The Iranian calendar year 1400, which ended on March 20, appears to have been one of the hardest in recent years for the country’s dwindling Baha’i population. IranWire’s surveys indicate at least 36 members of the Baha’i community were sentenced to jail terms of one to 12 years, totalling 170 years and three months, purely for practising their faith.
Among the charges were “propaganda against the regime”, which is often levelled by the Iranian judiciary against those who express a non-Shia religious faith, and “activities against national security through organizing and membership of illegal groups”, which is deployed to punish those who take part in Baha’i ceremonies and gatherings.
Records show that at least 14 Baha’is from Tehran, eight from Shiraz, six from Borazjan in Bushehr, four from Yazd, two from Babol in Mazandaran, one from Ahvaz and one from Damavand near Tehran were among those affected in the year 1400.
Of these, at least 28 were summoned to begin serving their sentences in the same year. They included Sedigheh Aghdasi, Behrouz Farzandi, Ghasem Masoumi, Shahnaz Sabet, Farham Sabet and Farzan Masoumi, all from Shiraz, Nika Pakzadan, Sanaz Eshaghi, Nakisa Hajipour and Naghmeh Zabihian from Mashhad, Maral Rasti and Mahnaz Jannesar from Bandar Abbas, Mitra Bandi Amirabadi and Hiva Yazdan from Yazd, Shahram Najaf-Tomaraei and Parisa Sadeghi from Tehran, Ali Ahmadi from Ghaem Shahr in Mazandaran, and Manijeh Azamian from Babol. These 19 Baha’is had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to three years and three months each. Nine others were each sentenced to one year in prison but have yet to start serving their sentences.
Prior to the advent of the new century, in 1399 a number of other Baha’is were also known to be behind bars. They included six in Bandar Abbas, four in Bushehr, two in Semnan, one in Rajaei Shahr Prison and one in Karaj Central Prison.
Scores on Bail with Fates Hanging in the Balance
The total number of Baha’is who were arrested in 1400 is hard to establish, as many families are too afraid to come forward in the aftermath. But at least 45 are known to have been detained up and down Iran who are now on bail, awaiting trial. Hundreds of other Baha’is detained in previous years are also still in limbo.
The first known arrests in 1400 took place on April 6, 2021, with seven Baha’is in Shiraz taken into custody. On April 13, Manijeh Azamian was arrested in Babol after a raid on her home. In late April and early May, at least 11 were arrested in the city of Baharestan in Isfahan, and two in Shiraz.
The seemingly arbitrary arrests of Baha’is continued throughout the year including seven in Shiraz, seven in Mahshahr in Khuzestan, three in Tehran, two in Babol, one in Ghaem Shahr, three in Marlik in Tehran province, one in Sari, capital of Mazandaran province, and one in Tabriz.
A Wave of Land Grabs in Villages
Last year was also marked by a renewed campaign of harassment at the level of villages. Local clergymen and mullahs have long railed against the presence of individual Baha’is and communities, but this later became state policy, and last year was no exception.
Localized harassment of Baha’is in Iran has two aims: firstly, pressuring Baha’is to abandon their faith, and secondly, the seizure of their land and properties. By driving Baha’is out of rural areas and into cities, Iran’s security agencies are also better-placed to monitor and control their activities.
In 1400, the known assaults on Baha’i villagers included the destruction of at least 50 homes in rural areas and the confiscation of 27 properties. The seized assets were taken into the possession of Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive (“Setad”), a conglomerate under the control of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Individual cases included the village of Ivel in Mazandaran province, where no fewer than 27 Baha’i-owned were repossessed by the state, the villages of Kata in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, where 13 separate parcels of land were destroyed, and Roshankuh in the forests of Mazandaran, where 14 tracts of land and three homes were destroyed with the agreement of the province’s Natural Resources Department.
Separately Semnan Revolutionary Court approved the confiscation of six more properties on the request of Setad, and a court in Mazandaran ordered the seizure of properties owned by a Baha’i named Malek Sheida, transferring them to Setad without explanation.
These incidents in more far-flung parts of Iran cost the regime little. The attacks are generally under-reported in the international media, and villagers are less likely to seek recourse from either the judiciary or human rights advocates. This lack of international attention gives local enforcers a relatively free hand to abuse individual Baha’i households.
Diane Alai, a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, sounded the alarm last year after the incidents in Ivel, Roshankuh and Kata. “By impoverishing and making the Baha’is homeless,” she said, “Iranian leaders are enriching themselves.”
Baha’is Blocked from Public Life at Every Turn
Baha’is across Iran were also subject to other forms of pressure in the past 12 months. At least six Baha’i businesses in the city of Ghaem Shahr, Mazandaran, were abruptly shut down on November 8 because they had been visibly closed during a Baha’i religious holiday.
Separately in early April, Baha’is in Tehran were informed that they could no longer bury their dead in the designated Baha’i area of Khavaran Cemetery: itself a mass grave for victims of Iran’s 1988 prison massacre. The ban was eventually lifted due to international outcry. It occurred against a backdrop of widespread destruction of Baha’i cemeteries and desecration of Baha’i graves, going back years.
Baha’i students also continued to be barred from entering higher education. Last year IranWire was made aware of seven cases of Baha’i students, and 19 the year before, being blocked from taking the national university entrance exam, on pretexts ranging from technical errors to “general competence”.