Canada's Parliament condemns persecution of Baha'is in Iran

2 April 2009

OTTAWA, Canada — Canada's House of Commons has unanimously adopted a strongly worded motion condemning the persecution of Baha'is in Iran and calling on the Iranian government to release Baha'i leaders imprisoned in Tehran.

The motion, which was approved on 30 March, stated that the accusations against the Baha'is – espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic – are charges "frequently used by Iranian authorities to target human rights defenders and religious minorities, and there is nothing in the history or teachings of the Baha'i community to lend any credence to such charges."

The motion was addressed in a debate on the floor of the House of Commons which lasted some 90 minutes. Members of Parliament from all four of Canada's political parties spoke of the long history of persecution suffered by Iran's Baha'is and the current "campaign of hatred and incitement" against the Baha'i community there, noting that these current attacks "constitute a number of warning signs that often foreshadow widespread ethnic, racial or religious cleansing."

Decrying the "persistent and pervasive" violation of the human rights not only of Iran's Baha'is but of all Iranian citizens who have suffered repression at the hands of extremist elements in that country, members of Parliament also expressed deep admiration for Iran's people and "the enormous contribution" that Iran's "great civilization" has made to humankind.

The resolution concludes:

"Therefore, be it resolved that this House condemns the ongoing persecution of the Baha'i minority of Iran and calls upon the government of Iran to reconsider its charges against the members of the Friends in Iran, and release them immediately or failing this, that it proceed to trial without further delay, ensuring that the proceedings are open and fair and are conducted in the presence of international observers."

Seven of the Baha'is imprisoned in Tehran had comprised an ad hoc group called the "Friends in Iran" that tended to the minimum needs of the 300,000-member Baha'i community in Iran.

The seven were rounded up a year ago and have been detained ever since, without access to legal counsel. Accusations against them were only recently announced, but no hearing or trial has yet been held. More than 30 Baha'is are currently jailed in Iran because of their religion.

Here is the wording of the full motion adopted by the Canadian House of Commons:

"Whereas, the House of Commons recognizes that on 14 May 2008, six members of an informal group known as the Friends in Iran that oversee the needs of the Baha'i community in Iran were arrested and taken to the political prisoners section of Evin prison in Tehran, where the seventh member was already being held, following her arrest in Mashhad in March 2008.

"And whereas, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in October 2005, uncovered a confidential letter from the Command headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran ordering the identification and monitoring of all Baha'is and their activities.

"And whereas, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated on March 20, 2006, that she 'also expresses her concern that the information gathered as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of and discrimination against, members of the Baha'i Faith, in violation of international standards ... The Special Rapporteur is concerned that his latest development indicates that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran is, in fact, deteriorating.'

"And whereas, the Baha'i community of Canada is gravely concerned for the safety of these seven Baha'is, who have been held without formal charges, access to legal counsel or evidence brought against them, and being subjected to harsh treatment and interrogation with very restricted visits from family members for more than nine months.

"And whereas, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi - who announced her intention to defend the Baha'is in court - has since been harassed and her offices have been closed.

"And whereas, the Deputy Prosecutor General has announced that these prisoners will be tried by the Revolutionary court on charges of 'espionage on behalf of Israel', 'insult to the sacredness (of Islam)' and 'propaganda against the regime' - all of which are capital offences.

"And whereas, such charges are frequently used by Iranian authorities to target human rights defenders and religious minorities and there is nothing in the history or teachings of the Baha'i community to lend any credence to such charges.

"And whereas, these arrests have taken place in the context of an upsurge of arbitrary arrests, raids on home, expulsion of university students, harassment of school children, destruction of graveyards, virulent attacks in government controlled media.

"Therefore, be it resolved that this House condemns the ongoing persecution of the Baha'i minority of Iran and calls upon the government of Iran to reconsider its charges against the members of the Friends in Iran, and release them immediately or failing this, that it proceed to trial without further delay, ensuring that the proceedings are open and fair and are conducted in the presence of international observers."