Increase in arrests highlights continuing persecution of Baha'is in Iran
GENEVA, Switzerland — The arrest last week of five Baha'is in Tehran signals a rising tide of detainments and imprisonments of Baha'is in Iran in recent months.
Since June, at least 14 Baha'is have been arrested, a trend that exemplifies a pattern of systematic persecution of Iranian Baha'is by the government, this despite its claims to uphold international standards of human rights. In Yazd, 20 Baha'is who had originally been acquitted of charges leveled against them in 2012 learned in August 2013 that their cases had been re-opened and all 20 sentenced to prison, notwithstanding the judge’s admission that they were being treated unjustly. The Baha'is appealed the case and, in a flagrant miscarriage of justice, the sentences against all 20 were upheld. The deputy head of the Justice Administration told the lawyers of the Baha'is that: “The accused are members of a hostile sect who have no citizenship rights.”
More than 100 Baha'is are currently in prison on false charges related entirely to their religious beliefs, while thousands more are subjected to various forms of discrimination and harassment, including denial of access to university and increasingly severe economic repression.
The latest arrests in Tehran, for example, appear to be related to ongoing efforts to prevent Baha'is from earning an adequate living. The five were arrested after agents from the Ministry of Intelligence raided the optical shop where they work on 11 August 2014. In February 2014, an optical shop owned by a Baha'i in Tabriz was closed down by the authorities on the grounds of "market saturation", but Muslim owners of optical shops in the same location experienced no such difficulties. It is understood that "market saturation" has only been used in the cases of Baha'is. Clearly the government is disallowing Baha'is in some cities to own certain types of business on the grounds that too many Baha'is are engaged in it.
Arrested were shop owners Aladdin (Niki) Khanjani and Babak Mobasher, along with three employees, Naser Arshi-Moghaddam, Ataollah Ashrafi and Rouhollah Monzavi. Mr. Khanjani is the son of Jamaloddin Khanjani, one of the seven Baha'i leaders who are currently serving 20 year prison sentences on false charges including espionage.
Agents also confiscated their computers and other electronic devices and took a large amount of goods and products from their shop.
A sixth employee, who is not a Baha'i, was also arrested but then released that afternoon.
"A number of pro-government websites accused the five of smuggling eyeglasses but the fact that agents released the only person who is not a Baha'i taken during the raid proves that their arrest and detention is based solely on religious persecution," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
"Altogether, this sudden spike in the arrest and detention of Baha'is highlights the fact that the government continues to persecute Baha'is throughout Iran in a wide range of ways, from blocking their access to higher education, to economic sanctions, to the day-to-day harassment of Baha'is when they seek to worship together."
Ms. Ala'i said this broad-based oppression ignores all standards of justice.
"For example, 20 Baha'is who had been arrested two years ago, later tried in Yazd on spurious accusations, and who were out on bail pending an appeal were told in April that their extreme sentences – totaling 58 years for the group – had been upheld.
"This ruling came despite the fact that the judge who had originally presided over the case expressed sympathy for the defendants in open court, but was then apparently instructed to simply uphold the long sentences for their alleged crime of 'propaganda against the regime'.
"Indeed, the judge reportedly agreed in principle that the activities in question were simply those required to meet the needs of the community, such as performing marriages and divorces, seeing to children's education, overseeing funerals, and helping the poor and needy.
"Subsequently, the Baha'is sought redress through the Justice Administration and were told by the Head of that agency, 'This is exactly what you deserve. In fact we were too lenient. You do not even count to be considered for anything, let alone your citizenship rights,'" said Ms. Ala'i.
Other incidents involving the arrest and detention of Baha'is in recent months include:
• On 5 August, government agents in Shiraz arrested four Baha'is. Vahid Dana, Saeid Abedi, and Bahiyyeh Moeinipour were arrested at their homes, while Adib Haqpazhuh was arrested at his workplace. To date, no information has been received about their whereabouts or status.
• On 27 July, a Baha'i in Vilashahr was arrested and beaten after refusing to work on a secret computer program for the Revolutionary Guards.
• On 8 July, Saghi Fadaie was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence office in Mashhad. After a few hours she was taken to her home, where agents searched her belongings and took her into detention.
• On 2 June, three Baha'is were arrested in Mashhad. Their names are May Kholousi, Dori Amri, and Shayan Tafazoli.