For more than four decades, since the earliest days of the Islamic Republic, the authorities have pressured many Baha’i property owners and have evicted them from their homes and lands. The farms of thousands of Baha’is in villages in provinces such as Azerbaijan, Mazandaran, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad and Fars have been set on fire and the villagers were forced to flee to save their lives. And this savage and inhuman treatment of Baha’i villagers has continued unabated despite repeated pleas by the international community and the United Nations – which as recently as December 2021 passed a General Assembly resolution calling for an end to discrimination and harassment against minorities including the Baha’is.
One stark example of this campaign against the Baha’is has been in the village of Ivel, in the northern province of Mazandaran, where no fewer than 27 homes owned by Baha’is were confiscated last year.
Now IranWire has received a petition from the Baha’is of Ivel, sent to top political and judicial officials of the Islamic Republic, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, detailing their grievances and asking for justice.
This is how the petition starts:
“For some time we have received news from our ancestral village, that lands belonging to our ancestors and have been passed to our families generation after generation, are being sold [without our consent]. We have been confounded by this; how, under the blessings of the sacred religion of Islam, whose rulings and Sharia laws strongly affirm the preservation of the [human] species and what belongs to it, and have never allowed illicit confiscation, an ungodly group has put our properties on the auction block. The world has heard about this and has loudly protested. But not only have [the authorities] turned a deaf ear to these calls for justice, and have not made restitution, but they have resolutely continued on this course.”
The petition then continues:
How Ivel Villagers Converted to the Baha’i faith
“Ivel has been inhabited for around 500 years. All the families in this village were believers in Twelver Shi’ism until close to 145 years ago when a rozeh khan mullah [a clergyman who performs public lamentation during mourning ceremonies marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein] who was an adherent of Islam chose another faith after research and inquiry. [Half of] villagers who were devoted to him followed his choice ...
“During the Land Reform [the 1963 end to Iran’s previous feudal land economy], all land workers became the owners of [their] farmlands. Families in Ivel, under the blessing of two faiths (Islam and the Baha’i faith) always lived peacefully and amicably together, helped each other in agricultural affairs, and they were partners in happiness and in sorrow.
Early Harassment of Baha’i villagers
“In 1983 [after the 1979 Islamic Revolution], members of Ivel’s Islamic Society gathered the people of surrounding villages and claimed they had a program for the Islamization of this village. They took for their slogan ‘Either Islam or execution; either Islam or get lost!’ This event, a long story by itself, led to the expulsion of Baha’i villagers from their jobs and from the village where they lived. As a result of this action, that was entirely contrary to the law, to Sharia and to convention, the village of Ivel practically lost half of its population. After this event, the expelled Baha’is asked for justice and presented the names of the offenders to the province’s department of justice. [But] from the time when the Baha’is were expelled, to the last phase that lasted more than eight years, judicial authorities acquitted all eight offenders and they were not punished for their acts of violence.
The Forced Seizure of Baha’i Villagers’ Farmlands
“This event had no legal consequences and it became a pretext for the forced seizure of more than half of the farmlands belonging to Baha’is. Every year, with permits from the judiciary, [the Baha’is] would travel a distance to cultivate their remaining lands and went to court to [try to] reclaim their seized lands. The judiciary invalidated the seizures, and the lands were cultivated by the original farmers; but those who had forcibly seized the lands ignored this Sharia ruling and [themselves] harvested the crop. The [controversial] legal concept of “The crop belongs to the planter even if the land is usurped” [was used as justification]. Further litigation proved futile.
The Continuing Harassment of Ivel’s Baha’i Villagers
“From 1983 to 1987, six residential buildings belonging to Baha’i farmers in the village of Ivel were burned by the same group who had not been punished. Everything in these buildings was incinerated and nothing remained except heaps of ruins. The families filed complaints with the judiciary but these went nowhere. In addition, part of the 80-year-old Baha’i cemetery in the village was seized by Setad [the Executive Headquarters of Imam Khomeini's Directive] and was auctioned off from May 16, 2009 to May 24, 2009, by Setad’s properties department through [advertisements in] newspapers Hamshahri and Iran. The remainder of the cemetery in the village of Ivel, where more than 80 Baha’is were buried, was levelled with heavy machinery and the remains of ruined graves were obliterated as well.
Destruction of Baha’i Farmers’ Homes and Lands
“In June of 2000, the same individuals who had not been punished by the judiciary closed off the village of Ivel and prevented people from entering. During this operation, they burned, destroyed and levelled more than 50 buildings belonging to the Baha’is, from residential buildings to hay and feed storages and livestock stables, and obliterated any physical sign of the lives of the farmers from the land.
Petitions to the Courts
“Complaints to courts filed by lawyers [for the Baha’is] in the case emphasized the rule of the primacy of ownership as specified in articles 30 and 31 of the Civil Code [of the Islamic Republic]; an important rule in Islamic jurisprudence. In the 10 years since that destruction took place, two final verdicts from two courts of law have confiscated the remainder of the properties that belonged to Baha’i farmers of Ivel. These two verdicts are as follows:
“On August 1, 2020, Branch 54 of the Tehran Court of Appeals for Article 49 of the constitution [that specifies when the government must confiscate property and wealth], in the case no. 98/54/842, verdict no. 453 by judges Messrs. Hasan Babani and Ebrahimi, issued the final verdict for the confiscation of remaining properties in the village of Ivel.
“On October 13, 2020, Branch 8 of Mazandaran Court of Appeals, in case no. 900-155, verdict no. 990-025 by judges Messrs. Mohammad Sadegh Savadkuhi and Hematollah Nadi Babaei, ruled that the remaining properties in the village of Ivel are illegitimate [and can be confiscated].
What Resulted from Legal Actions?
“Despite the destruction of the buildings and later harassments, Baha’i farmers did not abandon their lands and continued to cultivate them as before until, during the planting season of the fall of 2002, two local individuals meddled with the planting and a complaint against them was filed with the court that found them guilty. However, the lower provincial court for Article 49 of the constitution, and also the Appeals Court in Tehran, ruled that the case regarding the destruction [of buildings] was subject to the Sharia principle of ‘No punishment when the law is not declared’. [An approximation of this principle is: 'If people are not informed of a law, they cannot be prosecuted or punished for violating it.’] In other words, not only could the plaintiffs not defend their unquestionable rights in the court, but even their lawyers were denied access to the case file and the verdict to confiscate was issued without a hearing, without any cause and without legal validity. Despite this, lawyers resumed litigation and, on November 29, 2020, presented a petition to the head of Mazandaran’s Department of Justice to be sent by the judiciary chief to the Supreme Court based on Provision 7 of Article 474 [of the Islamic Penal Code]. To pursue this petition, Baha’i villagers presented the judiciary chief with a letter during his visit to the province in early 2021 but, in a strange move, the motion for a retrial was rejected in Mazandaran in September 2021.
What Do the Baha’i Villagers Want Now?
“Our minimum request is to regain our natural and unquestionable rights in the village of Ivel, that have been denied for almost four decades. First, please issue an order to prevent the execution of the two verdicts for the confiscation and the sale of lands that belong to us, natives of Ivel, because all Baha’i families have had registered deeds to these lands since the Land Reform and even earlier, like their other fellow villagers, and these deeds are valid both in law and in Sharia.
“Second, the lawyers who defend our case should be allowed to study the case file and to present it for consideration to a competent court so that it can issue the appropriate verdict. This demand of ours is entirely in accordance with the fatwa by the Imam [Khomeini] about non-Muslims living in Iran that was issued in response to a query dated January 24, 1984. This fatwa is as follows: ‘In the name of God: These infidels are under the protection of Islam and the rulings of Islam applies to them as it does to Muslims. Their lives and their properties must be respected.’
“Third – considering the constitution and especially the rights of the people, which applies to all, and the emphasis of Islamic laws on people’s rights and the principle of observing justice and fairness in judgement that the respected Chief Justice recently emphasized – we, the Baha’is of the village of Ivel, must be able to develop our ancestral village within our means.”
This petition, signed by the Baha’is of Ivel, was sent by registered express mail to the following officials: (1) the Supreme Leader: Seyed Ali Khamenei, (2) President of the Islamic Republic: Ebrahim Raisi, (3) Judiciary Chief: Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, (4) Speaker of Parliament: Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, (5) Minister of Justice: Amin Hossein Rahimi, (6) Head of the Supreme Court of Iran: Seyed Ahmad Mortazavi Moghadam, (7) Prosecutor-General of Iran: Mohammad Movahedi Azad, (8) Chairman of the Parliament’s Article 90 Committee: Hassan Shojaei Aliabadi, and (9) Head of Mazandaran’s Department of Justice: Mohammad Sadegh Akbari.
As of now, none of the recipients have answered the petition.