Mr. Gharavi’s family members, some of whom had traveled long distances to visit with him, were reportedly shocked to see his poor physical conditions during their minutes-long booth visit with him after 40 days in solitary confinement. Gharavi suffers from chronic back pain and prostate problems, and he had been under specialized neurological care for loss of muscle and nerve health in his legs which have led to his repeated falls recently.
Dr. Gharavi’s trial before Tehran’s Culture and Media Court is scheduled for January 5. The Press Oversight Committee ordered the ban on Bahar Newspaper on October 28, and sent its case to the Judiciary. Bahar’s Managing Editor, Saeed Pourazizi, will also be tried on January 5 at Branch 76 of the Tehran Criminal Court, reportedly to review the newspaper’s ban and other charges raised against the newspaper from content published in previous years.
While the Iranian government has been cracking down on religious minorities such as Baha’is and Christian converts, Muslims have not been safe from persecution and intimidation either. There have been increasing reports of the Iranian government’s pressure on Iran’s Sunni population. “Observing the legal rights of Sunnis is a request by all Sunnis. Shiites and Sunnis are Iranians. Iran does neither only belong to Shiites, nor only to Sunnis, therefore the rights of these two groups cannot be different in the country,” Molavi Abdul Hamid, the Sunni Friday Imam of Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, said in July 2013. “While we wish for security and brotherhood, we expect that our religious freedom is observed, and this is a demand from everyone in the Sunni community. We expect that Sunni brothers in the country’s big cities such as Isfahan and other cities are allowed to freely pray and to teach their children. This is a completely rational and legal expectation. For Sunnis to be able to build mosques in every city that needs one, and to hold Friday and Eid prayers and to enjoy complete freedom, is a totally legal expectation,” he added.
Even among Shiite Muslims, Islamic thinkers, researchers, clerics, and intellectuals have been persecuted, prosecuted, defrocked, and imprisoned, and many of them have chosen a life in exile outside Iran. Dr. Ali Asghar Gharavi, a prominent religious thinker and scholar, is the latest case, though he has been repeatedly attacked for having opinions that are different from the ruling clerics’ since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Historically, there have been questions and disagreements among Muslim scholars about the historical events of Ghadeer; the imprisonment and prosecution of a prominent Shiite scholar for writing an article about the subject is another instance of Iranian authorities’ violation of freedom of expression and of religion, and the Iranian Judiciary’s lack of independence.
Article 23 of Iran’s Constitution holds that “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.” Ali Asghar Gharavi is not the only Shiite scholar and thinker to have been prosecuted for his beliefs and way of thinking that is different from the ruling narrative in Iran. Dissident cleric and blogger Arash Honarvar Shojaee was arrested on October 28, 2010, and sentenced to four years in prison, 50 lashes, $800 in cash fines, and lifetime defrocking as a cleric on charges of “espionage, propaganda against the regime, acting against national security, and disrespecting the clergy.” He developed epilepsy during his interrogations and suffered a stroke. He continues to serve his prison sentence at the Clerics’ Ward of Evin Prison. Another dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, who advocates separation of state and religion, has been in prison since 2006, serving an 11-year prison sentence mostly on security charges.