Society & Culture

Facing Jail Time for Regime Criticism, Iranian Cleric Refuses to Back Down on Baha'i Rights

August 3, 2022
OstanWire
2 min read
Vahid Heroabadi took to selling sweets and gum on the streets of Tehran after his expulsion from Tehran University
Vahid Heroabadi took to selling sweets and gum on the streets of Tehran after his expulsion from Tehran University

A religious scholar well-known online for his criticism of the Iranian regime has been stripped of his clerical garb and sentenced to two years in prison.

Vahid Heroabadi was arrested in May on the Bazargan, West Azerbaijan border between Iran and Turkey. He had earlier been charged with “insulting the leadership”, “spreading lies”, “disturbing the public mind” and “propaganda against the regime”.

Heroabadi formerly worked as a cultural missionary at Tehran University. But online, he continued to call for an end to several of the Islamic Republic’s hallmark domestic policies including mandatory hijab, internet filtering, the persecution of Baha’is and wide-ranging censorship of public discourse.

After his dismissal from the university in 2018, Heroabadi took to selling chewing gum and cakes on the sidewalk of Tehran’s 16 Azar Street while still dressed in his robes. The stunt went viral on Persian social media.

After his arrest Heroabadi was held on the Revolutionary Guards-controlled Ward 2A of Evin Prison before his release on a 200 million-toman bail.

In the Special Clerical Court, he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, he had also been accused of “insulting the dignity” of the clergy for peddling in religious garb. The “propaganda” charge related to his posts on social media over the years.

He was acquitted of the charge of “insulting the leadership” on the basis that he was, in the judge’s words, “too young to have the courage to enter the sacred spaces of the Muslim Leadership”.

Despite the looming threat of imprisonment, Heroabadi continued on Tuesday to denounce the regime’s latest campaign of mass arrests of Baha’i citizens. More than 100 Baha’is have been detained, subjected to raids on their homes, or both, in the past few weeks.

“We can have two approaches,” Heroabadi wrote. “Killing the Baha'is, or [accepting] they are our compatriots, Iranians, with social rights…. In the end it will be one of these two, and I will definitely be choosing the second one.”

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