Baha'i citizens in Bandar Abbas have recently faced increasing pressure from security forces In the latest case, six Baha’is have been subjected to an illegal judicial process and jailed just days before the Iranian new year, Nowruz. Baha’is in Bandar Abbas told IranWire that the city's intelligence service was systematically trying to pressure them to leave the city.
On March 6, Nasim Ghanavatian, a Baha’i, was arrested at his home in Bandar Abbas and taken to prison. A day later, on March 7, five other Baha’is, Mehran Afshar, Omid Afaghi, Adib Hagh-Pajouh, Farhad Amri and Arash Rasekhi, presented themselves to Bandar Abbas Prison to begin serving sentences. According to the court's verdict, Mehran Afshar, Omid Afaghi, Nasim Ghanabatian, and Arash Rasekhi were each sentenced to two years in prison and Farhad Amri and Adib Hagh-Pajouh to one year in prison.
According to a Baha'i citizen from Bandar Abbas, the sentencing of these six Baha'i citizens was ordered by the Bandar Abbas Intelligence Office, which has worked for years to expel Baha'is from Bandar Abbas. The effort began in August 2008 with provocative speeches by Ayatollah Naeem Abadi, the leader of Friday prayers of Bandar Abbas, against the Baha'is.
In July 2009, Dr. Iraj Maidani was stabbed in his office by unknown individuals, Miad Afshar was severely beaten in the street by unknown individuals, and finally, Ataollah Rezvani, a well-known businessman who had repeatedly been summoned in person or by telephone by the Bandar Abbas Intelligence Office and the office of the Friday prayers leader, was murdered. He was said to have received several death threats for not leaving Bandar Abbas. Rezvani was abducted off the street by people in a private car on the evening of August 24, 2013. His body was found the next day outside the city. He had been shot in the head.
Most murders in Iran are soon solved or settled in a fairly short period of time with the culprits and killers identified. But more than nine years after the assassination of Ataollah Rezvani, there has been no follow-up by the city's law enforcement and judicial forces. During these years, most Baha'i businesses in Bandar Abbas have been shut down and Baha'is now face severe economic pressures.
A Baha'i citizen told IranWire: "The Bandar Abbas Intelligence Office wants to force the Baha'is to leave Bandar Abbas through economic and judicial pressure. This behavior is completely illegal, because Baha'is, like any Iranian citizen, have the right to reside anywhere in Iran. The city of Bandar Abbas is the birthplace of many Baha'is living there, and according to the law, no authority or institution is allowed to deprive anyone of their place of residence."
The Illegal Arrest of Nasim Ghanavatian
On February 21, before the recent arrests, six Baha'is were summoned to Bandar Abbas Prison to serve their sentences. In the text of the notices, these Baha'i citizens were given ten days to present themselves to the prison's Implementation Unit. A notice was sent to their guarantors.
On March 3, the defendants' lawyer contacted the sentencing judge and reminded him that according to Article 230, Chapter 7, Section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Code, if the accused does not appear at the end of a deadline, the judge will warn the guarantors to deliver the accused within one month. But in the case of the Baha'is of Bandar Abbas this deadline was not given to the guarantors.
The judge admitted the mistake and agreed to give the guarantors a period of one month from March 3 to hand over the accused. But later, due to pressure from the intelligence services, he was forced to issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused.
The six defendants decided to report themselves on March 7. But the day before, on March 6, after office hours at about three o'clock in the afternoon, two cars with six agents from the Ministry of Intelligence went to Nasim Ghanavatian's house and arrested him without showing him the verdict. The arrest of this Baha'i citizen was reportedly inappropriate and accompanied by obscenities. Ghanavatian was detained overnight at an unknown location under the supervision of Ministry of Intelligence agents, and handed over to the Implementation Unit the next day. The arrest of this person was made by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence whereas it is the responsibility of the police to bring the accused to carry out their sentences.
The handling of the court case of these Baha'i citizens was also unusual. Interference from the Ministry of Intelligence was evident throughout the process. The interval between the formation of the court of first instance, on December 12, 2020, and the announcement of the verdict of the Court of Appeals, was less than two months. The defendants were arrested and charged with "propaganda against the regime", and the same charge was mentioned in the court summons.
But once in court, the Baha’is were charged with "conspiracy and collusion against national security." Contrary to Article 23 of the Constitution, which prohibits investigating the beliefs of individuals, or being discriminated against for holding any belief, the defendants were prohibited from attending religious gatherings for two years as an additional punishment. The defendants were also sentenced to attend five sessions at the Andisheh Sajjadieh Institute to receive “counselling” on religious issues. If the defendants fail to comply with the provisions of the sentence then it will be increased by a third. If they still fail to comply there will be a fine or further imprisonment.
The defendants are not connected except that they are all Baha’is. Despite their cases being separate the trial court decided to try all as one case and to use the same evidence for all. A result of this has been that many of the charges against these individuals are untrue.
One of Omid Afaghi's charges was traveling abroad, with two other defendants in the case, whereas Afaghi has not traveled abroad and his passport has no exit stamp. The judge of the case accused Afaghi without considering this evidence and only by citing the report of the Intelligence Office. The court made charges against the defendants so as to initiate the religious sessions – even though some of the defendants met for the first time in court.
The defendants, meanwhile, complained during their trial of physical abuse during their interrogations such as beatings or gags being inserted into their mouths. They asked the court to investigate these concerns. But the court rejected the allegations of torture because the defendants could not prove them – despite the fact that these defendants were arrested and interrogated in 2017 and any visible consequences of torture had disappeared.
The six Baha'is were transferred to prison, meanwhile, just as the coronavirus outbreak in Bandar Abbas was once again becoming more serious. The city has been battling an outbreak of a mutated variant of the virus. And each of the six Baha'i prisoners suffers from various medical issues. Going to prison increases their risk contracting the coronavirus. Among the prisoners, Mehran Afshar, with an underlying disease, and Adib Hagh-Pajouh, who is of advanced age, are in more dangerous conditions than the others.