Saeid Rezaie, one of the seven members of the former leadership group of the Baha’is, who has been recently freed after being ten years behind bars, says that people of Iran never accepted the claim that Baha’i leaders are involved in espionage against their homeland.
Rezaie who was arrested in 2008 was freed from prison February 16 after completing a ten-year sentence for espionage, charges he denies.
The Baha’i, like some other religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, are persecuted for their beliefs and subjected to harassment and wrongful imprisonment, according to rights groups.
“Mr. Rezaie and six of his colleagues were arrested in 2008 after an early-morning raid on their homes,” the Baha’i International Community (BIC) said in a statement. “They were part of the ad hoc group known as “the Yaran” (the Friends) which tended to the basic spiritual and material needs of the Iranian Baha’i community. The group was formed with the knowledge and tacit approval of authorities after formal Baha’i institutions were declared illegal in Iran in the 1980s. Mr. Rezaie is the fourth individual from among the former Yaran to be released.”
The Yaran were accused by Iranian authorities of “espionage, sacrilege, propaganda against the establishment, and spreading corruption on Earth.”
Rezaei insists all charges against himself and his companions are baseless, and that as adherents to the Baha’i faith, their imprisonment was pre-ordained by the Islamic Republic authorities despite the lack of evidence of their alleged crimes.
“Ten years have passed and now I am released from prison, nevertheless, they have not yet presented one single shred of evidence against us,” Rezaei told the New York based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) February 20. “Our lawyers saw a letter written by counterespionage agents of the Intelligence Ministry admitting they had not found any evidence of our involvement in espionage. However, as you know, they did not need any evidence since they had already decided our fates.”
Yaran members Fariba Kamalabadi, Mahvash Sabet, and Behrooz Tavakoli have been also freed after completing their sentences, but three other members of the group remain behind bars. They include Jamaloddin Khanjani, 84, Afif Naeimi, 56, and Valid Tizfahm, 44. All are expected to complete their sentences in the coming months.
Rezaei says that despite the authorities’ attempts to deprive Baha’is of their spiritual identity, he and his fellows have remained steadfast in their beliefs.
“Baha’is are not confrontational, we are only different, and difference should not lead to confrontation,” he said.
Representatives of the Baha’i community abroad say their brethren in Iran are subjected to a variety of economic persecutions and deprived of educational opportunities.
“Although Mr. Rezaie and three other members of the Yaran have been released, the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran continues unabated,” said Diane Ala’i, a representative of the Baha’i International Community (BIC) to the United Nations in Geneva. “From prison, Mr. Rezaie will go back to a community that is still under immense pressure from the government and faces discrimination and persecution for no other reason than belief in the Baha’i faith.”
Before he was imprisoned, Rezaie, an agricultural engineer, ran a successful farming equipment business that was targeted by authorities. Baha’i-owned shops and businesses are regularly closed by the authorities and their owners are harassed, thus depriving Baha’i families of an income. The BIC calls this practice “economic apartheid.”
The Baha’i faith, whose adherents are thought to number between five to seven million worldwide, originated in Persia in the 19th century and has been at odds with Iran’s Islamic clergy since its inception.