[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:] Negah
[Date:] 2 Farvardin 1385 [22 March 2006]
Investigating the Persecution of Innocent Baha’is Following a Bloody Massacre in Abarghou
Kayhan Tehran morning newspaper of Bahman 1384 [January/February 2006]: Following the extensive activities carried out against the Baha’is of Iran in the past one or two years, the Baha’is have again been falsely accused of crimes that took place in Iran 55 years ago, in order to expose them again. In several issues, [the newspaper] quoted a fabricated case whose sole purpose was to conceal the main perpetrators of the crime, and determined to harass and persecute the Baha’is. At that time, the Baha’is were not permitted to tell the truth to the nation and the press, because the plan was for the perpetrators of the murder to remain anonymous, and for a group of oppressed Baha’is to suffer again. Therefore, only a story full of lies and slanders was made public. Now that the Kayhan is reviving the obsolete subject of half a century ago, we are taking the opportunity to bring facts to the attention of fair people.
The story is summarized as follows:
- 13 Dey 1328 [3 January 1950] (55 years ago) a woman and her five children were killed in their home in the City of Abarghou.
- All the evidence indicated that three influential people in the city were murdered at the instigation of Esfandiar Salari. The Iranian daily press, including the national newspaper Daad, published by Abolhassan Amidi-Nouri, also confirmed this.
- The arrival of an interrogator from Yazd, named Seddighi, changed the course of affairs. He named Khakpour, one of his friends, and Esfandiar Salari as the interrogators and responsible for finalizing the case.
- Khakpour first blamed and arrested some innocent people.
- Then he returned to Yazd, and on his return claimed that the Baha’is were involved in the crime.
- Several Baha’is in far and nearby villages were arrested. Then members of the Yazd Baha’i Assembly (a group of nine elected by the Baha’i community) were arrested.
- A wave of anti-Baha’i sentiment spread throughout the region, leading to the looting of Baha’i homes, which made dozens of them homeless.
- The hand of the influential clergy was very visible behind the story. Soon the current became important. Razmara, the prime minister, knew that the whole movement was threatening his position and ordered that the complaints of the Baha’is be barred so that he would not be accused of being a Baha’i. The imperial court feared that Razmara had become close to the Soviets and was thinking of a coup against the shah. He was later assassinated in the year 1951 (17 Esfand 1329 [8 March 1951]) by the Fadaian-e Islam.
- At each stage of the interrogations in different cities, the interrogators, who had initially called the case baseless, were dismissed and other people were appointed in their place.
- Eventually, the case reached the Supreme Criminal Court in Tehran, and all the Baha’i defendants, now numbering 12, were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. An innocent Muslim was executed for the fake murder and for being a Baha’i.
- Result: the bloodshed of an innocent woman and her five children, and once again the distress, homelessness and persecution of the Baha’is.
- And now, Kayhan Newspaper, by repeating a vulgar, inhumane and unfortunate play, wants to stir up a wave of anti-Baha’ism in Iran once again. Shouldn’t we be worried about the fate of hundreds of thousands of Iranian Baha’is?
One aspect of the plan to revive this fictitious case after 55 years is noteworthy. The Baha’i community is not unknown to Iranians. There are few people among their friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues who do not know Baha’is or do not have family, social, professional or intellectual contact with them. According to the testimony of history, Baha’is, when confronted with ill treatment and injustice, have accepted it and have not resorted to harassing and annoying others. The way that the Baha’is have treated their ill-wishers and those who have come to harass them has been by attempting to open up discussions and to acknowledge the misunderstandings, and to write up and critique their ideas and opinions. Secondly, the Baha’i Faith is not a religion of sword, coercion, or violence, and Baha’is, according to their religious precepts, forbid insults, beatings, murder, and hatred, and avoid any harsh treatment of others. The historical evidence of the above is the reaction of the Baha’i community to the unjust treatment of the Islamic Republic.
Baha’is did not retaliate while facing all kinds of harassment, including dismissal from work and expulsion from university, confiscation of property, imprisonment, and execution. The efforts of Baha’is within the border are still for nothing less than the development and improvement of Iran. From the followers of a religion whose agenda is the unity of mankind and universal peace, nothing else is expected.
Now read the details of the incident:
The Baha’i community has been present in Yazd and its suburbs since the nineteenth century, but not a single Baha’i lived in the City of Abarghou itself until 1949 (1327). In the summer of 1949 (1327), a retired Baha’i named Abbas-Ali Pourmehdi, who had previously been employed by the post office and was delivering letters and packages from Yazd to Abarghou, was able to settle there because he was already familiar with the inhabitants.
On 3 January 1950 (13 Dey 1328), more than 55 years ago, a bloody crime took place in Abarghou. A 50-year-old woman named Soghra and her five children were killed in a massacre. A person named Esfandiar Salari (nephew of the influential Salar Nezam [chieftain] and a former ruler) was very hostile to Soghra because he wanted to marry the widowed daughter of Salar Nezam and possess her considerable wealth, but Soghra arranged for the girl’s marriage to someone else. The killers seemed to be well known to the victims, and the children were killed for fear that they would identify the assassins. The reason Soghra and her children knew the killers was that they had not brought any weapons and had used a shovel in the house to kill them.
Three people who had been to see the victims the night before were suspected of committing the crime: the son of one of Soghra’s daughters, the fiancé of another daughter, and the brother of the [fiancé]. In the initial interrogations by the officer Hosein Sadripour, the testimonies about the visits of that night and the next day completely contradicted each other. In the City of Abarghou, in the initial reports of crime, it was clearly reported that these three people had committed the offence and that Esfandiar Salari had incited them to commit this crime.
However, with the arrival of an interrogator named Javad Seddighi from Yazd, the interrogation process changed. Seddighi spent the first night in Mehriz at the home of a close friend of Salari, named Khakpour. Then he went to Abarghou, dismissed Sadripour, and handed over the case to Khakpour. He set aside all the evidence gathered by Sadripour and removed a substantial part of the evidence from the file. Khakpour accused a Muslim neighbour named Mohammad Shirvani, his brother, Mohammad-Hosein Nekouie, and his son, Ali-Mohammad, of committing a crime following an argument over money they had demanded from Soghra.
Three days later, he returned to Yazd and announced that religious confrontation was at the root of the murder, and that Mohammad Shirvani was a Baha’i, even though he had never been a Baha’i, and there was nothing in his case file in this regard to indicate a basis for the interrogator’s claim.
The indictment claimed that Shirvani had killed Soghra for insulting the Baha’i Faith. Everyone in Abarghou knew that Shirvani was not a Baha’i, and this was a pure lie, but no one dared to speak out because of Salari’s influence.
After that, government officials in Yazd, including Moavenzadeh, Lotfi, and other enemies of the Baha’is, launched a fierce and remorseless attack on Baha’is through the newspapers, desperately seeking evidence linking the so-called notorious killers to the Baha’is. Eventually, they arrested Ahmad Nekouie, the brother of Mohammad Shirvani, who was said to be a Baha’i, and lived in Dehbid, 150 km from Abarghou. Although Ahmad Nekouie, with the testimony of several witnesses, was able to prove that he was living in a caravanserai in Shiraz at the time of the murder, Salari pursued him until he was arrested as one of the killers and sent him to Yazd.
Meanwhile, in Abarghou, Mohammad Shirvani, his brother, and his son were under constant pressure and torture. They were hung upside down from the ceiling for hours, flogged and branded to force them to confess to being Baha’is and to having committed the murder. The first two resisted, but Ali-Mohammad did not tolerate the torture and wrote a “confession” accusing the three Baha’is in Esfandabad of being involved in the killings. Khakpour arrested the three Baha’is in Esfandabad and tried to link them to the crime, but they were able to provide credible evidence that they had never been near the scene of the murder.
In a search of Esfandabad Baha’i homes, evidence was found of the business relationship between Mirza Hasan Shamsi, the head of the Esfandabad Spiritual Assembly (who refused to pay a bribe to Khakpour), Pourmehdi, and four Muslims falsely accused of murder, namely Shirvani and his son and two brothers. As a result of this business relationship, all nine members of the Baha’i Local Assembly were arrested. Another Baha’i, Jalal Binesh, was also arrested; his “crime” was writing business letters to Mirza Hasan Shamsi. He died in prison on 2 January 1952 ( Dey 1330).
The enemies of the Baha’is arranged for such baseless accusations against the Baha’is to be published in newspapers and magazines, and even to be widely publicized from the pulpits of mosques. As a result, the City of Yazd entered into chaos and turmoil, and there was talk of a general massacre of Baha’is. The petition was sent to government officials in Tehran and even to the then prime minister, Razmara, but to no avail. It was even said that Razmara thought that the best way to deal with this troublesome issue was to arrange for Baha’i prisoners to be killed while being transferred from one prison to another.
It should be noted that this happened during a turbulent time in Iran’s history, when the country was experiencing political unrest. Razmara was assassinated on 7 March 1951 (17 Esfand 1329). Anti-regime elements were most likely inciting riots against Baha’is for political reasons. At this time, a young man died in Yazd. This was a good opportunity for those who wanted to cause trouble for the Baha’is, so they spread the rumour that the Baha’is had killed him. The body was placed in a coffin and marched through the city, while at the same time there was loud and sharp talk attacking the Baha’is. Several Baha’is were beaten to death, and their property was looted. Eventually martial law was declared in the city.
Riots and unrest also spread to the cities of Taft and Kerman, leading to the killing of a number of Baha’is. Ardakan and Amirabad were also disturbed, and 300 Baha’is were expelled from the city. In Allahabad, the most prominent Baha’i was so severely attacked that he ended up spending several months in hospital.
The important point is that the killing and persecution of Baha’is did not result in any prosecution because Razmara, the prime minister, had instructed that the Baha’is’ complaints should be ignored. After the Baha’i prisoners were transferred to Kerman, two months later, on 26 February 1951 (7 Esfand 1329) they were deported to Tehran. In Tehran, the false case against the Baha’is was found to be very shallow, and so another investigator, Asadollah Zamanian, was sent to find further evidence to support the case. He went to Esfandabad and again he interrogated the three Baha’is who had previously been acquitted of all charges, namely Mohammad Refahi, Hasan Karambakhsh and Hasan Hemmati. He tricked these illiterate Baha’is into signing a document, which later turned out to be a confession stating that the three Baha’is had met Shirvani the night before the murder (this was the story of Shirvani’s son, who had invented it under torture, and it was the Baha’i defendants’ only connection to the murder case).
Thus, the number of Baha’i defendants, along with four Muslim defendants, rose to 14. The trial began on 7 May 1952 (17 Ordibehesht 1330), in the presence of five judges at the Supreme Court in Tehran. Three Baha’i lawyers, Azizollah Navidi (1913-1987), Kazem Kazemzadeh (1898-1989), Ahmad Nasiri, and several Muslim lawyers, defended the Baha’is.
During the trial, Ayatollah Shariatmadari in Qom and several high-ranking clerics in Mashhad pressured the shah, the government, and the court against the Baha’is. On 27 May 1952 (1330), a court sentence was issued and Shirvani and three Esfandabadi Baha’is were sentenced to death. Shirvani’s son, Hasan Shamsi and Abbas-Ali Pour Mehdi, were sentenced to ten years in prison and fined, and members of the Yazd Assembly were sentenced to three years in prison and fined. The two Shirvani brothers were acquitted after repenting and returning to Islam (this latter case proves that the reason for the entire prosecution was to persecute the Baha’is, not for any other reason).
The Baha’is appealed these rulings, and the case was referred to the judge in the court of appeal, Haeri Shahbagh. In private, he told the defence council that the verdicts were incorrect and should be dropped. But later, he was put under pressure by the Ministry of Justice and could only reduce the death sentence of three Baha’is of Esfandabad to 15 years in prison. However, Shirvani was executed in Yazd while insisting on his innocence and blaming Esfandiar Salari as the main culprit and insisting until the end that he was a Muslim. Members of the Yazd Assembly were released in September 1953 (Shahrivar 1331) after the end of their imprisonment. On 1 April 1955 (9 Farvardin 1333), Mirza Hasan Shamsi died in prison, after undergoing surgery on his appendix with unsterile equipment. The innocent Esfandabadi Baha’is were acquitted in 1960 (1339) after ten years of imprisonment.
In short, the murder of a mother and her children was blamed on the Baha’is. Shirvani, who was never a Baha’i, was executed on false charges of murder and being a Baha’i, and a group of innocent Baha’is were sentenced to long prison terms, or disappeared in prison, on the basis of false evidence. Many Baha’is were also beaten in the country’s cities and villages, and several were killed. This was the essence of this tragic story; after fifty years, a rigged indictment was published by the Kayhan Newspaper in order to stir up public opinion against the Baha’is again.