By Kian Sabeti
June 4, 2019
It’s been more than a month since three Baha’is in Semnan – Ardeshir Fanaian, aged 30, Behnam Eskandarian, aged 25 and Yalda Firuzian, aged 20 – were arrested, without any news on their whereabouts and situation. The three Baha’is have been denied the right to a lawyer. All their families have been told is that the three are charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing the public peace.”
A source close to the Baha’is told IranWire: “It was Tuesday morning, April 30, around 8 o’clock, when security agents raided their homes simultaneously, searched and seized their belongings. In each home, there were 4-6 agents who were wearing masks. Their actions varied in every case, but in general, they did not act according to the law, were very rude, and barely showed them the arrest warrant at the time of detainment. After confiscating their belongings, they took Ardeshir, Yalda, and Behnam to an undisclosed location and we have no other updates since then.”
One of Ardeshir’s relatives told IranWire that his family was unable to contact Ardeshir, or receive any news about him, meaning also that he has not been allowed to make even a single call.
The relative added that Ardeshir’s mother was killed in a car accident two months ago while his father is hospitalized due to poor health. Ardeshir’s younger sister, with her child, live in Gonbad. The sister has reportedly tried to learn more about Ardeshir’s situation from the authorities, and has traveled to Semnan frequently to do so, but so far the authorities have stonewalled her efforts.
The 30-year-old had been previously 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,” which he served from December 2013. Ardeshir was then sent to mandatory national service after serving his prison sentence.
A friend of Behnam Eskandarian, meanwhile, told IranWire: “Six days after his arrest, Behnam called his family briefly, saying that he had been badly beaten and needed 20 million Iranian rials [about $600] to be taken to the prison. When his family went there, they found that after a period in solitary confinement, Behnam was transferred to a cell with a meth addict who beat him and extorted him for money. Prison guards did not get involved although they saw the scene on security cameras and could hear what was happening. Behnam asked for the money to be safe from his cellmate.”
Behnam’s family asked for an official investigation into the incident but was told their is an adult and that he can ask for an investigation himself. But the fact was that Behnam was still in detention, deprived of communication beyond that short call and denied access to a lawyer.
The third Baha’i, Yalda Firuzian, was transferred to Semnan’s prison 10 days ago and is being held in solitary confinement. (Part of the reasoning for holding Baha’is in solitary confinement is that the government, following an orthodox interpretation of Shia Islamic teachings, says Baha’is are “unclean” and untouchable and should be isolated from Muslims.) Yalda was able to call her family after the first five days and told her family of her whereabouts. Her family then tried to visit her but were told that Yalda was not allowed to receive visitors.
Yalda’s sisters, Golrokh and Shidrokh, were also arrested in 2012 and were held for 40 days until charged with spreading “propaganda against the regime” and sentenced to six months in prison. They served their sentences separately, in 2013 and 2014.
Their father, Hazhir Firuzian, was also detained for 40 days in February 2014. He had been visiting one of his daughters in prison, and discovered that she had been assaulted by the interrogator; Firuzian tried to press criminal charges, without success. He wrote to officials to describe the situation – and was then summoned to a Revolutionary Court in Semnan and charged with defaming a government agent. Firuzian was sentenced to a $1,000 fine, which he said was “unjust” and which he refused to pay. The authorities therefore detained him for 40 days.