Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns in the strongest terms the deliberate medical malpractice at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison that caused the death of Behnam Mahjoubi, a 33 year-old Gonabadi Sufi activist. In 2019, Iran’s government killed the community’s spiritual leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, by similar means and replaced him with a government loyalist.
“Behnam Mahjoubi’s death is an abysmal violation of religious freedom by Iran’s government and a stark reminder of its egregious and ongoing persecution of the country’s Gonabadi Sufi community,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin. “The United States and its allies must directly confront Iran about this mistreatment in any diplomatic interactions.”
Behnam Mahjoubi was among the more than 300 Gonabadi Sufis arrested in February 2018 protesting the house arrest of the community’s spiritual leader. He was arrested again in April 2018 by 20 plainclothes agents, beaten, denied legal counsel, forced to sign confessions, and placed in solitary confinement. While later released on bail, Mr. Mahjoubi was charged in August 2019 by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court with “assembly and collusion against national security.” He began serving his sentence in June 2020 but was denied access to medication for treatment of a panic disorder. In protest, he endured a 10-day hunger strike. After prison interference in his medical regimen without his consent, Mr. Mahjoubi was transferred to a hospital in September 2020. This left him with hand trembles, seizures, difficulty walking, and paralysis on the left side of his body.
Despite international concern, Iranian officials continued to deny Mr. Mahjoubi proper medical care. In February 2021, he was given pills at Evin Prison that caused him to fall into a coma. He was transferred to a hospital on February 12 and passed away soon thereafter. A prosecutor overseeing the trials of other Gonabadi Sufis arrested in 2018 has threatened them with a similar fate, raising serious concerns for their safety and access to due process.
“Iran is now trying to cover up its intent to murder peaceful religious activists through deliberate medical malpractice. The United States and international community cannot allow this outrageous treatment to stand,” said USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer. “The United States should continue to sanction high level Iranian officials who murder religious minorities with impunity and accelerate the resettlement of Iranian religious minorities through the means Congress has provided in the Lautenberg Amendment.”
In its 2020 Annual report, USCIRF recommended Iran for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as it has recommended every year since 2002. In August 2020, USCIRF released a factsheet on sanctioned religious freedom violators in Iran. In December 2020, the State Department announced it had redesignated Iran as a CPC.