The Trial of Suhrab Habibi
Translator’s Note: On June 14, 1981, seven members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Hamadan – the body responsible for Baha’i activities in that locality – were executed by firing squad. These members were: Mr. Muhammad (Suhrab) Habibi, Mr. Muhammad-Baqir (Suhayl) Habibi, Mr. Husayn Khandil, Mr. Tarazu’llah Khuzayn, Mr. Husayn Mutlaq, Dr. Firuz Na‘imi, and Dr. Nasir Vafa’i. The following is a report of the court proceedings by one of them, Mr. Suhrab Habibi, composed in June 1981. The preamble was written by the Baha’is of Iran in the fall of 2008.
In June 1981, seven member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Hamadan were executed. Until a few days prior to this ruling and the executions that immediately followed it, everyone spoke of the acquittal of these seven Baha’is, and their families were expecting them to be freed very shortly.
These seven individuals were the administrators of the Baha’i community of Hamadan. In accordance with the practice of Baha’i communities throughout the world, which each year elect those who are responsible for the administration of their local community, they were elected for a period of one year to be responsible for the Baha’i activities within their township.
The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Hamadan was not the only group of Baha’is who suffered execution during the turbulent decade of the 1980s. During those years, thousands of Baha’i men and women were arrested throughout the country on the flimsiest excuses, and over 200 of them were executed. Gradually, all authorities in Iran began to recognize how groundless and unfounded were the accusations against the Baha’is when in not even one of these trials were the prosecutors able to produce the slightest evidence in support of their baseless allegations. It was for this reason that in the concluding years of the 1980s, gradually the Baha’is were freed from incarceration and allowed to return to their previous lives – though constrained by strict social and economic limits and restrictions.
However, in the last two years, several newspapers and a few internet sites have published the same unfounded accusations against Baha’is, alleging that Baha’is are engaged in espionage in contact with foreign countries. The spread of these outrageous defamations have reached such an extent that occasionally we witness that in various corners of the country a number of individuals responsible for the affairs of the Baha’i community have been arrested and incarcerated. More recently, the group in charge of coordination of the Baha’i community at the national level has been abducted and imprisoned.
These occurrences once again have given rise to a deep concern that perchance the dissemination of these lies and slanders will gradually and precipitously win over some gullible elements and result in the spilling of the blood of innocent people.
For the enlightenment of such susceptible individuals and to increase the knowledge and awareness of other Iranians, the trial proceedings and the responses of one of the members of the Spiritual Assembly of Hamadan is included below. Perhaps this will serve as a witness that when religious fanaticism is coupled with credulity and the absence of proper examination and just investigation, the blood of innocent people will redden the earth and many wronged families will suffer grievously.
The following are the notes that Mr. Suhrab Habibi compiled of his trial in Hamadan’s prison, which he committed to paper a few days prior to his execution. It should be recognized that after the trial, the judge assured him and other Baha’i defendants, “We have no evidence or a case against you and soon you will be released.”
Mr. Habibi’s Notes
I introduced myself by giving my first name, surname, my father’s name, birth certificate number, place of birth and occupation, and then the following exchange took place.
Q: Baha’is are not recognized in this country; so how did you gain employment?
A: At the time of applying for employment, I left blank the field for religion on the application form.
A: Because I wanted to be a truthful person from the beginning of my work [and not state “Muslim” to get the job].
Q: But your religion is not recognized.
A: It is not against the Constitution or the country’s labor laws for Baha’is to be employed.
Q: Then why in advertisements for employment, would employers state that applicants must be Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian or Christian?
A: That was the personal decision of the Department’s supervisor or the appropriate Minister, but not part of the labor law.
Q: How was it a personal view?
A: If it was part of the law, then such restrictions would have had to have been passed by the parliament and been part of the legal code and enshrined in the country’s Constitution and labor laws and practices. Whereas none of this had ever taken place, so it was not illegal for Baha’is to be employed.(The judge said, “No, it is not so.” And I responded, “You can investigate [and establish that it was legal for Baha’is to hold employment during the Pahlavi regime].”
Q: You are accused of hiding documents and not divulging them.
A: What you are referring to are not documents, but the papers of the Spiritual Assembly, which were housed in a box that contained 5 or 6 folders and a few files. This box was given to Mr. Khazin, who in turn gave it to Mr. Muhammad Samvat;it is presently before the esteemed Revolutionary Court.
Q: According to the testimony of your building’s custodian, there were other boxes and papers, which you did not turn over [to the authorities].
A: A mistake must have occurred, since at the time of the removal of these papers from the Baha’i center, Mr. Dehqan [the building custodian] was not there to see.
Q: Why did you remove the papers?
A: Telephone calls were being received constantly threatening arson. Accordingly, the Spiritual Assembly instructed that the papers be taken elsewhere for their safekeeping.
Q: Why were they kept for five years?
A: Firstly, these are personal papers, and the decision [for how long to keep them] resides with the Spiritual Assembly. Secondly, the Spiritual Assembly was not affiliated with any governmental agency, nor did it receive instructions as to how long it was to keep its archives. Since they are personal papers, according to the Spiritual Assembly’s decision, they were to be kept for five years – and that was to protect against disaster. This was a decision of Hamadan’s Assembly; but perhaps other Spiritual Assemblies have kept their archives for less, perhaps not even for a year.
Q: You are accused of having had contacts with SAVAK [Shah’s secret police], since at the bottom of your correspondence with them it is ordered [by SAVAK], “Urgently take action.” You must have been an informant for them.
A: As is evident in the letters – and surely you have studied them – our letters only complained about various events and asked for the administration of justice. We had no other contacts.
Q: At the bottom of your letters they have written “Urgently take action.”
A: This instruction appears at the bottom of all governmental correspondence. It is a standard formula, and in all official letters the authorities would give such an instruction for action. However, regrettably, [as result of these letters,] not only would no amelioration occur for the Baha’is – in fact the situation for the Baha’is would worsen day by day.
Q: Why did you not contact the police or security offices instead of SAVAK?
A: These complaint letters were taken by individuals to the police stations or security offices, only to be told, “Send a copy and another letter to SAVAK.” If you recall, in those days SAVAK was the complete authority.
Q: You are accused of having deranged the work of the Revolution through telegrams sent from [the Baha’is of] Hamadan and its surrounding communities to the interim government of [the Prime Minister Mehdi] Bazargan. However, there were no Spiritual Assemblies in the surrounding areas.
A: It is completely clear from the text of these telegrams that they were sent either for congratulatory purposes, or, because of persecution and harassment by a number of opportunists, they conveyed our complaints and requested justice. Nothing can be seen in these telegrams that suggests interference with the Revolution. Moreover, at the time that these telegrams were sent, there were Spiritual Assemblies in the surrounding villages; but, now, there are none. The esteemed court can investigate the truth of this submission.
Q: Protests have been made to Ayatollahs Madani and ‘Alemi, including slanderous remarks about the [Revolutionary] committees that operate around here, saying that they are undermining [the law].
A: No committee in this region was disrespected. Several Baha’is of Amzajard wrote letters complaining [of discrimination] to Ayatollah Madani because they did not have physical or financial security. However, since he did not reside in Hamadan, he referred the issue to Ayatollah ‘Alemi. The Baha’is went before him and Ayatollah ‘Alemi wrote a letter in which he urged the committees around Hamadan not to harass the Baha’is. When this letter was taken to the committee in Amzajard, they paid no attention to it and continued to persecute the Baha’is as before.
Q: You have named all the committees [in your letter]; that is only one of them.
A: Other committees, such as those in Laljin, Sari-Qamish and Jamshid-Abad, also paid no attention [to ‘Alemi’s admonishment to leave the Baha’is alone]. Even last year, Mr. Musavi, the chief prosecutor of the Revolutionary judiciary, summoned several members of the committee in Bahar and urged them not to trouble the Baha’is under any circumstances – surely those letters are available in the file. In addition, it was not all the committees in Iran; it only included the committees in the villages that had Baha’is, which did not heed the instructions [to leave the Baha’is alone].
Q: You are accused of having sent large sums of money from Hamadan’s Assembly to Tehran and Israel.
A: The financial ledger of the Spiritual Assembly of Hamadan is presently available in the court and clearly documents all transactions. It has three columns: “receiving”, “expenditures”, and “balance”. It makes it clear when someone contributed 10 tumans, another person 100 tumans, another a little more or a little less. And the Spiritual Assembly had two types of expenditures: local and national. Again, the ledger makes it clear how much were the local expenditures and how much were sent to the national. However, we never sent any money to the government of Israel and have no relation with them at all.
Q: The National Assembly sent large sums to Israel.
A: The National Spiritual Assembly also has no relation with the government of Israel and the small sums that have been sent were solely for the protection and maintenance of our religious sites, which are in the two cities of ‘Akka and Haifa. The money that was sent was legal and contributed in accordance with the legal codes and the nation’s banking regulations. Surely the bank transaction papers and receipts are in your hand and you can see that no illegal act was conducted.
Q: Do you know Hojabr Yazdani? Is he a Baha’i or not?
A: I have never met Hojabr Yazdani, but have heard of his name. I have heard he is a Baha’i and for some time was without his administrative rights. After a few years, he repented his misdeeds and wrote a letter of apology and sought forgiveness [from the National Spiritual Assembly]. He was pardoned and that is the extent that I know of him.
Q: Have you corresponded with Hojabr or not?
A: I had no correspondence with him. Perhaps others may have written him.
Q: Did Hamadan’s Spiritual Assembly write him or not?
A: I do not remember well. But not long ago I think a letter was sent to him about the Bank Saderat. It was because a certain employee of the Bank by the name of Mr. Tebyanian was expelled from his job by the Bank and Mr. Hojabr Yazdani was on the Bank’s Board of Trustees. In that letter, he was asked to look into the matter.Thereupon the letter was read. In the title, the phrase, “servant of God” was used [standard Baha’i parlance in Persian – translator], which was protested by the court. The judge said, “The letter shows great respect.” I responded, “All the letters of the Spiritual Assembly would use expressions of respect and regard. This is the tradition and style of the Spiritual Assemblies and under all circumstances this type of respect is evident.”
Q: There is a letter from the National Spiritual Assembly about installing a telex [machine]. What is that about?
A: It was suggested in that letter by the National Spiritual Assembly that in order to expedite our spiritual work, a telex should be installed in Hamadan. The Spiritual Assembly responded that there was no need to install a telex in Hamadan, and if the National Assembly needed one, they could install one [in Tehran]. In my view, this is not a crime since telex machines are used in all important commercial offices and large companies.
Q: What do the [Continental] Board of Counselors and the committees do? Are they engaged in espionage?
A: The Counselors’ job is to encourage the Baha’is. Since Baha’i communities throughout the world are essentially one and the same entity, when an educational program (say, for the youth, or pre-youth, etc) works well in one locality and has positive impact, the same program is then suggested to the Baha’is of other countries so they can evaluate it in the light of their local resources and conditions, and if deemed useful, to implement it. The committees also function in accordance with their constitution, a copy of which is with the court. Counselors and committees have no political or surveillance contact with any government and their work is strictly devoted to spiritual matters within the Baha’i community.
Q: You are accused of spying for foreigners and hiding documents, and of having a relationship with SAVAK. For the last time, state whatever you have to say.
A: We Baha’is are in no wise involved with politics. We have no direct or indirect contact with any government in the world. As it has been mentioned in our defense document, our religious teachings forbid us from participating in political or espionage activities. No document mentioned by the court have we ever possessed, and what we had in terms of letters of the Spiritual Assembly – that is, our archives – we have submitted to the court through Mr. Muhammad Samvat. We had no relationship with SAVAK whatsoever, and all of our correspondence with that organization was to obtain justice – and not to establish any relationship. We firmly and confidently reject all the accusations of this court. The work of us Baha’is is within the framework of our religious teachings, which are all spiritual and based on morality. The end of the notes kept by Mr. Suhrab Habibi from his trial in Hamadan.
Postscript by the translator As noted earlier, on June 14, 1981, seven members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Hamadan were executed by a firing squad. Their bodies were released to the Baha’i community for burial. Examination of the corpses while the bodies were being prepared for the funeral revealed that six of these men had been physically tortured before their deaths. The body of the seventh was “riddled with bullets.” Reuters published a detailed account of the men’s injuries:
The body of Husayn Motlaq Arani showed no signs of torture but he had been shot nine times. Muhammad Baqer Habibi had a broken shoulder; Dr. Nasir Vafa’i had had his thighs cut open as far as the waist and had been shot seven times; Husayn Khandil had had the fingers of one hand pressed and his back had been burned; Sohrab Habibi had had his back burned and had been shot five times’ and Tarazu’llah Khuzayn suffered a smashed chest and left hand and had been shot seven times.
Similar reports reached the Baha’i world community:
The ribs of Tarazu’llah Khuzayn were crushed, and his hands were slashed. His legs and thighs had been pierced with a bayonet, and the injuries had turned his skin black and the tissues were swollen. [He was sixty-four when he died.] Suhrab Habibi’s back had been branded with a hot ring – his own – and he had severe burns. The fingers of Husayn Khandil were slashed and his abdomen had been cut open. Dr. Na‘imi’s back had been broken and Dr. Vafa’i’s thighs had been cut open; Suhayl Habibi’s shoulders had been broken and smashed. Hossein Mutlaq had not been tortured but his body showed the greatest number of bullet wounds.