[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:] Taghato
[Date:] 11 Mehr 1392 [3 October 2013]
Spokesperson of the Baha’i Community: The Official Policy of The Islamic Republic to Eliminate the Baha’i Community Remains in Place
Taghato – Youhanna Najdi: More than a month after the murder of Ataollah Rezvani, a Baha’i citizen living in Bandar Abbas, no news has been published about the follow-up process of this case. On the other hand, despite the release of a number of political prisoners and the promise of the release of another group of them, not only has the situation of Baha’i prisoners not changed so far, but pressures and heavy sentences continue to be imposed on them. I spoke about these issues, as well as the latest number of Baha’is imprisoned and deprived of education, with Ms. Simin Fahandej, spokeswoman for the Baha’i Community of Iran and its representative to the United Nations.
Q. Ms. Fahandej, thank you very much for the opportunity you have provided to Taghato. As a first question in terms of geographical dispersion, in which areas of Iran do most of the Baha’is live, and which areas have the most pressure and restrictions on Baha’is?
A. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Baha’is live in most parts of Iran. The Baha’i Faith began in Iran about 170 years ago and its followers have been persecuted ever since. The Baha’is of Iran are a community of people of different ethnicities, backgrounds and occupations, and their ancestors were from all religions of Iran.
Baha’is are under pressure throughout Iran and are deprived of basic human rights. Since the Islamic Revolution, more than 200 Baha’is have been executed, hundreds more imprisoned and tortured, tens of thousands deprived of jobs, education, and other rights. In recent years, these restrictions have intensified throughout Iran, especially in cities such as Semnan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd, Rafsanjan, Gorgan, Mashhad and Sari.
Q. What are your latest statistics on the number of Baha’i prisoners in Iran? And in which prisons are these people mostly kept?
A. In recent years, the wave of arrests of Baha’is has intensified, and this increase in arrests has been accompanied by an increasing wave of violence, such as arson, anti-Baha’i writings on walls, hate speech, desecration of Baha’i cemeteries, and attacks on school children.
More than 660 Baha’is have been arrested since 2004, and at least 115 of them are currently in prison, a number that has doubled in the past two years.
Among the prisons where these people are detained, we can mention Evin, Gohardasht, Semnan, Adelabad, Mashhad and Gorgan prisons.
Q. Recently, Mr. Nourizad published an article, citing the results of this year’s National University Entrance exam, announcing that 30 Baha’i students have been deprived of education for reasons such as “incomplete file”. According to your statistics, how many Baha’i students have been barred from continuing their education in recent years? Also, how many Baha’i students were barred from continuing their education this year?
A. As you know, due to the many problems that exist, the transfer of information from Iran is very difficult and at the moment we do not have the exact figure. What is certain is that in the last 30 years, thousands of young Baha’is have been denied the right to education, or have been denied enrolment upon admission to university, or expelled from university during their studies, and almost no Baha’is have graduated from universities in the Islamic Republic of Iran so far.
Q. Despite the establishment of a moderate government in Tehran, prison sentences, deprivation of education, and even the killing of Baha’is, such as the murder of Mr. Rezvani in Bandar Abbas, continue. How much do you hope that the process of dealing with the Baha’is in Mr. Rouhani’s government will decrease? What internal and external factors can contribute to helping this process?
A. You see, at the very beginning of the revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran, using methods such as repression, killing, torture and imprisonment, began a large-scale and systematic operation to eliminate the Baha’i community. The Iranian government’s attempt to eliminate the Baha’i community as a cohesive entity was outlined in 1991 in a confidential memorandum representing a national policy to silently and secretly strangulate the Baha’i community.
This memo clearly sought to replace overt methods of repression, such as killings and torture, with hidden economic and cultural constraints that were less likely to attract the international community’s attention. This memorandum was compiled by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution at the request of Ayatollah Khamenei and then-President Ayatollah Rafsanjani.
A UN rapporteur leaked the letter, and in fact the actions mentioned in it indicate that Baha’is should be kept ordinary and illiterate, work only for a living, and always be concerned that even the slightest possible violation would bring a risk of imprisonment or death. The memorandum explicitly states that Baha’is should be treated in a way that “blocks their progress and development.” To do so, the memo specifically states that Baha’is should be barred from “effective positions” and even “not allowed to be employed if they confess they are Baha’is.” The memorandum also states that Baha’is “should be expelled from university, both when entering and studying, if it is established that they are Baha’is.”
This policy is still in place. However, Mr. Rouhani has made many promises of equal freedom and citizenship for all Iranians, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or creed. Mr. Rouhani’s government now has a clear choice―either continue in the path of its predecessors, allow events such as the assassination of Mr. Rezvani and other persecution of Baha’is in judicial immunity and show the world that nothing has changed, or show its commitment to justice, and demonstrate the provision of human rights for all Iranians. We hope that he will fulfil his promises.
I must add that the courageous actions taken by prominent Iranians or any other Iranians in support of the Baha’is show the government that they oppose the violation of the rights of the Baha’is, and this will certainly affect the events in Iran.
Q. What is your latest information on the situation of seven Baha’i community leaders, each of whom has been sentenced to 20 years in prison? Have any of these seven people who have been in prison since 1387 [2008/2009] been granted leave? And has their case been heard in the Supreme Court?
A. Since their arrest, the seven have faced a flawed judicial process that completely ignores international human rights and legal protections. During their first year in detention, they were not charged and had no access to a lawyer. Their trial, which took place over a period of several months in 1389 and 1390 (2010) [2010/2011] and lasted only six days in total, was held illegally and in private, based on evidence that absolutely did not exist, and showed the extreme prejudice of prosecutors and judges. Each of the seven was initially sentenced to 20 years in prison, which is the longest sentence for current prisoners of conscience in Iran. Later on, they were verbally informed that their sentence had been reduced to 10 years. But then, although the case of these seven people was not considered by the Supreme Court, the attorney general, Mr. Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, requested a retrial of the judiciary, and as a result, their sentence was returned from 10 years to 20 years.
Currently, these seven people are enduring difficult conditions in two of Iran’s most notorious prisons. Five men are being held in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, which is known for its overcrowding, lack of healthy conditions and dangerous environment. Two women are being held in the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran. Almost none of them have been entitled to a leave so far, and Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, who is over 80 years old, not only has not had a single day off, but also he was not allowed to attend his wife’s funeral when she died.
Q. It seems that the government does not have much will to pursue cases such as the murder of Mr. Rezvani. In your opinion, what mechanisms and levers can the Baha’i community use to force the government to respond to these cases?
A. History has shown that one of the most effective ways to support the Baha’is of Iran has been through ongoing international protest and action. The last three decades have shown that the Iranian authorities are aware that international views and the pressure put on them to comply with the obligations and treaties contained in the international human rights law to which Iran is a signatory and a party, have been effective.
The Baha’i International Community’s Office at the United Nations has reported the killing of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani to UN rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the Special Rapporteur on Minorities, and also the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and in a statement at the recent Human Rights Council, calling for an investigation into his murder.