Sixth Baha’i Faith Leader Completes 10-Year Prison Sentence in Iran

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Vahid Tizfahm and his wife, Furuzandeh Nikumanesh, reunited after his 10-year imprisonment.

Press Release by Baha’i International Community

20 March 2018

Sixth member of the Yaran completes his imprisonment

GENEVA – Mr. Vahid Tizfahm completed his 10-year sentence yesterday. At 44, he is the youngest of the seven former Baha’i leaders in Iran who were unjustly imprisoned for their religious beliefs in 2008.

Mr. Tizfahm is the sixth of the former group, known as the Yaran, to complete his sentence and be released. The Yaran was an ad-hoc group which tended to the basic spiritual and material needs of the Iranian Baha’i community. It was formed with the full knowledge and approval of Iranian authorities after formal Baha’i institutions were declared illegal in Iran in the 1980s.

All seven members of the Yaran were arrested in March or May of 2008 and spent months in detention before receiving their charges. They were eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison through a legal procedure that lacked any semblance of due process.

“We are, of course, happy that Mr. Tizfahm and other members of the Yaran are reuniting with their families,” said Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “But there can be no joy over the fact that Mr. Tizfahm has spent one decade of his life in prison for no other reason than his faith, barred from his family, friends, and community in his 30s and 40s.

“It should also be absolutely clear that, this step does not reflect an improvement in the situation of Iranian Baha’is as a whole,” said Ms. Ala’i, noting that they continue to face economic discrimination, are deprived of access to higher education, and remain subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

Mr. Tizfahm is an optician and was the owner of an optical shop in Tabriz, where he lived until early 2008, when he moved to Tehran.

He was born on 16 May 1973 in the city of Orumiyeh where he spent his childhood and youth. At the age of 23, he married Furuzandeh Nikumanesh. They have a young son, who was in the third grade when his father was arrested in 2008. As a result of his imprisonment, Mr. Tizfahm was not able to be present during some of the most important moments in his son’s life.

“The members of the Yaran, and indeed the entire Baha’i community in Iran, have endured enormous human rights violations at the hands of their government, which is, in reality, meant to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of its citizens,” stated Ms. Ala’i. “It’s unfortunate that, instead, it has taken every measure to deprive an entire segment of its population of the ability to live and contribute freely to the betterment of their country.”

Following the recent launch of the Archives of Bahá’í Persecution in Iran website, a group of prominent lawyers and judges from around the world wrote to the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights calling to his attention to the vast collection of documentary evidence of the oppression of the Baha’i community, which he has brazenly denied.

With Mr. Tizfahm’s release, one member of the group, Mr. Afif Naeimi, 56, remains to complete his sentence in the coming months.

For​ ​interviews​ ​in English or French,​ ​please​ ​​contact:

Diane Ala’i in Geneva at (office) +41 (22) 798-5400 or (mobile) +41 (78) 604-0100
Bani Dugal in New York at (office) +1 (212) 803-2500 or (mobile) +1 (914) 329-3020
For interviews in Persian,​ ​please​ ​contact:
Simin Fahandej in Geneva at (office) +41 (22)​ ​798-5400 or (mobile) +41(78)​ 8800759
Padideh Sabeti in London at (mobile) +44​ ​(774)​ ​338-2905
Farhad Sabetan in San Francisco at (office) +1​ ​(847)​ ​733-3460 or (mobile) +1​ ​(925)​ ​548-9818


Detained Human Rights Lawyer Forced to Choose Counsel From Judiciary’s Approved “List”

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Iranian human rights lawyer Mohammad Najafi is facing eight charges for daring to speak up about a client he believes was killed in custody.

Security Agents Create “Climate of Fear” Around Local Prosecutor’s Office

Mohammad Najafi, a human rights lawyer who is facing years in prison in Iran for arguing that his client was killed while in police custody, has been denied access to counsel of his choice based on a controversial clause in the country’s Criminal Procedures Regulations.

“In response to our inquiries regarding Mr. Najafi’s case, we have been told that we are not on the judiciary’s list of authorized lawyers,” attorney Payam Derafshan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 10, 2018.

“The judicial authorities showed me a list of seven lawyers who have been approved to take these cases in Markazi Province,” he added. “Now we are requesting that the Parliament investigate why, out of thousands of licensed lawyers, only seven have received approval?”

Derafshan also told CHRI that security forces have been trying to pressure and intimidate the local prosecutor in the case.

“The security forces were in civilian clothes and it was hard to tell if they were working for the Intelligence Ministry or other security agencies,” he said. “They would stand back so that they would not be noticed but these agents are told to hang around and see what’s going on.”

“They created a climate of fear by circling the [prosecutor’s] office in their cars,” he added. “When we got there, the prosecutor quickly locked his office and left. His assistant was being timid, too.”

Continued Derafshan: “The assistant prosecutor had previously told us that he’s not happy to see Najafi in prison and he would have released him if it was in his power.”

“We believe these judicial authorities should resign rather than become part of an unlawful process,” he added. “Of course, we are hoping that Shazand’s judiciary chief will succeed in his talks with other officials in resolving Mr. Najafi’s case.”

In February 2018, Derafshan told CHRI that he and fellow attorney Arash Keykhosravi were also going to be arrested by the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Shazand, near Arak in Markazi Province, for giving legal counsel to Najafi, “but the [Intelligence] Ministry in Tehran told us they had blocked it.”

Detained For Doing His Job, Denied Access to Counsel

Najafi has been detained in Arak since January 15, 2018. He is facing eight charges for accusing the police of trying to cover up the cause of death of Vahid Heydari, a young man who died in custody after being arrested during protests in the city in late December 2017.

In an interview with CHRI in January 2018, Najafi said that Heydari, 22, was beaten before he died at the 12th Police Station in Arak before his death later that month. The authorities claimed that Heydari was a drug addict who committed suicide.

“I believe that this young man did not take his own life,” Najafi said. “This young man was a protester. They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation.”

Iranian officials have also claimed that two other detainees killed themselves in state custody between January and February 2018. Calls for independent investigations by UN officials and human rights organizations have gone unheeded in Iran.

Najafi has been denied access to counsel of his choice based on the Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Constitution.

In January 2018, the judiciary issued lists to branch offices in several cities of approved lawyers exclusively allowed to represent people accused of national security crimes.

Iran’s Constitution sets no limits or conditions on the right to legal counsel.

Article 35 states, “Both parties to a lawsuit have the right in all courts of law to select an attorney, and if they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made to provide them with legal counsel.”

According to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, people have the right to ask for and have a meeting with a lawyer as soon as they are detained.

However, the “Note to Article 48” makes exceptions: “In cases of crimes against internal or external security…during the investigation phase, the parties to the dispute are to select their attorneys from a list approved by the head of the judiciary.”

Derafshan said that he and nine other prominent lawyers including Nasrin Sotoudeh and Mohammad Moghimi appeared at the judicial branch in the city of Shazand, near Arak, on March 7 to show their solidarity with Najafi.

We had discussions with the highest judicial official in the province and told him he should treat this case with greater care,” Derafshan told CHRI. “Why is it that drug-related convicts and criminals are able to get out of prison on bail for the [Persian] new year (March 21, 2018) but Mr. Najafi has to stay in prison?”

In addition to Najafi, five civil rights activities were arrested in Shazand on January 15: Ali Bagheri, Kian Sadeghi, Abbas Safari, Gholamreza Ghasemi and Behzad Alibakhshi.

According to Derafshan, all of them remain in detention except for Safari, who was released on bail at an unknown date.

Woman Who Removed Headscarf in Public Sentenced to Prison as Supreme Leader Tries to Diminish Hijab Protests

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Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has described recent demonstrations in Iran against the country’s compulsory hijab law as “small and insignificant,” which raises the question of why people are being sentenced to prison for engaging in the peaceful protest.

“My gift on Women’s Day, March 8: A preliminary court sentenced me to 24 months in prison, 21 months of which has been suspended for five years,” tweeted Narges Hosseini.

“Before I was arrested, I expected such a sentence,” she added. “But after my trial, I thought the most I would get was a monetary fine. I was always too naive and optimistic.”

Without mentioning her by name, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that Hosseini had been convicted of “encouraging people to engage in corruption by removing the hijab in public” and “committing a forbidden act in a public space.”

Hosseini, 32, was detained on January 29, 2018, for removing her head scarf while standing on a utility platform on a busy street in Tehran and waving it on a stick like a flag.

Since January, at least 30 women and men have been arrested for repeating similar actions in various cities across the country. They have come to be known as the “Girls of Revolution Street.” In addition to Hosseini, they include Vida Movahed, Azam Jangravi, Shima Babaei, Shaparak Shajarizadeh and Maryam Shariatmadari.

The protests have received support from Iranian rights activists inside and outside the country, but on March 8, International Women’s Day, the supreme leader said Iran was prepared to “crush” the protestors.

“For the past few months, the enemies of Iran have been sitting around in their think tanks trying to make plans to finish off the Islamic Republic in March,” said Khamenei during a speech to his supporters on March 8, 2018, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima.

“We saw how the people of Iran responded to them in January and February,” he added. “The Iranian nation is always prepared to crush aggressors and critics.”

“They [enemies of Iran] spent all that money and created all that propaganda to trick a few girls into taking off their scarves, but in the end, what they got from all that effort was small and insignificant,” said Khamenei.

He continued: “But that’s not something I’m concerned about, as much as some of our own elite, which are raising the issue of the so-called forced hijab. These elite, which include journalists, pseudo-intellectuals and clerics, are going in the same direction as the enemy… I hope to God they are not doing so consciously.”

Despite being expected to toe the supreme leader’s line, not all politicians in Iran agree with Khamenei.

Nahid Tajeddin, a female member of the Iranian Parliament from the city of Isfahan, tweeted on March 2: “The Girls of Revolution St. are the same girls who have been stopped behind the gates of gender discrimination in university enrollment quotas, in the workplace, in political participation, in getting government management posts, in sports arenas, in performing live music on stage and…”

In February 2018, the office of President Hassan Rouhani released a government-conducted survey from 2014 showing that nearly half of all Iranians believed at the time that wearing the hijab should be a personal choice.

Since 1980, one year after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, all women in the country have been required to wear the hijab, the head-to-toe covering that conceals all skin except the face.

While this law must be strictly observed in government buildings and other major institutions such as schools, banks and hospitals, many Iranian women have been pushing the boundaries over the years, including by showing more skin (ankles and wrists) and more hair (by pushing their headscarves back away from their foreheads) especially during the hot summer months.

Describing Western women as “symbols of consumerism” and “instruments of sexual excitement,” Khamenei in his speech said that women appearing in public without the hijab are committing a sin according to Islam.

While his interpretation of Islam is debatable, women who are caught by Iran’s so-called “morality police” for not properly observing the hijab can be arrested, fined, lashed and imprisoned for committing “haram.”

According to Article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code: “Anyone in public places and roads who openly commits a harām [sinful] act, in addition to the punishment provided for the act, shall be sentenced to two months’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes; and if they commit an act that is not punishable but violates public prudency, they shall only be sentenced to 10 days to two months’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes.”

Seyed-Emami Family: Iran is “Trying to Prevent Us From Rebuilding Our Lives”

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Upon arriving in Vancouver, Canada, on March 8, 2018, the sons of Kavous Seyed-Emami–the Iranian-Canadian academic who died in Tehran’s Evin Prison last month–issued a statement about the “chaotic ordeal” they have suffered at the hands of the Iranian Judiciary and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps since their father was pronounced dead on February 9.

In addition to harassing the remaining family members, the authorities today prevented Kavous Seyed-Emami’s wife from traveling to Canada with her sons. The passport of Maryman Mombeini was confiscated at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport before she could board the Vancouver-bound plane with her sons.

“To separate my mother from her two sons at such a time is cruel and inhumane. Today is International Women’s Day, where we should be honoring women and mothers,” wrote Ramin and Mehran Seyed-Emami in the statement obtained by by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

The brothers added that their lives have been thrown into “chaos and terror” since their family was told Kavous Seyed-Emami committed “suicide” in his cell’s bathroom. The family and UN human rights experts have called for an independent investigation into Seyed-Emami’s case.

In a statement issued today, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Canadian government calls “on the Government of Iran to immediately give Maryam Mombeini, a Canadian citizen, the freedom to return home.”

“We will continue to demand answers from the Government of Iran on the circumstances surrounding the detention and death of Mr. Seyed-Emami,” added the statement.

Read the full statement below.

On behalf of the Seyed Emami family, we would like to thank everyone who has stood by us during these difficult times. To be at the receiving end of so much kindness and love is overwhelming and a testament to what our father stood for. To lose a father who was so kind and caring, under such heart-wrenching circumstances, would have been impossible to endure without such support.

Instead of being able to grieve the loss of our father in peace, we have been forced to endure constant threats and harassment by the Iranian authorities. During the early hours of March 8, our mother was also banned from leaving the country just before we boarded our flight to Vancouver, Canada. They are trying to prevent us from rebuilding our lives together.

Needless to say, the emotional damage and distress we’ve endured are beyond comprehension. To separate my mother from her two sons at such a time is cruel and inhumane. Today is International Women’s Day, where we should be honouring women and mothers.

The authorities have also confiscated our mother’s Iranian passport to intimidate us into being silent about our father’s case. But we will not be silenced, and we will share our story with the hope that fellow Iranians and Canadians speak up, too.

We are very grateful for the support we have received from Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and hope that it will be the first step towards Canada putting serious pressure on the Iranian government to immediately allow our mother to travel and be with us as soon as possible. We would also like to thank other Canadian officials, especially from Global Affairs Canada and also Willowdale MP Ali Ehsasi, who kept the line of communication open with us at all times during this nightmare.

This chaotic ordeal—starting with our father’s unexpected arrest, the raiding of our home, and our father’s subsequent death, followed by smear campaigns, harassment and threats—has only been intensified now that the authorities have not allowed our mom to leave the country.

We hope that the Iranian authorities’ inexcusable treatment of its innocent citizens will result in diplomatic and international consequences to show the responsible parties in the Iranian government that this behavior by security agencies and the judiciary is unacceptable.

My father’s death will not be in vain. The least my brother and I can do is speak up to reveal Kavous Seyed-Emami’s story—of a kind father, a loving husband, and respected Sociology professor of 27 years. He loved his country and should have never been arrested in the first place. I know he would be proud of us now. We have chosen to speak up. We have chosen love over fear.

Ongoing Harassment: Wife of Iranian-Canadian Who Died in Iran’s Evin Prison “Banned” From Leaving Country

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Lives of Seyed-Emami Family Thrown Into “Chaos and Terror”

March 8, 2018—The Iranian government should immediately allow the wife of Iranian-Canadian academic and environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami to leave Iran as she wishes and stop intimidating and harassing the Seyed-Emami family, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

In the early hours of March 8, 2018, the Seyed-Emami family—mother and two sons—were en route to Vancouver, Canada, from Tehran when the mother, Maryman Mombeini, was prevented from boarding the plane at the Imam Khomeini International Airport. Her passport was also briefly confiscated.

“Instead of harassing and intimidating the families of people who have died in state custody, Iranian officials should allow an independent, UN-led investigation into the cause of death of Seyed-Emami, an Iranian-Canadian citizen,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of CHRI.

“As a country with leverage on Iran, Canada should lead that call,” added Ghaemi.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, said she was “outraged to learn” that Mombeini had been “barred” from leaving Iran with her sons.

“We demand that, as a Canadian, she be given the freedom to return home,” tweeted Freeland on March 7.

To date, the Canadian government has not called on Iran to allow an independent investigation into Seyed-Emami’s death.

“Before Mombeini was told her husband had died in Evin Prison, she was interrogated for hours and forced to sign a statement saying she would not speak to the press,” said Ghaemi. “This level of cruelty against a grieving widow is hard to fathom.”

In a statement sent to CHRI on March 7, Ramin Seyed-Emami said his family’s lives had been “thrown into chaos and terror” since they were informed on February 9 that Kavous Seyed-Emami had died in his cell in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

“After being constantly harassed and threatened our family has decided, for the sake of our own safety, to leave Iran and head to Vancouver where we can start a new peaceful life,” he said.

Ramin Seyed-Emami added that his mother had been repeatedly hospitalized due to panic attacks and that he and his brother were under constant “surveillance.”

“The authorities told our lawyers to tell the brothers ‘to shut up or we’ll shut them up,’ the government agents “bumped” into me and said they’re watching me,” he said.

“I truly believe that the only reason the rest of us haven’t been taken away is because we spoke out and refused to stay silent,” added Ramin Seyed-Emami.

Kavous Seyed-Emami, a US-educated sociologist and managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation, was arrested on January 24, 2018, along with several current and former staff members of the NGO.

Iranian officials have accused him of espionage and said he committed suicide in the bathroom of his cell two weeks after his arrest, but no evidence has been provided for the charges and the family was pressured to immediately bury him before an independent autopsy could be carried out.

Ramin Seyed-Emami said that he was given a video of his father’s last hours alive in his cell but the moment of his death was not recorded.

The Seyed-Emami family and UN human rights experts have called for an independent investigation.

At least four detainees have died in state custody in Iran between January and March of this year. All of the cases except one were described as suicides by officials. In none of the cases have independent investigations or autopsies been carried out.

“Just this year, Iran’s former intelligence minister admitted that the authorities were at fault for the death of another Iranian-Canadian, Zahra Kazemi, in Evin Prison in 2003,” said Ghaemi.

“If countries with leverage on Iran are silent now, we may see another 15 years pass by before the facts around Seyed-Emami’s tragic death are finally revealed,” said Ghaemi.

Four Deaths in State Custody in Iran in Two Months Heighten Grave Concerns for Detainees

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Gonabadi Dervish Detainee Died From “Blows to the Head,” Says Daughter

March 6, 2018—The recent death of a devotee of Iran’s largest Sufi order in Tehran marks the fourth known death of a detainee in state custody in Iran in two months.

“It’s outrageous that detainees in Iran keep dying in state custody,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“These people are arrested, they die, and nobody knows what happened,” added Ghaemi. “This lack of transparency is unacceptable.”

The daughter of Mohammad Raji, the Gonabadi Dervish who died in police custody in Tehran sometime between February 20 and March 4, is planning to sue the authorities, she told CHRI.

“We got a lawyer to follow up on the case because my father’s death was caused by blows they struck to his head,” said Tayebeh Raji. “We need to shed light on this crime. We are demanding an autopsy.”

“I thought they would take him to a hospital for treatment and take care of him—at least out of respect for the years he spent defending this country [in the Iran-Iraq war],” she added.

She continued: “But on the night of March 3, we were contacted by the police and asked to bring his photo and papers to identify him. Today [March 5], [my father’s] son-in-law went there and he said my father had gone into a coma and died from injuries caused by blows to the head.”

Iranian officials have claimed that Raji was “injured” during protests in Tehran in February 2018 but have refused to take responsibility for his death. It remains unclear exactly when Raji died and whether he died at a detention center or at a hospital—regardless, his family says he died in state custody.

On March 5, the Fars News Agency, which maintains close relations with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported that “An informed source denied reports about the death of a dervish in Evin Prison or in police detention and said: We have not had any deaths among members of this cult during investigations. He added: This person was injured on the night of clashes on Pasdaran St. and was taken to Baqiyatallah Hospital but he died.”

On March 4 the Tehran prosecutor denied that Raji died during the “investigation process” or while under interrogation but did not address the fact that Raji was in state custody at the time.

“How many more people will die before Iranian officials listen to calls from inside and outside the country for an independent investigation into these deaths?” asked Ghaemi.

Family Denied Access to Raji Until After His Death

Tayebeh Raji was detained the same day as her father on February 20 but released late that evening. The authorities refused to give the family news about her father until after he had died, she told CHRI.

“My father was arrested on the morning of February 20, [2018],” she said. “I was there when it happened. He was taken into custody ahead of me. I saw that my father was injured; he was on the ground [on 7th Golestan St.] with a bloody face. But I saw his hand move and realized he was alive.”

She continued: “I was detained at 4:30 in the morning [February 20] and taken to the Vozara Detention Center and they released me at 12 midnight. We had no information about what had happened to our father and he didn’t contact us. Anywhere we went, no one had any information.”

Tayebeh Raji also told CHRI that she has no information about her brother, Mohammad Ali Raji, who was also detained on February 20.

Mohammad Raji was one of more than 300 members of Iran’s Sufi Gonabadi Order who were reportedly arrested after clashes between the religious order and the police became violent in Tehran on February 19.

Three policemen and two members of the Basij volunteer militia were killed after a bus allegedly driven by a dervish ran over them. Friday prayer leaders have since referred to the dervishes as terrorists and spies in their sermons.

“…[T]hey caused these riots to cover up the enemy’s espionage operations against our missile sites under the guise of environmental protection,” said ultra-conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, on February 23. “These [dervishes] must be uprooted for harming people’s security.”

The Gonabadi Dervishes’ interpretation of Islam differs from that of Iran’s ruling Muslim Shia establishment. The Islamic Republic views any alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia establishment and has imprisoned members of the Sufi order and expelled them from universities for their faith.

According to Mazjooban, a website devoted to news about Iran’s Gonabadi Dervishes, the clashes began when police attacked a demonstration by the dervishes on February 19, 2018, outside a police station as the dervishes were demanding the release of a fellow devotee.

The website also reported that Mohammad Raji was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) during which he commanded several battalions of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Kurdistan Province. In 2004, he left the IRGC and became a farmer in Mazraehabad, a village near the city of Aligoudarz, Lorestan Province, according to the report.

Farhad Nouri, a gonabadi dervish actvist, told CHRI on February 23 that approximately 170 followers of the group had been hospitalized at the time because of injuries caused by beatings by the police and plainclothes agents.

The recent multiple deaths of detainees under highly suspicious circumstances have raised concerns regarding fatal ill-treatment in Iranian prisons, particularly after swift official statements that the detainees committed “suicide” and the refusal of authorities to allow any independent investigations.

Iranian officials claimed that the deaths of Sina Ghanbari in Evin Prison on January 7, 2018, and Vahid Heydari at a detention center in the city of Arak that same month were suicides.

Kavous Seyed-Emami, a prominent Iranian academic and environmentalist who had Canadian citizenship, also died in Evin Prison allegedly by suicide on February 9, 2018. Calls by his family and UN human rights experts for an independent investigation have gone unheeded in Iran.

“Friday prayer leaders are using the clashes with the dervishes in February to paint the entire religion as violent, which can only inflame tensions and lead to more abuses,” said Ghaemi.

“Now more than ever, influential voices in Iran should be calling for the protection of the dervishes and all detainees instead of giving security forces a carte blanche to use excessive force against detainees with impunity,” added Ghaemi.

*This article was revised on March 7 to reflect that Farhad Nouri is a Gonabadi rights activist, not a spokesman for the dervishes.