Thirty-three years after being captured by Iraqis during the war while defending his homeland, a Baha’i citizen, Behrouz Farzandi, is once again behind bars. But time it is because of his faith.
Throughout the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and up to this day, the Iranian government has consistently attempted to erase the Baha’is from the official list of casualties of the war.
However, the reality is that many Baha’i citizens, like their fellow countrymen, endured significant hardships during the eight-year conflict. All Iranians were subjected to air and ground attacks, their homes were destroyed, and they faced displacement and other traumatic effects of war.
And among those who went to the front, of course, some were killed or went missing. Others were wounded, or were captured, but survived to become veterans of the conflict.
Behrouz Farzandi, a 57-year-old Iranian citizen, was among the Baha’is injured in the war. He spent over two years in Iraqi captivity and is considered a veteran due to his war injuries. But today he is imprisoned in Shiraz due to his adherence to the Baha’i faith.
Born and raised in Shiraz, Farzandi’s educational aspirations were curtailed upon finishing high school due to the systematic exclusion of Baha’is from higher education in Iran.
Despite the opportunity to join his brother in Pakistan and pursue further studies abroad, he chose to remain in Iran, accepting the challenges and hardships that come with being a Baha’i in his homeland.
Determined to overcome the limitations imposed upon him, because of his faith, he embarked on vocational training to compensate for the denial of university access.
Farzandi became a skilled refrigerator repairman – a profession he envisioned as his future livelihood. However, to formally enter the workforce, he needed to fulfill his mandatory military service. His enlistment coincided with the Iran-Iraq war.
Concerned for his son’s safety, Farzandi’s father proposed an alternative plan: establishing a small refrigerator repair shop in the basement of their home, allowing him to work independently, without the perils of going to war.
But the young man was unwavering in his decision to serve his country. His deep sense of patriotism and commitment to fulfilling his civic duty shaped his decisions despite the warnings and concerns of those around him.
He was first sent to Safar 1 Barracks in Tehran for basic training. When they discovered his Baha’i faith, the military authorities denied him a rank and assigned him to frontline combat zones as an ordinary soldier.
In May 1988, just 20 days before his military service was due to end, Behrouz was captured during a surprise attack by Iraqi forces.
This attack coincided with Iran’s negotiations to accept Resolution 598, which resulted in a brief ceasefire. A significant number of Iranian soldiers were captured in this incident.
Following the attack, the Iraqi government withheld the names of the prisoners from the International Red Cross, rendering them unidentified. Behrouz Farzandi’s name was added to a list of missing persons.
To prevent identification, the missing group was not held in designated POW camps. Instead, they were subjected to harsh living conditions in undisclosed locations within Iraq. Throughout his captivity, Farzandi endured extreme deprivation of essential necessities such as food, water and sleep.
After two years and two months of captivity in Iraq, he was finally repatriated on September 12, 1990, alongside with other Iranian soldiers. But he bore the lasting effects of malnutrition and unsanitary food and water consumed during his confinement. His digestive system suffered severe damage. He had also been also struck in the face with the butt of an Iraqi soldier’s rifle, damaging his teeth and jaw.
The lack of proper hygiene and oral care during this time further exacerbated his injuries, ultimately leading to the complete removal of his all teeth and the need for gum surgery and dentures.
Farzandi’s two years on the front lines also left him with neurological disorders and hearing impairments from the blasts of explosions. These afflictions continue to plague him to this day—35 years after his service.
In recognition of his wartime injuries and captivity, Farzandi was granted a 25% veteran disability rating by the Army Medical Commission. Farzandi nevertheless showed unwavering determination to rebuild his life.
In 2018, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Payam Noor University. However, due to his religious beliefs, he was denied the official degree due to interference from security institutions.
During the height of the covid pandemic in Iran, on April 6, 2021, security forces arrested seven Baha’i citizens, including Behrouz Farzandi, at their homes in Shiraz. The charges against those arrested were “membership in the Baha’i community” and “propagation of the Baha’i faith.” While incarcerated, Behrouz Farzandi contracted covid, and was hospitalized with acute covid immediately after his later release from prison.
After his arrest, Farzandi was interrogated by the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in solitary confinement until April 29, 2021. He was then transferred to Adel Abad prison. On May 3, 2021, he was temporarily released on bail.
In November 2021, Branch 1 of the Shiraz Revolutionary Court sentenced Farzandi to seven months and 16 days in prison for the charge of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and to 31 months and 16 days in prison for the charge of being a “member of anti-government groups.”
The original verdict was upheld by the appeals court. In accordance with Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, the harshest punishment – 31 months and 16 days in prison – is applicable.
On March 7, 2022, Farzandi was again summoned to the Revolutionary Court, and was arrested without being of the start of his prison sentence and was transferred to Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz.
Farzandi was sent on medical leave after four months of imprisonment due to heart problems. During his leave, he underwent surgery at Kowsar Hospital of Shiraz to repair 95% blockages to his heart. Doctors opened the occlusion of the artery with a balloon and placed a stent with an angioplasty.
According to cardiologists, Farzandi needs a healthy diet along with light exercise and a stress-free environment.
But instead of convalescing, and 33 years after being held captive in Iraq, Farzandi is once again in jail.