Human Rights

In Iran, one Baha'i is executed and two more are sentenced to death, raising sharp doubts about the new Government’s human rights policies

In another ominous sign, government officers in fourteen cities arrested 32 Bahá’í educators in late September-early October.

Early in the morning of 21 July 1998, Ruhu'llah Rawhani, a 52-year-old medical supplies salesman, father of four and member of Iran's Bahá'í community, was hanged in Mashhad, Iran. Later that morning, Mr. Rawhani's family was summoned to collect his body and required, despite their protests, to complete the burial within one hour, under the supervision of Government intelligence agents.

The killing of Mr. Rawhani was the first government execution of a Bahá'í in Iran in six years, and, coupled with the widespread arrest of some 32 Bahá'í educators in fourteen different cities throughout Iran in late September and early October, it has many people concerned about the possibility of a renewed effort by the Government to systematically persecute the Bahá'í community of Iran.

International organizations and governments around the world were quick to condemn the Rawhani execution, which was carried out solely because of Mr. Rawhani's religious belief.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, issued a press release stating it was "deeply disturbed" by the execution. "The Office of the High Commissioner is gravely concerned about the reported conditions that led to the execution, particularly the seeming absence of due process," said the release.

The governments of the United States, Canada, and Australia also quickly issued statements of strong condemnation. Each noted that the execution blatantly contradicts recent signs of liberalization and talk of greater respect for human rights in Iran.

"This brutal action is a grave disappointment," said Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy. "We have seen the beginnings of positive cultural and social change in Iran and we hold hopes for continuing progress."

In the United States, the White House issued a statement saying that "[t]he world has been encouraged by the recent statements from Iranian leaders about the need for rule of law and the rights of individuals. Such words have little meaning so long as the human rights of the Iranian people, including the right to worship freely, are not upheld, and until the persecution of and violence against Iranians of the Bahá'í Faith stops."

More death sentences

The Bahá'í International Community said at least two other Bahá'ís are being held under the sentence of death in Mashhad, in the province of Khurasan, raising fears that they may soon meet the same fate as Mr. Rawhani. Sentences of death were communicated orally by prison authorities in September to Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hedayat-Kashefi Najafabadi, two of the three Bahá'í s who were imprisoned and tried along with Mr. Rawhani. A third Bahá'í, Ataollah Hamid Nasirizadeh, was condemned to 10 years' imprisonment and will be transferred to a prison in Kerman.

As well, during a four-day period from 29 September through 2 October 1998, a sweeping series of raids was conducted by Iranian Government officers in 14 cities. Thirty-two Bahá'í educators were arrested. The educators were faculty members of the Bahá'í Institute of Higher Education, a volunteer effort operated throughout Iran in private homes to provide education for Bahá'í youth, who are prevented from completing their high school education and from attending universities in Iran as part of the Government's ongoing persecution.

“These events suggest an intensification of efforts to terrorize members of the Faith and to suffocate the spiritual life of the Bahá'í community in the region by further curtailing activities aimed at providing education to Bahá'í children and youth."
-- Techeste Ahderom, the Bahá'í International Community's main representative to the United Nations.

"These events suggest an intensification of efforts to terrorize members of the Faith and to suffocate the spiritual life of the Bahá'í community in the region by further curtailing activities aimed at providing education to Bahá'í children and youth," said Techeste Ahderom, the Bahá'í International Community's main representative to the United Nations.

"The Government of Iran has been indicating to the world that the situation regarding the Bahá'ís had changed," said Mr. Ahderom. "However, the execution of Mr. Rawhani causes grave concern that, whatever the official assertion of the Iranian Government, the Bahá'í community of Iran remains unprotected, and officials in that country can persecute the Bahá'ís at will and with impunity."

Born into a Bahá'í family in the small settlement of Hellab near Isfahan, Mr. Rawhani was an active Bahá'í during his entire life. As a young man he was a member of various youth groups and friends say that he had a very calm and spiritual nature and was much loved by almost everyone he encountered. After his marriage, he moved to Chahishk, a remote village near Mashhad, and it was there that persecutions at the hands of fanatic Muslims began.

In 1984, Mr. Rawhani was arrested and imprisoned for more than a year. According to an account given by Mr. Rawhani's relatives in the Australian Bahá'í News, Mr. Rawhani was tortured during his first imprisonment. Mr. Rawhani was arrested a second time about four years ago. The charge was apparently related to his work in the conduct of purely religious activities, such as prayer meetings and children's classes. He was released after 24 hours.

Charged with converting a woman

Mr. Rawhani was arrested for a third time in September 1997 and placed in solitary confinement in Mashhad. He had been accused of "converting" a woman from Islam to the Bahá'í Faith. The woman, however, denied that she had converted; she explained that her mother was a Bahá'í and that she herself had been raised as a Bahá'í. She was not arrested.

Mr. Rawhani was kept incommunicado for the duration of his imprisonment and no information is available regarding his treatment in prison. There is no evidence that Mr. Rawhani was accorded any legal process, and no sentence was announced. It appears certain that he was not allowed access to a lawyer.

The night before his execution, someone from the Iranian Intelligence Department telephoned a Bahá'í in Mashhad stating that Mr. Rawhani was to be executed the next day. Initially, this statement was not believed, as Bahá'ís in Iran have received similar calls previously in apparent attempts to frighten them.

Rope marks on his neck

The next morning, however, the family was called and told to come to the prison to collect Mr. Rawhani's body, when they were given an hour to bury him. Rope marks on his neck indicated he had been hanged.

The killing of Mr. Rawhani was the first official execution since 18 March 1992, when 52-year-old Bahman Samandari was secretly executed in Teheran's Evin prison. Mr. Samandari was also executed with no advance notice and in the absence of due process. A businessman from a distinguished Bahá'í family, Mr. Samandari was buried secretly on 20 March 1992 and his family was not notified until 5 April 1992.

In 1997, two Iranian Bahá'ís were killed under suspicious circumstances. On 4 July 1997, Masha'llah Enayati, a 63-year-old man, died in custody while in prison in Isfahan after being severely beaten. On 6 July 1997, Shahram Reza'i, a conscript in the army, was shot in the head by his superior officer at a military base near Rasht. The officer, who said the bullets were fired in error, was released a few days after a court excused him from paying the blood money normally required in such cases because the dead soldier was a Bahá'í.

Since 1979, more than 200 Bahá'ís in Iran have been executed by the Government, hundreds more have been imprisoned and thousands have lost jobs or access to education, all as part of a systematic campaign of religious persecution. Although most of the executions were carried out in the early to mid-1980s, and the number of Bahá'ís in prison has dwindled, the Bahá'í community remains without any form of official legal protection or rights.

Arbitrary detentions of Bahá'ís continue, with a marked increase in the number of short-term arrests in various areas of the country. During the past three years more than 200 Bahá'ís have been arrested and detained for periods ranging from 48 hours to six months in cities such as Yazd, Isfahan, Simnan, Babul, Kirmanshah, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tankabun, Ahvaz, Kerman, Karaj, Qa'im Shahr and Teheran. Prior to the arrests of the 32 educators, at least 14 Bahá'ís were being held in prison for their religious beliefs.


Statement by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy

23 July 1998

AXWORTHY CONDEMNS EXECUTION OF IRANIAN BAHA'I

Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy today condemned the execution by authorities in Iran of Ruhu'llah Rawhani, a member of the Baha'i faith. Mr Rawhani had been detained for one year before his execution for practising his Baha'i faith, and his family was denied permission to visit him in prison.

"This brutal action is a grave disappointment" said Mr. Axworthy. " We have seen the beginnings of positive cultural and social change in Iran and we hold hopes for continuing progress. I call upon Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni and President Khatemi to state clearly that this action was carried out without their knowledge or consent."

Minister Axworthy has instructed the Canadian Ambassador in Iran to convey the condolences of the government of Canada to Mr. Rawhani's family and to ask the government of Iran to take immediate steps to guarantee the safety of other members of the Baha'i faith who are similarily detained.


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 23, 1998

STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY

Execution of Baha'i in Iran

The President was deeply troubled to learn of the July 21 summary execution of Iranian citizen Ruhollah Rowhani for the exercise of his Baha'i faith. The United States condemns this action, which violates the most basic international norms and universal standards of human rights.

Furthermore, The United States deplores the gravely flawed process by which Mr. Rowhani was charged and executed, including the absence of due process or the announcement of a sentence.

The world has been encouraged by the recent statements from Iranian leaders about the need for rule of law and the rights of individuals. Such words have little meaning so long as the human rights of the Iranian people, including the right to worship freely, are not upheld, and until the persecution of and violence against Iranians of the Baha'i faith stops. Tuesday's action was the first known execution of a Baha'i since 1992 and is a most unhopeful sign.

The President urges President Khatami to take the necessary steps to ensure that others are not victimized for the peaceful expression of their faith. The United States will continue to monitor closely Iranian treatment of the Baha'i community, and particularly the treatment of those who remain imprisoned or under sentence of death for their religious beliefs.

The President wishes to extend his condolences to Mr. Rowhani's family.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN

For Immediate Release July 23, 1998

STATEMENT BY JAMES P. RUBIN, SPOKESMAN

SUMMARY EXECUTION IN IRAN

On July 21, Iranian authorities executed by hanging Ruhollah Rowhani, an Iranian Baha'i who had been charged with converting a Muslim to the Baha'i faith. There is no evidence that Mr. Rowhani was accorded due process of law.

The United States strongly condemns the execution of Mr. Rowhani for the exercise of his freedom of conscience. We call on the Government of Iran to protect the lives of the fifteen other imprisoned Baha'is, seven of whom are sentenced to death on charges of apostasy and so-called "Zionist Baha'i activities." We understand that three of the condemned Baha'is are threatened with imminent execution and urge the Iranian authorities not to carry out the death sentences.

Since the Islamic Republic came to power more than 200 Baha'is have been executed because of their religious beliefs. Mr. Rowhani is the first Baha'i to be executed in Iran since 1992. We have repeatedly urged the Government of Iran to ease restrictions on the practice of religion and to recognize and uphold the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience and belief. We have also called for the release of all those serving sentences for the peaceful expression of their religious or political beliefs. We do so again today.

The President and Secretary Albright have made it clear that the issue of freedom of conscience and belief is a central component of our human rights policy in Iran and around the world. Our concerns about restrictions on the practice of religion will play an important role in any future dialogue with the Government of Iran.

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