[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN]
[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]
[Personal information has been redacted.]
[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]
[Adapted from website:] Center for Human Rights in Iran
[Date:] 16 Ordibehesht 1395 [5 May 2016]
50 Hectares of Land of a Semnan Farmer Were Confiscated by the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, Just For Being a Baha’i.
50 hectares of agricultural and livestock land of a Baha’i citizen from Semnan were confiscated by the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad of this province.
Ziaollah Motearefi a Baha’i from Semnan and the CEO of Mioun Lobar Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Company, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, that he has lost 50 hectares of his agricultural and livestock land since Mehr 1394 [September/October 2015], according to the ruling of Branch 5 of the Semnan Legal Court of Appeal.
Mr. Motearefi told the campaign that authorities have repeatedly told him verbally that the reason for this confiscation was because he was a Baha’i. According to this Baha’i citizen, the 50 hectares of confiscated land with 18,000 trees, are worth 20 billion tomans.”
Mr. Motearefi told the campaign, “Now the Agriculture Jihad has complained again and has demanded the seizure of the remaining 3,552 [square] metres of land, which includes the lands of the residential sector and the management office.”
Ziaollah Motearefi said, “If I had been told from day one, that I was not allowed to work because of my religion, I would have left, and would not have tried to work so hard [on this land]. I can work anywhere in the world and have a comfortable life. But I remained in Iran because I love my country. I am one of the most law-abiding citizens of this country. I have planted flowers, raised cattle, given life to trees. I did not deserve such treatment. Why do I have to endure these problems, just because of being a Baha’i?”
This Baha’i citizen said, “I cannot take this land to my grave, but it hurts. Why should a tree that can live up to 300 years, [be left to] dry out? Why do so many workers have to lose their jobs? Why should I sell so many animals for a pittance and why should my agricultural tools and equipment remain lying down in a corner?
“I know that they will gradually take away these 3,552 [square] metres of land from me and I cannot do anything. Less than a month after 50 hectares [of my lands] were confiscated, they cut off the water and electricity for the remaining 3,352 [square] metres of land. Part of our livestock and workers still live with their families (on the rest of the land).
“Every day we have to bring water for the livestock by van from the city. We have also installed an electric motor to implement these things for several hours a day with electricity.”
Pointing to his activities during these years, Mr. Motearefi said, “In 1375 [1996/1997], we obtained a licence for hygienic milk and dairy products, and later became one of the top 24 milk producers in the country. But when the story of the confiscation of the land began, an official told me that it was because I am a Baha’i and should not have a cattle ranch at all”.
Mr. Motearefi told the campaign, “I have been working on these lands as a farmer since 1361 [1982/1983], and in 1373 [1994/1995], I became the CEO of the Mioun Lobar Agricultural-Livestock Company in Semnan. My wife and I were [two] of the largest shareholders in these lands. We planted olive, pomegranate, pistachio and saffron flowers on these lands. For the first time, I planted an olive tree in Semnan, while all the officials said that it was impossible for the olives to be compatible with the climate of Semnan, but I was able to do so. We started our work by raising 110 dairy cows. “Several times, the responsible authorities at Agriculture Jihad expressed their gratitude for our activities. Semnan Radio Station broadcast a documentary about our activities. One of the documentaries was about one of our cows giving birth to triplets.”
Explaining about the manner in which the lands were confiscated, Mr. Motearefi told the campaign, “We first had a standing property deed for our land. After that, in 1379 [2000/2001], we applied for a land deed document. The Agricultural Jihad put a price of 80 million tomans on the land, a price that was very expensive for that period. We first paid five million [tomans] and then it was agreed that we would pay the rest in ten installments on a monthly basis, which we did. When we paid the last installment, we were supposed to go to the office and have the document [registered] in our name, but they took the money and never gave us the document [of land ownership]; instead, they told us to stop our activities altogether and hand over the land to the Agricultural Jihad.”
This Baha’i farmer said, “Since 1380 [2001/2002] we have been sued several times under various pretexts, until finally, according to the ruling in the month of Mehr [September/October] of last year, they were able to take 50 hectares of our land from us.
“From 1370 [1991/1992] to 1385 [2006/2007], we had an annual lease agreement for working on the land, for which we had to pay 50,000 tomans every year. When in 1380 [2001/2002] we had paid all the money, we were under the impression that the land belonged to us and we should no longer pay them the rent. But in 1390 [2011/2012], we received a complaint from the Agricultural Jihad. The complaint alleges that they ruled to transfer the property because we did not pay the rent in previous years. We protested that we had not seen the ruling, but they said they had sent the ruling. We said that at the end of the day, we own this property, since we paid to buy it. Why should we pay another rent? They said we should go to court.”
Mr. Motearefi, surprised by this injustice, told the campaign, “In all these years, they have not told us why we should not own the land that we have paid for. Why did I, who have served so long, now have to leave my lands, which are the result of more than thirty years of my life? Why do their words and actions differ? They say in words that they have nothing to do with anyone’s belief. But their actions are different. All the officials in Semnan and Tehran told me not to pursue the matter. They said they could not do anything either, since the order was from top.”
This Baha’i citizen said, “I believed when the authorities said they had nothing to do with people’s beliefs. I thought that if I told them about my problem, it would be solved, but during these years, I wrote letters to the Larijani brothers, to Ahmadinejad, to Rouhani, and to the national attorney general several times, and none of them responded.”
Mr. Motearefi said, “I told the judge that in Islamic law, if you purchase a property, you are considered the owner. But the judge said that this law is for the people and not for the government. I do not know why the government can refrain from fulfilling its promise, but the people cannot. If I do the same, I am a swindler, but what are they? I was told not to pursue my land anymore or they would make me more liable.”
This Baha’i farmer said, “After the land was confiscated, all their livestock, irrigation and agricultural facilities were sold below the cost price or left abandoned in a corner. Also, most of the workers are unemployed and only a few of them are still working to take care of the remaining livestock.”
Mr. Motearefi said, “23 years of our hard work were wasted. What should I do with the remaining sheep and cows? I cannot go and wander in the desert. I am slowly selling these too, because I know they will finally take the rest of the land from me.”
[Center for Human Rights in Iran:] This [documentary] film is a compilation of various images with footage that have been taken from Mr. Ziaollah Motearefi over the years. At the end of the film, he said, “They confiscated his lands, since he is a Baha’i”.