GENEVA—4 May 2023—The Baha’i International Community is deeply distressed that, in the midst of widespread suffering of Iranians, an agent of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, Masoud Momeni, is continuing to forcibly bury more deceased Baha’is without the knowledge of their families and in violation of Baha’i burial practices.
News of four more deceased Baha’is being buried in this way has now been received—following two previous incidents at the end of March. Three more bodies remain in the morgue while the families continue to persevere in their efforts to hold dignified burials for their loved ones.
In a further act of vindictiveness three individuals, Mansour Amini, Valiollah Ghedamian and Ataollah Zafar, who for many years have assisted their fellow Baha’is at the cemetery, have been arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence. In addition, a member of one of the families of the deceased, who has been trying to resolve burial issues through legal means, is also being held in custody. Mrs. Shadi Shahidzadeh was arrested after she approached Iranian officials seeking approval to bury her grandmother according to Baha’i rites.
Mr. Momeni is demanding exorbitant sums to allow the Baha’is to bury their loved ones in their own cemetery in Tehran. The families refuse these demands, which were only conveyed verbally, because no official paperwork accompanies them and the Baha’is have no way of knowing whether the sums will be paid to the Ministry of Intelligence, another authority, or to Mr. Momeni himself.
Mr. Momeni has now interred a total of six Baha’is in this manner in recent weeks. Beyond this, he is burying the deceased Baha’is in narrow graves and in at least one case has placed two bodies in one grave. The burials are taking place at the site of a historical mass grave, in Khavaran, where thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience executed in the 1980s are buried. Two years ago, Iran’s government had already tried to force the Baha’is to be buried at this mass gravesite—raising international alarm.
“The cruelty of the forced burials and the unjust arrest of these four innocent Baha’is is beyond belief,” said Simin Fahandej, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “Families who are already grieving the death of their loved ones now have the added burden of being barred from burying them according to Baha’i burial practices in their own cemetery, and in some cases, seeing their family and fellow Baha’is being taken into custody simply for seeking their basic rights. These coldhearted and grotesque atrocities must stop.”
Baha’is have faced burial issues for over four decades. Their cemeteries have been destroyed, graves desecrated and families have even been prevented from visiting resting places, all as part of the Iranian government’s systematic persecution of the Baha’i community.
- In early April, the Baha’i International Community reported that, in a brazen and barbaric act, Masoud Momeni, a Ministry of Intelligence agent who in April 2021 had wrested control of the Baha’i-owned cemetery in Tehran, had buried a deceased Baha’i at the Khavaran cemetery near Tehran without notifying the family of the deceased and violating Baha’i burial practices.
- The agent had demanded that the family pay an exorbitant fee for burial within plots already owned and previously managed by the Baha’i community. He threatened the family that failure to meet his demands would result in the burial taking place in a site adjacent to the Baha’i cemetery previously used by the government to bury executed political prisoners.
- The same intelligence agent threatened to bury another Baha’i under the same circumstance if the family of the deceased also refused to yield to his demands.
- Two years ago, as part of a systematic 43-year campaign to persecute the Baha’is, the Iranian authorities began to block the community from using their part of the Khavaran cemetery and demanded that Baha’is use an adjacent site which was previously used as a mass grave. The Baha’is refused out of respect for the dead and their bereaved families.
- Before the Revolution the Baha’i community in Tehran owned a beautifully landscaped and befitting cemetery land of about 80,000 square meters. In 1980, this central Baha’i cemetery in Tehran was confiscated. The government then leveled the grounds, the site of more than 15,000 burials, removing gravestones and selling off those of value. In the 1990s, the grounds were further desecrated when the bodies of the Baha’is were exhumed and ignominiously loaded onto trucks. Bulldozers were then used to clear the grounds for the construction of the “Khavaran Cultural Center”.
- The executive director of the Behesht-e Zahra Organization (the agency that manages Tehran’s large Khavaran cemetery) later announced that a parcel of barren land of 27,000 square meters with no facilities was legally transferred to the Baha’i community in replacement, to which the community have sacrificially developed open green space, a mortuary, a surrounding wall, and entrance and exit gates on the Khavaran Road. Other minority communities also have separate cemeteries within the same larger complex. The new Baha’i cemetery was next to the Armenian cemetery, within the same larger complex, and adjacent to a mass grave of political victims.
- Tehran’s Khavaran cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of political victims executed in the 1980s by the new Islamic Republic and placed in a mass grave
- Attempting to charge bereaved Baha’is exorbitant sums to use the Baha’i-owned cemetery in Tehran, and then burying the deceased atop the 1980s mass grave when they refuse on principle, is an attempt to both erase the memory of thousands of political victims while inflicting further harm on the persecuted Iranian Baha’i community.
- Iran’s government has hindered and even blocked the ability of the Baha’is to bury their dead ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
- Baha’i burial and funeral practices call for the deceased to be treated with dignity and respect and for a specific prayer to be read – neither of which was observed for Mr. Majidi.
- Since 1979, the Baha’is have been systematically persecuted in Iran by being arbitrarily detained, sentenced to jail on baseless charges, denied educations and livelihoods, their homes are confiscated and destroyed, they are smeared by hate speech, and their graves are desecrated, as part of a campaign to destroy Iran’s Baha’i community.