(New York) - The Iranian government should immediately stop harassing and arbitrarily detaining members of the Baha'i community, Human Rights Watch said today.
The detention of 13 Baha'is on February 10 and 11 follows the arrest of 13 others in early January. The government alleges that those arrested in January helped to organize recent anti-government demonstrations but has not made public any charges against those detained in February. These arrests come during a broad government crackdown on opposition activists.
"The Iranian government seems to be using the post-election unrest as a cover for targeting the Baha'i community," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "These arrests are only the latest chapter in the government's systematic persecution of the Baha'i."
Unlike Iran's Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian communities, which are accorded constitutional protection, the Iranian government does not recognize the Baha'i Faith and considers its adherents to be apostates from Shi'a Islam. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Iranian government has put in effect various discriminatory policies against the Baha'is, including limiting access to education and employment.
Since October 2009, authorities have detained at least 47 Baha'is in Tehran, Mashhad, Sari, Semnan, and Yazd, according to the United Nations office of the Baha'i International Community (BIC) in Geneva. In May 2008, the government arrested seven leaders of the Baha'i community in Tehran, who have been held in detention since then. Their trial began on January 12, but has been postponed to April 10.
The Judiciary has charged the seven community leaders with a range of national-security-related offenses, including spying for the benefit of foreigners, propaganda against the system, establishing and spreading illegal organizations, undermining the image of the Islamic Republic in the international community, and spreading "corruption on earth." Most of these charges carry the death penalty. During the more than a year and a half that the five men and two women have been held, they have been allowed only limited visits from family and lawyers.
One of those detained on February 10 was Alaeddin Khanjani. According to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters in Iran, Ministry of Intelligence (MOI) agents entered his home in Tehran at about 2:30 a.m., searched the premises, confiscated personal belongings including a computer and religious material, and took him into custody. Khanjani is the son of Jamaloddin Khanjani, one of the seven Baha'i leaders on trial in Tehran. Ministry of Intelligence agents had also arrested Alaeddin Khanjani's adult daughter in January. Within several hours of Alaeddin Khanjani's arrest, agents arrested seven more Baha'is, claiming they were being detained for their involvement in recent public demonstrations. On February 11, agents arrested five Baha'is in their homes in Tehran. No charges have been filed against any of the 13.
On January 3, MOI agents also raided the homes of 13 Baha'is and detained them, releasing three of them after they indicated they would not participate in further public demonstrations. In addition to the others arrested on February 10, one of those arrested on January 3 and then released was rearrested on February 10.
In a press statement on January 12, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran general prosecutor, said that the 10 Baha'is who have been held since January 3 faced charges of "organizing the unrest on Ashura [December 27] and sending photos of the unrest abroad." In a previous statement on January 8, he claimed that authorities had found arms and ammunition in some of their homes. Dolatabadi denied that the arrests had anything to do with their Baha'i affiliation. Security forces have reportedly arrested hundreds of Iranians for their alleged involvement in the demonstrations on Ashura, a Shi'a day of mourning.
The authorities are holding those arrested on January 3 in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj and have not allowed them to contact their lawyers. According to the BIC, a few of them were allowed to contact family members after spending several weeks in prison.
The BIC also indicated that 60 Baha'is are currently in detention, with an additional 90 having been released but awaiting trial. Since 2004, 99 Baha'is have been convicted of various charges, including acting against national security, teaching against the Islamic Republic, propaganda against the regime, involvement in establishing illegal groups and organizations, and insulting the sacred institutions of Islam. These individuals are free pending appeal. Scores of others have been summoned and interrogated by security and intelligence agents without being taken into custody, according to the BIC.
The five Baha'is arrested in Tehran on February 11 are: Taraneh Ghanouni, Naghmeh Ghanouni, Shaida Yousefi, Aria Shadmehr, and Riaz Firouzmandi.
In addition to Alaeddin Khanjani, those arrested on February 10 are: Ashkan Bassari, Maria Ehsan Jafar, Bashir Ehsani, Romina Zabihiyan, Houtan Sistani, Simin Ghaffari, and Pedram Sanaei.
Those arrested on January 3 are: Mehran Rowhani, Farid Rowhani, Babak Mobasher, Leva Mobasher Khanjani, Payam Fanaian, Jinous Ghazanfari Sobhani, Artin Ghazanfari, Nikav Hoveydaei, Ebrahim Shadmehr, Zavosh Shadmehr, Negar Sabet, Mona Hoveydaei Misaghi, and Nasim Beiglari. Negar Sabet, Mona Misaghi, and Nasim Beiglari were released on January 3, but Mona Misaghi was summoned to the MOI agency's office again on February 10 and rearrested.
The seven members of the Baha'i leadership whose trial began on January 12 are: Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm.
Due to governmental restrictions on openly practicing their faith, Baha'is in Iran are unable to convene and administer a National Spiritual Assembly as in most countries where Baha'i communities exist. Instead, they have formed an informal coordinating body known as the "Friends of Iran." The seven members facing trial consist of six leaders and the secretary of this coordinating body.
Haifa, in present-day Israel, is the final resting place of Baha'ullah - the founder of the Baha'i Faith - and the faith's administrative headquarters since 1868, when Haifa was under Ottoman rule, Despite the fact that sites in and around Haifa were considered holy to the Baha'is well before the creation of the state of Israel, the Iranian government has repeatedly used the connection as an excuse to accuse Baha'is in Iran of spying for Israel, with which Iran has hostile relations.
During a recent review of its human rights record before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Iranian officials dismissed numerous concerns by member states regarding the government's treatment of its Baha'i minority. Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of Iran's UN delegation, stated on February 15 that "no Baha'i in Iran is prosecuted because he is a Baha'i," and the government rejected recommendations put forth by other governments calling for "an end to discrimination and incitement to hatred vis-à-vis the Baha'i."