Iranian Computer Engineer Released from Prison under COVID-19 Response Measures
April 21, 2020
In early April 2020, Iranian Baha’i computer engineer Payman Kooshakbaghi was granted a furlough from Evin Prison. He was among more than 85,000 prisoners temporarily released from detention facilities in recent weeks by the Iranian authorities in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Mr. Kooshakbaghi was subsequently included in a general government amnesty, making his release permanent. He had served just over four years of his five-year prison sentence in connection with his Baha’i faith. At the time of his arrest, he was a professor at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). (The BIHE was created in 1987 to provide a university-level education to Iranian Baha’i students who have faced obstacles to enrollment in Iran’s universities, and expulsion from them.)
According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, the Baha’is “have suffered from the most egregious forms of repression”. In 2011 Mr. Kooshakbaghi and his wife were among several dozen Baha’i educators whose homes were raided by security forces. We understand that their religious items, computers, and books, among other personal belongings, were confiscated during the raids. After being questioned multiple times about their work with the BIHE and unsuccessfully pressured to sign a statement pledging to give up their academic work, Mr. Kooshakbaghi and his wife were charged, in 2013, with “membership in the illegal and misguided Baha’i group with the aim of acting against national security through illegal activities at the BIHE educational institute.” Following proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards, they were both convicted. Summoned to begin serving his sentence in February 2016, Mr. Kooshakbaghi was held in two different prisons under particularly harsh conditions. Because he and his wife were both imprisoned and they did not have a family member able to take care of their young son, he had to be placed in a foster home.