visitors. The details of what happened to him during this period are not clear. He is a known as a calm, patient and funny person, and didn’t wish to subject his family about the problems and pressures in prison.
During the incarceration, Ziaie completely lost the hearing in his left ear. It is unknown whether the deafness was caused by the injury during the interrogations or complications of the ear stroke that he suffered a few years ago. He was examined by the prison doctor, but has not been granted approval to be seen and treated a specialist. He is also in need of surgery for hernia, but since he cannot take time off, surgery is ruled out.
Trial and Preliminary Verdict for Sepehr Ziaie
In January, Mr. Ziaie’s court session was held in Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by judge “Iman Afshari”. He was sentenced to five years in prison, a two-year ban on leaving the country and confiscation of mobile phones and laptops seized from the defendant’s home, The preliminary verdict was based on the charge of following the Baha’i religion, or simply, being a Baha’i, according to Article 499 of the Islamic Penal Code.
It is worth mentioning that, except for the cases included in the verdict, none of the documents and checks seized during the arrest of Sepehr Ziaie were returned to the family.
Current Situation of Sepehr Ziaie in Evin prison
At the end of the investigation, a bail request for Mr. Ziaie was denied by the judge. The judge refused to allow exchange the detention time with temporary leave, despite Mr. Ziaie’s age and medical issues.
According to the judge, the detention period of Mr. Ziaie is linked to the execution of the sentence. Therefore, the time he is currently serving counted as time against his sentence, He currently remains in Evin prison awaiting finalization of the preliminary verdict, as well as the outcome of his appeal.
The judge refused to consider Mr. Ziaie to be covered by the announced amnesty, given that the amnesty is aimed at the defendants and convicts of the recent protests and the arrest of Mr. Ziaie on October 24, 2022 was unrelated to the nationwide protests, therefore he is not qualified for the amnesty.
The Islamic Republic has continuously claimed in international forums that, “No person in Iran has been arrested or imprisoned for being a Baha’i.” The arrest and conviction of Mr. Ziaie on charges of “following the Baha’i Faith” is of the many cases where the in the past 44 years where Republic has arrested and imprisoned Baha’is solely for their Faith.