Feb 5, 2024
Iranian Baha'i Women Languishes in Jail After Fifth Arrest
By KIAN SABETI
Since 2022, when the Woman, Life, Freedom protests against the Islamic Republic’s leadership erupted across Iran, the authorities have dramatically intensified their clampdown on members of the Baha'is faith.
Many Baha'is have been arrested, prosecuted and handed stiff sentences, with multiple observers drawing parallels with the persecution they endured in the 1980s.
Baha'i women have borne a disproportionate brunt of the government’s repressive measures.
Yekta Fohandej Sa'adi, who has been in custody for 48 days, is among them.
Her family remains uninformed of her health condition and the details of her case.
Fohandej had previously been arrested and tried on four separate occasions.
Initial Arrest and Trial
On February 3, 2012, agents from the Shiraz Intelligence Department simultaneously searched 30 Baha'i homes in the city, resulting in the arrest of Fohandej and 10 other people.
She was released on bail after spending 82 days in a detention center.
During her trial at the Shiraz Revolutionary Court, Fohandej faced charges of "propaganda activities against the Islamic Republic" and "formation and membership in illegal Baha'i organizations.”
She was initially sentenced to five years of suspended imprisonment, but a court of appeals later acquitted her of all charges.
Second and Third Arrests and Trials
On March 16, 2014, two years after the first trial, Fohandej was apprehended at her residence in Shiraz during a raid by Ministry of Intelligence agents.
Following 56 days of solitary confinement, she was released after posting another bail.
Three years later, she faced a new case on similar charges, which resulted in a five-year prison sentence.
After she filed an appeal, the sentence was changed to two years in prison and five years of suspended imprisonment.
Fohandej’s judicial saga continued, and on March 18, 2017, on the eve of the Persian New Year, she was arrested a third time when law enforcement officers raided her home. They did not present any warrant.
She was subsequently transferred to Adel Abad prison in Shiraz to serve her sentence.
But Branch 36 of the Supreme Court overturned Fohandej's sentence, leading to her release from prison after serving 74 days.
The case against Fohandej was handled by the Second Branch of the Shiraz Revolutionary Court.
The first trial took place on October 6 of the same year, and the date of the second trial was postponed to allow the defendant to present her final defense.
A year later, she discovered through a text message from the authorities she had been sentenced to 11 years in prison.
According to the verdict, Fohandej's received a one-year prison sentence for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and a 10-year prison sentence for "forming and being a member of illegal Baha'i organizations."
The verdict was delivered without Fohandej's awareness of the court proceedings, and she had not been given a chance to present her defense in court.
Once again, Branch 26 of the Court of Appeals of Fars province acquitted Fohandej of all charges.
The Fourth Arrest and Trial
On July 16, 2016, agents from the Shiraz Intelligence Department arrested six individuals, including Fohandej, who were engaged in a discussion about the environment at a friend's house.
The group was known for participating in nature-cleaning activities around Shiraz during holidays.
Following 81 days of interrogation and solitary confinement, she was released on October 13 after posting bail amounting to 250 million tomans.
Six years later, in April 2022, Branch 1 of the Shiraz Revolutionary Court sentenced Fohandej and 25 other Baha'is to a combined 85 years of imprisonment on the charge of "assembly and collusion with the intention of disrupting the domestic and foreign security of the country." The defendants were also sentenced to exile and banned from traveling.
The court session occurred despite one of the defendants revealing that the presiding judge had declared the case defective multiple times over the previous six years.
According to the court's decision, Fohandej received a five-year prison sentence and a two-year travel ban.
In a subsequent judicial investigation, Fohandej was acquitted of the charges in this case.
Who is Yekta Fohandej Sa'adi?
Fohandej, a 39-year-old resident of Shiraz, is married and part of a family that belongs to the Baha'i faith in Shiraz.
In 1979, her family was displaced during an attack on Baha'i homes in the village of Saadiyeh, Shiraz.
She encountered educational discrimination due to her religious affiliation. Despite studying English language and literature for seven semesters at Shiraz’s Payam Noor University, she was expelled from the university simply because she was a Baha'i.
Fohandej's Current Detention Status
Fohandej was apprehended on the streets of Shiraz by Ministry of Intelligence agents on December 18, 2023, and taken to her home.
The officers seized books and photographs related to the Baha'i faith and personal items, including children's toys and drawing books, gold and silver items adorned with Baha'i symbols and approximately $1,500 in cash.
For 48 days, Fohandej has been held at the detention center No. 100 of the Shiraz Intelligence Department.
Despite ongoing efforts by her family to obtain information, there has been no response from the relevant authorities regarding the accusations against her, the status of her case or her well-being.
Fohandej has so far managed to have two brief phone conversations with her family.