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

Masih Farhangi

About

Age: 69
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: July 24, 1981
Location: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Shooting
Charges: Religious offense; Espionage; Working with or for a foreign power
Age at time of offense: 67

About this Case

The information regarding the life and execution of Dr. Masih Farhangi originates in a publication entitled: The Biography and Good Services of Dr. Masih Farhangi (Biography), edited by his daughter, Dr. Farhang Farhangi, and published in 2017 in Ontario, Canada. This  Biography contains the transcripts of excerpts of Mrs. Alavian’s interview about Mr. Farhangi and his religious activities; it also includes the memoirs of his spouse Mrs. Qamar-ol-Moluk Seif (Farhangi). Mr. Masih Farhangi is also one of the 206 Iranian Baha’is listed in a 1993 report published by the Baha’i International Community. The report documents the persecution of the members of the faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran and lists the Baha’is killed since 1978. Additional information has been drawn from various issues of the The Baha’i World (See for example: Vol. XIX, 1982-1986, Haifa 1994.) 

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

The Baha’i religious community is the largest minority group in Iran, with approximately 300,000 members in 1979 (more current figures are not available).*  The authorities of the Islamic Republic have subjected Baha’is 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 an official 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. 

About Dr. Masih Farhangi

Mashih Farhangi’s father converted to the Baha’i religion when he was still a young man. His son Masih officially became a Baha’i when he reached the age of 15. In 1937 Masih graduated from medical school, and a year later in 1938 he married Qamar-ol-Moluk. Together they had two daughters, Farhang and Shahla, and two sons, Fariborz and Shahbaz. As he started to practice medicine he also became active in Baha’i community life in Iran. He joined the Baha'i continental board of counsellors**, and served in the Baha’i spiritual assemblies*** of Iran and Iraq. During his life, Dr. Farhangi travelled extensively around the world to promote Baha’i religion. He was very popular among his patients. In Iran’s northern city of Rasht, where he used to practice, his patients affectionately nicknamed him “Dr. One Prescription,” meaning he was able to cure his patients with the first prescription. According to his spouse, he would not charge destitute patients, and was willing to go to patients who were unable to go to his office (Biography, p. 170). He loved reading and had a fine wit and beautiful handwriting. Painting was his favorite hobby, and he took pleasure in copying paintings of the masters. Dr. Farhangi also loved poetry and literature, and he himself wrote poetry (Biography, p. 174-93).

A few months before the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Islamist militants intensified their activism against active notables of the Baha’i community and targeted Dr. Farhangi.. One day the son of a cleric slapped him in the street (Biography, p. 123). Dr. Farhangi filed a complaint at the police station but the police did not follow up on his complaint. With the intensification of the pressure on him and his family, Dr. Farhangi closed his practice in Rasht and moved to the capital city, Tehran.

According to Ms. Farhangi, the family had the opportunity to live outside Iran, but Mr. Farhangi preferred to continue to serve his fellow Iranians, which he did, even when imprisoned in Evin Prison. Fellow prisoners who visited his family reported that Mr. Farhangi was a great help to them and others in prison who were sick and in distress (Biography, p. 123-24, 142-44, 153). 

Arrest and detention

Mrs. Farhangi who was home at the time of arrest, reports that at 8:00 PM on February 7, 1980, two revolutionary guards, one of whom was armed, rang the home doorbell and pushed their way into the house: “First they cut the telephone line and took our phonebook.” Two other individuals joined them shortly after and started to search the house: “They emptied all our suitcases in the middle of the room as if they were looking for money and jewelry. The other two took all the books and put them in large bags… they took everything they found out of the house: camera, tape-recorder, radio, money, jewelry… This lasted until midnight… When they finished, they made a list and told Masih to sign it. He said, ‘What should I sign: for all I know you may have put drugs in the bags, and then you would charge me with trafficking?’ The guards emptied the bags to show he had not put anything else in them. And they took Masih with them. Masih said goodbye [to us] and asked us to remain calm.” (Biography, p.129). In her account, Mrs. Farhangi does not mention any arrest warrant. After two days she was informed that Dr. Masih Farhangi was detained in Evin prison.

Dr. Farhangi was kept in solitary confinement until March 8, 1980, and not allowed visitation but was allowed to receive clothing from home. On March 8th, he was transferred to Section 2 of Evin prison, and his wife was allowed to visit him for the first time. The psychological and physical torture he had endured had enfeebled him so much that he could not stand. After the first visitation, Mrs. Farhangi was allowed a visitation behind glass every Sunday. Each visitation lasted 15 minutes.

For the Persian new year, March 21st, 1980], Mrs. Farhangi was permitted a private visit with her husband. During this visit, Dr. Farhangi told his wife that his interrogator was no other than the very guard who had promised to take care of him at the time of his arrest. He had been blindfolded and was facing the wall during his interrogation: “The questions were numerous and concerned international spying, relations with Israel, relations with the United States…”. After the first interrogation session, he had been taken to a room where other prisoners were held. They had told him he was in Evin prison: “Then they took me to solitary confinement in a dark and damp basement without fresh air, with a very small window…” (Biography, p.133-34).

Dr. Farhangi’s wife reports he had told her that while in solitary confinement, he had been once beaten by the guards because he needed urgently to use the restroom and had screamed for help for four hours. He had been kept in solitary confinement for 15 days, after which he had been transferred to a public section, but because he had been praying loudly, he had been taken back to solitary confinement (Biography, p.133-34).

In Mrs. Farhangi’s memoirs two other interrogation sessions are alluded to without dates: “During one of our visitations, Masih told me ‘They took me for interrogation and asked 150 questions, I wrote down the responses to some of the questions.’ I asked him if he recognized the interrogator. He said, ‘No, I was blindfolded, and responding to the rest of the questions was postponed to the day after, but the day after I had the flu and they waited three days for me to feel better… I responded to the rest of their questions. Among other things they asked me if I had visited the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Israel. I said twice: once on pilgrimage and once for medical treatment of my wife. The interrogator told me I will put your dossier at the bottom of the piling so that you wouldn’t be tried any time soon’ ” (Biography, p.149-50).

Prison officials asked Dr. Farhangi to take charge of patients within his ward. After lengthy negotiations, the prison director had authorized Mrs. Farhangi to provide Dr. Farhangi with his blood pressure meter. Some of the prison guards and their family were also consulting with Dr. Farhangi (Biography, p.135).

One of Dr. Farhangi’s cell mates, who has spent time with him in Room 1 of Section 3 of Evin prison told his family that guards had staged several mock executions for Mr. Farhangi in order to force him to renounce his religion (Biography, p.138).

In total Dr. Masih Farhangi spent 502 days in detention. 

Trial

No precise information is available on Mr. Farhangi's trial. According to one of his cellmates, he had been taken before the religious judge several times: “The recantation opportunity was given only once to each Baha’i prisoner. But since prison authorities needed Dr. Farhangi’s medical services, they took him multiple times before the judge to make him recant, but he was steadfast in his religious beliefs and refused to recant. It is not clear if each of these meetings with the religious judge were a kind of trial session, and it is not known if a prosecutor was present during these meetings. The defendant was deprived of the services of legal counsel at all stages of the proceedings.

Charges

It is only retrospectively through the written sentence issued by the tribunal (reproduced in the aforementioned Biography) that charges brought against the defendants were enumerated: “member of the leadership cadre, and active leader of the Zionist deviant cult in Asia,” “spying for international Zionism,” “intelligence relations with the Zionist country occupying Jerusalem,” “multiple trips to different cities of the world in order to mislead Muslims and proselytize for the deviant cult, and sending reports to Haifa,” “acting against the Islamic Republic,” and “full support of the scandalous crimes of the regime occupying Jerusalem.”

Evidence of guilt

No exact information is available regarding the evidence presented to the judge. Considering the substance of the charges brought against the defendant, which criminalized his religion, personal faith, and religious activities, the evidence presented against him may have been drawn from the interrogation report and Dr. Farhangi’s own responses regarding his religious beliefs and activities, which he never denied. The verdict against Farhangi cited his involvement with the Baha’i leadership, suggesting evidence of his religious activities was used against him.

Defense

No information is available on Mr. Farhangi's defense.

However, the representatives of the Baha'i community stress that their members are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. They note that Baha'is' requests to access their files are usually denied, and access to attorneys is often denied. They 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 Center is in Israel. They point out that this Center was established on Mount Carmel in the late 19th century, long before the establishment of the state of Israel.

Judgment

Dr. Masih Farhangi’s written sentence is published in his biography (Biography, p.157). The ruling bears no date and no judge’s signature and reads as follows: “Masih Farhangi Sabet, son of Abdol-Rahim, member of the leadership cadre, and active leader of the Zionist deviant cult in Asia,” based on charges brought against him, “has been recognized as a clear example of a corruptor on earth, who is at war against God, in rebellion against the Islamic government, and sentenced to death.” In late April and late May Dr. Masih Farhangi was allowed his last visitations with his spouse and sister. During these meetings he had told them: “I am finished, you must move on and stop thinking of me, don’t be sorrowful.” The last week of June 1981 all contacts with Evin prison were suspended, and no one was allowed in prison. Mrs. Farhangi called a prison warden to ask why she couldn’t visit her husband. The guard told her: “The Doctor and all the others are fine” and then hastily hung up the phone (Biography, p.151).

On June 24th, 1981 the Islamic Republic’s state radio announced the execution of Dr. Masih Farhangi along with three other Baha’i detainees****. Their families had not been informed and were deprived of their right to say goodbye to their loved ones. Mrs. Farhangi has written about that day: “At 8:00 AM, the radio announced the execution of four lackeys of Israel) … then the names were read:d Farid, Postchi, Masih Farhangi… I didn’t hear the fourth name… I went to the coroner office with my son in law… and two other friends… we were led to a room to sign the papers and receive the bodies … approximately 1,000 people, Baha’is and non-Baha’is had gathered there (in Golestan Javid Cemetery) …” The very same day the four Baha’is victims were buried (Biography, p.152-53). A photo of Dr. Farhangi’s corpse was taken before the burial and published in his biography, on his right foot was written “against Islam” (Biography, p.157). A few days after the executions, Mrs. Farhangi and one of her daughters traveled to the northern city of Rasht. While they were away, their house in Tehran was confiscated by the government.

_______________________

* ‘Slow Death for Iran’s Baha’is’ by Richard N. Ostling, Time Magazine, February 20, 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.
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 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 of 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.” 
** Dr. Farhangi was a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Asia, an appointed leadership position which oversees the auxiliary board members.
*** An ensemble consisting of 9 people who are elected annually by the votes of the leaders in each country and will be responsible for the current affairs of teh Bahai's comuunity in that country.
**** Messers Badi'ullah FaridYadu'llah Pustchi, and Varqa Tibyaniyan

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