Iran: Rafsanjani’s Daughter Spurs Debate on Baha’i Persecution

Photo Credit: New York Times

Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former Iranian president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, touched off a debate concerning Iran’s treatment of the country’s religious minority Baha’i population after she visited with Baha’i activist Fariba Kamalabadi during the latter’s furlough from prison. Hashemi and Kamalabadi met in 2013 when they shared a jail cell at Evin prison. Kamalabadi was sentenced to 20 years in 2010, along with six other Baha’i community leaders, on charges of “espionage for Israel,” “insulting religious sanctities,” and “propaganda against the system.” Hashemi joined Kamalabadi at Evin when she was given a six-month sentence for “spreading propaganda against the system.”

Hashemi stated that before her imprisonment, she did not have any information about the Baha’is. “But with the Islamic Republic imprisoning me,” she said, “I became familiar with them, and this opened another window in my life.”

The Iranian Baha’i population, which currently numbers around 300,000, has been persecuted since the 1979 Islamic Revolution on the grounds that “their belief in another prophet after Muhammad is anathema to Shiite Muslim clerics, who consider Muhammad the final messenger of God.” Because of this, Baha’is are considered “impure” and are prohibited from pursuing higher education or becoming civil servants, and are often targeted for abuse. Hashemi argues that this type of religious persecution must be stopped: “We are oppressive in Iran not only toward these but toward many … We should correct our behavior.” “If they [conservatives] were concerned with religion,” Hashemi continued, referring to hard line religious clerics, “they wouldn’t commit so much injustice in [the] name of religion.”

While Hashemi has stood firm in defending her friendship with Kamalabadi, many prominent Shia clerics have condemned her fraternization with the Baha’i community. Her father, Ayatollah Rafsanajani, stated that Hashemi “has committed a wrong deed and should be ashamed of herself,” while religious ethics expert Mahdi Tabataei called on Hashemi to deliver an “apology to the nation” for her actions. Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani even stated that Hashemi could face “prosecution on national security grounds,” and Iranian judiciary official Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei asserted that that he was planning to take her to court.

Despite her many critics, Hashemi has also received support for speaking out against the government. BBC reported that “many Iranians took to social media this week to praise her for highlighting the plight of the Baha’is,” while dissident Iranian cleric Mohsen Kadivar agreed with Hashemi, stating that since the Baha’i religion is not technically outlawed in Iran, all members of the faith should have “full rights as Iranian citizens.” Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who also shared a cell with Kamalabadi, says that she feels a shift in public opinion regarding the persecution of Baha’is, with more people becoming attuned to human rights issues. Just last month, 54 business executives and prominent academics penned a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressing “alarm at the Iranian government’s persecution of Baha’i businesses.” “I hope this a prelude for the public to use its power and force the government to respect the rights of all Iranian citizens,” said Sotoudeh, “including the Baha’is.” The United States recently condemned the ongoing imprisonment of Kalamabadi and other Baha’i leaders.