Decade of unjust imprisonment ends for Mahvash Sabet

19 September 2017

BIC NEW YORK — After enduring ten years of unjust imprisonment and harsh treatment, Mahvash Sabet's sentence has come to an end. She is one of the seven members of the former leadership group of the Baha'is in Iran known as the Yaran, who were jailed on false and baseless charges.

During her confinement in Iran's notorious Evin and Raja'i Shahr prisons, Mrs. Sabet distinguished herself by the loving care and kindness she extended to her fellow prisoners. Journalist Roxana Saberi, who shared a cell in Evin with Mrs. Sabet and fellow Yaran member Fariba Kamalabadi, has written about how their compassion touched the lives of other inmates, as well as a touching recollection of how they cared for her during her hunger strike.

While in prison, Mrs. Sabet, a former teacher and school principal who also worked with the National Literacy Committee of Iran, found solace in writing poetry. Her remarkable compositions were collected and adapted into English, published in a volume entitled Prison Poems in 2013 that was widely praised for its literary quality and profound subject matter.

As has occurred with prisoners of conscience, writers, thought-leaders, and poets who have been wrongly imprisoned throughout history, the power of Mrs. Sabet's ideas and beliefs was only amplified by her persecution.

The plight of its author attracted attention to this deeply moving collection of poetry, inspiring PEN International to feature Mrs. Sabet in a campaign to defend persecuted writers. Her poems also inspired a musical composition by award-winning composer Lasse Thoresen, performed at an international music festival in Oslo earlier this year.

Mrs. Sabet, now 64 years old, was arrested in March 2008. The six other members of the Yaran were imprisoned in May of the same year. All seven members were held without communication with the outside for weeks, were subjected to solitary confinement, and suffered appalling treatment and deprivations, including psychological and physical hardships.

"Although Mrs. Sabet is being freed from prison, she will still not achieve full freedom," said Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in New York. "She will return to a society where Baha'i youth are deprived of access to higher education and public jobs, where attacks on small Baha'i-owned shops are increasing, cemeteries are being desecrated, Baha'is are vilified in state sponsored media on a daily basis and where they are arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned for their beliefs."

The other imprisoned members of the Yaran are also expected to complete their sentences in the coming months. They include Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, 55; Mr. Jamalodin Khanjani, 83; Mr. Afif Naeimi, 55; Mr. Saeid Rezai, 59; Mr. Behrooz Tavakkoli, 65; and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm, 43.

"We hope that their release will start a new chapter for the treatment of the Baha'is in Iran and that the government will begin to remove the obstacles in its way to abide by the promise it has made of 'creating justice for all Iranians equally,'" said Ms. Dugal.