Iran’s Security Establishment is Targeting the Students of an Imprisoned Spiritual Leader
Vahid Pourtahmasb is the fifth student of Mohammad Ali Taheri to have been arrested since 2015.
Another student of imprisoned spiritual group leader Mohammad Ali Taheri has been arrested, this time in northern Iran. Vahid Pourtahmasb was arrested on August 19, 2016 by the Sarallah Headquarters of the Revolutionary Guards in the city of Babol, 128 miles north of Tehran, an informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Pourtahmasb is the fifth student of Taheri to have been arrested since 2015. Four other students have been prosecuted for peacefully supporting Taheri at demonstrations following his imprisonment in 2010. Ziba Habibpour began a three-year prison sentence in July 2015, the same month as Masoumeh Zia, and in May 2016 Sara Saei and Zahra Sadat Ebrahimi were each sentenced to three months in prison and lashings, but their sentences were suspended for two years.
“Since his arrest Vahid has contacted his family twice by phone just to say hello and that he’s feeling well, but he has been banned from meeting with anyone,” said the source. “The authorities won’t even say what he has been charged with; they are only saying that he has been arrested for activities against the state.”
“Vahid was arrested at his job in a barber shop,” added the source. “His six-year-old son was with him that day so that they could go swimming after work. Two agents came and took Vahid away in front of his son without a warrant. Since then his son has been very sad and asking for his father.”
Previously Pourtahmasb had been briefly detained on three occasions in 2014 and in 2015—twice in Tehran and once in the city of Qom—but was released each time after pledging not to participate in activities in support of Taheri.
“Vahid has not done anything wrong. He was a student of Mr. Taheri and, out of respect, took part in gatherings calling for his release,” the source told the Campaign.
Mohammad Ali Taheri, 60, established the Erfan-e Halgheh (Spiritual Circle) Institute in Tehran during the 2000s and taught alternative therapies at Tehran University. In 2010 he was sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes and fined nine billion rials ($300,000 USD) for “insulting the sacred,” “immoral contact with women” and “carrying out illegal medical procedures.” Four years later he was found guilty of blasphemy for publishing several books on spirituality, but the Supreme Court overturned the sentence in December 2015.
Taheri was due to be released in February 2016 but Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court signed an order to extend his imprisonment on May 2, 2016 while Taheri was being investigated on new charges.
Iran’s security establishment has come down hard on Taheri and supporters of the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual group, viewing it and any other alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order.