Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Dhabihu'llah Mahrami

About

Age: 59
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: December 15, 2005
Location of Killing: Yazd, Yazd Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Death in custody
Charges: Apostasy

About this Case

Information regarding Mr. Dhabihu’llah Mahrami has been taken from the verdict of the court (Jan. 2, 1996), websites of Baha’i Online Library (Feb. 29, 1996), Baha’i World News (Dec. 19, 2005), Radio Farda (Dec. 19, 2005), Amnesty International (Oct. 1996, and Dec. 22, 2005), Didgah-ha referring to a Radio Farda report (Dec. 24, 2005), and Akhbar-Rooz (May 4, 2006).

Mr. Mahrami, son of Gholam Reza, was born in 1946 to a Baha’i family in Yazd. He was married and had four children. Before the Islamic Revolution he worked at the Ministry of Agriculture. After the Revolution he worked there until he was, as many other Baha’is, dismissed from his work place. At the time of arrest, he made a living installing venetian blinds (Baha’i World News). During his 10-year long detention he received several death threats (Baha’i sources and Amnesty International). In 1996 Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his immediate and unconditional release.

Background

"Baha'i is not a religion, it is a political party. It is a party that was initially supported by the British and is now supported by America. They [the Baha'is] are spies...”

Ayatollah Khomeini, Founder of the Islamic Republic.*

“The Qur’an recognized only the People of the Book as religious communities. Others are pagans. Pagans must be eliminated.”

Iranian Attorney General, Seyed Moussavi-Tabrizi.**

“The punishment for a Mortad-e Fetri [an apostate who was born in a Muslim family] is death and his repentance is not accepted.”

Head of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Courts, Ayatollah Gilani. ***

The authorities of the Islamic Republic have subjected the members of the Baha'i religious community of Iran – the largest minority, with approximately 300 thousand members in 1979**** – to systematic harassment and persecution, depriving them of their most fundamental human rights. The Baha'i religion is not recognized under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, and Iranian authorities refer to it as a heresy. As a result, the Baha'is have been denied the rights associated with the status of a religious minority; they cannot profess and practice their faith, and are banned from public functions. Discrimination under the law and in practice has subjected them to abuse and violence. (For more background, see footnotes)

Arrest and detention

The exact date of Mr. Mahrami’s arrest is not known. The court verdict mentioned that on June 1, 1995 the Ministry of Information submitted a report to the court stating that Mr. Mahrami’s daughter married a Baha’i man. The “order of guidance” [i.e. the court summons] for Mr. Mahrami was issued by the Head of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd on July 24, 1995 and sent to the Intelligence Ministry. Whether or not his daughter’s wedding triggered this court order is not known.

According to one of his relatives, for 40 days his family was unaware of his detention location (Akhbar-Rooz). This source states, “he was forced to perform difficult [physical] labor in Abarqu and Ardekan prisons so much that as a result of the arduous labor, he had to undergo a surgery on his knee in Abarqu prison.” In the last years of his imprisonment, he had temporary leaves of absence from prison.

Trial

The court verdict mentioned a brief of the proceedings. The first session of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd took place on August 16, 1995 where Mr. Mahrami stated that he was a member of the Baha’i community. After this session, the court held three meetings (Oct. 3, Oct. 14, and Dec. 19, 1995) in an endeavor to “guide him to the right path of Islam” and for him to convert to Islam and denounce the Baha’i Faith. Each time, Mr. Mahrami remained steadfast in his religious beliefs: “After holding three consecutive meetings for guiding him [to the truth], despite the fact that he was given ample time to study the situation and to accept the suggestion [of this court] to be sent to a learned individual for investigating the shallow foundations of his beliefs, he refused to do so and, regardless of the tremendous efforts [of this court] towards encouraging him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, i.e., apostasy, [the court] did not succeed [in its efforts] because of the enmity and the stubbornness of this individual.” After the last meeting, Mr. Mahrami was permitted to be represented by an attorney in the next court session on January 2, 1996 at Branch One of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd. At this session, too, Mr. Mahrami remained loyal to his religion; the Court issued its verdict the same day.

Charges

According to the court ruling of January 2, 1996, Mr. Mahrami was charged with “Denouncing the religion of Islam and adopting the beliefs of the wayward Baha’i sect; [parental] apostasy.” Although some sources referred to a charge of espionage, the court verdict does not contain any charge other than apostasy.

Evidence of guilt

The court ruling referred to a newspaper that in 1981 carried an article stating that Mr. Mahrami had denounced the Baha’i Faith and converted to Islam. Another piece of evidence presented was a form of the Ministry of Agriculture, which Mr. Mahrami allegedly signed in 1985; this form was the basis of his non-dismissal from work. Furthermore, the verdict stated that Mr. Mahrami had confessed that in the preceding seven years (1988-95), he had attended mass prayers.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress. In the case of political detainees, these confessions are, at times, televised. Human rights organizations have also pointed to the pattern of retracted confessions by those prisoners who are freed.

Defense

The exact details of Mr. Mahrami’s defense are not known. According to a relative, after the Revolution, when many Baha’is lost their jobs due to their religion, one of Mr. Mahrami’s colleagues had submitted an announcement and a picture of Mr. Mahrami stating that he had converted to Islam in order to prevent his dismissal from work. After Mr. Mahrami found out about this announcement, he denounced it in oral and written forms (Akhbar-Rooz). After the publication of this announcement, Mr. Mahrami was temporarily suspended from the Baha’i community until it was established that the announcement was published in the newspaper without Mr. Mahrami’s knowledge or consent. After being reinstated in the Baha’i community, he informed his colleagues of the matter and state authorities soon learned about it.

Mr. Mahrami stated at the court session that he did not know anything about the aforementioned form of the Ministry of Agriculture and that the signature on the form was not his. He also mentioned that he attended the 19-day Baha’i Feast and that his daughter was married to a Baha’i man.

Moreover, the Amnesty International report pointed out legal ambiguity about apostasy as a crime. This report referred to the fact that the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of religious intolerance, Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, in his visit to Iran in December 1995, was told by Iranian authorities that according to the Civil Code, apostasy was not a crime, as in the case of Mr. Mehdi Dibaj, a Christian pastor (Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, Feb. 9. 1996, E/CN.4/1996/95/Add.2). Amnesty International highlighted “a fundamental contradiction” in the Iranian Constitution, according to which all enjoy equal rights (Art. 19) and “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden” (Art. 23), yet protection of the law applies only “in conformity with Islamic criteria” (Art. 20). Despite the fact that the Penal Code does not criminalize apostasy, the Constitution states: “The judge is bound to endeavor to judge each case on the basis of codified law. In the case of absence of any such law, he has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic edicts [of religious jurists]...” (Art. 167). In the case of Mr. Mahrami, the court relied on the writings of Ruhollah Khomeini.

Amnesty International then referred to Khomeini’s book Tahrir-al Vasilih: “The punishment for an innate apostate [a person, one of whose parents was a Muslim at the time of conception, and who believed in Islam after puberty and later converted to another religion] is death for a male, and life imprisonment for a female, who is to be flogged at the time of prayers, 5 times a day, and who is to live in difficult circumstances, regarding eating, drinking, and clothing, until she repents, the penance of a female innate apostate is acceptable; and if she repents, she will be free [from prison]. As for the parental apostate [one whose parents were not Muslims at the time of conception, and who believed in Islam after puberty and later converted to another religion], he will be caused to repent and in case of refusing to repent, he will be executed. It is preferable to give a three-day reprieve and to execute him on the fourth day [if he refuse to repent]” (Vol. IV, Hudud, On Other Crimes). Therefore, even though equality before the law and freedom of religion are principles affirmed in the Constitution, and apostasy is not a crime in the Penal Code, nevertheless judges may use other sources, such as Mr. Khomeini’s writings, in order to identify apostasy as a crime, punishable by death.

Judgment

On January 2, 1996, the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd condemned Mr. Dhabihu’llah Mahrami to death:

“Concerning the charges brought against Mr. Dhabihu’llah Mahrami, the son of Ghulamrida, i.e., denouncing the blessed religion of Islam and accepting the beliefs of the wayward Baha’i sect (national apostasy), in light of his clear confessions to the facts that he accepted the wayward Baha’i sect at the age of maturity, later accepted Islam for a period of seven years, and then returned to the aforementioned sect; and because of the fact that, despite the tremendous efforts of this court to guide him and to encourage him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, he remains firm in his baseless beliefs, he has, in three consecutive meetings, while being of sound body and mind and in absolute control, announced his allegiance to the principles of Baha’ism and his belief in the prophethood of Mirza Husayn-Aiy-i-Baha, he has openly denied the most essential [principle] of Islam (Prophet Muhammad being the Seal of the Prophets), and he is not willing to repent for having committed this sin, the following verdict was issued based on the investigations of the Department of Intelligence of the Province of Yazd, and the damaging consequences of his leaving the true religion of Islam and rejoining the Baha’i sect, which, according to indisputable principles accepted by reasonable people, is a clear insult to the beliefs of over one billion Muslims. By applying the tenth definition of ‘Nijasat’ [impurities], to be found in the first volume of Tahrir-Al Vasilih (p. 118*), in defining an infidel and an apostate, as well as section ten of the book of Al-Mavarith (on the topic of inheritance) and sections one and four of Al-hudud (on the topic of apostasy) written by the great founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, his holiness Imam Khomeini, the accused is sentenced to death because of being an apostate. Furthermore, based on section one of Almavarith (on the topic of inheritance), and in light of the fact that he does not have any Muslim heirs, a verdict is issued for the confiscation of all of his properties and assets by the Yazd division of the Imam’s Executive Body.”

The Supreme Court did not, at first, approve the death sentence for reasons including lack of competence of Islamic Revolutionary Courts in cases of apostasy. The file was sent to another court, which issued the death sentence and, this time, confirmed by the Supreme Court (Amnesty International, January 30, 1997, MDE 13/07/97).

The execution sentence for Mr. Mahrami as charged with apostasy caused an international outcry (e.g. the United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 52/142 on Dec. 12, 1997, and Human Rights Watch 1998 World Report). Human Rights Watch stated: “In practice, discrimination is widespread and institutionalized and, in the case of Baha’is… amounts to outright persecution.” The European Parliament condemned the sentence mentioning Mr. Mahrami’s name. The governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States objected to the verdict. Under international pressure, in December 1999, Mr. Mahrami’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and to 15 years imprisonment. On December 15, 2005, Mr. Mahrami died in prison of an unknown cause. His body was returned to his family for interment.

Mr. Mahrami’s unexpected death caused concern and doubt that it was a natural death. Dayan Ala’i, the spokesperson of the Baha’i community, told Radio Farda that first it was said that he had died of a heart attack, but he had no history of heart problems in his family nor any genetic disease. He added that in his visitations with his family, Mr. Mahrami never complained of a health problem. In a letter to Mr. Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, Head of the Judiciary, “Amnesty International urged that any investigation into Dhabihullah Mahrami’s death in custody should be carried out in conformity with the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions and that any person found responsible for his death should be brought to justice and given a prompt and fair trial.”

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*Ruhollah Khomeini writes in his Tahrir-al Vasilih that infidels, i.e. individuals who do not believe in Islam or who believe in Islam but refuse to accept one of the fundamental principles, are unclean. There is no difference between an apostate and an infidel, whether at war with the Muslim nation or not (Vol. I, Purity, On the Unclean).

_______________________

The Islamic Republic Penal Code grants no rights to Baha'is, and the courts have denied them the right to redress or to protection against assault, murder, and other forms of persecution and abuse. In so doing, the courts have treated Baha'is as unprotected citizens or "apostates," citing eminent religious authorities whose edicts are considered to be a source of law equal to acts of Parliament. The Founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, made execution a punishment for the crime of apostasy and decreed that a Muslim would not be punished for killing an apostate.

Banishment from public functions has seriously damaged the Baha’is’ professional, economic, and social lives. Soon after the revolution, a Ministry of Labor directive called for the dismissal from public office and all governmental organizations and associations those "who belong to any of the misguided sects recognized by all Muslims as heretical deviations from Islam, or to organizations whose doctrine and constitution are based on rejection of the divinely-revealed religions." Finally, the mandatory requirement of specifying religion in application forms and official documents (lifted recently in some areas under international pressure) has seriously limited Baha'is' freedoms and opportunities in all areas of their lives including divorce, inheritance, access to universities, and travel.

In practice, since 1980, thousands of Baha'is have lost their jobs, pensions, businesses, properties, and educational opportunities. By banning the Baha'i administration including Spiritual Assemblies, the elected bodies that lead and administer the affairs of Baha'i communities at both local and national levels, the Islamic Republic has denied Baha'is the right to meet, elect, and operate their religious institutions. Further, the Iranian government has executed at least 200 Baha'is and has imprisoned, tortured, and pressured to convert to Islam scores more.

Because of the unanimous international condemnation of the persecution of this quietist (apolitical) religious community, Iranian authorities do not always admit that the Baha'is are being punished for their religious beliefs. Therefore, judicial authorities have often charged Baha'is with offenses such as "being involved in counter-revolutionary activities," "having supported the former regime," "being agents of Zionism," or "being involved with prostitution, adultery, and immorality."

* Speech May 28, 1983, Sahife-ye Nur, Volume 17.

** The Baha'i Question: Iran's Secret Blueprint for the Destruction of a Religious community: An Examination of the Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, Baha'i International Community, 1999, p. 27. The quote was published in English in London’s Sunday Times, 20 September 1981and cited in The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, 1844-1984, by Douglas Martin, Baha'i Studies, volume 12/13, 1984

*** Kayhan, October 19, 1981.

****'Slow Death for Iran's Baha'is' by Richard N. Ostling, Time Magazine, 20 February 1984. Also see 'The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, 1844-1984, by Douglas Martin, Baha'i Studies, volume 12/13, 1984, p. 3. There is no information about the current number of Baha'is in Iran.

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