Religious Minority Cases Supporting the Special Rapporteur’s March 2013 Report
This supplement provides documented cases of detained religious minorities that served as part of the basis of Dr. Shaheed’s March 2013 report presented to the UN Human Rights Council. The documentation is based on primary interviews and secondary research conducted for the March 2013 report (Click here for the full report supplement).
February 28, 2013
IV. Religious Minorities
23. Of 30 Baha’is detained in the city of Semnan two are women nursing infant children. On 22 September 2012 Mrs. Zohreh Nikayin (Tebyanian) began serving a sentence of 23 months for “disturbing national security” and “propaganda against the regime”. Mrs. Torabi (Ehsani) also began serving a 2.5 year sentence, reportedly for “setting up and running an illegal organization”. The status of a third mother of an infant child, Mrs. Elham Ruzbehi (Motearefi), sentenced on 25 January 2012 to three years of imprisonment (2.5 years on charges of “collusion and assembly against national security” plus six months for “propaganda against the regime”), remains unknown.
24. Multiple sources reported that authorities raided at least 24 Baha’i homes in the city of Gorgon and the surrounding province, on 17 October 2012 and in the days after, resulting in 25 Baha’i arrests. Authorities also reportedly arrested four Muslims associated with these Baha’is; as of November 2012 all but one of these Muslim detainees were released. As of mid-November 2012 Baha’is arrested in and around Gorgon remained in custody, including: Mr. Farhad Fahandej; Mr. Farahmand Sanaie; Mr. Kamal Kashani; Mr. Shahram Jazbani; Mr. Navid Moallemi; Mr. Behnam Hassani; Mr. Siamak Sadri; Mr. Payam Markazi; Mr. Foad Fahandej; and Mr. Kourosh Ziari. According to one source, the local prosecutor’s office allegedly informed the family members of the detainees that they would be charged under Articles 498, 500, and 508 of the Penal Code, which are, respectively: (1) participating in a group of more than two people inside or outside the country with the intent of disrupting the security of the state; (2) propagating against the regime; and (3) cooperating with an enemy Government.
25. In November 2012, authorities from three different universities expelled five Baha’i students: Mr. Farbod Mohammad Zadeh from Isfahan University; Ms. Saamieh Gholinejad from Behshahr University of Science and Technology; and Ms. Tanin Torabi, Ms. Nava Hamidi, Ms. Mona Ashrafi from Khomeini International University in Qazvin. Gholinejad, Torabi, Hamidi, and Ashrafi were reportedly offered continued admission if they denied their faith. The three from Imam Khomeini International University were asked to sign pledges stating that they would not follow their faith. According to sources, when these students refused, they were made to sign documents declaring they were Baha’i and then were expelled.
26. On May 22, 2011, 15 teachers and administrators of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) were allegedly arrested. Later that night, Mr. Danial Owji a student and volunteer at the BIHE, while driving was reportedly stopped on his street by plainclothes agents, tasered, handcuffed, blindfolded, put in the trunk of his car, and driven away. Mr. Owji was allegedly taken to an unknown location, that appeared to be a ofﬁcial place of detention, where he was interrogated and physically tortured over the course of four days, including being punched, kicked, suspended from the ceiling by his arms, handcuffed in stress positions, having cigarettes extinguished on his body, and being ﬂogged on his feet. Mr. Owji was held in a bathroom rather than a cell. During his interrogations before his release, Mr. Owji was pressured to sign a document saying he was a participant in the Baha’i university, helped propagate it electronically, cooperated with the Zionist entity, taught classes, would testify against speciﬁc professors, and that the administration of school was conducted from the Baha’i facilities in Haifa, Israel in cooperation with the Zionist regime. Mr. Owji was allegedly harassed following his release as he sought legal redress for his mistreatment. When he received a summons from the Revolutionary Court approximately a year after his arrest, Mr. Owji ﬂed the country.
27. Seyyed Nasradin Heydari is the current leader of the Yarsan community in Iran, but according to most recent information is under house arrest and cannot travel freely at this time. He had been detained twice before, but popular protests led to his release. He has been under house arrest since his second arrest, and is now only permitted to receive visitors to arbitrate small claims cases within the community, according to a source. The source stated that when authorities in Iran ask the Yarsan about their religious affiliation, they often deny being Yarsan out of fear. He also reported that Yarsan are required to speak Farsi and perform Muslim rites of prayer at school, and that those who refuse are prohibited from receiving education.
28. Authorities arrested seven other active members of the same house church network as Behnam Irani on 12 October 2012, following a raid by members of the security services on a house in the city of Shiraz. The detained Christians included Mohammad (Vahid) Roghangir, Suroush Saraie, Roxana Forughi, Eskandar Rezaie, Bijan Haghighi, Mehdi Ameruni, and Shahin Lahooti. On 18 October 2012, Afsar Bahmani, a middle-aged woman in need of specialist medication due to heart and kidney complications, was detained at around 1PM along with a man named Massoud Rezaie, after responding to the summons. Afsar Bahmani was released after 24 hours. Bijan Haghighi was released on bail of 100 million rials on 25 October 2012. Roxana Forughi was reportedly released on 1 November 2012.
29. A source close to the case reported that Iranian authorities have detained Mr. Saeed Abedini. Abedini is a Protestant Christian minister. Abedini was reportedly been arrested several times before 2009 for his house church activities, but has claimed, though still a Christian, that he had stopped working with house churches in Iran to avoid government scrutiny. Abedini had his passport seized while entering Iran from Georgia in late June 2012. The authorities reportedly told Abedini that he would be summoned to court on September 26th. On that date, Abedini’s home was raided by security agents, who confiscated documents, computers, and other personal items and brought Abedini to Evin Prison. Abedini spent four weeks in solitary confinement in Evin before being transferred to Section 3, Ward 209 of the prison. While in solitary confinement, Abedini’s interrogators allegedly disoriented him with tactics such as sleep deprivation. During his time in Ward 209, Abedini’s interrogators reportedly beat him; he was initially denied access to medical treatment for his injuries but later was allegedly taken for treatment. His family was able to hire a lawyer for his defense in December 2012 and he has since been charged with “acting against national security”. His trial is scheduled for 21 January 2013.
30. A family associate reports that Christian Ali Golchin was arrested by plainclothes police in late April 2010 in connection with his possession and distribution of a substantial number of Farsi-language Bibles. Authorities reportedly beat and blindfolded Golchin during his arrest. The Revolutionary Court of Varamin, Branch 1, charged Golchin with “propagation against the state”, “acting against national security by promoting Christianity”, “solicitation of members for a house church”, and “organizing a house church”. Golchin was allegedly detained in Evin Prison for 87 days, all of which he spent in solitary confinement. In detention, Golchin’s interrogators subjected him to psychological torture in the form of threats of physical violence and of execution. He was released on 25 July 2010 on 200,000,000 tuman bail. On 19 April 2011 Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Golchin to one year in prison. His lawyer was reportedly not allowed to speak during the court session. Golchin appealed this sentence and was acquitted of all charges six months later, but received no documentation to this effect. Golchin continued to experience harassment after his acquittal including multiple summonses and being followed by government agents. He eventually fled the country under this pressure.
31. Danial Shahri, a Christian from Isfahan reported that he was arrested by plainclothes police at his home on April 11, 2010 approximately six weeks after the arrest of a Christian couple who were the leaders of his house church. Mr. Shahri believes he was targeted by authorities in connection with his provision of information technology assistance to his Baptist house church. He was reportedly held in the Alef-Ta ward of Dastgerd prison in Isfahan for two weeks. Mr. Shahri said that his interrogators punched and kicked him on his face and head and insulted him for approximately an hour on his ﬁrst day in the prison. Mr. Shahri reported that he was charged with spreading lies and blasphemy, sharing the Christian faith, forming and participating in a house church, and conducting illegal internet activities. He was subsequently released on bail. Mr. Shahri reported that he was only able to see a lawyer after he was released from prison.
32. Multiple sources report that on March, 31 2009 the Shahrara Assyrian Protestant church in Tehran was closed by a government order in connection with its provision of Farsi-language services. They alleged that Assyrian MP Yonathan Betkolia was instrumental in the closure. Representatives of Betkolia reportedly said he did not accept the church as Assyrian anymore given its work with non-Assyrians. The church was reportedly closed by a number of police ofﬁcers, security agents, and Assyrian representatives. The authorities present reportedly made it seem as if individuals who entered the church would be arrested and taken to the Ministry of Intelligence, scaring many individuals away. Although authorities stated that the church was only being closed temporarily in order to be re- registered, attempts to reopen the church were not successful and soldiers and police ofﬁcers were stationed outside the church for months, according to sources The pastor of the Shahrara Church, Victor Bet Tamraz, was reportedly called in for questioning multiple times, as was his daughter, Dabrina Tamraz. Two afﬁliated churches, the Oroumiyeh and Kermanshah building churches, were also closed on 8 July 2009 and 31 December 2009, respectively. The pastor of the Kermanshah church, Wilson Issavi, was allegedly arrested, detained for two months, mistreated in detention, and sentenced to a six-month prison term that was suspended for four years. The pastor of the Oroumiyeh Church left Iran shortly after the closure of his church.