Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Habibu'llah Panahi


Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Unknown


Date of Killing: February 4, 1980
Location of Killing: Orumieh, Azarbaijan-e Gharbi Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Mob killing/assassination
Charges: Religious offense

About this Case

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) 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 organization, an elected spiritual body that administers the affairs of the faith 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."

Mr. Habibu'llah Panahi 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. (See also: www.question.bahai.org ). Additional information has been drawn from various issues of the The Baha’i World. See for example: Vol. XIX, 1982-1986, Haifa 1994.

Attacks against Baha'is, including those carried out by non-state actors, are documented in Omid because there has been active and direct government involvement in the persecution of this minority. The government’s responsibilities in these abuses are both of commission and omission. Commission means direct government hand in the persecution, trials, and deaths of scores of Baha'is. The government has also promulgated laws that are discriminatory against non-Muslims generally. However, the Baha’i faith is particularly targeted since the government defines it as a heresy.

As a result, the members of the Baha’i community are deprived of the right to equal protection under the law and could be accused of apostasy. Under Islamic law, apostasy is a crime that may be punishable by death. While the post-revolutionary Penal code does not mention the crime of apostasy, Islamic Republic judicial and religious authorities have publicly discussed cases of apostasy. In a statement published in October 1981 in the Kayhan daily for example, the Head of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Courts, Ayatollah Guilani and stressed that: “the punishment for a Mortad-e Fetri [apostate who was born in a Muslim family] is death and his repentance is not accepted.” The combination of such statements and articles on punishment in the Penal Code provided grounds for individuals, state or non-state actors, for killing anyone they considered to be a "pagan", an "apostate", or a “corruptor on earth”. Article 22 (or 226) of the Hudud and Qesas laws states that: "A homicide is punishable by Qisas only if the person killed did not deserve death based on Shari'a." The article specifies further that the murderer must prove in court that the murdered person deserved to be killed, allowing thus any citizen to kill another citizen based on his or her understanding of what is prohibited by Shari'a.

The Islamic Republic’s courts have not only prosecuted and sentenced to death Baha’is because of their religious belief, but have refused to investigate or hold accountable those who have attacked members of the Baha’i community. The inflammatory anti-Baha’i statements of religious and judicial authorities and the impunity granted to perpetrators of attacks against the Baha’is have further endangered members of this community and exposed them to violence. Against this background, Baha’i activists have been victims of assassinations and mob killings instigated and carried out by state and non-state actors. By turning a blind eye, the government omitted to face up to its responsibilities to protect all Iranian citizens. Such omission is in flagrant violation of the Iranian government’s obligations under international law.

Mr. Habibu'llah Panahi was murdered. Whether or not the assassination was the result of a sentence or a religious fatwa is not known.


* Speech May 28, 1983, Sahife-ye Emam, Volume 17

** Iran, Secret Blue Print for the Destruction of a Religious community, p. 27).

*** Kayhan, October 19, 1981

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