BIC NEW YORK — Behrooz Tavakkoli, one of the seven members of the former leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran who were imprisoned due to religious beliefs, has completed his unjust 10-year prison sentence. Mr. Tavakkoli is the third member of the Yaran to leave prison.
Mr. Tavakkoli, 66, was part of the ad-hoc group known as “the Yaran,” or the Friends, which tended to the basic spiritual and material needs of the Iranian Baha’i community and was formed with the full knowledge and approval of authorities there after formal Baha’i institutions were declared illegal in Iran in the 1980s. He and five other members of the group were arrested in May 2008 after an early morning raid on their homes. Another member, Mahvash Sabet, was arrested two months earlier, in March 2008.
Aside from Mr. Tavakkoli, Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi have also been released from prison. The four remaining members of the Yaran who are expected to complete their sentences in the coming months include Jamaloddin Khanjani, 84; Afif Naeimi, 56; Saeid Rezai, 60; and Vahid Tizfahm, 44.
Mr. Tavakkoli experienced discrimination for being a Baha’i throughout his life, which mirrors the situation for the Baha’i community in Iran in the present day. After studying psychology and serving in the army as a lieutenant, he faithfully cared for the physically and mentally disabled as a government social worker, yet was expelled in the early 1980s because he was a Baha’i. Today, not only are Baha’is excluded from employment in the public sector as well as various professions in the private sector, Baha’i-owned shops and businesses are regularly sealed by the authorities after they are temporarily closed to observe Baha’i Holy Days. In the last few years alone, hundreds of such businesses have been sealed, depriving scores of families of an income.
Prior to his current imprisonment, he also experienced intermittent detainment and harassment and, in 2005, was jailed for four months without charge, spending most of the time in solitary confinement. In recent months, arrests of Baha’is have been intensifying in cities such as Kermanshah, Birjand, and Rasht, and today, approximately one-hundred Baha’is are held in prisons across Iran solely because of their religious beliefs.