Second Iranian Councilman Persecuted for Speaking up for Baha’i Rights

A member of the Isfahan City Council, Mehdi Moghaddari, has been suspended from his seat for six months in part for supporting a fellow councilman who had sought the release of detained followers of the Baha’i faith and was consequently detained himself.

“This morning I made an appearance at Branch 11 of the Revolutionary Court in Isfahan and presented a final defense regarding my posts on Twitter and Instagram in support of Mr. Mehdi Hajati, a member of the Shiraz City Council, and Dr. Ali Asghar (or Aliasghar) Gharavi, a Quran expert and political activist,” he said in a post on Instagram on April 15, 2019.

“At the end of the session … I was sentenced to a six-month suspension from the Isfahan City Council,” Moghaddari added.

Moghaddari noted in his post that the plaintiffs in his case were identified as the Isfahan office of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a hardline conservative political group calling itself the Headquarters for Resurrecting the Promotion of Good and Prevention of Evil.

In February 2019, Moghaddari was sentenced to six months in prison for his social media posts. Although the Appeals Court upheld the verdict, he has not been ordered to surrender to prison. 

The posts that got him a jail sentence included criticisms of his conservative political rivals, and his views on state censorship of social media networks as well as the state ban on women bicycling in public.

“Some are so proud about filtering Telegram as if they have made the greatest conquest, he wrote on Instagramon April 18, 2018, less than three weeks after the judiciary banned the widely used messaging app. “Filtering is a declaration of defeat. It will make people angry and frustrated. It’s nothing to be proud of.”

Defending Shiraz Councilman Mehdi Hajati, who was detained for 10 days in October 2018 for seeking the freedom of two Baha’is in his constituency, Moghddari wrote on Instagram on September 29, 2018: 

“Some don’t understand or don’t want to understand, that having rights does not necessarily mean being right. Every human being, whether we like his/her beliefs and ideas or not, has certain rights, the most important of which is the right to due process. Defending those you oppose is the definition of liberty. Free Mehdi Hajati.”

Iran’s Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Although Article 23 states “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” Baha’is are harshly prosecuted for participating in peaceful activism and denied many basic rights including higher education.

In mid-November, Moghaddari was summoned to the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Isfahan and interrogated for supporting Hajati. 

Responding to Moghaddari’s six-month suspension, retired law professor Abdollah Ramezanzadeh tweeted: “Could my friends in the legal profession please comment on the sentence against Isfahan Councilman Mehdi Moghaddari?… Doesn’t this sentence deny the rights of people who elected him?”