Demonstrators hold images of imprisoned Iranian Baha’i religious leaders at a protest in Rio de Janeiro, June 2011. (Reuters)

By Kian Sabeti

October 8, 2019

Following on from the recent arrests of dozens of Baha’is, a member of Iran’s Baha’i community has described to IranWire the increased discrimination the religious community has faced since the appointment of a new chief justice earlier this year. Under Ebrahim Raeesi, who was appointed as head of the judiciary in March, Baha’i citizens accused of crimes including “propaganda against the regime” and “the intent of acting against national security” have been given maximum jail sentences, often handed down in their absence. Officials who spoke out in defense of two Baha’i prisoners have also been jailed.

The Baha’i citizen who sent the statement to IranWire outlining the extent of the persecution has asked to remain anonymous.

“The court of appeals has upheld the verdicts of the lower court against me and five other Baha’is, exactly as they were and without our presence at the trial,” the statement reads. “The lawyer has asked us not talk about it for now so that, perhaps, he can take it to the Supreme Court and succeed in reducing our sentences. Since Mr. Ebrahim Raeesi was appointed Chief Justice, the cases against many Baha’is who had been arrested but were released on bail have been reactivated. Many Baha’is have been summoned to court and the courts have been giving the Baha’is maximum sentences. Numerous trials and prison sentences for Baha’is in the last six months bear out this claim. Let us not forget that it was in the last six months that Mehdi Hajati, a city council representative in Shiraz, was sentenced to prison after speaking in defense of two arrested Baha’is and Mehdi Moghadari, a member of Isfahan City Council, was sent to prison for supporting Hajati.”

The Baha’i who contacted IranWire has firsthand experience of the increased pressure under Raeesi. In addition to the many arrests over the last fews months, authorities shut down a senior citizens home for Baha’is in Gol Shahr in Karaj and carried out numerous raids on the homes of Baha’i citizens.

During the first week of October, authorities raided and searched several Baha’i homes in Tehran, and arrested two Baha’is  — all with warrants from judiciary officials.

Three Baha’is — Ardeshir Fanaian, aged 30, Behnam Eskandarian, aged 25, and Yalda Firuzian, aged 20 — remain in the Central Prison of Semnan by the order of the judge handling their case, who has not cited any clear reasons for their continued detention, despite the fact that their interrogations were completed over three months ago.

In the last six months, an unprecedented number of Baha’is have been summoned and put on trial in Revolutionary Courts. Many have received heavy sentences and many of these sentences have been upheld by the courts of appeal. According to information received by IranWire, in the last week alone 13 Baha’is were put on trial in the cities of Mashhad and Bandar Abbas.

On Saturday, September 28, five Baha’is — Nika Pakzadan, Nakisa Hajipour, Sanaz Eshaghi, and Naghmeh Zabihian — were tried on charges of “propaganda against the regime by proselytizing for the Baha’i faith” at Branch 3 of Mashhad Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Baghdehi. The case against them was opened in late 2015 after they were arrested.

Also in the last week, eight Baha’is — Nasim Ghanavatian, Maral Rasti, Shahnaz Jannesar, Farhad Amri, Mehran Afshar, Omid Afaghi, Adib Haghpajouh and Arash Rasekhi — were tried in the Revolutionary Court of Bandar Abbas. The eight were first arrested in March and April 2017 in Shiraz, Bandar Abbas and Qeshm Island.

The new wave of Baha’i trials started in March this year. The Revolutionary Court of Appeals of Fars province sentenced Pezhman Shahriari and Mahboub Habibi to six months in prison each and Kourosh Rohani to three months for “propaganda against the regime by proselytizing for the Baha’i faith.” On May 7, the three prisoners were taken to Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz to serve their sentences.

On April 28, four Baha’is — Nima Rajabzadeh, Arman Bandi, Amrollah Khaleghian and Ehsanollah Amirinia — were tried by the court of appeals in Kerman. They had each been sentenced by the lower court to five years in prison for being members of a Baha’i religious organization.

On April 30, 13 Baha’is — Naghmeh Shadabi, Soheyla Shadabi, Nematollah Shadabi, Sepideh Ahrari, Peyman Ghiami, Borhan Tabianian, Farzaneh Amini, Forouzan Amini, Ezzatolah Shahidi, Sino Rasouli, Amir Kadivar, Kambiz Pourmoradi, and Amrollah Eslami — were tried by the Revolutionary Court of Kermanshah on charges of “membership to an illegal [Baha’i] organization” and “propaganda against the regime by proselytizing for the Baha’i faith.” The cases against them were opened in 2016 and 2017 after they were arrested.

In late April, seven Baha’i residents of Bushehr — Farrokhlagha Faramarzi, Pouneh Nasheri, Minoo Riazati, Farideh Jaberi, Emad Jaberi, Asadollah Jaberi and Ehteram Sheikhi — were each sentenced to three years in prison. The cases against them were opened in 2017.

On May 15, after three and a half months of detention at a prison in Yazd, Farzad Rouhani was tried on charges of “membership in the Baha’i organization with the intent of acting against national security.” He was released on bail a day after his trial. The trial of Moin Mohammadi was held the next month in Yazd and he received the maximum sentence of one year in prison for “propaganda against the regime” on social media “under the cover of proselytizing for the Baha’i faith.”

On June 11, six Baha’i resident of Tabriz — Shabnam Isakhani, Farzad Bahadori, Monika Alizadeh, Kambiz Sadeghi, Shahriar Khodapanah and Kheirollah Bakhshi — were tried by the Revolutionary Court of Tabriz. Four days after the trial they were each sentenced to six months in prison but 45 days after the lower court’s verdict, the court of appeals acquitted all six.

Despite the positive outcome for the Tabriz-based Bahai’s, in June, two Baha’is who had been arrested in late 2017 were found guilty at Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court. The court sentenced Sofia Mobini to 10 years in prison and Negin Tadrisi to five years on the charge of “membership to an illegal organization with the intent to act against national security.”

On July 3, Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Birjand, South Khorasan, presided over by Judge Seyed Hojjat Nabavi, tried nine Baha’i citizens — Bahman Salehi, Simin Mohammadi, Maryam Mokhtari, Bijan Ahmadi, Sagher Mohammadi, Firouz Ahmadi, Sohrab Mallaki, Khalil Mallaki and Sheida Abedi — on charges of “membership to an illegal organization” and “propaganda against the regime.” Their lawyers were not allowed to attend the trial. They all had been arrested in 2017. Three days after the trial the judge issued his verdict and sentenced each of them to six years in prison — five years for membership to a Baha’i organization and one year for proselytizing.

In August, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Farough Izadinia, a scholar and translator, to 10 years in prison for activities against national security by “organizing” Baha’is. Izadinia’s literary translations include works such as The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley. His trial had taken place months earlier and the case against him had been opened in early 2017.

On Sunday, August 18, the trial of Sima Behroozi was held at Branch 1 of Yazd Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Dashtipour. Behroozi faced charges of being a member in a Baha’i organization and proselytizing for the Baha’i faith. The case against her was opened in early 2019, when she was summoned and interrogated about her activities on social media.

In September, Branch 36 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court of Appeals upheld the sentence of Samin Maghsoudi without any changes. She had been arrested in 2017 and was sentenced in May by Judge Moghiseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court to five years in prison for “membership to an illegal [Baha’i] organization.”

Also in September, the Revolutionary Court of Kerman sentenced Kimia Mostafavi and Kiana Rezvani, two Baha’i women, to six years each in prison on charges of membership to a Baha’i organization and propaganda against the regime. The case against them was opened after their arrest early in 2019.

On September 3, Kerman’s Revolutionary Court summoned Rouha Imani, another Baha’i woman, to start serving her sentence in Kerman Prison. She had been sentenced to nine months in prison last year. The case against her was opened after her arrest in the spring of 2015.

On September 21, Mitra Badrnejad Zohdi was sent to Sepidar Prison in Ahvaz to start serving a prison sentence of one year. The Khuzestan province’s court of appeals had reduced her lower Revolutionary Court-issued sentence of five years to one year, but she was instructed to start serving her sentence in less than two months after the verdict by the court of appeals. The case against her had been opened after her arrest in early 2017.

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.