Harsh sentences are a judgment against an entire religious community
NEW YORK — The harsh prison sentences handed down to seven Iranian Baha'i leaders who are absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing is a judgment against an entire religious community, the Baha'i International Community said today.
Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, whose Defenders of Human Rights Center represented the Baha'i defendants, said she was "stunned" by the reported 20-year jail terms.
"I have read their case file page by page and did not find anything proving the accusations, nor did I find any document that could prove the claims of the prosecutor," said Mrs. Ebadi in a television interview, broadcast on 8 August by the Persian-language service of the BBC.
The flagrantly unjust sentence has provoked vehement protest from governments throughout the world - including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S.A. The European Union and the President of the European Parliament have also joined the chorus of condemnation, along with numerous human rights organizations - including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and FIDH - as well as other groups, and countless individuals. Read international reaction here.
"The trumped-up charges, and the total lack of any credible evidence against these seven prisoners, reflects the false accusations and misinformation that Iran's regime has used to vilify and defame a peaceful, religious community for an entire generation," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
Ms. Dugal noted that the seven have reportedly been transferred to Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, a facility about 20 kilometers west of Tehran. "The reason for the move is not yet known and it is too early to assess the implications for the prisoners," she said. "It does, however, clearly impose an added burden to their families, who now have to travel outside Tehran to visit their loved ones."
The seven - Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm - were all members of a national-level group that, with the government's knowledge, helped see to the minimum spiritual needs of Iran's Baha'i community.
"That these manifestly innocent people should each be jailed for 20 years after a sham trial is utterly reprehensible," said Ms. Dugal. "We ask the Iranian government: Does such a callous disregard for justice contribute to the advancement of Iranian society? Or does it, rather, further diminish your credibility among your own people and among the nations of the world?"
Ms. Dugal said the Baha'i International Community condemns the widespread injustice perpetrated by the Iranian authorities against others throughout Iran, whether religious minorities, journalists, academics, civil society activists, women's rights defenders, or others.
A catalogue of abuses
Even before the sentences were pronounced, the arrest, detention and trial of the seven leaders was a two-year long catalogue of abuses and illegal actions, both under international law and Iranian statutes.
"Iranian law requires that detainees be quickly and formally charged with crimes. The seven Baha'is were held at least nine months before any word of the charges against them were uttered by officials, and even then it was at a press conference, not in a court setting," said Ms. Dugal.
"For a long time, the seven were also denied access to lawyers. When they were allowed contact, it lasted barely an hour before their so-called trial began," she said.
"Detainees who have been charged also have the right to seek bail and to be released pending trial. The seven have continually been denied bail, despite numerous requests."
"These are black and white concerns, not subject to interpretation," she said.
Since 1979, Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community has endured a government-sponsored, systematic campaign of religious persecution. In its early stages, more than 200 Baha'is were killed and at least 1,000 were imprisoned, solely because of their religious beliefs.
In the early 1990s, the government shifted its focus to social, economic and cultural restrictions aimed at slowly suffocating the community and its development. Measures included depriving Baha'is of their livelihood, destroying their cultural heritage, and barring their young people from higher education.
Since 2005, there has been a resurgence of more extreme forms of persecution, with increasing arrests, harassment, violence, and arson attacks on Baha'i homes and businesses.
This systematic campaign of attacks has included:
- the creation and circulation of lists of Baha'is with instructions that the activities of the members of the community be secretly monitored;
- dawn raids on Baha'i homes and the confiscation of personal property;
- summary arrest and interrogation of Baha'is throughout the nation;
- daily incitement to hatred of the Baha'is in all forms of government-sponsored mass media;
- the holding of anti-Baha'i symposia and seminars organized by clerics followed by orchestrated attacks on Baha'i homes and properties in the cities and towns where such events are held;
- destruction of Baha'i cemeteries across the country;
- demolition of Baha'i Holy Places and Shrines;
- acts of arson against Baha'i homes and properties;
- denying Baha'is access to higher education;
- vilification of Baha'i children in their classrooms by their teachers;
- the designation of numerous occupations and businesses from which Baha'is are debarred;
- refusal to extend bank loans to Baha'is;
- the sealing of Baha'i shops;
- refusal to issue or renew business licenses to Baha'is;
- harassment of landlords of Baha'i business tenants to force their eviction.
Specific examples of persecution in recent weeks include:
- homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families in the remote northern village of Ivel being demolished as part of a long-running campaign to expel them from the region;
- the intelligence service that has an office in every university and governmental organization in Iran instructing university officials at Shaheed Beheshti University not to have any business dealings with companies owned by Baha'is;
- two Baha'i-owned optical shops in Tehran receiving warning letters from the Opticians' Trade Union to close down, after similar shops in Khomein and Rafsanjan were forced to close;
- an anti-Baha'i tract, titled Supporters of Satan, being widely distributed in the city of Kerman. The tract purveys misrepresentations of Baha'i history, including falsely asserting that the Baha'i Faith was a creation of the British;
- truckloads of construction refuse and soil being dumped on graves in the Baha'i cemetery of Boroujerd. Buildings in the Baha'i cemetery in Mashhad - including the place where the prayers were recited - were severely damaged by heavy machinery.
Currently, including the seven leaders, some 50 Iranian Baha'is are in prison, some of them incarcerated for months at a time in solitary confinement cells, designed only for temporary detention.
"The pattern is clear: the Iranian government is systematically persecuting Baha'is for no reason other than their religious beliefs," said Ms. Dugal.
"The government knows that the Baha'i teachings advocate non-violence and non-involvement in politics. Yet this campaign is rigorously pursued with one aim in sight - the eradication of the Baha'i community as a viable entity in Iran," she said.
"In this light, the imprisonment of the seven must be seen as an attempt to decapitate a community's leadership, and strike a devastating blow to Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority."
Special Report - "The Trial of the Seven Baha'i Leaders"
The Baha'i World News Service has published a Special Report which includes articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders - their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing - and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran's Baha'i community.
The Special Report can be read at: http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/yaran-special-report/.