Two Shiraz Baha'is released after three years in prison
GENEVA — Two of the three Iranian Baha'is, imprisoned for their participation in an education program for underprivileged children, have been freed after serving more than three years of their four-year jail terms.
It is reported that Haleh Rouhi and Sasan Taqva were released from the temporary detention center where they had been held for the duration of their incarceration, on Wednesday 8 December. Their co-worker Raha Sabet remains in prison.
Ms. Rouhi, Ms. Sabet and Mr. Taqva were involved in projects in and around the city of Shiraz which focused on teaching literacy, social skills and moral values to children. They were arrested in May 2006, with some 51 other Baha'is and 10 Muslim friends. The Baha'is alone were convicted of "indirect teaching of the Baha'i Faith."
It is believed the release of Ms. Rouhi and Mr. Taqva was part of an amnesty for 649 prisoners, granted by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the end of November on the occasion of Eid al-Ghadir, a Shiite Muslim festival.
"While we welcome the news of this release, it does not take away from the fact that there has been a gross miscarriage of justice," says Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
"Their release is by no means the end of the story," she says. "When will Raha Sabet be freed? When will the appalling injustice being suffered by the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders end? What about the 50 or more other Baha'is currently in prison purely because of their religious beliefs?"
Jailed for helping children
The educational program in Shiraz was carried out by the three Baha'is and their friends with the full knowledge and permission of the city council. Yet the three were sentenced to three years imprisonment for "organizing illegal groups" and a further year "for teaching for the benefit of groups that are against the Islamic regime." The other Baha'is were given one year sentences, suspended pending their attendance at mandatory Islamic classes.
On 19 November 2007, the three were locked into holding cells and continued to be held in the same temporary circumstances for a full three years.
"Their detention in such conditions has been in violation of international standards and legal norms, as well as Iran's own laws," says Diane Ala'i.
"Even a report later made at the request of the representative of Iran's Supreme Leader in the province of Fars confirmed that there was no mention of religion in the educational activities organized by these three innocent people," she says.
"It is well known that when the report became public, another version was issued which distorted the original findings," adds Ms. Ala'i. See http://news.bahai.org/story/661.
A renewed call to release the three was included in the open letter, dated 7 December 2010, addressed by the Baha'i International Community to the head of Iran's Judiciary.
"Whether or not there are Baha'is in prison, our calls for an end to the persecution of the Baha'is of Iran will not cease until all of them are granted their full rights of citizenship," says Ms. Ala'i. "Only in that way can they fulfill their desire to contribute, alongside their fellow citizens, to the advancement of their nation."