In late 2020, two Iranian courts issued orders that declared ownership of lands by 27 Bahá'ís in the village of Ivel (pron. ee-VELL) to be illegal. The court documents indicate that the confiscation of their land is due to their religious beliefs. These decisions followed decades of persecution against the Bahá'ís of Ivel, hard-working and low-income agricultural workers with no other assets and means of earning a livelihood but their homes and agricultural land.
The land seizures take place within the context of recent escalating raids on Bahá'í-owned homes and businesses in Iran. On 22 November 2020, over a hundred government agents raided the shops and homes of dozens of Bahá'ís in seven cities, and demanded that they hand over their property deeds.
In its earliest days, Ivel was the summer residence for sheep farmers from the surrounding region of Mazandaran. There have been Bahá'ís in the remote village for more than a century and a half. Indeed, since the years immediately following the establishment of the Bahá'í Faith in mid-19th century Iran, Bahá'ís have comprised about half of Ivel's total population.
From its inception, the Bahá'í community promoted social, economic and cultural developments in Ivel. In addition to the role they played in the area's agriculture, they established a school at which local children, regardless of their religion, were educated. The Bahá'ís also built a bath house for use by the villagers, which included modifications to the local reservoir and the introduction of modernizations to improve the facility's levels of hygiene.
A History of Persecution Through Expulsion and Displacement
Despite the constructive role Bahá'ís have played in their community, they have experienced a series of persecutions largely characterized by mass expulsion and displacement, and the demolition, bulldozing and confiscation of their properties. In 1941, for example, lives were imperiled when gangs roused local citizens to attack the Bahá'ís. Bahá'ís were arrested, severely beaten and subjected to extortion; their houses and belongings were plundered. Finally, they were banished to a village seven kilometres away. When the situation eased some months later, the Bahá'ís returned to their ancestral homes and farms.
Another incident occurred in June 1983. The Bahá'ís were forced out of their homes and transported by bus to the nearest major city, Sari. When they arrived, the authorities made them go back. Returning to Ivel, more than 130 of them were imprisoned and held captive in a mosque for three days without any food or water.
Since then, most of the Bahá'í homes have remained unoccupied, their residents having fled incidents of violence or as a result of official displacement. Many of the Ivel Bahá'ís have resided nearby and return to the village only in the summer to plant and harvest their crops and tend to their properties. This required written permission from the police and the court. Bahá'ís were regularly harassed during their short stays.
In 2007, six of their houses were torched. In 2010, homes belonging to some 50 Bahá'í families were demolished and burned. At the time, reports indicated that 90 percent of Bahá'í-owned homes had been demolished. The demolitions were part of a long-running campaign to expel Bahá'ís from the region. The intention of this campaign has been for the Bahá'ís to never return to Ivel and to take over their lands.
Bahá'ís have pursued legal remedies for more than three decades, to no avail. Numerous complaints were filed with authorities at all levels but, in general, they were met with indifference. In every case, knowledge of the demolitions or the motive behind them was denied by local government officials. In some cases, the verdicts have been in favour of the Bahá'ís. However, authorities claimed that there was little they could do to implement the decisions in the face of the opposition Bahá'ís face from local residents.
On 1 August 2020, Branch 54 of the Special Court for Article 49 of the Constitution in Tehran issued a final and binding order determining the ownership of the lands belonging to the Bahá'ís of Ivel to be illegal.
On 13 October 2020, Branch 8 of the Court of Appeal of Mazandaran ruled against the legitimacy of the ownership of lands of 27 Bahá'ís of Ivel and endorsed the decision in favour of the Sitád-i-Ijrá’íy-i-Farmán-i-Imám (the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, known as EIKO) to sell the lands owned by the Bahá'ís. Following this order, the case was then closed.
The two judges who passed these rulings are: in August, Mr. Hassan Babai, and in October, Mr. Mohammad Sadegh Savadkouhi.
New Government Directive
In March 2021, the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) revealed an official Iranian directive which calls for “strict controls” on the Bahá’ís in the nearby city of Sari. It calls on authorities to introduce measures to “identify Bahá’í students” in order to “bring them to Islam”.
Dated 21 September 2020, the directive calls for a “detailed plan” to ensure that the Bahá’í community is “rigorously controlled”, including their “public and private meetings” as well as “their other activities”. The document was issued by the Commission on Ethnicities, Sects and Religions in Sari, which operates under the aegis of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, a body chaired by Iran’s president and responsible for security matters.
Local and provincial police, the head of Sari’s Intelligence Department, the commander of the local Basij paramilitary force, the head of Education, the Industry, Mining and Trade and the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism departments, and school and university officials, were all issued the directive.
The organizations which released the letter note that the confiscation of Bahá’í properties in Ivel, which falls under the administration of the city of Sari, may have been in response to this directive.
Property confiscation as a feature of religious persecution
These developments are the latest in a pattern of property confiscations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Since that time hundreds of private and business properties belonging to Bahá'ís have been arbitrarily confiscated, including homes and farms.
On 22 November 2020, over a hundred government agents raided the shops and homes of dozens of Bahá'ís across Iran and demanded that they hand over their property deeds. The simultaneous raids were staged in at least seven cities around the country and came just hours into a 15-day national lockdown imposed to slow coronavirus infections in the country.
The belongings that were taken included smartphones, computers and tablets, books, including Bahá'í texts, and other items. Several of the raided homes belonged to Bahá'ís who had previously been targeted by the authorities. The Bahá'ís were also ordered to report to Iran’s Bureau of Investigation.
The raids took place in the capital Tehran, as well as Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Kerman, Shahin-Shahr and Baharestan. Witnesses reported that the agents ignored all the government’s own health protocols while at the homes of the Bahá'ís.
Documents and Media
- Archives of Bahá'í Persecution in Iran (re: Ivel)
- Statement by the Canadian Council of Imams (21 January 2021)
- Statement by Global Affairs Canada (22 January 2021)
- Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Marc Garneau (22 January 2021)
- Open Letter to the Chief Justice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (5 February 2021)
- Globe and Mail: "Former Canadian judges, justice ministers and scholars decry Iran’s abuse of Baha’is" (8 February 2021)
- Radio-Canada International: "Canadians object to Iran’s seizures of Baha’i lands" (8 February 2021)
- Canadian Bahá'í News Service: "Brian Mulroney joins prominent lawyers to condemn confiscation of Baha’i property in Iran" (9 February 2021)
- Bahá'í International Community: "Former Canadian Prime Minister and high-ranking legal professionals call on Iranian Chief Justice, Ebrahim Raisi, to stop persecution of Baha’is in Iran" (10 February 2021)
- Winnipeg Free Press: "'World is watching' Iran's treatment of Baha'is" (12 February 2021)
- Bahá'í World News Service: " “We stand with the Bahá’ís of Iran”: Former Canadian Prime Minister and judges condemn persecution of Bahá’ís" (13 February 2021)
- Iran Wire: "Muslim Leaders and Former Canadian PM Denounce Confiscation of Baha'i Homes" (16 February 2021)
- Bahá'í International Community: "“An extraordinary wave of support”: Muslim leaders and government officials denounce Iran’s persecution of Baha'is" (18 February 2021)
- YouTube: Canadian Members of Parliament speak up for Ivel Baha'is (18 February 2021)
- The Bell: "Canada can't ignore Iran's persecution of the Baha'i community" (22 February 2021)
- CBC: "Canadian legal luminaries sign letter accusing Iranian courts' of persecuting Baha'i faith" (24 February 2021)
- Open Letter to Iranian Authorities on Recent Farm Seizures (25 February 2021)
- Bahá'í World News Service: "Farmers, agricultural scientists, policy makers address Iran’s Chief Justice and Minister of Agriculture" (26 February 2021)
- Canadian Bahá'í News Service: "Wide-reaching solidarity expressed with Baha’is facing persecution in Iran" (2 March 2021)
- Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights: "RWHCR Statement Condemning Iranian Persecution of Baha'is" (13 March 2021)
- The Conversation (Kyle Matthews): "Why the West must challenge Iran on human rights" (16 May 2021)