Letter Comes To Light Three Years after Brutal Physical Abuse of Detained Baha’is
Details of torture inflicted upon twelve Baha’is by interrogators three years ago at Amir Abad prison and detention centers in Iran’s Golestan Province—and the Iranian Judiciary’s complete lack of any response to the formal letter of complaint that was sent in 2012 by the victims of that torture to the head of the Judiciary of Golestan Province, were recently revealed to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
A copy of the six-page, typed, formal letter of complaint was obtained by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. It was written and signed by twelve Baha’is who were arrested on October 17, 2012, and sent directly to the Prosecutor General of Golestan Province after the twelve were released on bail, following detainments that ranged from 11 to 45 days.
The letter was filed on November 29 2012 and stamped—indicating that it had been received by the Judiciary. In it the twelve Baha’i citizens described harrowing instances of torture by their interrogators at the Amir Abad Prison, in the city of Gorgan, and other unnamed detention centers in Golestan province, northeast of Tehran.
“On the first day of his interrogation, Mr. Behnam Hassani’s wrist was tied very tightly with a rope and attached to a metal ring. The ring was raised to a nail above his head such that only his toes could touch the ground. He was in so much pain that he started to scream and shout,” said the letter.
“Then they brought him down and dragged him into a room and beat him. They pressed a pen between his fingers and hit him behind the head and on his mouth… Then they kept him under the rain for several hours on a cold night,” continued the letter.
“Is this what you call justice in the name of freedom and religion?” asked the letter.
These twelve Baha’is were among the 24 Baha’is (the other 12 were arrested in February and March 2013, also in Golestan Province), who recently received long prison sentences in January 2016.
The Baha’i community is one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in Iran. The faith is not recognized in the Islamic Republic’s constitution and its members face severe discrimination in all walks of life as well as prosecution for the public display of their faith.
“They forced Ms. Hana Aghighian to go under a table and then kicked her body while asking questions,” said the letter. “Are confessions legitimate when obtained in such an atmosphere of terror?”
The practice of forced “confessions” in Iran, including those elicited under torture or the threat of torture, has been well documented by international human rights organizations.
“Ms. Aghighian was told that if she does not answer questions the way her interrogators want her to, then she would be handed over to others who would employ other methods,” said the letter.
“When she again did not respond to the interrogator’s liking, the interrogator tore up the interrogation sheet and stuffed it in her mouth! … Even if all the accusations against us were true… the honorable intelligence agents had no right to treat us this way,” continued the letter.
In a verdict handed down on January 27, 2016, the 24 Baha’is received sentences ranging from six to 11 years in prison for “propaganda in favor of the Baha’i faith and against the Islamic Republic by being members of an illegal organization,” “implementing [proselytizing] projects in Golestan Province” and “collaborating with enemy states by actively promoting sectarian, anti-Islamic and anti-Shia objectives,” Simin Fahandej, the faith’s spokesperson at the United Nations in New York, told the Campaign on February 2, 2016.
“You really cannot accuse people of propaganda and hand down long prison terms just because a few Baha’i and non-Baha’i families gathered together to talk about religion,” she said.
The verdicts were issued by Judge Mohsen Ghanbari of Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Gorgan, the capital of Golestan Province.
Shahnam Jazbani and Sheyda Ghoddoosi were each sentenced to 11 years in prison. Farah Tabianian, Pouneh Sanaei, Mona Amri Hessari, Behnam Hassani, Parisa Shahidi, Mojdeh Zohoori, Parivash Shojaie, Tina Mohebati, Hana Aghighian, Shohreh Samimi, Bita Hedayati, Vosagh Sanaie, and Hana Kooshk Baghi each received nine-year prison terms.
Roufia Pakzadan, Soudabeh Mahdinejad, Mitra Nouri, Shiva Rouhani, Hooshmand Dehghan, Maryam Dehghan, Nazy Tahghighi, Camelia Bideli, and Navid Moalem were each sentenced to six years in prison.
A source told the Campaign that the other 12 Baha’is arrested in February and March 2013 also endured harsh treatment, but it was not as severe as what the first group described in the letter.
“They were mistreated in the sense that they were sent to solitary confinement if the interrogator didn’t like the answers he was hearing,” said the source in an interview. “That by itself is considered torture.”
“They would turn off the heat in the cells and when prisoners complained, they were told that they would have to suffer because they had not cooperated,” the source told the Campaign. “They would leave the lights on for 24 hours or turn the radio on and off or ignore them for several days except to give them food.”
“They were all accused of having illegitimate sexual relations,” added the source. “Their interrogators would say that the [Baha’i] women and girls were used to attract [non-Baha’i] men. Another interrogator told a Baha’i prisoner: ‘I want to tear you to pieces. Too bad my hands are tied.’ Or one of the interrogators pressed one of the female prisoners against the wall with his foot and would hurl threats at her from a close distance.”
“The interrogators would say that Mohammad is the last prophet but if the accused said that there had been another messenger after Mohammad, they would be accused of being against Islam and trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic,” the source continued.
“They said Islam is the official religion of the country and believing in the Baha’i faith meant being against Velayat-e Faghih [Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, which holds that the ultimate leadership of the state must be held by a leading Islamic jurist],” said the source.
“They also would accuse them of trying to overthrow the regime because enemy states such as Israel, the U.S. and U.K. opposed the Islamic Republic and supported Baha’is,” the source told the Campaign. “The interrogators would say that support for Baha’is by U.S. media shows that the U.S. government is backing Baha’is. They wanted the prisoners to reveal their leaders and network structure.”
“One of the imprisoned Baha’is asked the interrogator on what basis were they being held. The response was that they had taken part in [proselytizing] projects known as Roohi, which is commonly practiced by Baha’is around the world. The Islamic Republic is well aware of it [this practice],” continued the source. “When Baha’is believe in something, they share it with others. This is every person’s right.”
“These 24 Baha’is were all tried together and had the same charges filed against them. They were tried in eight sessions but were given different verdicts. We believe their verdicts were pre-determined before the trial but the court only played a functionary role,” the source told the Campaign.
In his annual reports, Dr. Ahmad Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, has repeatedly detailed widespread abuse and discrimination against Baha’is in Iran, and called on the Iranian government to end its religious intolerance.
According to Simin Fahandej, the faith’s spokesperson in New York, more than 80 Baha’is are currently held in Iranian prisons.
“Unfortunately, since [President Hassan] Rouhani came to power some two years ago, many Baha’is have been arrested, many Baha’i cemeteries have been destroyed and Baha’i youths with top grades have been denied entry into the universities only because of their faith,” she told the Campaign in February 2016.
“This begs the question, who are the criminals here? The Baha’is or officials who send Baha’is to prison?” said Fahandej.