Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Dhabihu'llah Mahrami


Age: 59
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Married


Date of Execution: December 15, 2005
Location: Yazd, Yazd Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Death in custody
Charges: Apostasy

Human rights violations in this case

The Legal Context

The Courts


Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 11 February 1979-1994


In the immediate aftermath of the 11 February 1979 Revolution, an ad hoc tribunal, initially referred to as the Extraordinary Revolutionary Tribunal, was set up to try the officials of the previous regime, for which no specific procedures were devised. In a decree dated 24 February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary religious leader, appointed a cleric as Shari’a Judge and instructed him “to issue Shari’a-based rulings,” thereby establishing the foundation of a system of special courts.


Initially, the revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction was determined by the religious judge’s interpretation of the Shari’a (Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, the 12 imams, and the teachings of Shi’a scholars. On 17 June 1979, the Revolutionary Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office Rules of Procedure, which was only selectively observed, established the latter’s jurisdiction and make-up.


The Courts’ jurisdiction encompassed a wide array of offenses including moharebeh (“waging war with God”), efsad e fel arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), crimes against national and international security, economic crimes, murder, profiteering, prostitution, rape, and narcotic drugs-related crimes. The law required that two of the three principal members of the Revolutionary Courts be Shari’a judges.



Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 1994-2002


With the adoption of the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994, and the Code of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts of 19 September 1999, a uniform code of procedure was applied to both revolutionary and general courts. The jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts was limited to 6 categories of offenses:

1. Crimes against national and international security,“moharebeh” (enmity with god) and “efsad e fel arz” (corruption on earth;)

2. defaming Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader;

3. plotting against the Islamic Republic of Iran, armed action, terrorism, and sabotage;

4. espionage;

5. smuggling and drug-related crimes; 6. claims under Principle 49 (economic crimes) of the Constitution.

 6. Furthermore, pursuant to the Law on the Manner of Punishing Individuals Engaged in Unauthorized Audio and Visual Activities, Article 11, the revolutionary courts have jurisdiction over crimes that fall within the purview of said Law, including production and distribution of obscene materials and misuse and abuse thereof.

These courts continued, however, to try cases falling outside their jurisdiction, such as theft and sexual offenses. Further, the vagueness of laws regarding national security allowed the revolutionary courts to try political and media crimes whenever they wished to do so.


The new law eliminated the Prosecutor’s Office and gave the judges inthe Revolutionary Courts the power to perform the duties of the prosecutor, as well as their own, in any case brought before them.


Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 2002-Present


The Amended Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 2002 reinstated the Prosecutor’s Office in both revolutionary and general courts. In cases involving political and media crimes, revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction overlaps with that of Province Criminal Courts.


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014, and its coming into force in June 2015, the jurisdiction of the revolutionary courts remains unchanged, with slight modifications in procedural aspects of adjudication. For instance, the new law provides that for crimes subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, or higher, the revolutionary court shall convene with three judges, whereas, prior to the passage of this law, adjudication of all crimes within the jurisdiction of revolutionary courts took place with only a single judge.

The Appellate System of Revolutionary Courts, 1979-Present


From their inception until 1994, the rulings of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. In the early 1980s a court entitled the Supreme Court of Qom was established in the city of Qom and which reviewed cases of execution and confiscation of properties, thereby forming a first tier form of appeal. The exact date of the creation of the court is not clear, but, based on available information, the court became operational in the early 1980s, even though Ayatollah Khomeini's official order for its creation is dated 1985. The court’s procedure was not systematic and did not meet the international standards for a court of appeals; there was no official record of its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Qom was dissolved in 1989.


The Law of 14 June 1994 subjected the Courts’ decisions to appeal. An appellate court was established at each provincial capital, called the Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by the Revolutionary Courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those involving capital punishment.


Narcotic drugs-related crimes constitute a significant exception to the appeals process. Governed by the Anti-Narcotic Drugs Law of 1988, as Amended on 8 November 1997 and 31 July 3 2010, these crimes are within the jurisdiction of, and are adjudicated on a regular basis by, Revolutionary Courts whose decisions are final. After being handed down by the judge, death sentences are sent to the Prosecutor General or the Head of the Supreme Court as a matter of administrative approval.


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 (and its coming into force in June 2015), however, drug related crimes became subject to appeal as well.

General Courts, 1979-1982


In cases not falling under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts, the system devised under the previous regime continued to function in parallel with new systems devised by laws passed by the Judicial Council, one of which, entitled The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, radically changed the entire structure and categorization of the courts. It divided the courts in three branches: Criminal, Civil, and Peace (a sort of arbitration court dealing with minor financial and other disputes). Specialized courts such as family courts were eliminated.


General Courts, 1982-1994


The Law of the Amendments to the Rules of Criminal Procedure of 1982 established a new criminal courts system, Criminal Courts I and II. Criminal Court I, established only in provincial capitals, had jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Criminal Court II heard less serious crimes.


General Courts, 1994-2002


The Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994 established umbrella courts called General Courts, which replaced and dissolved pre-existing civil and criminal courts. The law dissolved the Prosecutor’s offices and tasked a single person with the roles of judge, prosecutor, and investigator.


General Courts, 2002-2015


In 2002, the 1994 Law was amended, reviving the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in General Courts. The prosecution offices were re-established in a gradual process over several years. The amended law also re-established specialized branches within general courts dealing separately with criminal and civil matters. In addition, this law allocated a number of branches of the Province Court of Appeals to have original jurisdiction over a number of cases including the most serious offenses, as well as political and media crimes. In these cases, the branches are called the Province Criminal Court.


General Courts, 2015 to Today


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, general courts underwent certain changes as well. Criminal courts were divided into Criminal Court One, Criminal Court Two, Military Court, Juvenile Court, and Revolutionary Court. Criminal Court One has jurisdiction over serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, and higher, as well as political and media crimes. Criminal Court Two has jurisdiction over other crimes. Another change consists of the establishment of juvenile courts, which adjudicates crimes committed by individuals less than 18 years of age. In cases where the individuals less than 18 commit serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, however, Criminal Court One will have jurisdiction, observing rules of juvenile criminal procedure.


The Appellate System of General Courts, 1979-Present


The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, abolished appeal of most criminal courts’ decisions. The law of 1982 restricted the appeal possibility even further. According to the Islamic Republic authorities’ interpretation of Islamic Law, a qualified jurist’s decisions were not subject to appeal except under special circumstances, such as when the judge realized his own mistake, or another judge advised him so, or when he did not have jurisdiction over the case. Even in such situations, the case would not go to a higher court but would be subject to review by the same judge or another judge at his level. The judges were even urged to call their verdicts “opinions,” so that the possible change in the verdict would not be “haram” (“sinful,” the highest level of prohibition in Islam, disobedience of which would result in a sin).


In October 1988, the Majles (Iranian parliament) passed a law regarding review of court judgments. This law provided for an appeal if the conviction was claimed to be based on invalid documentation or false testimony. The defendant could also base an appeal on a point of law or a procedural violation.


The appellate system was expanded in other laws in the late 1980s and in 1993. The Law for the Establishment of Criminal Courts I and II of 11 July 1989 created the Branches of the Supreme Court. Crimes of less importance, tried in Criminal Court II, were subject to review by Criminal Court I.


For the most important crimes involving death punishment, which were under the jurisdiction of Criminal Court I, the law allowed limited appeal to the Branches of the Supreme Court. Defendants had the right to petition the Supreme Court for appeal in certain cases involving false testimony or procedural violations, and if granted, the case would be remanded to either another criminal court or the original one.


Finally, the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 1994, as amended in 2002, established an appellate court at each provincial capital, called Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by both general and revolutionary courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those carrying the death penalty, as well as decisions made by the Province Criminal Court.


The amended law of 2002, continued the appellate procedure to the Branches of the Supreme Court established by the afore-mentioned law of 11 July 1989


The Supreme Court continues to be the competent authority to rule on new trials, which have been provided for in limited circumstances.

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, the Court of Appeals shall be the competent authority to hear appeals from Criminal Court Two decisions, and the Supreme Court shall hear appeals from Criminal Court One decisions.

Special Courts for the Clergy


These courts are rooted in a 1979 decree, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, which established a committee of religious and noble figures in every region to purge the clergy of anti-revolutionary elements under the supervision of the Revolutionary Courts. Between late 1981 and 1984, a special court in the city of Qom handled, though not systematically, the trial of clerics.


On 29 July 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini officially appointed a prosecutor and a member of the clergy as Shari’a judge for Special Courts for the Clergy. On 6 August 1990, a directive was issued regulating the conduct of these courts, the jurisdictional ambiguity of which is such that it effectively extends to “anyone where one of the parties is a cleric” and to “all matters in which the Court is designated as competent by the Supreme Leader.”


The court, which was not mentioned in the Islamic Republic's constitution, was mandated to try “pseudo clerics, those related to/connected with the clergy, for public and/or anti-revolutionary crimes, and violations of the prestige of the clergy,” and where the principal suspect is a member of the clergy, “any co-conspirator or assistant, whether a cleric or not.”


These courts are generally not open to the public and can issue sentences for all acts and omissions punishable under codified Iranian laws or Shari’a or for any other acts or omissions which can bring dishonor to the clergy or to the Islamic Revolution. Further, in certain particular cases – which have not been defined – where no punishment has been devised by either the Penal Code or even the Shari’a, the Court “can rule as it deems fit.” 


The Appellate System of the Special Court for the Clergy, 1979-Present


There is no information on any appeal process for the Special Court for the Clergy prior to the 1990 directive. Article 49 of said directive set up, however, an appeals court called Special Appellate Court for the Clergy, the head of which is appointed by the Supreme Leader, to which the decisions of the lower court can be appealed.


Military Courts


The military court system, independent from the judiciary under the previous regime, became a part of it on 1 December 1981. The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces, established in 1986, replaced and merged other military courts and tribunals in existence at the time, namely the pre-revolution Judiciary Organization of the Army, the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Army (established on 8 December 1979), and the Revolutionary and General Court for the Revolutionary Guards (established on 15 July 1979.) The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces has its own Criminal Code and follows the country’s general rules of criminal procedure.


The Law of the Criminal Procedure of the Armed Forces of 15 May 1985 created Military Courts I and II. Military Court I has jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Military Court II hears less serious crimes.


The Appellate System of Military Courts, 1979-Present


The law of 8 December 1979, establishing the Revolutionary Military Court, did not provide for any appeals. The Law of 15 May 1985 created a system of appeals through the creation of a two-tier system of courts. The decisions of Military Court II were subject to review by Military Court I. This law also provided that multiple Branches of the Supreme Court be designated as the appellate court to review decisions of Military Court I.


The judges


1979-1997: Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily law graduates and jurists. Shortly after the Islamic Revolution, a five-member Committee was established to purge the judicial system of undesirable elements, pursuant to the Legal Bill for the Modification of the Judiciary and the Law for Hiring Judges of 8 March 1979. The power of the committee was absolute and its decisions, resulting in a widespread purge of the judiciary, final.


The Law for the Conditions of Selection of Judges of 4 May 1981 established the conditions of eligibility for judges. The latter were to be hired among men who were legitimate children and had practical commitment to Islam and allegiance to the Islamic Republic. The law, which led to the hiring of clerics and Islamic legal scholars, also allowed hiring practically anyone as a judge who could “obtain the Judicial High Council’s permission.” Moreover, Note 2 of the Amendments of 4 October 1982 to this law allowed widespread employment of seminary students “who ha[d] general knowledge equivalent to a high school diploma” as judges at prosecutor’s offices in general as well as Revolutionary Courts.  


By 1989, the judiciary counted about 2,000 new judges trained in theological seminaries (graduates and students) and political appointees, many having replaced judges trained in law schools.


1997-Present: As of this writing (2013) the Law for Hiring Judges and its amendments of 4 October 1982, 7 February 1987, and 9 May 1988 are in full force and form the basis for hiring judges. The Executive Rules of Procedure of 22 December 1997 subjected such hiring to passing an entrance examination and successful completion of an apprenticeship program, the duration of which ranges between one and two years. The law does not limit hiring to men only but does not specify in what capacity women will be functioning, other than an advisory one.

Currently, judges are selected in accordance with the Guidelines on the Recruitment, Selection, and Internship for Judicial Candidates and the Hiring of Judges.


Dismissal of Judges: From 1979 to 1989, the judiciary was run by the Supreme Judicial Council which was composed of the head of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General (both of whom were appointed by the Supreme Leader), and three judges elected by the entire body of judges in the country. The Council had the power to hire and dismiss judges in accordance with the law.


The constitutional reforms of 1989 substituted the Supreme Judicial Council with one person, the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader, whose mandate is not subject to popular vote, appoints the Head of the Judiciary for a 5-year term. The latter has significant power to influence the dismissal of judges. Dismissal cases are referred to three types of disciplinary courts, presided over by judges appointed by the Head of the Judiciary, who has veto power over any decisions made by the relevant courts.


Two of these courts, established in 1991 and 2011, are charged with examining the judges’ conduct from a religious and ideological standpoint. The process does not necessarily involve the defendant and the final decision, left to the Head of the Judiciary, is not subject to appeal.


Human rights violations

Based on the available information, the following human rights have been violated in this case:

  • The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.

  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest his or her religion or belief.

    UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2; Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.

    In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to “have or to adopt” a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one’s religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.

  • The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

    UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.

  • The right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade union for the protection of one’s interests.

    UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 22.1.

  • The right, as a member of a religious or ethnic minority, to enjoy his or her own culture or to profess and practice his or her own religion.

    UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 27.

  • The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

    UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

The right to due process

  • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

    ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

  • The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.

    UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a

  • The right to counsel of his or her own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with his or her attorney in confidence

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, Article 8.

  • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

  • The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

  • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

    ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

Trial rights

  • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

    ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.3.c.

  • The right to defense through an attorney or legal aid. The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

    ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

Capital punishment
  • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

  • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

    ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

About this Case

Information regarding Mr. Dhabihu’llah Mahrami has been taken from the verdict of the court (Jan. 2, 1996), websites of Baha’i Online Library (Feb. 29, 1996), Baha’i World News (Dec. 19, 2005), Radio Farda (Dec. 19, 2005), Amnesty International (Oct. 1996, and Dec. 22, 2005), Didgah-ha referring to a Radio Farda report (Dec. 24, 2005), and Akhbar-Rooz (May 4, 2006).

Mr. Mahrami, son of Gholam Reza, was born in 1946 to a Baha’i family in Yazd. He was married and had four children. Before the Islamic Revolution he worked at the Ministry of Agriculture. After the Revolution he worked there until he was, as many other Baha’is, dismissed from his work place. At the time of arrest, he made a living installing venetian blinds (Baha’i World News). During his 10-year long detention he received several death threats (Baha’i sources and Amnesty International). In 1996 Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his immediate and unconditional release.


"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 [an 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. (For more background, see footnotes)

Arrest and detention

The exact date of Mr. Mahrami’s arrest is not known. The court verdict mentioned that on June 1, 1995 the Ministry of Information submitted a report to the court stating that Mr. Mahrami’s daughter married a Baha’i man. The “order of guidance” [i.e. the court summons] for Mr. Mahrami was issued by the Head of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd on July 24, 1995 and sent to the Intelligence Ministry. Whether or not his daughter’s wedding triggered this court order is not known.

According to one of his relatives, for 40 days his family was unaware of his detention location (Akhbar-Rooz). This source states, “he was forced to perform difficult [physical] labor in Abarqu and Ardekan prisons so much that as a result of the arduous labor, he had to undergo a surgery on his knee in Abarqu prison.” In the last years of his imprisonment, he had temporary leaves of absence from prison.


The court verdict mentioned a brief of the proceedings. The first session of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd took place on August 16, 1995 where Mr. Mahrami stated that he was a member of the Baha’i community. After this session, the court held three meetings (Oct. 3, Oct. 14, and Dec. 19, 1995) in an endeavor to “guide him to the right path of Islam” and for him to convert to Islam and denounce the Baha’i Faith. Each time, Mr. Mahrami remained steadfast in his religious beliefs: “After holding three consecutive meetings for guiding him [to the truth], despite the fact that he was given ample time to study the situation and to accept the suggestion [of this court] to be sent to a learned individual for investigating the shallow foundations of his beliefs, he refused to do so and, regardless of the tremendous efforts [of this court] towards encouraging him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, i.e., apostasy, [the court] did not succeed [in its efforts] because of the enmity and the stubbornness of this individual.” After the last meeting, Mr. Mahrami was permitted to be represented by an attorney in the next court session on January 2, 1996 at Branch One of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd. At this session, too, Mr. Mahrami remained loyal to his religion; the Court issued its verdict the same day.


According to the court ruling of January 2, 1996, Mr. Mahrami was charged with “Denouncing the religion of Islam and adopting the beliefs of the wayward Baha’i sect; [parental] apostasy.” Although some sources referred to a charge of espionage, the court verdict does not contain any charge other than apostasy.

Evidence of guilt

The court ruling referred to a newspaper that in 1981 carried an article stating that Mr. Mahrami had denounced the Baha’i Faith and converted to Islam. Another piece of evidence presented was a form of the Ministry of Agriculture, which Mr. Mahrami allegedly signed in 1985; this form was the basis of his non-dismissal from work. Furthermore, the verdict stated that Mr. Mahrami had confessed that in the preceding seven years (1988-95), he had attended mass prayers.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress. In the case of political detainees, these confessions are, at times, televised. Human rights organizations have also pointed to the pattern of retracted confessions by those prisoners who are freed.


The exact details of Mr. Mahrami’s defense are not known. According to a relative, after the Revolution, when many Baha’is lost their jobs due to their religion, one of Mr. Mahrami’s colleagues had submitted an announcement and a picture of Mr. Mahrami stating that he had converted to Islam in order to prevent his dismissal from work. After Mr. Mahrami found out about this announcement, he denounced it in oral and written forms (Akhbar-Rooz). After the publication of this announcement, Mr. Mahrami was temporarily suspended from the Baha’i community until it was established that the announcement was published in the newspaper without Mr. Mahrami’s knowledge or consent. After being reinstated in the Baha’i community, he informed his colleagues of the matter and state authorities soon learned about it.

Mr. Mahrami stated at the court session that he did not know anything about the aforementioned form of the Ministry of Agriculture and that the signature on the form was not his. He also mentioned that he attended the 19-day Baha’i Feast and that his daughter was married to a Baha’i man.

Moreover, the Amnesty International report pointed out legal ambiguity about apostasy as a crime. This report referred to the fact that the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of religious intolerance, Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, in his visit to Iran in December 1995, was told by Iranian authorities that according to the Civil Code, apostasy was not a crime, as in the case of Mr. Mehdi Dibaj, a Christian pastor (Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, Feb. 9. 1996, E/CN.4/1996/95/Add.2). Amnesty International highlighted “a fundamental contradiction” in the Iranian Constitution, according to which all enjoy equal rights (Art. 19) and “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden” (Art. 23), yet protection of the law applies only “in conformity with Islamic criteria” (Art. 20). Despite the fact that the Penal Code does not criminalize apostasy, the Constitution states: “The judge is bound to endeavor to judge each case on the basis of codified law. In the case of absence of any such law, he has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic edicts [of religious jurists]...” (Art. 167). In the case of Mr. Mahrami, the court relied on the writings of Ruhollah Khomeini.

Amnesty International then referred to Khomeini’s book Tahrir-al Vasilih: “The punishment for an innate apostate [a person, one of whose parents was a Muslim at the time of conception, and who believed in Islam after puberty and later converted to another religion] is death for a male, and life imprisonment for a female, who is to be flogged at the time of prayers, 5 times a day, and who is to live in difficult circumstances, regarding eating, drinking, and clothing, until she repents, the penance of a female innate apostate is acceptable; and if she repents, she will be free [from prison]. As for the parental apostate [one whose parents were not Muslims at the time of conception, and who believed in Islam after puberty and later converted to another religion], he will be caused to repent and in case of refusing to repent, he will be executed. It is preferable to give a three-day reprieve and to execute him on the fourth day [if he refuse to repent]” (Vol. IV, Hudud, On Other Crimes). Therefore, even though equality before the law and freedom of religion are principles affirmed in the Constitution, and apostasy is not a crime in the Penal Code, nevertheless judges may use other sources, such as Mr. Khomeini’s writings, in order to identify apostasy as a crime, punishable by death.


On January 2, 1996, the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd condemned Mr. Dhabihu’llah Mahrami to death:

“Concerning the charges brought against Mr. Dhabihu’llah Mahrami, the son of Ghulamrida, i.e., denouncing the blessed religion of Islam and accepting the beliefs of the wayward Baha’i sect (national apostasy), in light of his clear confessions to the facts that he accepted the wayward Baha’i sect at the age of maturity, later accepted Islam for a period of seven years, and then returned to the aforementioned sect; and because of the fact that, despite the tremendous efforts of this court to guide him and to encourage him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, he remains firm in his baseless beliefs, he has, in three consecutive meetings, while being of sound body and mind and in absolute control, announced his allegiance to the principles of Baha’ism and his belief in the prophethood of Mirza Husayn-Aiy-i-Baha, he has openly denied the most essential [principle] of Islam (Prophet Muhammad being the Seal of the Prophets), and he is not willing to repent for having committed this sin, the following verdict was issued based on the investigations of the Department of Intelligence of the Province of Yazd, and the damaging consequences of his leaving the true religion of Islam and rejoining the Baha’i sect, which, according to indisputable principles accepted by reasonable people, is a clear insult to the beliefs of over one billion Muslims. By applying the tenth definition of ‘Nijasat’ [impurities], to be found in the first volume of Tahrir-Al Vasilih (p. 118*), in defining an infidel and an apostate, as well as section ten of the book of Al-Mavarith (on the topic of inheritance) and sections one and four of Al-hudud (on the topic of apostasy) written by the great founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, his holiness Imam Khomeini, the accused is sentenced to death because of being an apostate. Furthermore, based on section one of Almavarith (on the topic of inheritance), and in light of the fact that he does not have any Muslim heirs, a verdict is issued for the confiscation of all of his properties and assets by the Yazd division of the Imam’s Executive Body.”

The Supreme Court did not, at first, approve the death sentence for reasons including lack of competence of Islamic Revolutionary Courts in cases of apostasy. The file was sent to another court, which issued the death sentence and, this time, confirmed by the Supreme Court (Amnesty International, January 30, 1997, MDE 13/07/97).

The execution sentence for Mr. Mahrami as charged with apostasy caused an international outcry (e.g. the United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 52/142 on Dec. 12, 1997, and Human Rights Watch 1998 World Report). Human Rights Watch stated: “In practice, discrimination is widespread and institutionalized and, in the case of Baha’is… amounts to outright persecution.” The European Parliament condemned the sentence mentioning Mr. Mahrami’s name. The governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States objected to the verdict. Under international pressure, in December 1999, Mr. Mahrami’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and to 15 years imprisonment. On December 15, 2005, Mr. Mahrami died in prison of an unknown cause. His body was returned to his family for interment.

Mr. Mahrami’s unexpected death caused concern and doubt that it was a natural death. Dayan Ala’i, the spokesperson of the Baha’i community, told Radio Farda that first it was said that he had died of a heart attack, but he had no history of heart problems in his family nor any genetic disease. He added that in his visitations with his family, Mr. Mahrami never complained of a health problem. In a letter to Mr. Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, Head of the Judiciary, “Amnesty International urged that any investigation into Dhabihullah Mahrami’s death in custody should be carried out in conformity with the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions and that any person found responsible for his death should be brought to justice and given a prompt and fair trial.”


*Ruhollah Khomeini writes in his Tahrir-al Vasilih that infidels, i.e. individuals who do not believe in Islam or who believe in Islam but refuse to accept one of the fundamental principles, are unclean. There is no difference between an apostate and an infidel, whether at war with the Muslim nation or not (Vol. I, Purity, On the Unclean).


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 London’s 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.

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