Baha’i Victim of Land Confiscation by Iranian Government Speaks Out
Complaints Ignored by Rouhani Administration
Last year, 50 hectares (123.5 acres) of farm land were confiscated by the Iranian government from Ziaollah Motearefi, who had legally purchased the land, simply because he is a follower of the Baha’i faith. Now the government is trying to take what’s left of his land, which includes office and residential buildings, after having ignored his complaints for years.
Motearefi described his ordeal for the first time in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“If they had told me from day one that I cannot work in my country because of my religion, I would have left and spared myself all the hard work,” he said. “I could have worked and had a comfortable life anywhere in the world. But I stayed here because I love my country. I am one of the most law-abiding citizens of this country. Throughout my life I planted flowers and gave life to trees. This was not the treatment I deserved. Why should I be facing all this trouble only because I’m a Baha’i?”
Motearefi told the Campaign that 50 hectares (123.5 acres) of his farm and dairy land were transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, which oversees agriculture in Iran, by order of Branch 5 of the Appeals Court in the city of Semnan (133 miles south of Tehran) on September 23, 2015.
According to Motearefi, who is the general manager of Miyoun Loubar (an agricultural and dairy farming company), his confiscated land, which includes 18,000 trees, is worth more than 200 billion rials ($6.6 million USD). The Ministry of Agriculture Jihad is currently trying to confiscate his remaining 3,552 sq. meters (more than 38,000 sq. feet) of land, which includes office and residential buildings.
Motearefi said that he had purchased the land through payment installments made to the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, but after the last payment was made, the government claimed he had failed to make rent payments and proceeded to confiscate his land.
“When we paid the last installment, we were supposed to go to the notary office to get the deed to the land in our name. But they took our money and never gave us the deed. Instead, they told us to shut down operations and hand over the land to the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad,” he said.
“We received a notice from the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad in 2011 that they had foreclosed our land because we had failed to pay rent. But we told them we had not seen the verdict,” added Motearefi. “In any case, we owned the land and paid for it. Why should we be paying rent?”
The Baha’i community is one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in Iran. The faith is not recognized in the Islamic Republic’s Constitution and its members face harsh discrimination in all walks of life as well as prosecution for the public display of their faith.
Complaints Ignored by Rouhani Government
“I worked so hard for 30 years of my life and now I have to let go of everything. Why? Because they say one thing and do another,” said Motearefi. “They say they don’t care about your beliefs, but in reality they do. All the officials in Semnan and Tehran told me to give up. They said they could not help me because of orders from higher-ups.”
He continued: “I believed the officials when they said they aren’t bothered by anyone’s beliefs. I thought I could talk to them and resolve the issues. But over the years I have written several letters to the Larijani brothers [powerful Iranian politicians], [former President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, [President Hassan] Rouhani and the prosecutor general and I haven’t received any reply.”
“I told the Judge that under Islam’s Sharia Law, if a person purchases a piece of land he becomes the owner. But the judge said that law does not apply to the government,” said Motearefi. “I don’t understand it. Why can the government renege on its commitments but citizens can’t? If I did such a thing, I would be considered a criminal. So what are they?”
“I cannot take all this land to my grave,” said Motearefi. “But why does a tree that can live 300 years have to dry up? Why do so many workers have to lose their jobs? Why were the farm animals sold for nothing and farm equipment left to rot?”
“I know they will [eventually] take the remaining 3,552 meters of my land and I can’t do anything about it,” he added. “A month after confiscating the 50 hectares, they cut water and electricity to the rest of my land where we still have workers and their families living, as well as some farm animals. We trucked-in water from the city for the animals every day and we have a motor to produce electricity to carry out our work for a few hours each day.”
Motearefi told the Campaign that he received a health permit in 1996 to produce cow milk and eventually became the country’s top milk producer, “but then [the government] started coming after my land and one of the officials told me that I should not own any dairy animals because I’m a Baha’i.”
“I started working on this land as a farmer in 1982. In 1994 I became general manager of the Miyoun Loubar agricultural and dairy farming company in Semnan,” explained Motearefi. “My wife and I were the largest shareholders of this land. We planted olive, pomegranate and pistachio trees as well as saffron. I was the first to plant olive trees in Semnan even though all the officials said it was impossible under such a climate. But I did it. We started with about 110 milk cows. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad frequently commended our work, and state radio and television aired a documentary about us.”
Motearefi told the Campaign that he had no choice but to sell his remaining cattle and sheep because it would not be possible to keep them after the government eventually confiscates his remaining land.