U.S.A. joins Netherlands, U.K. and European Union in chorus of condemnation at prison sentences

13 August 2010

GENEVA — The United States of America has said it "strongly condemns" the sentencing of seven Iranian Baha'i leaders to 20 years imprisonment.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the act as a "violation of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

In a statement dated 12 August, Secretary Clinton said that the United States is "deeply concerned with the Iranian government's continued persecution of Baha'is and other religious minority communities in Iran."

"Freedom of religion is the birthright of people of all faiths and beliefs in all places," she said.

"The United States is committed to defending religious freedom around the world, and we have not forgotten the Baha'i community in Iran."

"We will continue to speak out against injustice and call on the Iranian government to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens in accordance with its international obligations," said Secretary Clinton.

The statement from the United States came as reports reached the Baha'i International Community that the seven Baha'i leaders have been transferred from Tehran's Evin Prison, where they had been incarcerated for more than two years.

The seven Baha'i prisoners, photographed several months before their arrest, are, in front, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet.SLIDESHOW
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The seven Baha'i prisoners, photographed several months before their arrest, are, in front, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet.

They have been taken to Gohardasht Prison - also known as Rajaishahr Prison - in Karaj, some 20 kilometers west of the Iranian capital.

Other support

Support for the prisoners has also been expressed by the European Union, in a statement made by Baroness Catherine Ashton, the E.U.'s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

"The European Union expresses its serious concern about the sentencing of seven Baha'i leaders in Iran to 20 years imprisonment and calls for their immediate release," the declaration said.

"The verdict appears to be based on the defendants belonging to a religious minority and the judicial process was seriously flawed, respecting neither Iran's international commitments under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) nor its national legislation regarding fair trial rights."

"The EU recalls that freedom of thought, conscience and religion are fundamental rights

which must be guaranteed under all circumstances according to article 18 of the ICCPR

which the Islamic Republic of Iran has signed up to and ratified."

"The EU calls on Iran to put an end to the persecution of the Baha'i community," said Baroness Ashton.

In the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "appalled" to hear of the prison sentences, describing them as a "shocking example of the Iranian state's continued discrimination against the Baha'is."

"It is completely unacceptable," said Mr. Hague in a statement released on Wednesday.

"The Iranian judiciary has repeatedly failed to allay international and domestic concerns that these seven men and women are guilty of anything other than practicing their faith. It is clear that from arrest to sentencing, the Iranian authorities did not follow even their own due process, let alone the international standards to which Iran is committed. The accused were denied proper access to lawyers, and there is evidence that the trial was neither fair nor transparent."

"I call on the Iranian authorities urgently to consider any appeal against this decision, and to cease the harassment of the Baha'i community. I further call on the Iranian Government to ensure that the rights of all individuals are fully protected, without discrimination, and that it fulfils its obligations to its own citizens as set out in the Iranian constitution," said Mr. Hague.

The Netherlands' Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, expressed his country's concern at "the poor execution of the judicial process in the case of the seven Baha'i leaders" and its fears that the arrest and sentence is "based solely on discrimination of religious belief."

"That these people seem to be condemned because of their faith is shocking," said Mr. Verhagen.

"I urge the Iranian authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations. The Baha'i leaders have a right to a fair trial and they must be released as soon as possible."

Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the President of the European Parliament earlier expressed strong statements of concern at news that Iran's seven Baha'i leaders have each received prison sentences of 20 years, as reported by the Baha'i World News Service on 11 August.

Human rights organizations

Human rights organizations - including Amnesty International, FIDH and Human Rights Watch - have issued calls for the prisoners to be released, for the judgment to be annulled, and for Iran to demonstrate that the trial was fair and in accordance with international standards.

"This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice and one more example of how the Iranian regime is a gross violator of human rights and religious freedoms," said Leonard Leo, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "The prosecutions and sentences are, pure and simple, politically and religiously motivated acts, and the Commission calls for the unconditional release of these seven individuals."

Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva said the actions of the Iranian authorities, against individuals who are innocent of any crime, represent an "outrageous travesty of justice that defies adequate description."

"At every stage of the case - from their illegal detention and the brutal conditions of their confinement, through the trial, and now to a completely unlawful imprisonment - not even the most basic and fundamental norms of justice were respected."

"We welcome the message coming loud and clear from governments and human rights organizations throughout the world. It is time for Iran to right the wrongs it has done."

(The International Reaction page of the Baha'i World News service is regularly updated with responses from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals. The Media Reports page presents a digest of media coverage from around the world.)