Behrouz Tavakkoli, an elderly former Baha’i community leader who has spent nearly nine years in prison for his faith, is legally eligible for early release, but his requests for a case review are being ignored.
His son, Naim Tavakkoli, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that his father, a 64-year-old former member of the Baha’i leadership council in Iran, is also suffering from heart disease.
“My father has heart problems because one of his arteries is 70 percent clogged and he needs an operation,” Naim Tavakkoli told CHRI. “One time he was transferred to the hospital, but was returned to prison without receiving treatment.”
“The doctors said that the operation would be expensive and his recovery would require special care that’s unavailable in prison,” he added. “Also, when they take prisoners to the hospital, they are put in chains and my father doesn’t want to go anymore under these conditions.”
Political prisoners in Iran are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care.
“My father has been in prison since 2008 and although the family tried a lot to get him out on furlough (temporary leave), all requests have been denied without explanation,” he said. “Besides, my father has served more than two-thirds of his sentence and is eligible for early release.”
According to Article 58 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, the deciding court can issue the order of conditional release for those sentenced to more than 10 years in prison after half the sentence is served.
“We’ve been running around trying to convince the authorities to release him, but we haven’t gotten anywhere,” he added.
Behrouz Tavakkoli and six other Baha’i leaders, including Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saied Rezaie, Vahid Tizfahm and Mahvash Sabet, were arrested in the spring of 2008.
In 2010 they were sentenced to 20 years in prison each for the charges of “carrying out espionage for Israel,” “insulting the sacred,” “propaganda against the state” and “spreading corruption on Earth.” Their sentences were later reduced to 10 years in prison each.
“My father had studied psychology and worked for the Welfare Organization in a center dedicated to finding employment for people with physical disabilities,” said Naim Tavakkoli. “In 1981, he was fired for being a Baha’i and was never able to go back to his job.”
“He was not even allowed to start his own business or open a bank account,” he added.
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 harsh discrimination in all walks of life as well as prosecution for the public display of their faith.
In November 2016, an elderly Baha’i man was stabbed to death outside his home in the city of Yazd because of his religious beliefs.