Iranian Baha’i leaders being held incommunicado; growing concern for their fate

May 27, 2008
The seven Baha’is who have been arrested are, seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. All are from Tehran. Six were arrested on 14 May 2008 in early-morning raids at their homes, and the seventh was detained in March.

NEW YORK, United States — Six Baha’i leaders who were arrested nearly two weeks ago are being held incommunicado, without access to lawyers or relatives, and the Baha’i International Community is increasingly concerned about their fate.

“Although initial reports indicated they were taken to Evin prison, in fact we don’t know where they are, and we are extremely concerned,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“What is clear is that none of their fundamental rights are being upheld. They have had no access to family members or counsel. We don’t even know if they have been before a judge or whether they have been formally charged.

“All we know is what a government spokesperson said last week, which is that they were arrested for ‘security reasons,’ a charge that is utterly baseless.

“We appeal to the international community, human rights groups, and people of conscience, as well as the news media, to continue their efforts to press the Iranian government so that the rights of these people as detainees be upheld and that they be allowed access to counsel and general communication with the outside -- as a minimum step,” said Ms. Dugal.

The six, all members of the national-level group that helped see to the minimum needs of Baha’is in Iran, were arrested on 14 May 2008 in an early morning sweep that is ominously similar to episodes in the 1980s when scores of Iranian Baha’i leaders were rounded up and killed.

A seventh member of the national coordinating group was arrested in early March in Mashhad after being summoned by the Ministry of Intelligence office there.

The whereabouts of none of the seven are known, said Ms. Dugal.

“We understood that the six were taken to Evin prison -- the seventh remaining in Mashhad -- principally because some of the government agents who arrested the six on the 14th had documents indicating they would be taken to that notorious place,” she said.

“However, in light of the fact that relatives have made repeated attempts to learn more about the fate of the seven, and in all cases have been met with evasion and conflicting stories from government officials, we must now say that we don’t know where they are -- and that our level of concern for their fate is at the highest,” Ms. Dugal said.

Arrested on 14 May were: Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm. All live in Tehran.

Arrested in Mashhad on 5 March was Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, who also resides in Tehran. Mrs. Sabet was summoned to Mashhad by the Ministry of Intelligence, ostensibly on the grounds that she was required to answer questions related to the burial of an individual in the Baha’i cemetery in that city.

Last week, Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham gave a press conference at which he acknowledged the arrest and imprisonment of the six. News reports quoted Mr. Elham as saying on 20 May that the six were arrested for “security issues” and not because of their religious beliefs.

Those assertions -- the only public statement by the government about the arrests -- were immediately rebutted by Ms. Dugal.

“The group of Baha’is arrested last week, like the thousands of Baha’is who since 1979 have been killed, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed, are being persecuted solely because of their religious beliefs,” Ms. Dugal said on 21 May.