Intensified Muharram Rituals Becoming Unbearable for Residents

Posted on: September 21st, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Muharram in Iran has so far delivered on its annual promise of month-long public dirges and processionals in honor of the 3rd Shiite Imam Hossein, who died in battle in the 7th century AD. Filling side streets and alleyways with self-flagellation, drumbeats, and wailing, observers of this religious holiday have more recently come to serve the additional purpose of encroaching on religious minority groups.

If noise pollution, traffic jams, and road blockades don’t seem major issues on their face, religious-minority citizens and eyewitness reports describe Muharram as a month-long “psychological persecution” that has enjoyed a history of strong government sponsorship, especially in non-Shiite locales [1].

Ararat, Tehran resident and member of a religious minority he preferred not to name, told HRANA that the eve of Muharram this year turned “ghastly” when the ceremonies reached his home on Ejarehdar Street and jolted his pregnant wife from her sleep.

“Suddenly, the windows started to tremble from the incessant drumming. You cannot imagine how she was woken up, and how she was shaking,” Ararat said. “Worried that something could have happened to the baby, we decided to go to the hospital.”

Making their way through streets clogged with parades, the route to the hospital that night was a long one.

“We moved in with my wife’s parents in Jajroud [north of Iran]. We were worried something terrible could happen, so we escaped for the safety of our baby.”

The Muharram rituals, according to Ararat, were bearable until a few years ago. Over the past decade, due in part to the failing economy, religious hubs have multiplied in tandem with a decreased public interest in worship. To address waning public participation, Ararat said, congregations have purchased audio equipment to broadcast their Muharram lamentations across greater distances.

“Most congregations consist of only a dozen people with flags and drums, slapping their chests or engaging in self-flagellation,” Ararat said. “They are led by a van carrying loudspeakers blasting the monodies [melodic laments].”

Revelations last year that the city of Tehran had given $14 million USD (55 billion IRR) to religious congregations caused such a stir among Iranians that the current mayor and city council have made clear that such funding would not be available this year. According to HRANA reports and eyewitness accounts, however, the disproportionate national and municipal budgets allocated to associations funding Muharram rituals has already mobilized the practice of such rites into a deliberate and systematic violation of religious minority rights.

Through its construction projects alone, city administrators seem to harbor a wish to maintain Shiite presence in neighborhoods where very few of them live. As one Isfahan tourist put it, Christian, Jewish, and other minority localities look deceivingly like the most Shiite-dominated areas of the city. Shiite congregations dot the map of Tehran’s Felestin (Palestine) neighborhood, which is home to many Jewish residents; the Villa neighborhood in Tehran, predominantly inhabited by Christian Armenians, is home to three Shiite mourning congregations; and several Shiite religious associations are housed in Tabriz’s Barnava district, as well as in the Christian-Armenian neighborhoods of Julfa and Isfahan’s Sangtarashha quarter.

As eyewitnesses attest to a growing fervor in sectarian rituals this year, and as religious-minority neighborhoods become host to some of the largest, most cacophonous dirges in the city, the slight against minority residents is twofold: their local taxes are not only being funneled away from projects that would otherwise benefit them, they are also being pooled into the government’s ideological propaganda campaign. Not to mention the noise.

“You cannot believe the horrendous conditions of our street,” said Ararat, who lives on an arterial sidestreet of Tehran’s Imam Hussein Square, one of many feeder streets into a larger collective mourning ceremony that brings loudly-wailing passersby, at all hours of the day and night, to the square. “I tried to reason with the parade administrators, but they told us it was all for Imam Hussein. They claimed there was nothing we could do, and advised us to stay up these nights to reap our benefits in the afterlife!”

An atheist Tabriz resident told HRANA that in order to escape the 24/7 stream of noise this year, he retreated to a vacation home and took a 10-day leave from work.

“Perhaps those who are religious won’t believe me, but I can’t stand even a second of monodies and chest slapping. We have seen enough of this on TV, at school, and at our universities. Every year, the number of congregations [that carry out these activities] increases. It is as though, by virtue of not being Muslim Shiites, we have no rights, and we do not even exist.”

Government backing of these observances not only violates the rights of religious minorities acknowledged in the Constitution–namely Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians–but also infringes on the rights stipulated in constitutional articles 19 [2] and 20 [3] pertaining to all Iranian citizens, including Baha’is, Dervishes, Yareshan, Mandayis, and others not expressly protected by law.

[1] Heya’at, religious associations or congregations, are formed via municipal permit process prior to Muharram, the Islamic month in lunar calendar marked by rituals commemorating Imam Hossein. The rituals include the broadcast of loud monodies broadcast through loudspeakers and processions held in the streets, where participants clad in black walk the streets while slapping their chests and chanting.
[2] Article 19: The people of Iran enjoy equal rights, regardless of the tribe or ethnic group to which they belong. Color, race, language, and other such considerations shall not be grounds for special privileges.
[3] Article 20: Members of the nation, whether men or women, are equally protected by the law. They enjoy all the human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that are in compliance with the Islamic criteria.

An Imprisoned Student Digs in his Heels as More than 50 Baha’i College Applicants are Denied September Enrollment

Posted on: September 19th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Four more Baha’i youth anticipating results from their national university entrance exam have received notifications of “deficiency” on their application dossiers, deflating their hopes for enrollment this year. But for one of these four–Rajai Shahr prisoner and human rights activist Vahed Kholousi–this rejection has come to symbolize a tradition of resistance.

Kholousi doggedly reapplies to the entrance exam every year from prison, in continued protest of having been denied higher educational opportunity for 15 consecutive test rounds.

It was Kholousi’s peaceful reclamation of Baha’i educational rights that originally brought him into authorities’ crosshairs, resulting in a five-year prison sentence on charges of “gathering and collusion with intent to commit crimes against national security,” “membership and activity in the Baha’i community and its widespread propaganda,” and “membership and activity in the Right to Education Committee.”

The above ruling from his June 2011 trial, held in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, was presided by Judge Moghiseh and later upheld in an appeals court. Pursuant to the sentence, he was summoned to Branch 3 of Evin Prison court that August, arrested there the same day, detained for 21 days in Ward 2A of Evin Prison (jurisdiction of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)), and finally exiled to Rajai Shahr Prison, where he has since remained.

Kholousi is contesting a larger anti-Baha’i discrimination policy administered by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, by which the e-dossiers of himself, Sahar Mohebpour from Shiraz (ranked # 7000, studying English Literature), Seyed Koosha Hashemi from Shiraz (ranked #6295), and Saba Fazli from Karaj have recently been flagged “deficiency on file,” bringing to 51 the number of Iranian Baha’is being denied college-enrollment eligibility despite successfully passing the national admissions test, according to HRANA cumulative reports.

HRANA previously revealed the identities of 47 Baha’i applicants who were met by the flag “deficiency on file” when checking their test results online:

1. Farhoud Bashi, from Tehran, 2. Sahba Imani, 3.Arman Golzar, 4. Nariman Movafaghi Eiveli from Sari, 5. Faran Talaei Khalajabadi, 6. Sina Talei Joshaghani, 7. Mahsa Sotoudeh, 8. Nima Amini, 9. Hanan Hashemi Dahaj, 10. Hasti Maleki, 11. Aria Ehsani, 12. Tina Hamidi Fard from Tehran (ranked #15000), 13. Rozhan Khooniki (ranked #9477), 14. Foroozan Noordel from Tabriz, 15.Parsa Sheikh Zavareh, 16.Hoda Hedayati, 17.Arian Baghaei Amrei from Sari, 18.Vafa Nobakht from Sari, 19.Adib Rahmani from Sari (ranked #960, studying Mathematics), 20.Parviz Rahmani, 21.Kiana Rastak, 22.Negar Iqani from Shiraz, 23.Hooman Zarei Kadavi, 24.Arsham Hashemi, 25.Nabil Bashi Ardestani, 26. Tara Bahamin, 27.Bita Charkh Zarrin, 28.Nona Ghadiri, 29.Sayeh Aghaei from Tabriz, 30.Pegah Siroosian, 31.Sadaf Misaghi Seysan of Tehran, 32. Parham Mokhtari from Saravan ranked # 397, studying mathematics; 33. Basir Zeinali Baghini from Bandar Abbas ranked # 1506; 34.Yahya Mousavi Tangrizi from Karaj, 35.Anita Rastegar, 36.Shamim Idelkhani, of Ardebil, ranked #139; 37.Farnia Iliyazadeh of Tehran, studying Mathematics; 38.Parmida Hosseinpooli Mamaqani, ranked #4500, studying Mathematics; 39.Sarvin Azarshab of Tehran, studying business,ranked #19000; 40.Parand Misaghi; 41.Shahrzad Tirgar; 42.Melina Ghavaminik, from Tehran, studying mathematics, ranked #10545, 43.Tarannum Mu’tamedi Broujerdi from Shahin Shahr of Isfahan, 44.Faran Abbaspouli Mamaghani from Tehran, 45.Sahand Ghaemifrom Shahin Shahr of Isfahan, 46.Vahid Sadeghi Seysan, 47.Shaghayegh Ghassemi

Blackballed Baha’is: 40 and Counting

Posted on: September 18th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HHRANA) – HRANA has so far confirmed the names of at least 40 Baha’i Iranian citizens who have been denied the opportunity to enroll in university despite successfully placing on the competitive national admissions test.

HRANA has confirmed that the candidate files of Nima Amini, Hanan Hashemi Dehaj, Hasti Maleki, Aria Ehsani, Tina Hamidi Fard from Tehran (ranked #15000 on the national exam) and Rozhan Khooniki (ranked #9477) have all been flagged “deficiency on file” on the National Organization for Educational Testing website. HRANA previously reported the names of 34 other students singled out by the same system.

The “deficiency on file” flag is one known method of the wider anti-Baha’i discrimination politics administered by Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. An informed source confirmed to HRANA that the flag is a go-to excuse to prevent Baha’i students from entering institutes of higher education.

Baha’i College Student Stopped Short of Degree

Posted on: September 18th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRAN)- Baha’i student Shaghayegh Zabihi Amrie was finishing the last semester of her associate’s degree in architectural drafting when the *National Organization for Educational Testing (NOET) stopped her short.

An informed source told HRANA that Amrie’s problems began with a summons to the Azad University Security Office, where she was drilled with questions about her faith. After placing a call to the director of Rasam Non-Profit University of Karaj on the western outskirts of Tehran, where Amrie was a student, authorities had little information with which to push forward and cleared her to continue her studies.

“When she applied to obtain her certificate of completion,” the source related, “she received a letter from NOET informing her that getting her certificate, and advancing further in her bachelor’s studies, would be prohibited.”

While many Baha’i students find themselves held back from ever pursuing post-secondary studies, some are admitted into institutions of higher education only to be blackballed later, per previous HRANA reports.

The highly-anticipated announcement of results from the National University Entrance Exam, known as “Konkur,” has been marred for many Baha’is who, with passing results and on the brink of starting college, are rendered ineligible by the NOET error message “deficiency on file,” a well-known pretext for quashing young Baha’i ambitions the moment they take shape.

The process has been utilized for years, and with a look at this year’s numbers, looks nowhere near abating. This year alone, HRANA has reported on at least 40 prospective college students who have been barred from pursuing their studies because of their Baha’i faith.

Contrary to the provisions of the **law, Iran’s Supreme Council of the ***Cultural Revolution has passed a law barring members of the Baha’i religious minority from both university enrollment and employment in public institutions. Since the 1979 Revolution, UN Special Rapporteurs on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran have protested the anti-Baha’i policies and practices of Iranian authorities, particularly the academic blackballing of Baha’is, deeming these practices a violation of Iran’s international commitments.

Baha’i citizens of Iran are systematically deprived of religious freedoms, while according to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all people are entitled to freedom of religion, belief, and changes thereof, as well as the right to express and practice those beliefs as individuals or collectives, in public or in private.

Though unofficial sources estimate the Baha’i population of Iran at more than 300,000, Iran’s Constitution officially recognizes only Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, and does not acknowledge the Baha’i faith as an official religion. As a result, the rights of Baha’is in Iran are systematically violated.

* NOET is established with the mandate to develop and implement the rules of admission to higher education with the collaboration of the universities http://www.sanjesh.org/en/aboutus.aspx
** The Islamic Republic’s constitution does not recognize Baha’i followers as a religious minority, but articles of the Constitution guarantees the right to association for everyone
*** The Council was founded in 1984 on the order of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, to ensure the “Islamization” of universities, survey academia to ensure their allegiance to the regime and their adherence to “Islamic” values.

Dervish Hunger Striker Transferred to Prison Clinic

Posted on: September 8th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Mojtaba Biranvand, a Dervish prisoner who went on hunger strike after being attacked by prison officials in the Great Tehran Penitentiary, was transferred to the prison’s clinic on September 7, 2018, after experiencing a steep drop in blood pressure.

Steadfast to the terms of his hunger strike, Biranvand has declined both intravenous treatment and transfer to an outside hospital. He was moved to declare a hunger strike after he and his comrades were violently raided by prison guards during a sit-in protest and transferred to solitary confinement cells. HRANA previously published an open letter from the Dervish prisoners outlining their terms of protest.

As punishment for his participation in protests against the restrictive measures imposed on Gonabadi Dervish spiritual leader Noor Ali Tabandeh, Biranvand was previously sentenced to seven years in prison and two years in exile, to be served in the southeastern province of Sistan & Baluchestan.

Dervish Prisoners Begin Hunger Strike Following Transfer to Solitary Confinement

Posted on: September 3rd, 2018

Update: As of Tuesday, September 4th, five other Dervish prisoners have joined the hunger strike. Their names are Babak Taghian, Ehsan Malekmohammadi, Salemi Salemi, Reza Bavi, and Akbar Dadashi.

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Twelve of the Dervish prisoners at Great Tehran Penitentiary who were violently disbanded and sent to solitary confinement on August 29th after staging a sit-in have started a hunger strike, while at least 20 of those attacked are reportedly in poor health.

Prison guards used batons, electrical shock, and tear gas on the prisoners to break up their peaceful protest, which had been in effect in Ward 3 since June 13th. The Twitter account of Majzooban Noor — a news agency publishing a feed on Dervishes, a religious minority — described the prison officials’ plan of attack, which involved filtering non-Dervish detainees from the quarantine area before charging those involved in the protest.

According to Majzooban Noor, prison officials then welded shut the gate of the prison yard to surround a number of Dervishes, using tear gas on those who attempted to come to their aid. The prisoners involved in the sit-in, along with 18 Dervishes from Ward 4, were subsequently taken to solitary confinement.

The August 29th raid occurred during a visit to the prison by Mostafa Mohebbi, the Director General of the organization Prisons of Tehran, who had come to inspect the Great Tehran Penitentiary following reports of deplorable conditions there.

Mohebbi reportedly watched as the heads of the prison — identified only as Director Farzadi and his deputy, “Farrokhnejad” — personally inflicted skull and arm fractures, among other injuries, on the confined Dervish prisoners.

Alireza Roshan, the director of Majzooban Noor, told HRANA that while many Dervishes were transferred to solitary confinement, others were individually dispersed among other Wards of the prison. He identified nine solitary confinement prisoners who started hunger strike upon their transfer: Ali Bolboli, Salehodin Moradi, Mohammad Reza Darvishi, Abbas Dehghan, Ali Mohammad Shahi, Mojtaba Biranvand, Ali Karimi, Jafar Ahmadi, and Ibrahim Allahbakhshi.

“Their demands[…]are the reunification of the [Dervish] prisoners to one ward, the release of the female Dervishes [held in Gharchak Prison], and the lifting of the house arrest of Noor Ali Tabandeh, the group’s leader, who has been under house arrest since February 2018,” Roshan revealed.

Three other Dervishes have since followed suit, according to Majzooban Noor, making for a total of twelve Dervishes currently starving themselves in protest. These three were identified as Heydar Teymouri, Majid Yarahmadi, and Saeed Soltanpour.

Roshan said prison regulations stipulate that certain prisoners be kept apart depending on their offenses and beliefs, and that prison officials are responsible for ensuring the collective safety of their detainees.

“Nevertheless,” said Roshan, “Great Tehran Penitentiary officials hold the Dervishes, [who are political prisoners], in a general ward alongside prisoners who have allegedly committed common crimes.”

The following is a bulletin from Majzooban Noor on Dervish prisoners whose health is now at risk:

  1. Kasra Nouri 2. Reza Entesari 3. Pouria Nouri 4. Mehdi Eskandari 5. Saeed Soltanpour 6. Mehrdad Rezaei 7. Alborz Eskandari 8. Ali Abidavi 9. Hasan Shahreza 10. Sekhavat Salimi 11. Amir Nouri 12. Jafar Ahmadi 13. Babak Moradi 14. Majid Moradi 15. Mohammad Reza Darvishi 16. Heydar Teymouri 17. Ali Mohammad Shahi 18. Amin Soleimani 19. Sajjad Baradaran 20. Akbar Dadashi

Prison guards reportedly pulled out some of the Dervishes’ hair, including their facial hair, during the August 29th raid.

Human rights activists and families of the victims have recently raised concerns over a lack of transparency from prison authorities on the current condition of the Dervishes.

The families of the affected Dervishes have written a letter to judicial authorities to demand immediate face-to-face visits with their imprisoned loved ones. The families are reportedly suspicious that authorities have enforced solitary confinement and delays on family visits in order that wounds and traces of violence have ample time to fade from the Dervishes’ bodies.

Six of the dervishes who were beaten – Salehodin Moradi, Ali Bolboli, Mohammad Reza Darvishi, Sekhavat Salimi, Ali Karimi, and Ibrahim Allahbakhshi – have been transferred to Ward 1 of the Great Tehran Penitentiary, quarters for those convicted of common crimes.

Others — including Reza Entesari, Sina Entezari, Kasra Nouri, Mehdi Eskandari, Reza Bavi, Amir Nouri, and Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam — are being held in solitary confinement.

*There are various divisions among Dervish religious groups in Iran. The use of Dervish in this article refers to Nematollahi Gonabadis, who in recent years have declared themselves followers of Twelver Shia Islam, Iran’s official state religion.

HRANA previously reported on how the sit-in was violently broken up

Baha’i Couple From Shiraz Arrested

Posted on: August 17th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – On Friday, August 17, 2018, Negar Misaghian and Mahboob Habibi, a Baha’i couple from Shiraz, were arrested by security forces and transferred to the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in the same city.

Earlier this month, HRANA also reported on the court verdict for Rouhieh Nariman and Farzad Delaram, another Baha’i couple in Shiraz. Rouhieh Nariman was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, and her husband, Farzad Delaram, was sentenced to one year in prison by Branch 17 of the Shiraz Appeals Court.

Iranian Baha’i citizens are systematically deprived of religious freedoms, while according to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone is entitled to the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to adopt and manifest the religion of their choice either individually, in public or in private.

Based on unofficial sources, more than 300,000 Baha’is live in Iran. However, Iran’s Constitution only recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism and denies recognizing the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Consequently, the rights of Baha’is are systematically violated in Iran.

Four Baha’i citizens were tried and sentenced in Mashhad

Posted on: May 31st, 2013

HRANA News Agency – Four Baha’i citizens were tried and sentenced to prison in Mashhad.  Nika Kholoosi, Nava Kholoosi, Adib Sho’aie and Mahsa Mahdavi received sentences ranging from eight months to six years.

According to a report by Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), these prisoners of conscious were tried in the 3rd branch of Revolutionary Court in Mashhad.  Judge Soltani presided over the trial during which the defenders were charged with promoting the Baha’i religion, propaganda against the Islamic regime and membership in Baha’i groups. (more…)

Baha’i Citizens interrogated upon return to Iran

Posted on: May 31st, 2013

HRANA News Agency – In the past few months, a number of Baha’i citizens have been interrogated by the authorities after returning to Iran from Turkey.

According to a report by Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Iranian intelligent officers have questioned Baha’i citizens at the airport and inspected their belongings in different occasions.

(more…)

Two Baha’i sisters denied full access at Mashhad exhibition

Posted on: May 26th, 2013

HRANA News Agency – Two Baha’i sisters Nika and Nava Kholoosi have been denied access to fully participate in flower exhibitions held in Mashhad.

According to a report by Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Nika and Nava Kholoosi are two young Baha’i sisters who were behind bars for six months and released in March 2013 after posting bail.  While waiting for their verdicts, they rented a booth at Mashhad International Exhibition Center to participate in the annual plant and flower exhibition which starts on May 15 and runs until May 19, 2013. (more…)