Shiraz City Councilman Begins Serving One-Year Prison Sentence for Advocating Religious Tolerance
“A few hours ago agents came to our house and took away my husband Mehdi Hajati to enforce a one-year prison sentence,” Hajati’s wife Zohreh Rastegari tweeted on June 2, 2019.
A member of the Shiraz City Council, Hajati had been arrested in October 2018 and held for 10 days for seeking the release of two local Baha’is who had been arrested for practicing their faith, which is severely persecuted by the Iranian government.
After publicly condemning their arrests, Hajati’s membership in the council was suspended for about three months before he was allowed to return to his seat in February 2019.
“In the past 10 days, I have knocked on every door to try to free two of my Baha’i friends from detention without any success,” Hajati tweeted on September 25. “As long as we are facing foreign enemies, our generation has a responsibility to make an effort to correct judicial or other actions that undermine social justice.”
He was arrested two days later.
To date there have been no official reports on his initial trial on the charge of “propaganda against the state” but on June 2 the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said the councilman was taken to prison after the Appeals Court in Shiraz upheld his sentence of one year in prison and two years in exile.
In April 2019, Isfahan city councilman Mehdi Moghaddari was suspended from his seat for six months in part for supporting Hajati.
“Some don’t understand or don’t want to understand, that having rights does not necessarily mean being right,” he wrote on Instagram in September 2018.
“Every human being, whether we like his/her beliefs and ideas or not, has certain rights, the most important of which is the right to due process. Defending those you oppose is the definition of liberty. Free Mehdi Hajati,” he added.
Iran’s Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Although Article 23 states that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” Baha’is are harshly prosecuted for participating in peaceful activism and denied many basic rights including higher education.