Human Rights

Persecution intensifies as anniversary of imprisonment of Baha'i leaders is marked

In Brief: 
  • This May marked the fourth anniversary of the wrongful arrest and imprisonment seven Iranian Bahá’í leaders.
  • Their 20-year sentences are the longest for any prisoner of conscience in Iran.
  • Governments, human rights groups, prominent persons, and people of good will worldwide have expressed concern over their plight, and that of six imprisoned Bahá’í educators and the other 90-some Bahá’ís currently in Iranian jails.

GENEVA — In May, seven former leaders of the Iranian Bahá’í community began their fifth year in prison amid an intensification of the persecution of their co-religionists.

The seven prisoners each face the bleak prospect of 16 more years in jail for crimes they did not commit.

The month of May also marked the first anniversary of raids on homes of Bahá’ís associated with an informal initiative offering higher education to community members barred from university by the government because of their religious beliefs. Nine educators later received harsh prison sentences.

The detention and conviction of these and other Bahá’ís is a reflection of the oppression facing all Iranians who desire freedom and the progress of their country, said the Universal House of Justice in an 11 May 2012 letter to the Bahá’ís of Iran.

In the letter, the international governing body of the worldwide Bahá’í community noted how the intensifying cruelty towards the Iranian Bahá’í community is now also engulfing children. Among recent attacks, the letter highlighted the confinement in prison for a few days of a two-year old boy with his mother, the beating and burning of the hand of a school pupil by her teacher after the girl did not take part in congregational prayers, and the violent abduction by officials of a mother before the eyes of her two young children.

“From schoolchildren to the elderly, from the seven former leaders to ordinary villagers, no Bahá’í in Iran is spared the cruel and calculated persecution which the Iranian government and its agents are constantly devising,” said Diane Ala’i, the Bahá’í International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

The seven Bahá’ís have been given the longest sentences — 20 years each — of any of the prisoners of conscience currently held in Iranian jails, Ms. Ala’i said. “Conditions are harsh with poor food and bad sanitation and most of them have experienced significant health problems. Yet during these four years, not one of them has been granted any type of furlough — something to which a prisoner is entitled under Iranian law.”

The Universal House of Justice observed that, over the past year, governments and organizations have continued to defend the rights of Bahá’ís and other oppressed Iranians. Among such supporters, statesmen and officials, including Muslim politicians in both the East and the West, civil agencies, universities and prominent personalities have declared the persecution of Bahá’ís to be unjust and have called for it to cease.

Continuing global outcry

Recent action has included the unanimous passing of a resolution in the United States Senate on 29 March calling for the release of the seven leaders.

Three days later, the plight of the prisoners captured the public’s attention in 12 of the world’s major cities, when widespread publicity organized by United4Iran marked the combined total of 10,000 days that the seven had spent behind bars.

On 14 May, the Canadian House of Commons held a debate on human rights in Iran, and many MPs focused on the case of the seven.

The seven former leaders, who were members of an ad-hoc national-level group that attended to the spiritual and social needs of Iran’s Baha’i community, are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm. Ms. Sabet was detained on 5 March 2008. Her six colleagues were arrested in raids on their homes on 14 May 2008.

During six brief court sessions, devoid of due legal process, the seven faced trumped-up charges that were all rejected completely and categorically by the defendants.

The five men are being held at Gohardasht prison, some 50 kilometers west of Tehran. The two women are in Evin prison in the capital.

In May 2011, some 39 homes of Bahá’ís associated with the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) were raided in a coordinated attack. Educator Kamran Mortezaie is now serving a five-year jail term. Mahmoud Badavam, Noushin Khadem, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani and Ramin Zibaie are each serving four-year prison sentences. The judgments against them cast their activities in support of BIHE as crimes and as “evidence” of their purported aim to subvert the State. Two psychology teachers — Faran Hesami and her husband Kamran Rahimian — were also sentenced to four years but are out awaiting appeal. Another BIHE administrator, Vahid Mahmoudi, was released on 8 January 2012 after his five-year sentence was reportedly suspended.

In March, the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists of the American Physical Society appealed for their immediate release.

Since August 2004, some 556 Bahá’ís have been arrested in Iran. There are more than 100 Iranian Bahá’ís currently in prison because of their religion. The cases of more than 350 other Bahá’ís are still active with authorities.

“Blind prejudice and superstition pervades Iran today and irreparable damage has been done to the name and reputation of Islam,” said Ms. Ala’i. “We welcome and join with every effort made by people of good will — both in Iran and around the world — to condemn the extent and violence of the oppressions faced by the people of Iran.”