In a fresh crackdown on Iran’s Baha’i community, one of the most persecuted religious minorities in Iran, 15 followers of the faith were simultaneously arrested in Tehran, Isfahan, and Mashhad on November 15, 2015, by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence agents.
Padideh Sabeti, a spokesperson for the Baha’i International Community, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that all the arrested individuals are ordinary Baha’i citizens, and that the reason for the arrests is unknown. Two of those arrested, Sahab Rouhani and Matin Janamian from Isfahan, were released that same night.
A source close to the family of Sahba Farnoush, a 41-year-old Baha’i stationery distributor who was one of the individuals arrested in Tehran, told the Campaign that Farnoush was transferred to Evin Prison, but that the reasons for his arrest are as yet unknown.
“Sahba’s wife had taken the kids to school in the morning. As she entered their building’s parking lot upon her return, a car with six passengers entered the parking [area] behind her. Sahba’s wife says they entered so quickly, she thought they were burglars, so she honked her car horn continuously to get her neighbors’ attention. One of the agents got into her car and showed her the warrant for Sahba’s arrest and for searching their home. But the warrant did not contain the reason for the arrest,” said the source.
“That agent then called someone and said, ‘We have entered. It’s your turn.’ Apparently all the arrests that day had been organized,” the source continued. “While the agent remained in Mrs. Farnoush’s car, [other] agents went upstairs and knocked on the apartment door. When Sahba opened the door and saw them, he shut the door on them, but they broke the door and entered. They searched the home for a couple of hours and took Sahba’s laptop and cell phone. One of the agents on the scene said, ‘We will arrest a whole lot of you today and your names will be all over the Internet in a few hours’.”
“That night of the arrests Sahba called his wife on his cell phone and said he and five other Baha’is from Tehran were being held at Evin Prison. The conversation was brief and we don’t know what he has been accused of,” added the source.
According to this source, on June 22, 1980, when Sahba Farnoush was five years old, his father, Hashem Farnoush, was executed on the orders of Judge Mohammadi Gilani for being a member of the Baha’i organization in Karaj and his properties were confiscated.
The names of Baha’is arrested in the current sweep, as disclosed by the spokesperson for the Community, are as follows. In Tehran: Sahba Farnoush, Negar Bagheri, Nava Monjazeb, Yavar Haghighat, Navid Aghdasi, and Helia Moshtagh. In Isfahan: Keyvan Nikaeen, Parvin Nikaeen, Yeganeh Agahi, Matin Janamian, and Arshia Rouhani. In Mashhad: Sanaz Eshaghi, Nika Pakzadan, Farzaneh Daneshgari, and Naghmeh Zabihian.
The latest arrests bring the total number of Baha’is in Iran’s prisons to 79, Padideh Sabeti told the Campaign.
In addition, a number of Baha’i-owned shops in Kerman, Rafsanjan, and Qaem Shahr have been shut down in recent days for unspecified reasons.
The Baha’i faith is not recognized in the Islamic Republic’s constitution. Many of their leaders and members were executed in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Revolution. In his annual reports, 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.
Cars driven by women who do not observe the hijab (head covering for women) will be impounded and fines will be imposed, according to strict new regulations by Iran’s police force. In addition, “trusted invisible agents” will be reporting violations on behalf of the police.
The police announcement on November 15, 2015, warned that cars driven by “women who do not observe the hijab” will be impounded for a week and could be banned from being sold.
“From now on the police will deal firmly with drivers who break the norms, remove their hijab as they drive, show off recklessly, and parade up-and-down the streets,” Police Spokesman Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi was quoted by the official state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
He added that in the latest clampdown, carried out “under a judicial order,” about 10,000 drivers had been issued warnings and case files opened for 2,000 cars.
According to Montazer al-Mahdi, “A number of civil and military officials as well as invisible agents” will write down the license plate numbers of cars driven by women without a hijab and report them to the police. The drivers of those cars will be summoned and the cars will be impounded “until their situation is clarified.”
It appears that the vagueness—and broadness—of “invisible agents,” which was not specified further, was intentional, meant to sow fear and intimidation and effectively empower anyone to report on an “improperly” clad woman.
The current crackdown on violations of conservative female dress follows the April 2015 passage of the Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, which mandated Basij enforcement of strict hijab. The Basij are a volunteer militia force under the control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Plan was linked to a series of acid attacks against women in Isfahan in late 2014.
On November 11, 2015, Police Chief Hossein Ashtari issued a warning that his force would not tolerate women who drive without the hijab or create “sound pollution” (play loud music).
The toughening official stance on hijab comes amidst conservative outrage over the recent posting of photographs on Instagram by Iranian film and TV stars, Sadaf Taherian and Chakameh Chaman Mah, who posed without covering their hair.
It also takes place within the context of a broader and intensifying campaign by hardliners in Iran to assert their dominance in the post-nuclear deal environment, ensuring that the status quo—and their repressive grip on society—will be maintained.
In a November 11, 2015, interview with French television channel Europe 1, President Hassan Rouhani was asked about photographs from a popular Facebook page where Iranian women inside the country post images of themselves proudly removing their hijab. He replied, “We have so many issues so we don’t have time for these things. Everyone in Iran is free in their own private lives to do as they please. But when someone lives in Iran, they should abide by the laws of the country,” he said.
Since his June 2013 election, President Rouhani has rhetorically supported greater rights and freedoms for women in Iran generally, and has opposed stricter laws and regulations to impose the hijab on women, but such support has often been tepid and not followed by any concrete measures to ensure the realization of such rights and freedoms.
Several journalists were arrested in Iran over the past week in an intensifying campaign of repression that is based on the belief, spearheaded by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, that the US intends to use any post-nuclear deal opening in Iran to “infiltrate” and undermine the Islamic Republic. This is cartoonist Touka Neyestani’s take on the developments.
Security forces arrested the prominent Iranian cartoonist Hadi Heidari in his office at Shahrvand Daily in Tehran today, November 16, 2015. Two co-workers of Heidari at the Tehran daily confirmed the arrest and told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that “a young man came with a warrant. He showed Hadi the warrant and they took him quietly.”
The sources told the Campaign that they were not certain which organization arrested Heidari, but added that he was likely arrested by the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization. Heidari’slast cartoon was related to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Hadi Heidari, 38, is a graduate of Tehran’s Arts and Architecture University with a degree in painting. For the past twenty years, he has worked in various reformist publications in Iran, including Etemad, Bahar, Pool, Norooz, Neshat, Asr-e Azadegan, and Eghbal, among others.
Heidari was first arrested in 2009 in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and spent 17 days in detention before release. He was again arrested in December 2010 on charges of “propaganda against the state,” and was released two months later on bail of about $15,000.
In September 2012, a cartoon by Heidari titled “The Blindfolded Men” and published in Shargh Newspaper, became highly controversial. Following its publication and a concerted effort by 150 Members of the Parliament, state authorities, and clerics, Shargh Newspaper was banned on September 26, 2012, a day after the cartoon was published, and Heidari, was summoned to court. Mehdi Rahmanian, the newspaper’s manager and license holder, was transferred to Evin Prison.
The authorities who objected to the cartoon stated that it was an insult to Iran-Iraq War veterans, but many believed this to be a mere excuse for banning the reformist newspaper in which it was published. The newspaper and Mr. Heidari were eventually acquitted of the charges on December 29, 2012, and Shargh resumed publication.
During recent weeks, several Iranian journalists have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization, in what has become an intensifying crackdown by hardliners. Ehsan Mazandarani, Managing Director of Farhikhtegan Newspaper, Afarin Chitsaz, columnist for Iran Newspaper, Saman Safarzaei, the International Editor of Andisheh Pouya publication, and Issa Saharkhiz, political activist and journalist, are some of the recent detainees whose arrests have been confirmed by the Revolutionary Guards.
A month after a warning by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Center for Investigation of Organized Crime that the use of Telegram violated Iran’s crime laws, access to the popular messaging network in Iran was severely interrupted on November 16, 2015.
Access to Telegram on the HTTP protocol (an insecure computer network protocol) was blocked in Iran and users could only get on the network through their smartphones or the HTTPS protocol (a secure network protocol which is more difficult to block).
The warning, published on the Guards’ Gerdab website in an article on October 20, 2015, stated that content by Iranian users on Telegram violated Article 21 of the country’s cyber crime laws.
An investigation by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has found that other social media applications have also been affected. One of these applications, IMO, had been gaining more Iranian users after rumors about blocking Telegram intensified. But now it is almost impossible to enter the alternative messaging service. Similar applications known as BeeTalk and Signal have also been very slow to respond for Iranian users.
While the Rouhani administration has sought to impose selective, or “smart” Internet filtering, in which only “objectionable” content is blocked, hardline authorities in charge of Internet censorship have sought to completely block sites or networks deemed objectionable, forcing users to look for other alternatives.
Those authorities have tried to encourage Iranians to use domestic messaging and social media programs within Iran’s National Internet Network that are developed with tools that facilitate covert state monitoring of accounts, but the general response has been negative.