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

Mohammad (Sohrab) Habibi

About

Age: 48
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: June 14, 1981
Location of Killing: Hamedan, Hamedan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Shooting
Charges: War on God; Corruption on earth
Age at time of offense: 47

About this Case

In his last defense in court stated: “We Baha’is are not political by any means, and have no direct or indirect relations with any government in the world, and there is no evidence against us [to that effect]. 

News of the execution of Mr. Mohammad (Sohrab) Habibi, son of Nurmohammad and Hayat Soltan, and six other individuals* was published in Ettela’at and Kayhan newspapers on June 15, 1981. Additional information about this case was obtained from Ettela’at newspaper (June 17, and July 9, 1981); documents published on the Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran website including his biography; the last letter of two of his co-defendants (June 13, 1981); the defense written by the [city of] Hamedan Spiritual Assembly members (February 11, 1981); a Revolutionary Guardsman’s testimony on his and his co-defendants’ behalf; Baha’is National Spiritual Assembly of the United States “Andalib” (Winter 1990); Iran Wire website (September 7, 2014); the Baha’i News videos on a YouTube channel (June 11, 2016); Baha’is in the Media website (December 2008-January 2009); Gooya News website (April 28, 2015); and Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith website (February 9, 2013).

Mr. Habibi was Born into a Baha’i family in the city of Hamedan in February-March 1933. He had a high school diploma and worked at the city of Hamedan’s Malaria Eradication Administration for a while, then started to repair radio and television sets with his brother. He was married with two children. (Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith website, Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran). Mr. Habibi had gone to one of Hamedan’s villages to promote the Baha’i faith, when he was forced to leave because of harassment by the region’s residents. (Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith website). Mr. Habibi had been a member of the city of Hamedan’s Spiritual Assembly** since 1970. (Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page).

This case is related to the arrest of 7 members of the Hamedan’s Baha’i Spiritual Assembly in 1980.

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 religious  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. ****

Arrest and detention

In the afternoon of August 13, 1980, Mr. Habibi was arrested at his home by the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards forces. He had received a summons from the Hamedan Islamic Revolutionary Court a few days earlier, and was supposed to go to court on the prescribed date. After his arrest, Mr. Habibi contacted his wife by phone asking her to deliver his personal effects to the prison. (Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page).

Mr. Habibi spent 21 days at the Revolutionary Guards detention center and was subsequently transferred to the Police Force prison. He endured physical torture during detention. Mr. Habibi was denied visitations for 3 months after his arrest. (Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran). His and his co-defendants’ cell was located next to the ward toilets and was so small that they had to take turns sleeping. According to handwritten notes obtained from one of Mr. Habibi’s co-defendants, they were incarcerated in a dirty and polluted environment and were deprived of the most basic health and hygiene requirements, including “showering”. According to this person, in order to combat lice and other pollutants, they used [bleach, detergents,] and heavy duty chemical cleansers multiple times a day. (Iran Wire). 

Mr. Habibi’s and his co-defendants’ families wrote numerous letters to Iran’s government officials and judicial authorities in order to have them lift their visitation ban. According to the families of Mr. Habibi’s co-defendants, the prison guards did not allow the prisoners and their families to speak to one another in their first visitation. Mr. Habibi and his ward mates were allowed two visitations per week with their families. (Iran Wire). 

According to the spouse of one of Mr. Habibi’s co-defendants, in the first two weeks of visitations, only the prisoners’ children were permitted to visit with their fathers; thereafter, their spouses were allowed visitation as well. Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants were kept in the general ward for four months and were then transferred to the political prisoners ward. (Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page, Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith weblog). 

Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants had their last visitation with their families on June 11, 1981. Their families described them as being of strong spirit, calm and patient. (Iran Wire). 

Trial

The Hamedan Islamic Revolutionary Court tried Mr. Habibi and three of his co-defendants in January-February 1981. According to Mr. Habibi, their defense was not being recorded at trial, and a portion of their defense that had been submitted in the form of a written brief was also not registered by the court clerk. He and his co-defendants were summoned to court for the last time in the third week of March 1981. (Iran Wire, Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith weblog). 

Some of the information regarding trial sessions was obtained from one of Mr. Habibi’s co-defendants’ handwritten notes. According to these notes, in addition to the charges officially brought against the defendants in the indictment, they were also questioned about their religious beliefs. (Baha’is in the Media). 

Mr. Habibi did not have access to an attorney.

Charges

The charges brought against Mr. Habibi were “cooperation with the Pahlavi regime (the pre-1979 Revolution Monarchy) and having connections to the SAVAK (the Shah’s secret police); espionage; enmity with Islam; propaganda, conspiracy, and rising up against the Islamic Republic; dissemination of falsehoods and causing apprehension in the public’s mind; instigating Baha’is to tell lies and pretend to be victims; proselytizing the Baha’i faith; sending money to the State if Israel; and hiding documents”. (Iran Wire; Ettela’at newspaper, June 17, and July 9, 1981).

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial. 

Evidence of guilt

Mr. Habibi’s previous membership in Hamedan’s Spiritual Assembly, testimony of a number witnesses in court, and the Assembly’s letters and administrative correspondence were among the evidence used against Mr. Habibi. (Iran Wire; Ettela’at newspaper, July 9, 1981). 

At the close of the trial’s final session, the judge had told him and the other defendants in the case: “No matter how much we investigated, we could not obtain any evidence against you. The objective is for you to become Moslems, to convert to Islam, and be freed.” (Iran Wire).

Defense

According to the writings of Mr. Habibi, after the first trial sessions and upon hearing the indictment, they asked the prison warden to allow them to meet with their families and their attorneys. They were denied that request. According to this individual, they were under very strict control not to have any contact with the outside. (Iran Wire). 

According to one of the defendants, an eyewitness had stated in a letter submitted to the court that the testimony of witnesses against the defendants was fabricated, and had stated that in order to encourage people to testify against Baha’is, they were told that such testimony constituted “atonement for their sins”. (Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran). 

Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants prepared their defense in a very limited time, on the basis of a copy of the indictment. They talked about the right to freedom of belief in their brief, referencing Koranic verses and the Constitution***** of the Islamic Republic. In the opinion of Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants, “searches of the homes” of the arrestees and other members of the Assembly, and “seizure” of their religious books (related to the Baha’i faith) and not returning them, were instances of “inquisition”. They wrote: “Such conditions and ways (inquisition into people’s beliefs and their harassment because of their religion) would harm people’s beliefs and the foundations of society more than they would harm Baha’is.” Regarding [the charge of] “cooperation with the Pahlavi regime and connections to the SAVAK” cited in the indictment, they stated in the brief that the Assembly’s correspondence with the Police and the SAVAK was to “ask for redress” for the harassment [of Baha’is]. Furthermore, they denied the charge of “espionage”. Regarding the charge of “sending money to the State of Israel”, they explained that Baha’is choosing the state of Israel was not of their volition and that they had been forced to do so due to their religious leader having been exiled to that country. They further stated that sending money there was part of their right to “freedom of religion” and performance of religious rites, and that those sums of money were Baha’is’ religious donations for the purpose of expenditure at Baha’i religious centers in the cities of Akka and Haifa, located in Israel. In response to the charge of “hiding documents”, they stated that documents existing at the Baha’i Assembly were discarded after 5 years “just like all administrations”, and that the documents pertaining to the last years were submitted to the court. (Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran).

In one of the trial sessions, Mr. Habibi stated in his closing arguments about the charges of “espionage, hiding documents, and having connections to the SAVAK: “We Baha’is are not political by any means, and have no direct or indirect relations with any government in the world. As stated in our brief, we are strictly prohibited by our religious texts to engage in political affairs and espionage. We do not possess any documents that the court alleges and those documents that we do possess from the Assembly (archives) have been submitted to the court. we have had no relations with the SAVAK and all our correspondence was for the purpose of seeking justice, not establishing relations. We vehemently and absolutely deny all of the charges brought against us. Our work as Baha’is is conducted within the framework of our religion’s dictates and is entirely moral and spiritual in nature.” (Baha’is in the Media). 

In refuting the charges, Mr. Habibi’s and the other defendants’ families had written letters to government officials and judicial authorities such as the Shari’a judge and the Office of the President; there were no responses to these letters. (Iran Wire).

A Summary of the Legal Defects in Mr. Habibi’s Case

After the 1979 Revolution, the Iranian judicial system underwent radical changes as a consequence of the influence of the newly installed Islamic ideology. As a result, many of the fair trial guarantees that existed in the laws at the time were abolished. This was particularly true and most visible in the case of Revolutionary Courts, which had been established by order of the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and had no basis in law. The judges in these courts were selected from among clerics with ties to the regime, with absolutely no experience in administering justice. The proceedings in these courts were conducted on the basis of the rules of Islamic law, or Shari’a, and the judges were called Shari’a judges. As a result of these circumstances, the standards and principles of fair trial were disregarded, particularly in political and security-related cases.

Like thousands of other cases, the present case was subjected to those circumstances as well. In this case, the Shari’s judge tried the defendant on the charge of “Moharebeh” (“waging war against God”), whereas no such crime existed, nor was it so defined in any of the laws in force at the time; the judges charging defendants with “Moharebeh” in various cases, relied on and cited religious texts in deducing said crime. Even in religious (Shari’a) texts, “Moharebeh” consists of an instance where an individual takes up arms as part of a group, and deprives a large number of the populace of their safety and security. In the present case, there is no sign of the use of arms anywhere; further, the defendant’s actions in no way caused the public’s general deprivation of security.

One of the charges brought against the defendant is “espionage on behalf of Israel”. Espionage occurs when an individual puts classified documents and information at the disposal of persons not entitled to receive such documents and information. The defendant in this case was in no way in a position to have access to classified documents, nor had the court made such a claim, according to available information.

Among other charges brought against the defendant was proselytizing the Baha’i religion. This charge too was neither defined as a crime in the laws in force at the time, nor in religious laws. Pursuant to criminal law, a “thought” can never be criminalized. Even if an individual has a criminal thought but has not acted upon or made preparation toward the implementation thereof, such individual is not a criminal and cannot be tried solely on the basis of a criminal thought. In the present case, the defendant was tried for his belief in the Baha’i faith and/or proselytizing thereof. The Iranian Constitution expressly provides for the freedom of thought and belief, and no one can be questioned for holding a particular belief.

According to available information, the defendant did not have access to an attorney. Furthermore, according to certain published accounts, he was beaten and tortured at various times and in different phases of the proceedings.Generally, the principles of fair trial were violated in this case, both from a substantive as well as a procedural standpoint. It appears that such a trial was conducted not based on laws but on attaining certain political and revolutionary objectives.

Judgment

Hamedan Revolutionary Court sentenced Mr. Mohammd Habibi and 6 of his co-defendants to death on the charge of “Moharebeh (“waging war”) against God and God’s Messenger”.  The sentence was upheld by the Judicial High Council. 

On the morning of June 14, 1981, Mr. Mohammd Habibi and 6 other individuals were executed in Hamedan. 

In a note addressed to his wife written before his execution, Mr. Habibi said: “Although it was God’s will to physically separate the two of us, I am sure our souls remain together. Do not be worried or sad at all about this event.”

Two years prior to Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants’ execution, governmental authorities had gone to their homes in order to expropriate their property. (Iran Wire). 

Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants had been called upon to be taken for the implementation of their sentence on June 10; a few hours later, however, prison officials told them that the program had changed. On June 13, when they were informed for a second time that they were to be executed, Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants proceeded to first clean and wash themselves, and then put their personal effects in order. According to their ward mates, they were calm, smiling, and praying until the last moment. (Iran Wire). According to a handwritten note left behind by one of Mr. Habibi’s co-defendants, prison officials did not allow him and his co-defendants to meet with the Shari’a judge and the court judges. According to this person, the latter officials were not present at the site of the execution. (Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran). 

According to persons close to Mr. Habibi, the [city of] Shiraz Revolutionary Court had issued an order of release for Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants in March 1981. However, immediately after its issuance at the court session, this order was disregarded and violated by local and state officials. According to one of Mr. Habibi’s ward mates, that order was never shown to them. (Iran Wire). 

Citing the signs of injuries on the bodies and the testimony of an eyewitness, Mr. Habibi’s and his co-defendants’ families believe that they were killed slowly and gradually while facing each other. According to Mr. Habibi’s family, there were burn marks on his body and back that looked like it was done by his own ring while burnt. According to those who had seen his corpse, there were stab wounds on his body, too. (Andalib, Winter 1990; Iran Wire).

Mr. Habibi’s family was not informed of his execution. On the morning of June 14, his wife submitted a letter to the Revolutionary Court, “seeking justice”. When she returned home, she heard her child’s scream” Mom, they killed dad!” (Martyrs of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page). 

Hamedan Prison officials had piled up Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants’ bodies on top of each other in a room at Hamedan’s Imam Khomeini Hospital, where two of the people executed worked. (Andalib, Winter 1990). A hospital employee informed their families of the presence of the bodies at the hospital (Andalib, Winter 1990; Iran Wire). Hospital officials initially refused to provide an ambulance to take the bodies for burial. Ultimately, they provided them with one that was so old and beaten up that some of the windows were broken. According to several eyewitnesses, there was a large crowd gathered at Mr. Habibi and his co-defendants’ funeral, which slowed down the movement of the ambulance to the burial site. One week after their burial, their graves were destroyed. (Iran Wire).

Mr. Habibi left behind a last will and testament that was written a few minutes before 11 PM of June 13, 1980. In it, he addresses his wife: “My dear wife! I hope that you spend the rest of your life in ultimate happiness and success. Although it was God’s will to physically separate the two of us, I am sure our souls remain together. Do not be worried or sad about this event at all. Be strong like a rock and take good care of my dear children.” (Iran Wire).

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* Messers: Hossein KhandalHossein Motlaq, Mohammad Baqer (Soheil) HabibiTarazollah KhozainNaser Vafa'i, and Firuz Na'imi.
** The affairs of the Baha’i’ community are administered through a system of institutions, each with its defined sphere of action. At the local level, the affairs of the Baha’i’ community are administered by the “Local Spiritual Assembly”. Each Local Assembly consists of nine members who are chosen in annual elections. At the national level, the affairs of the Baha’i’ community are administered by the “National Spiritual Assembly”, a nine-member elected council responsible for guiding, coordinating, and stimulating the activities of Local Spiritual Assemblies and individual members of the Baha’i’ community within a given country.
*** ‘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.
**** 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.”
***** Article 23 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran; “The investigation of individuals' beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.” 

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