In Iran, pattern of arbitrary arrests of Baha'is continues; 129 await trial
NEW YORK — Iranian authorities have continued to arrest and detain Bahá’ís throughout Iran in recent months, subjecting them to a “revolving door” sequence of imprisonment and release that is apparently designed to harass and oppress the Bahá’í community.
As of this writing, some 129 Bahá’ís have been arrested, released on bail, and are now awaiting trial.
The bail demands have been high, in most cases requiring the Bahá’ís to hand over considerable sums of money, deeds to property, business or work licenses. In nearly every case, government officials retain these assets, despite the fact those who have been arrested have not been charged with any crime and no trial dates have been set.
“We are concerned that this revolving door pattern of arrest and release is being used increasingly as another form of harassment of the Bahá’ís,” said Bani Dugal, the Bahá’í International Community’s principal representative to the United Nations.
“Holding on to the assets of people who have not been charged with any crime and whose trial date is unknown is part of the larger strategy of intimidation to deny the community its rights and opportunities.”
—Bani Dugal, Bahá’í International Community
On 29 June, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, issued a report stating that at least 640 Bahá’í properties have been seized since 1980. Miloon Kothari noted that such “expropriations are considered a form of land confiscation by the affected population, particularly since prices paid in return for land are considerably lower than market values.”
Largest number since the 1980s
The largest incident of recent arrests came on 19 May 2006, when officials detained 54 Bahá’ís in the city of Shiraz. Most were youth who were engaged in humanitarian service when they were apprehended. It was the largest number of Bahá’ís taken at once since the 1980s.
The detentions came as the Bahá’ís, along with several other volunteers who were not Bahá’ís, were teaching classes to underprivileged children in a school as part of a community service activity conducted by a local non-governmental organization. They had a letter of permission to do such work from the Islamic Council of Shiraz.
At the same time, the authorities raided six Bahá’í homes in Shiraz and confiscated notebooks, computers, books and documents.
Within a week, nearly all of the 19 May detainees were released. Fourteen of those were required to post bail in the form of property deeds valued at US$11,000 each; another 36 were released on the strength of either personal guarantees or the deposit of work licenses with the court as surety that they will appear when summoned to court. Three Bahá’ís remained in jail until 14 June.
It should be noted that those who were arrested along with the Bahá’ís on 19 May were released that day without having to post bail.
On 13 June, a Bahá’í resident of Sanandaj was arrested in that city and then released on 29 June.
On 18 June, in Hamadan, three other Bahá’ís were arrested, jailed for three days and released. This occurred after government officials searched their homes and confiscated computers, books and Bahá’í documents.
And on 28 June, a Bahá’í in Karaj was taken into custody and, as of this writing, was reportedly being held in a Ministry of Information detention center. The man had first been arrested on 5 August 2005 and released on bail ten days later. In a trial last September, he was sentenced to ten months in prison on the spurious charge of opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It may be that he was rearrested in June to serve out this sentence, but no further details are known at this time.
“Taken all together, this pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions amount to the purest form of religious persecution and reflect nothing less than a calculated effort by the Iranian government to keep the Bahá’í community utterly off balance and in a state of terror,” Ms. Dugal said.
The arrests come against a backdrop of increasing concern by international human rights monitors that the Iranian Government is escalating its 27-year-long campaign of persecution against the 300,000-member Bahá’í community of Iran, the largest religious minority in that country.
Text of secret letter released
In March 2006, Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, issued a statement regarding a secret letter from the Iranian military headquarters to various Revolutionary Guard and police forces instructing them to “identify” and “monitor” Bahá’ís around the country.
News of the letter, dated 29 October 2005, stirred alarm among international human rights groups. Ms. Jahangir expressed concern that “the information gained as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Bahá’í Faith.” Ms. Jahangir did not release the full text of the letter.
On 24 July 2006, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International indicated in a press release it had obtained the letter and was making it public.
The letter, originally in Persian, was signed by the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces, Basij Major General Dr. Seyyeed Hossein Firuzabad. It was stamped “highly confidential.” It read:
With salutations and praise to Muhammad and his descendants (S) [May the Blessing of God be Upon Him and His Descendants], while we express our deepest sympathy on the occasion of the martyrdom of the Lord of believers in divine unity [Amir-al-Momenin] and the Commander of the faithful (MPUH) [May Peace be Upon Him], and wishing for the acceptance of [our] obligations and worships, further to the reports received concerning the secret activities and meetings of the misguided sects of Bahaism and Babism, in Tehran and other cities in the country, and according to the instructions of the Exalted Rank of the Supreme Leader, His Holiness Ayatollah Khamenei (may his exalted shadow be extended), the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces has been given the mission to acquire a comprehensive and complete report of all the activities of these sects (including political, economic, social and cultural) for the purpose of identifying all the individuals of these misguided sects. Therefore, we request that you convey to relevant authorities to, in a highly confidential manner, collect any and all information about the above-mentioned activities of these individuals and report it to this Command Headquarters.
This [either this information, or the reports to be received] will be submitted for the blessed consideration of the Exalted Rank of the Supreme Leader, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (may his exalted shadow be extended).
The letter listed the following recipients:
- The Ministry of Information of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- The Belief-Political [organization] of [the office of] the Commander in Chief
- The Commander of the [Revolutionary] Guard
- The Commander of the Basij Resistance Forces of the [Revolutionary] Guard
- The Commander of the Police Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- The Deputy of the Intelligence Branch of the Police Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- The Representative of the Jurist Cleric [Ayatollah Khamanei] in the [Revolutionary] Guard
- The Chairman of the Belief-Political Organization of the Police Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- The Chief Commander of the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran