Detention of ten Baha’is leads to fears for other prisoners

27 January 2010

NEW YORK — Concern is growing over the lack of information about the status of 10 Baha'is who were arrested earlier this month in Iran.

In addition to worry about their safety, there are fears that charges against these 10 will be used to create false evidence in court against the seven Baha'i leaders who have been held since 2008 and whose trial is set to resume on 7 February.

"Our concern is that in the absence of any evidence against the seven leaders, the authorities may be attempting to build a case by perhaps forcing these newly arrested Baha'is to 'confess' that they were involved in organizing December's Ashura demonstrations under orders from their 'leadership'," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"Any such claim would be absurd, given that the seven leaders have been in prison for the last two years," she said.

Since their arrest on 3 January, statements have been made in Iranian state-sanctioned media that the 10 possessed arms and ammunition in their homes as part of an anti-government plot related to the December demonstrations.

The 10 have virtually disappeared into Iran's detention system, said Ms. Dugal.

While it is not known whether any of these 10 were in fact present at the Ashura demonstrations, any suggestion that they were central to the organization of these events or that they possessed arms to be used against the government is completely without foundation, she said.

"In the three weeks since these Baha'is were detained, their families have had no contact with them, aside from a brief telephone message to one family member on 11 January."

While families have been unable to contact the 10, it has been learned that they have been transferred recently to Gohardasht prison in Karaj.

"A cell mate of some of the Baha'i prisoners was recently released, and this individual informed the families of this transfer," said Ms. Dugal. "We don't know exactly what this means, but we do know that families tried to bring clothes and money to the prisoners. The money was accepted by authorities in Karaj, but not the clothing."

The 10 Baha'is who were arrested on 3 January are Mrs. Leva Khanjani, granddaughter of Jamaloddin Khanjani, one of the seven Baha'i leaders, and her husband, Mr. Babak Mobasher; Mr. Artin Ghazanfari and his wife, Mrs. Jinous Sobhani, former secretary of Nobel laureate and human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi; Mr. Mehran Rowhani and Mr. Farid Rowhani, who are brothers; Mr Payam Fanaian; Mr. Nikav Hoveydaie; and Mr. Ebrahim Shadmehr and his son, Mr. Zavosh Shadmehr.

On 12 January, the formal arraignment of the seven leaders was held in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

According to accounts in government-sponsored news media, the seven have been charged with: espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperation with Israel, sending secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth.

In court, the defendants explicitly denied all of these charges.

Ms. Dugal said the judge has reportedly indicated that the next session of the trial on 7 February will be open and the families will be permitted to attend. The first court appearance was closed to the public.

The seven "leaders" are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

This group of seven and the 10 Baha'is arrested on 3 January are among hundreds of Baha'is who have been detained in the ongoing persecution of Baha'is - a systematic campaign that has increased in severity in the last few years.