The freedom of religion and worship is non-existant in Iran, where individuals who are not followers of the extreme Islamic faith of the regime must still practice all its tenets or risk imprisonment, torture, and even death. Many of these individuals are tried under charges that have a vague, but spiritual basis.
Mohammad Ali Taheri, an Iranian faith healer in Iran, was arrested and charged with “corruption on earth”. He was recently retried and awaiting his new verdict. In the meantime, his followers are also being hounded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with many being arrested for a variety of charges. The outlook is not bright for these individuals.
“[Branch 26 of the Revolutionary] Court should have issued a ‘not guilty’ verdict by now, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Taheri’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaee, in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 8, 2017. “Personally, I’m not optimistic.”
All of his followers who attended his Erfan Halegh classes are being treated as security cases, due to the fact that the regime had banned the classes.
Iran’s security forces have come down hard on this faith healer, hoping to set an example for those who wish to pursue an alternative belief system. They are seen as a threat the Shia order of the country. Khamenei has also addressed the issue, framing it as a matter of faith and not an issue of control for the regime.
During a speech on December 28, 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the emergence of spiritual groups in Iran as a Western plot to undermine Islam.
“The enemies are plotting to weaken our young people’s faith in Islam and Islamic principles by encouraging promiscuity and promoting false spirituality, Bahaism and home churches,” he said.
In March 2017, a documentary about Taheri was aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and it included several alleged confessions from the leader and various followers.
Forced confessions are par for the course in Iran, as the regime tries to create cases in order to justify their oppressive measures against these groups that have been deemed a threat. Currently, Taheri awaits his new verdict, which could include a death sentence.
In addition to leading the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual organization, which he established in the 2000s, Taheri taught at Tehran University. He was arrested on May 4, 2010 and charged with “insulting the sacred,” “immoral contact with women,” and “carrying out illegal medical procedures.” Yet, he was only practicing a form of alternative medicine based on his beliefs.
He was sentenced to five years in prison along with 74 lashes, and fined nine billion rials (approximately $300,000).
Four years later, in 2014, he was re-questioned about his books and sentenced to death for spreading “corruption on earth.” He was due to be released in the summer of 2016, but has been kept in Evin Prison in Tehran pending the verdict of his latest trial.