An Iranian Baha’i woman accused of “propaganda against the regime” has been acquitted in a historic verdict that activists hope signals a move away from the discriminatory policies against the country’s largest religious minority community. 

The verdict in the case of Lisa Tibanian stated that belonging to the Baha’i faith or proselytizing were not crimes.

Prominent journalist Isa Saharkhiz welcomed the news. “While agents of the Intelligence Ministry of Rouhani’s government are busy arresting Baha’i citizens on charges such proselytizing Baha’ism, propaganda against the regime, espionage, etc, there is this good news from Karaj,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Judge Ali Badri, the presiding judge of Branch 12 of Alborz province’s Court of Appeals, has announced [that] merely proselytizing for the Baha’i faith cannot be considered propaganda against the regime and, fundamentally, the law does not consider belief in the Baha’i faith a crime to justify prosecuting and punishing individuals based on this charge, especially since the appellant [Lisa Tibanian] accepts the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic and is considered [an Iranian] citizen…” Saharkhiz has himself faced prison on several occasions for his work as a journalist. 

Over the last four decades since the Islamic Revolution, hundreds of Baha’i Iranians have been tried and imprisoned on the charge of “propaganda against the regime” for “proselytizing the Baha’i faith.” Throughout these years, Islamic Revolutionary Court judges have defined any and all religious, social or civil activities by the Baha’is as propaganda against the regime, which is punishable according to Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code. It states: “Anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to between three months and one year of imprisonment.”

Officials have cited this article when cracking down on a range of activities, including the closure of businesses to observe Baha’i religious occasions, pursuing higher education and civil rights, participation in social and environmental campaigns, and even pursuing artistic endeavors. Baha’is have also been targeted for socializing with non-Baha’is, attending Baha’i religious classes and even burying people from the faith according to Baha’i religious practices. Historically these activities have been condemned as “propaganda against the regime” and the offenders have been punished with prison sentences.

Non-stop Prosecution

The prosecution of the Baha’is has been ongoing. In the last few months alone, at least 60 Baha'is have been arrested, tried and sentenced.

One of them is Lisa Tabianian (Enayati). She was originally arrested at her home on February 13, 2017 and later detained for 10 days before eventually being released on bail on March 26, 2017. She was tried at Branch 4 at the Karaj Revolutionary Court, with the judicial authority citing Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code and sentencing her to seven months in prison. On August 1, 2018 Tabianian and her lawyer were informed of the lower Revolutionary Court verdict.

On December 31, 2018, Branch 12 of Alborz Province’s Revolutionary Court under Judge Ali Badri acquitted Lisa Tabianian on the charge of propaganda against the regime. According to the text of the verdict and the indictment obtained by IranWire, the appeals court has ruled that proselytizing Baha’ism and belief in Baha’i faith are not crimes. The judge stressed the fact that the appellant accepts the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic and this was an important reason for not finding her guilty.

According to the judge, proselytizing is a crime under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code only if it is aimed against Iran’s political system. Otherwise, the judge said, “religious proselytizing in a way that cannot be construed as against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its regime is not a crime.” He also stated that punishing someone for proselytizing on those terms “would even violate citizens’ rights under the constitution.”

 

Related Coverage:

Persecution of Baha'is Continues With 60 Arrests and Interrogations, January 8, 2019

Baha’is Go to Prison for Praying, November 16, 2018

70-Year-Old Baha’i Sent to Prison, November 2, 2018

The Arrest that Boosted Support for the Baha’is, September 29, 2018

Six Baha’i Environmentalists Arrested, September 25, 2018

Mass Arrests of Baha’is in Shiraz, August 28, 2018

The Baha’i Prisoner of Semnan: 2,000 Days and Counting, August 13, 2018

Baha’i Woman Sent to Prison for BIHE Volunteer Work, July 26, 2018

Foreign Minister Zarif: What Baha’i Prisoners?, April 27, 2018

Ten Years Later: the Baha’i Seven are Free for Norooz, March 20, 2018

Freed Baha’i Leader: Jailing Baha’is is Futile and Pointless, February 17, 2018

Baha’i Teacher Jailed for Five Years, December 20, 2017

Young Baha’i Tries for University but Ends up in Jail, November 14, 2017

An Exclusive Interview With the Freed Baha'i Leader, September 19, 2017

A Living Story of 174 Years of Constructive Resilience, August 2, 2017

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