By Kian Sabeti
December 15, 2018
Over the last month, the police have shut down over 20 Baha’i businesses in the province of Khuzestan by orders from the prosecutor. These closures are a regular tactic used by Iranian authorities to target the Baha’i community. In fact, such economic persecution of the Baha’is started in the first years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The very first step authorities took was the dismissal of Baha’is from government jobs, forcing them to make a living by finding jobs in the private sector. But they targeted Baha’is working in the private sector, too, harassing them, revoking their business permits, refusing to issue or renew permits, and threatening employers to force them to fire their Baha’i employees. In addition, the Intelligence Ministry pressured businesses to avoid buying or selling goods to Baha’is. The ministry has also shut down Baha’i shops.
These decades of economic pressures on Baha’is have been continuous, but in recent years they have increased even more — across Iran, the Public Places Police have routinely shut down Baha’i businesses.
Shutting down Baha’i business because of the religious beliefs of their owners is a clear violation of the Iranian constitution. “The dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law,” declares Article 22 of the Constitution. And Article 23 states in no uncertain terms: “The investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”
Likewise, Article 77 of the 2016 Citizens’ Rights Charter, signed by President Hassan Rouhani, declares: “Citizens have the right to freely select and engage in the work they choose without discrimination and in compliance with the law. No one has the right to deprive citizens of this right on grounds of ethnicity, religion, gender and/or political and/or social persuasions” [PDF].
In a conference entitled “Deliberations on the Realization of Citizen’s Rights” and held on December 2, 2017, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who was at the time President Rouhani’s Special Assistant for Citizenship Rights, said: “Questions about the shutting down of Baha’i places of business and the prevention of their business activities have been put to the president’s legal advisor. We will pursue this question through legal channels and I believe that we will get results soon.”
But, as of now, this promise remains unfulfilled. In the last year, tens of Baha’i businesses have been shut down in provinces across Iran, including in Mazandaran, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Hormozgan, Khuzestan and Alborz, because of the religious beliefs of their owners. Only in the last month, 21 Baha’i businesses have been shut down in the Khuzestani cities of Abadan, Ahvaz, Khorramshahr and Omidiyeh by orders from the judiciary for one reason: They closed their businesses on Saturday November 10 to observe a religious holiday.
Punished for a Day Off
A Baha’i from Khorramshahr told IranWire that Baha’is all over the world take a one-day leave of absence on this day every year. Also, “according to Iranian business regulations,” he says, “every business has the right to close business for 15 days a year without having to inform officials. By taking this law into consideration, I closed my shop on November 10, which coincided with a Baha’i religious holiday. Then, on Wednesday night, the Public Places Police notified me that they would shut down my shop the next day. On Thursday, November 15, police agents came to my place of business, showed me a warrant from the deputy prosecutor, evicted us from the shop and locked it up without sticking any notice on the front.”
“Out of the 10 Baha’i businesses in Khorramshahr, five of them were shut down at the same time, on November 15,” he told me. “The neighbors told us that on Saturday our shops had been photographed. On Saturday, November 17, we went to the Public Places Police. They told us that our case had been sent to the court and we must go to the prosecutor’s office to pursue the matter. At the court we learned that the case related to the shutdown of our business was prosecuted by Mr. Mehman-Navaz, the examining magistrate of Branch 2 of Khorramshahr’s prosecution office. The cases were first opened based on a complaint filed by the Public Places Police against the Baha’is. “The Public Places Police had written a letter to the examining magistrate, telling him that they had earlier warned the Baha’is that they must not close shop on the holidays of the ‘deviant’ Baha’i sect or else their places of business would be shut down — but they had ignored the warning and so their shops were shut down.”
But after a few days, a letter from the Intelligence Bureau was also attached to the case. “As a private plaintiff, the Intelligence Bureau accused us of, on the days that we close our businesses, meeting with the ‘enemies’,” he said. “The examining magistrate said that we were charged with cooperating with the enemies [of the regime] and must be interrogated at Khorramshahr’s Intelligence Bureau. He said that after the interrogations were complete and they received the opinion of the Intelligence Bureau, our case would be pursued again. He also told us that we must prepare to post bail.”
He went on: “A the moment we, the six Baha’i families [two of them shared a shop], are waiting for the Intelligence Bureau, a plaintiff, to summon and interrogate us.” And then he added: “Well, perhaps this is the only way of getting out of this difficult financial situation!”