Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Rahmatu'llah Vafa'i

About

Age: 58
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: March 12, 1983
Location of Killing: Central Prison (Adelabad), Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Religious offense; Espionage

About this Case

He was a member of the Marvdasht Baha’i Spiritual Assembly, elected by the community.  His family and an audio-visual career were his other lights.

The Baha'is in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Background

"Baha'i is not a religion, it is a political party. It is a party that was initially supported by the British and is now supported by America. They [the Baha'is] are spies...”

Ayatollah Khomeini, Founder of the Islamic Republic*

“The Qur’an recognized only the People of the Book as religious communities. Others are pagans. Pagans must be eliminated.”

Iranian Attorney General, Seyed Moussavi-Tabrizi**

“the punishment for a Mortad-e Fetri [apostate who was born in a Muslim family] is death and his repentance is not accepted.”

Head of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Courts, Ayatollah Gilani***

The authorities of the Islamic Republic have subjected the members of the Baha'i religious community of Iran (the largest minority, with approximately 300 thousand members in 1979****) to systematic harassment and persecution, depriving them of their most fundamental human rights. The Baha'i religion is not recognized under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, and Iranian authorities refer to it as a heresy. As a result, the Baha'is have been denied the rights associated with the status of a religious minority; they cannot profess and practice their faith and are banned from public functions. Discrimination under the law and in practice has subjected them to abuse and violence.

The Islamic Republic Penal Code grants no rights to Baha'is, and the courts have denied them the right to redress or to protection against assault, murder, and other forms of persecution and abuse. In so doing, the courts have treated Baha'is as unprotected citizens or "apostates," citing eminent religious authorities whose edicts are considered to be a source of law equal to acts of Parliament. The Founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, made execution a punishment for the crime of apostasy and decreed that a Muslim would not be punished for killing an apostate.

Banishment from public functions has seriously damaged the Baha'is’ professional, economic, and social lives. Soon after the revolution, a Ministry of Labor directive called for the dismissal from public office and all governmental organizations and associations those "who belong to any of the misguided sects recognized by all Muslims as heretical deviations from Islam, or to organizations whose doctrine and constitution are based on rejection of the divinely-revealed religions." Finally the mandatory requirement of specifying religion in application forms and official documents (lifted recently in some areas under international pressure) has seriously limited Baha'is' freedoms and opportunities in all areas of their lives including divorce, inheritance, access to universities, and travel.

In practice, since 1980, thousands of Baha'is have lost their jobs, pensions, businesses, properties, and educational opportunities. By banning the Baha'i administration including Spiritual Assemblies, the elected bodies that lead and administer the affairs of Baha'i communities at both local and national levels, the Islamic Republic has denied Baha'is the right to meet, elect, and operate their religious institutions. Further, the Iranian government has executed at least 200 Baha'is and has imprisoned, tortured, and pressured to convert to Islam scores more.

Because of the unanimous international condemnation of the persecution of this quietist (apolitical) religious community, Iranian authorities do not always admit that the Baha'is are being punished for their religious beliefs. Therefore, judicial authorities have often charged Baha'is with offenses such as "being involved in counter-revolutionary activities," "having supported the former regime," "being agents of Zionism," or "being involved with prostitution, adultery, and immorality."

_______________________

* Speech May 28, 1983, Sahife-ye Nur, Volume 17.

** The Baha'i Question: Iran's Secret Blueprint for the Destruction of a Religious community: An Examination of the Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, Baha'i International Community, 1999, p. 27. The quote was published in English in Sunday Times, 20 September 1981and cited in The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, 1844-1984, by Douglas Martin, Baha'i Studies, volume 12/13, 1984

*** Kayhan, October 19, 1981

****'Slow Death for Iran's Baha'is' by Richard N. Ostling, Time Magazine, 20 February 1984. Also see 'The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, 1844-1984, by Douglas Martin, Baha'i Studies, volume 12/13, 1984, p. 3. There is no information about the current number of Baha'is in Iran.

Mr. Rahmatu'llah Vafa'i, a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly in Marvdasht and a TV and radio technician, is one of the 206 Iranian Baha'is listed in a 1999 report published by the Baha'i International Community. The report, Iran’s Secret Blueprint for the Destruction of a Religious Community, documents the persecutions of the members of the Faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran and lists the Baha'is killed since 1978. Additional information was drawn from the newspaper Khabar-e Jonub, published in Shiraz (22 February 1983), and from various issues of the The Baha’i World. See for example: Vol. XVIII, 1979-1983, Haifa 1986 or description of events as published in A Tribute to the Faithful by Mah Mihr Gulistanih.

Arrest and detention

Mr. Vafa'i was arrested on 29 November 1982 along with other Baha'is in Marvdasht. He was initially interrogated at the Sepah [Revolutionary Guards] detention centre in Marvdasht before the authorities moved him to Sepah in Shiraz. Because of his religious beliefs, prison authorities considered him to be an unbeliever, and thus "unclean" and he was subjected to humiliating treatment similar to that of atheist political prisoners. Prison wardens refused to have any physical contact with the prisoner even when, for example, they were guiding the blindfolded prisoner to the interrogation room. In such case guards would give him the end of a folded newspaper and hold the other end, avoiding contact. He was then transferred to Adelabad Prison, where he remained in custody until his execution.

Trial

Authorities provided no information regarding Mr. Vafa’i’s trial to his family. However, according to reports by the the Baha’i World, authorities informed the defendant that he would be subjected to four “sessions” in which he would be given the opportunity to recant his faith and accept Islam. He was informed that if he did not sign a prepared statement rejecting Baha’ism, he would be killed. It is unclear if all these sessions took place and whether or not these sessions replaced a trial.

Charges

There is no information available on his charges. However, the available information indicates that the charges against the defendant related to his religious beliefs. While in detention, the defendant was interrogated and pressured to recant his/her faith. Further, in an interview published in the Newspaper Khabar-e Jonub the religious judge, Head of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Shiraz, in charge of the case, warned the Baha’is “to embrace dear Islam and …recant Baha’ism, which is rationally and logically doomed, before it is too late”.

The judge also discussed at length the charges and the alleged crimes committed by the defendants and argued that they were arrested because they were active members of the Baha’i Administration and because of their “direct or indirect” relationship with the House of Justice based in Israel, which follows the Israeli government.

The judge’s statements regarding those arrested also stressed that the religious activities of the defendants were criminal activities based on Article 13 of the constitution, which “deems illegal any activity for Baha’is and considers a crime the organization of committees, councils, or receptions and any such activities…”

Finally, in his interview, the head of the Shiraz Revolutionary Tribunal addressed the Baha’i community as a whole, asking its members to recant their faith or face the consequences: “Soon a day will come when the Muslim nation will deal with the Baha’is the way they dealt with the Hypocrites* …who have diabolic religious pretexts, and will carry out its religious duty … and Baha’is should know that …the Hezbollah Umma will have no difficulty uprooting them.”

Evidence of guilt

No information is available on the evidence presented against the defendant or the latter’s relationship with the Israeli government. However, in his February interview the religious judge elaborated on the Baha’i community’s activities and beliefs as the evidence of their guilt.

The Judge refuted the assertion that Baha’is do not get involved in politics and abide by their government noting that they had not been supportive of the Islamic Republic and had their own administration: “…These people say: ‘We did not participate in any demonstration against the idolatrous [regime]… We did not participate in any of the Islamic Republic’s votes…because all this is politics and, from a religious perspective, we condemn participation in politics. We have our own elections and the Baha’i administration is independent...” While establishing the fact that Baha’is act independently from the state and have an independent administration, the House of Justice, as evidence that they are not loyal to the government, the judge also argued that because the House of Justice is located in Israel, the Baha’is are loyal to the government of Israel.

The very fact that Baha’is have a religious administration outside the “Administration of Islam”, is, for the judge, a proof of disloyalty and guilt: “So we can see that these…children of Satan and mercenaries of Israel’s House of Justice have created an administration and a government, no matter how ridiculous, in the face of the government and the administration of Islam. Ironically, they say that ‘we are submissive to the government and whatever the government says we abide by it.’ However, this is only a way of covering the fact that they are acting independently from the people.”

Defense

No information is available on Mr. Vafa'i's defense. The representatives of the Baha'i community stress that their members are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. They note that the Baha'is' requests to access their files are usually denied, and that even though they are allowed to avail themselves of the services of a defense counsel since the mid-1990s, attorneys are often under pressure not to accept Baha'i clients.

The Baha’is refute the validity of charges such as counter-revolutionary political activities or spying leveled against them in Iranian courts. They point out that the fundamental principles of their religion require them to show loyalty and obedience to their government and refrain from any political involvement. They believe that the accusation of espionage for Israel is unfounded and based solely on the fact that the Baha'i World Centre is in Israel. They point out that this centre was established on Mount Carmel in the late 19th century, long before the establishment of the State of Israel.

Judgment

The text of Mr. Vafa'i’s sentence was not communicated to his family.

The authorities did not communicate the text of the sentence to Mrs. Yalda’i’s family. However, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal justified the sentence against the arrested Baha'is in his February interview with Khabar-e Jonub newspaper where he stated:

“It is clear that there is no room, whatsoever, for Baha’is and Baha’ism in the Islamic Republic of Iran.. ...” He referred to the individuals who were sentenced to death as kofar harbi [refers to those unbelievers who live in areas outside Muslim rule and who have no rights, not even the right to live] and noted that: “the individuals who have been sentenced to death were active members of the Baha’i faith to whose evil, naïve people were exposed. Their association with satans inside and outside [the country] and their enmity with Islam and Muslims are to a large measure obvious.”

The publication of this interview led the families of the prisoners to visit the Emam Jom’eh (Friday Prayer leader) and Governor of the Fars Province as well as officials in the Capital to look into the authenticity of the news. At the same time an international campaign in favor of the imprisoned Baha'is was launched, but it remained unsuccessful. The Revolutionary Court of Shiraz sentenced the defendant to death and the Supreme Court approved the sentence. Mr. Vafa'i was hanged on 12 March 1983.

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