The recent sentencing of Sarang Ettehadi and his wife Nasim Ashraf clearly demonstrate that Iran’s judiciary and security forces intend to step up harassment of the country’s Baha’i minority community. The couple were handed down five-year and one-year prison sentences respectively in January.
Following Hassan Rouhani’s victory in the 2013 presidential elections, many pro-Rouhani media outlets predicted that Iran would open up, and members of the hardline media community reported that Rouhani’s Charter of Citizens’ Rights would benefit Baha’is, as well as other minorities.
Since then, however, many Baha’i citizens have been arrested and the judiciary continues to use its normal methods to increase pressure on the religious minority. The round up, below, of recent persecutions against Iran’s Baha’i community includes arbitrary arrests, land confiscation and physical attacks. Baha'i homes are regularly searched; Baha'is are forbidden from taking part in higher education; they are locked out of their places of work and forced into exile. In some cases, Baha’i women who had been detained along with very young children were released – but on “conditional” grounds, meaning that if they participate in Baha’i religious gatherings and ceremonies or fail to hide their religious identity when in public, they can be placed back in custody.
Baha’i Students: Renewed Targets
In addition to the usual forms of harassment, over the last seven months, there has been increased pressure on the activities of the Baha’i Open University.
Also known as Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (B.I.H.E), the higher education institution was founded in 1985 after the Islamic Republic banned Baha’is from college education. The classes are for the most part conducted online, but when there is a need for actual classrooms, students or B.I.H.E. associates provide a room.
The official exclusion of Baha’is from higher education was included in a confidential act passed by the High Council of Cultural Revolution on February 25th, 1991. The act clearly stated that Baha’is are forbidden to enroll in universities. If it is discovered that an already-enrolled student is a Baha’i, that student must be expelled from the academic institution.
As a result, hundreds of Baha’i have suffered. Academic officials have continued to kept the act confidential, although the media has published numerous reports about the many students who have been expelled or have been prevented from enrollment pursuant to “high-level decrees”.
The exclusion of Baha’is from higher education, of course, goes further back, to the first years that followed the Islamic Revolution. From the start, leaders of the revolution were hostile to the Baha’i faith and harassment is a feature of these early years. The Islamic cultural revolution and the purges against universities in the 1980s only aggravated the situation.
Now, studying at the Baha’i Open University has been added to punishable offenses, part of renewed efforts to clamp down on the Baha’is.
On November 19th, a group of Baha’i prisoners wrote an open letter to Elham Amin Zadeh, Rouhani’s judicial vice-president, who was in charge of drawing up the president’s charter on citizens’ rights. In their letter, they pointed to the violation of Baha’i rights, including the right to an education, and asked him “why, if citizens have the right to pursue higher education, so many are expelled from universities and why are the Baha’is prevented from enrollment?”
“Under the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and under Article 3 of the Iranian constitution,” they wrote, “the rights of all minorities, including the Baha’is, must be respected”, a demand unlikely to be met by Rouhani’s government or other authorities of the Islamic Republic.
The story, then, continues.
Timeline of Persecution: Baha’is Under Threat
On July 28th, Shamin Ettehadi, from Yazd in central Iran, was given a prison sentence of seven years and three months after he sent a video showing a Baha’is graveyard being destroyed to Manoto TV, a Persian-language video website. In addition to his prison sentence, he was condemned to 75 lashes and fined US$1600.
On August 8th, judiciary agents transferred Saeed Rezai, a Baha’i leader condemned to five years’ imprisonment, back to Rajaie Shahr prison from hospital, despite the fact that he required further medical treatment.
On August 14th, security forces in Mashhad arrested three students from Baha’i Open University, a virtual institution of higher education for Baha’is.
On August 15th, in Ardebil, Eastern Azarbaijan, security forces oversaw the deportation of a Baha’i citizen who had been released from prison. He is now forced to live in exile for five years.
A week later, the media reported that the court system intended to process the cases of 20 Baha’is who had been arrested in Isfahan, Yazd and five other cities across the country.
On August 24th, Abdollah Rezvani, resident of Bandar Abbas, a port city in southern Iran, was shot to death. The identity of the assailant remains unknown and no individual or group has claimed responsibility.
On September 12th, the media reported that Faraz Rouhani, a Baha’i student, had been barred from the final stage of the entrance examination for higher education.
On September 14th, a Baha’i activist was arrested in Shiraz, the capital of the Fars province.
On September 21st, an elderly Baha’i man was brutally attacked after he visited government offices in order to enquire about a case against him. He was given a warning to stop enquiring about his case.
In Isfahan on October 5th, security agents padlocked the workplaces of three Baha’is. On November 12th, the workplaces of three other Baha’is were padlocked.
On October 13th, in Abadeh in Fars province, 14 Baha’is were summoned to the court and interrogated. Padlocks were also placed on their places of work. They were ordered to leave town and not return, even to visit their relatives. They were also told that Baha’i religious ceremonies were banned.
On October 14th, in Semnan in central north Iran, three Baha’i citizens were given prison sentences totaling 30 months.
On October 16th, in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, five Baha’is were given six-month prison sentences each.
In Yazd, on October 19th, security agents searched the residences of five Baha’i families. On November 2nd, they searched the residences of three further families and threatened them with even harsher measures.
On October 21st, in Tonekabon in northern Iran, security agents summoned and interrogated a Baha’i man who had travelled there to visit his ailing mother. He had been living in Australia for the last 30 years.
In Isfahan, on October 22nd, a Baha’i man was arrested.
On October 27th, in a new wave of suppression against student activists, the Revolutionary Court condemned Nasim Bagheri, an associate of the Baha’i Open University, to four years’ imprisonment.
On November 3rd, Anisa Dehghani, a Baha’i resident of Isfahan, was incarcerated and given a six-month prison term. On the same day, two Baha’is who had been arrested by Isfahan’s Intelligence Agency 50 days before were sent to prison.
On November 11th, Shamim Rouhani, a Baha’i resident of Ahvaz in southern Iran, was arrested and his wife was interrogated.
Also on November 11th, Nahid Ghadiri from Mashhad, who had spent three years, nine months and 11 days in prison was “conditionally” released by the judicial authorities.
On November 21st, police arrested and interrogated five Baha’is, stating that they had the right to do so because those arrested because reached the military-service age and may be due for service.
On November 25th, a Baha’i resident of Isfahan was taken to prison to begin a six-month prison sentence.
Police attacked a makeshift classroom of the Baha’i Open University on November 27th. After students were searched and interrogated, they were forced to promise they would not attend Baha’i classes in future.
On November 30th, Manouchehr Kholousi, a Baha’i resident of Mashhad, was arrested. His children, Nika and Nava, were given prison sentences of six and four and a half years respectively, but were later released on bail.
On December 3rd, in the Kurdish capital of Sanandaj, a court ordered the confiscation of a piece of land owned by the Baha’i community. They had been using the land as a burial ground.
On December 4th, Zohreh Nik A’in, who had been imprisoned along with her newborn baby, was released. A week later, on December 11th, two Baha’i women were granted “conditional” release.
A court in Yazd sentenced three Baha’is to ten years in prison each on December 6th.
On December 24th, Mozhdeh Zohouri, a Baha’i resident of Gorgan, a provincial capital near the Caspian Sea, was arrested after her husband was condemned to 10 years in prison.
On January 11th, 2014, Elham Rouzbehi, a Baha’i woman detained along with her baby, was “conditionally” released from a Semnan prison. The same day, Negar Malekzadeh and Behnam Haddadzadeh were released in Mashhad.
On January 21st, Tolou Golkar, an associate of the Baha’i Open University, was given a five-year prison sentence. A day later, authorities in Tabriz prevented the burial of two Baha’i people.
On January 26th in Semnan, a Baha’i whose two children were already serving prison terms was sent to jail for 40 days.
On February 3rd in Shiraz, a Baha’i college student who was studying accounting was barred from continuing his education.
On February 5th in Birjand in eastern Iran, an assailant entered the home of a Baha’i family and severely injured three of them with a knife.
On February 16th in Karaj, near Tehran, police padlocked the workplaces of two Baha’is.