PHOTO: Faezeh Hashemi (fourth from right) with Baha’i activist Fariba Kamalabadi (fourth from left)

Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has provoked the anger of high-level officials by meeting a Baha’i political prisoner and appearing with women who are not wearing hijab.

Hashemi and other activists, including lawyer and former political prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh, visited Fariba Kamalabadi and her family last week. The group sat under a portrait of Abdul Baha, the leader of the Baha’i faith in the early 20th century.

Followers of the Baha’i religion, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind, have been pressured by the regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Members have been given long prison sentences, face difficulties with employment, and have been barred from higher education.

Kamalabadi is a member of Yaran — the Friends of Iran group — which oversaw the activities of the Baha’i community after the Islamic Republic shut down the Iranian National Baha’i Spiritual Assembly In 2008, all members of the group were arrested and given sentences of up to 20 years, reduced in 2015 by an appeals court to 10 years.

On May 10, Kamalabadi was given a five-day furlough, her first in eight years, to see her family.

“This was my duty as a human being,” >Hashemi said after the meeting. “I had to visit Fariba.”

Kamalabadi and Hashemi were cellmates when Rafsanjani’s daughter was imprisoned for six months in September 2012 on charges of propaganda against the regime.

Former political prisoners Zhila Bani Yaghoub, Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, and Mahsa Amrabadi were also at the house.

Hasehmi told IranWire after the meeting:

I see this as a human rights issue. I believe that Baha’is should be allowed to enjoy all human rights, just like other citizens. They have no rights.

It does not matter that I am a Muslim and they are Baha’is, or which religion is good and which one is bad. This is not the question. The question is human rights. and unfortunately certain sections of our society are denied basic rights. This is not acceptable — and Islam does not accept this discrimination either.

“Treason Against Islam”

Iranian officials soon reacted harshly to the visit. Hashem Bothayi, elected in February to the Assembly of Experts, said “friendly relations with members of the misguided Baha’i cult” are “treason against Islam and the Revolution”. He urged Rafsanjani to reprimand his daughter, saying religious concerns should take priority over family bonds.

The head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, said Baha’is are only arrested after threatening national security by cooperating with foreign countries, while Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi called the faith “agents of Israel and America” and called for Hashemi to face legal action. The Independent Association of Islamic Students chided Rafsanjani that the meeting was an attack on Islam.

Perhaps bowing to the pressure, Rafsanjani told reporters that Hashemi “has made a bad mistake and must atone”. He said the Baha’i faith is a “deviant sect created by colonialists that we have always and will always oppose”.

However, Hashemi is standing firm so far. She maintains that Kamalabadi is a friend and that she does not regret the meeting.