By Kian Sabeti
July 1, 2019
It has been nearly two months since three Baha’is in Semnan – Ardeshir Fanaian, aged 30, Behnam Eskandarian, aged 25, and Yalda Firuzian, aged 20 – were arrested. Their families still have no clear information about their health, about prison conditions under which they are being held, or the charges against them. But they do know the three Baha’is have been denied the right to a lawyer. Hojatoleslam Rameh, who ordered their arrests on April 30 and is the examining magistrate on the case, has officially banned two of them from phoning their families or meeting them, though a few very short visits have been possible. According to him, contact with family will have to wait until interrogations and investigations have been completed.
Ardeshir Fanaian has not been allowed any calls to his family and the family has not been allowed to visit him in prison. “Mohammad Ali Fanaian, Ardeshir’s father, died of a kidney disease in the hospital on June 6,” one of his relatives told IranWire. “The same day, following insistence by the Fanaian family, the Intelligence Bureau allowed Ardeshir to go to the hospital under guard to visit his father, but when he was taken to the hospital, his father had been dead for an hour. Ardeshir talked to other members of his family for only a few minutes, and to tell them that the previous week, when none of their other relatives were present at his father’s bedside, he was taken to the hospital to visit him but, due to his critical condition, [his father] had not remembered this visit, and until the moment he died he was still waiting to see his son and kept repeating his name. The officials had promised to take Ardeshir to his father’s funeral but, unfortunately, they broke their promise and, since the meeting in the hospital, the family has had no news of him.”
Ardeshir’s mother was killed in a car accident close to three months ago; his father was already in the hospital.
Ardeshir’s parents were among the hundreds of Iranian Baha’is who were arrested and imprisoned because of their faith in the early 1980s — and Ardeshir was born in prison. He had previously been arrested, in February 2012, and was released 50 days later on bail. A Revolutionary Court later sentenced him to nine months in prison for spreading “propaganda against the regime by proselytizing Baha’ism,” a sentence he served starting in December 2013. Ardeshir was sent to mandatory national military service after serving his prison sentence.
Detainee Behnam Eskandarian has, like many Iranian Baha’is, been denied a university education. He lives in Semnan with his mother and two sisters; he lost his father to a car accident when he was a child. In a short phone call six days after he was arrested, he told his family that he had been beaten and asked them to bring two million tomans ($155) in cash to the prison. When his family went to the prison, it turned out that Eskandarian had been transferred from the Intelligence Bureau’s solitary confinement area to the prison’s Quarantine Ward, where he was put in the same cell with two crystal meth addicts. These inmates tried to extort money from Eskandarian, and when he didn’t comply because he did not have any money, they beat him badly. When his family learned about the violent attack, they asked authorities for the medical examiner to inspect Eskandarian, but their request was denied.
“On June 17, after a phone call to his family, Behnam had a 10-minute meeting with them,” a source close to Behnam Eskandarian told IranWire. “An agent was present during this short visit, and repeatedly asked Eskandarian to tell his family his account of being beaten. He told them that in the early days after his arrest he was transferred from the Intelligence Bureau’s detention center to the prison where one of his cellmates who was a drug user and another cellmate beat him badly. After half a day Behnam was returned to the Intelligence Bureau’s detention center.”
What struck Eskandarian’s family as odd was that 50 days after his arrest Behnam Eskandarian is not allowed phone calls and visits. Again, the reason given is that interrogations and the investigation are not yet complete. However, after five days authorities had transferred him from detention to prison for half a day. As a rule in security cases, detainees are transferred from the detention center to the prison only when interrogations are over.
The third detained Baha’i is Yalda Firuzian, who was transferred from the Intelligence Bureau’s detention center to Semnan’s central prison after 20 days. According to one of her relatives, as with the other detainees, she was not allowed visits during those 20 days, though she was permitted to call her family once a day. “Last Thursday, Yalda met her family at the office of the prison’s chief warden,” the source told IranWire. “And, according to the prison’s rules, from next Wednesday she will be able to meet her family once a week.”
The families of the three detained Baha’is have yet to arrange a meeting with Hojatoleslam Rameh, the examining magistrate in the case, although the magistrate’s secretary has told them that the three have been charged with “activities against the Islamic Republic regime” and “membership to an illegal organization acting against national security” — two of the usual charges handed down to Baha’is that puts their fate in the hands of the Revolutionary Courts.