Following the sentencing of seven Baha’is associated with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, their families’ only hope is that the Appeals Court will change the ruling. They were each sentenced to four or five years in prison and were all transferred from Evin Prison to other prisons several days after the lower court ruling.
Naim Sobhani, son of Riaz Sobhani, who was sentenced to four years in prison by the lower court on the charge of providing financial assistance to the Baha’i University, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that, “We have no recourse other than trying to change the judicial ruling [at the appeals stage]. Even though we know the Judiciary does whatever it wants on an arbitrary basis. We can’t even believe my father was sentenced to four years in prison for no crime or wrongdoing. Only for the reason of having helped the Baha’i University. Our father is very ill and may not last even one year in prison. He has heart problems and is under medical treatment, he also has digestive problems, and his eyesight is weak. He’s an old man after all.”
Judge Moghisseh, presiding over Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, sentenced Kamran Mortezaie and Vahid Mahmoudi each to five years. The same court sentenced Ramin Zibaie, Mahmoud Badavam, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani and Noushin Khadem to four years in prison. A few days after the trial, without any explanation, Khadem was transferred to Rajee Shahr Prison in Karaj and the other six were transferred to Gohar Dasht Prison in Karaj.
Mahtab Morteziee, daughter of Kamran Mortezaie who was sentenced on charges of teaching and administrative tasks for the Baha’i University, told the Campaign, “My father is in Evin Prison and has developed back and knee pain. Apparently when he was in Evin he was held with three to four people in a very small cell. His leg pain is due to the fact that he only had enough space to stretch one leg out. He also developed back pain because in Evin he was forced to sleep on the floor. Now apparently his cell in Gohar Dasht Prison is a little bigger and also has a bed. Either way he’s had the need to be seen by a doctor a few times.”
According to a report by the Baha’i International Community (BIC) published on 19 October 2011, several members of the Baha’i community connected to BIHE from Tehran, Esfahan, and Karaj, have been arrested in the past five months. These individuals were either instructors of the online university or are related to the organization, which was created in order to provide higher education to Baha’i students prohibited from studying in Iranian universities.
BIHE was founded in the mid-1980s. This institute is not recognized legally by the Iranian government but since the 1979 revolution, after which Bahai’s were prohibited from attending universities, the Baha’i Community for the Promotion of Youth Learning established the institute to provide higher education for Baha’is.
Naim Sobhani, currently living in Washington DC, expressed surprise about his father’s transfer to Gohar Dasht Prison after the trial. “Without any reason or information my father was transferred to Gohar Dasht Prison. My brother and sister after following up realized that they transferred him to another prison. In a recent meeting with my father my family said they have no update as to his physical condition but his spirits are better because seven Bahai’ leaders are also being held in that prison. However, the distance to this prison is very far, and we really don’t know why they took him there from Evin.”
Naim Sobhani also objected to the blocking of his parents’ shared bank accounts, saying, “We don’t know why they blocked their bank accounts, in the ruling there wasn’t anything either. There is nothing we can do but accept it.”
Mahtab Mortezaee, currently residing in Maryland, spoke with the Campaign about her father’s activities in the institute. “My father taught courses on subjects such as development and computer science, and he also did administrative work for the office center. My aunt tells me that at the beginning my father’s spirits were better but now he’s a little frustrated and is not like he was in the first days.”
Baha’is are currently the largest religious minority in Iran that lacks the basic right of attending university. According to the BIC, currently at least 112 Baha’is in Iran are in prison because of their beliefs. Amongst those imprisoned are the seven leaders of the Baha’i community that were sentenced to twenty years in prison. The report also states that there are currently 300 cases of Baha’is being processed in the Iranian Judiciary.