European Union expresses "deep concern" over seven Baha'i prisoners

February 18, 2009
The imprisoned individuals whose trial is pending are, top from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Mahvash Sabet; bottom from left, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie and Afif Naeimi.

GENEVA, Switzerland — The European Union yesterday issued a statement expressing its “deep concern” over Iran’s plans to bring seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders to trial for espionage and other charges soon. The Baha’i International Community has called for their immediate release, maintaining their innocence and characterizing the regime’s claims as an “escalation of its systematic crackdown on the Baha’is.”

The EU statement coincided with increasingly sharp anti-Baha'i rhetoric from Iranian officials, who said a trial for the seven might come within a week.

The seven Baha'i leaders have been imprisoned in Tehran for more than eight months, during which no formal evidence has been brought against them and they have not been given access to their legal counsel, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. Another 30 Baha’is are imprisoned in Iran, while 80 other prisoners have been released on collateral.

The European Union said it was concerned that, “after being held for so long without due process, the Baha’i leaders may not receive a fair trial.

“The EU therefore requests the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow independent observation of the judicial proceedings and to reconsider the charges brought against these individuals.”

The document was endorsed by the entire 27-nation membership of the EU, along with Turkey, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Ukraine, and Moldova.

Separately, in Brazil yesterday, the president of the Human Rights Commission of the Federal Chamber of Deputies sent an open letter to Iran, asking for the release of the Baha´i prisoners.

“The peace-loving, humanistic principles and practices for which the Baha’is are known in Brazil have earned this community respect and credibility among the country’s human rights supporters,” said Deputy Pompeo de Mattos. “There is therefore no reason to doubt the credibility of their claims.”

Other such strong statements of support have been issued over the past several days from governments and parliamentarians in a number of countries, including Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Meanwhile, an official Iranian news agency report yesterday quoted a judiciary spokesman as saying the seven Baha'is “would attend their hearing sessions within one week.”

According to an Islamic Republic News Agency story, the spokesman, Ali-Reza Jamshidi, told reporters at his weekly press conference yesterday that the “seven committed criminal acts including spying for foreigners.”

Mr. Jamshidi stated that the Baha'is would “definitely be allowed to use legal counsel," though they have had no access to their lawyer to date.

His statement followed a harsh report on Sunday that quoted Iran’s prosecutor general as saying the government plans the “complete destruction” of Baha'i administration in Iran.

“The administration of the misguided Baha’i sect at all levels is unlawful and banned, and their ties to Israel and their opposition to Islam and the Islamic regime are clear,” said Iranian Prosecutor General Ayatollah Ghorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi, according to a report in Fars News.

“The danger they pose to national security is documented and proven and therefore it is necessary that any substitute administration that acts as a replacement for the original be confronted through the law,” said Ayatollah Najafabadi.

Diane Ala’i of the Baha'i International Community said the activities of the Baha’i leaders had to do with meeting the minimum spiritual and administrative needs of the 300,000-member Baha’i community of Iran. She said Ayatollah Najafabadi’s attempt to portray their actions as “dangerous” was baseless and that the government is well aware that there is no truth to such allegations.

“How can the chief prosecutor equate something so harmless as a group of individuals who get together to give spiritual guidance and administer such things as marriages and burials and children’s moral classes with something that threatens Iran’s national security?” said Ms. Ala’i, the Baha'i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“After they banned Baha'i administration in Iran in 1983, the government has always been aware of and informed of the activities of these ad hoc groups.

“In the eyes of the government, the only real ‘crime’ of the seven currently in Evin prison – along with the some 30 other Baha'i prisoners currently held in Iran – is that they hold a religious belief that is different from the majority in Iran, and that is something that the current regime finds intolerable,” she said.

Ms. Ala’i also discussed remarks made yesterday by Mr. Jamshidi in response to a question about Ayatollah Najafabadi’s statements. Mr. Jamshidi was quoted as saying: “Any acts which could be taken as propaganda against Islam, Iran and its Islamic establishment is definitely considered a crime and its perpetrators would be legally encountered.”

“The fact is that the Baha'i Faith is the only independent world religion other than Islam that accepts the divinity of Muhammad and reveres the Qur’an – along with the holy books of all the world’s great religions. There is nothing anti-Islamic or anti-Iran about the Baha'i Faith, its teachings, or the practices of its followers. The government cannot impose its own interpretation of Islam on the Baha’i Faith and conclude that the Baha’i Faith is anti-Islam,” Ms. Ala'i said.

“Indeed, the lives of the seven leaders currently in prison reflect lifelong efforts to promote the best development of Iranian society as a whole, through the promotion of education, social and economic development, and adherence to moral principle,” she said.

Earlier this week, the British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell issued a statement saying the Iranian government “appears to be increasingly using vaguely worded charges to target human rights defenders and religious minorities.”

“It is hard,” said Minister Rammel on Monday, “not to conclude that these people are being held solely on account of their religious beliefs or their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.”