Last month, the Baha’i community was shook to the core by the loss of Ataollah Razvani, a 54-year old Baha’i from Bandar Abbas in Iran. According to various reports by Iranian news agencies and Baha’i watch groups, Rezvani was kidnapped on a Saturday evening in August and shot in the head. His body was found by police, who informed his family members the next afternoon. Rezvani’s son, Koorosh, told Rooz Online of his family’s ordeal:

“[Rezvani] went out at 9 in the evening; he was expected to return home, but when he did not we became concerned and began to enquire at hospitals, police stations and wherever we could think of. Finally, as we were in the process of reporting him missing, we received a call from the Criminal Police. They said, ‘Your father has been found; he is dead. He was found on a road leading out of town; he has been shot in the back of the head.’ His body is still at the Coroner’s; they have not delivered him to us.”

There is yet to be an arrest in his case, but it appears more and more likely that his murder was religiously motivated. Revzani was a prominent Baha’i in his community; consequently, he was often the target of threats from the Ministry of Intelligence and the local Friday Prayer leader, who used inflammatory speech against Baha’is in his sermons. Radio Zamaneh reported that the leader delivered a sermon of this very nature right before Rezvani’s murder, calling for heightened vigilance over Baha’is in the community. Such fear-mongering is often rooted in nationalist rhetoric that constructs Baha’is as foreign agents or religious deviants. Additionally, Rezvani often encountered hostility from government officials in his work installing water purification systems. His cousin, Navid Aghdassi, told Rooz Online that he government officials harassed Rezvani and deliberately made his work more difficult:

“For instance, the department in charge of public places used to hound him and Intelligence agents would create complications in his business. He was one of the most qualified people in the field of water purification and installations. One of his business partners was a Muslim. The Intelligence Department instructed the Hormozgan Department of Water Affairs not to work with them, and their whole business depended on this department. Later, he opened an optometry shop with another partner. Again, Intelligence created obstacles with the aid of the department in charge of public places. They threatened his son and his partner. They would criticize him to other Baha’is who were summoned for questioning, and would tell them to put pressure on him or to sever relations with him.

According to BBC Persia, Rezvani was also a former member of  the “Khadimin” of Bandar Abbas, “a Baha’i committee in charge of the affairs of the community in the city”. In his youth, he was a student of mechanical engineering at the University of Science and Technology before he was expelled during the Cultural Revolution of the early ’80s. According to Zachary M. Heern at YourMiddleEast, of all of Rezvani’s possessions — wallet, money, IDs, or even his car — the assailant(s) only took his cell phone.

“Rezvani was constantly helping those in need, whether it was caring for hospital patients in Bandar Abbas or driving to the opposite end of the country to help his niece and nephew after both parents were imprisoned for being Baha’is,” writes Heern. “Reports about Rezvani’s funeral indicate that people traveled from far and wide to attend his memorial service, which lasted until 2 a.m.”

The regime may deny any kind of systematic prejudice or discrimination against Baha’is, and yet Rezvani’s murder reflects an increasingly hostile and violent socio-political climate in Iran for anyone who claims membership to the faith. In an interview with IranWire, Dr.  Farhad Sabetan, the spokesperson for the Baha’i International Community, said that Rezvani is only one of nine other Baha’is in Iran murdered under suspicious circumstances that resemble those of religious hate crimes. There are, he said, at least 52 reported cases of Baha’is being physically assaulted. These cases are often swept under the rug of police inquiry, for one or two reasons: 1) that government agents are somehow involved in the attack, and 2) that the police are unconcerned with solving the cases of Baha’i victims. Religiously motivated violence against Baha’is is implicitly condoned or ignored by the police and the Iranian legal system.

“In this specific case, our follow-up indicates that Mr. Rezvani’s family are trying to reach a fair and transparent process for the case through the help of responsible organizations,” said Dr. Sabetan. “That their efforts have been fruitless is nothing new or strange.”

There were hopes that the election of Hassan Rouhani, heralded as a “moderate” and “reformer” by both Iranian and Western media, would change the direction of the tide for religious minorities in Iran. These hopes were dashed when Ayatollah Khamenei issued an edict warning Iranians of association with Baha’is a few days before Rohani assumed office. This is only the latest in a series of laws deigned to restrict and control the existence of Baha’is in Iran — and Rezvani is only the latest victim of a culture of fear and disenfranchisement cultivated by these laws and the system of persecution for which they provide the framework.

One auspicious result of Rezvani’s death has been the response and support of Ayatollah Masumi Tehrani, a dissident Shi’a cleric who posted a statement of support on his website. He wrote, “I hope that one day in this country Shias, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, Bahá’ís and even atheists have equal rights and are accorded the same respect. It is in such a society that talents flourish and the country is strengthened. Thankfully this positive development is spreading in Iranian society, and it is becoming institutionalized. Hopefully this trend will continue.”