Global support intensifies for Iran's seven Baha'i leaders
GENEVA — An increasing number of governments, human rights groups and prominent individuals are raising their voices against the harsh prison sentences handed down earlier this month to Iran's seven Baha'i leaders.
As lawyers for the prisoners prepare to appeal against the 20-year jail terms, the government of New Zealand has voiced its concern that the trial "was conducted in a manner that was neither fair nor transparent."
"New Zealand is dismayed that Iran has failed to uphold its international human rights commitments, and its own due legal processes in this case," said Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
"The sentences appear to be based wholly on the fact that these people are members of a minority religious group," said Mr. McCully, in a statement issued on 20 August.
"New Zealand calls on the Government of Iran to protect the fundamental rights of all its citizens, and to end its ongoing and systematic persecution of the Baha'i," he said.
The governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States of America, as well as the European Union and the President of the European Parliament, have already condemned the sentencing of the seven. See http://news.bahai.org/story/787 and http://news.bahai.org/story/788.
In the wake of calls from numerous international organizations for the prisoners to be released, groups focused specifically on human rights abuses in Iran - such as the Human Rights Activists News Agency and United4Iran - as well as Amnesty International, have now launched letter-writing campaigns encouraging supporters to call for justice for the seven. Prominent individuals, including British barrister Cherie Blair, have also been raising their voices in support of the Baha'i leaders.
Minority Rights Group International (MRG) – which campaigns on behalf of disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples – has expressed its deep concern over the lengthy sentences.
"Given that independent observers were not allowed to attend the trial, and the history of persecution that the Baha'i community has faced in Iran, the outcome will do nothing to encourage faith in the Iranian justice system,' said Carl Soderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications.
"MRG calls on Iran to quash the convictions and release the defendants immediately," Mr. Soderbergh added.
Human rights campaigns
Before their arrest in 2008, the seven prisoners were all members of a national-level group known as the "Yaran" – or "Friends" – that helped to see to the minimum needs of Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community.
Among the human rights groups now calling for justice, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) is asking people throughout the world to join a "We are Yaran" campaign of letter writing.
The HRANA draft letter states: "There is no evidence in support of the charges leveled against these Baha'is, and the ultimate judgment of imprisonment is unjust and insupportable."
United4Iran – a non-partisan global network promoting fundamental human and civil rights in Iran – is requesting that visitors to its website call attention to the plight of the prisoners, by sending email letters to world leaders and Iranian officials.
Considering the advanced ages of several of the Baha'i leaders, says the group, "the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) has effectively dealt life sentences."
A spokesperson for United4Iran said that, as of Wednesday, more than 1100 messages had been sent via the website link.
In the United States, Amnesty International is urging its members to write to the head of Iran's judiciary to protest the trial and sentencing.
Noted British barrister Cherie Blair called the legal proceedings against the seven a "sham trial" in an article published on Wednesday by The Guardian newspaper in the UK.
"During two years of incarceration, lawyers working with [Nobel laureate Shirin] Ebadi were granted less than two hours with their clients," wrote Ms. Blair. "They had only a few hours to examine the case files, comprising hundreds of pages. In the little time they were granted, they discovered the files were compiled by officials from the ministry of intelligence, despite Iranian law stipulating that such agents 'should not be entrusted with the investigation ... of the accused.'
"The catch-all charge of espionage exposes the reality behind the regime's cruel behaviour. Over the years, Baha'is have found themselves accused of being tools of Russian imperialism, British colonialism, American expansionism and most recently Zionism.
"But when we learn that Baha'is accused of spying for Israel are offered exoneration and the restoration of all the rights of citizenship if they will simply recant their faith, we can see such charges are totally baseless.
"The desecration of Baha'i cemeteries, the demolition of shrines and confiscation of Baha'i property are unlikely punishments for a band of spies.
"The truth behind this sentence is that it is an attempt to decapitate Iran's 300,000 strong Baha'i community. As members of Iran's biggest religious minority, they have suffered decades of discrimination, harassment and appalling treatment. Most recently, 50 Baha'i homes were razed in northern Iran, and we know of at least 47 other Baha'is currently imprisoned," wrote Ms. Blair.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, today called the 20-year jail terms for the Baha'i leaders "a most appalling transgression of justice and at heart a gross violation of the human right of freedom of belief."
"I unite myself in prayer for those of the Baha'i Faith who are suffering at this present time in Iran and also to the many other peoples of goodwill who are suffering for their faiths in other parts of the world," said Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien.
In a video statement posted on YouTube, the actor and comedian Omid Djalili said he was "very upset" by news of the prison sentences.
"The Baha'i Faith is a peaceful religion with a world embracing vision of unity for all people, of all faiths. It is a staunch defender of human rights. So the fact that these seven are held in prison as if they are perpetrators of the most heinous crimes is just ridiculous," said Mr. Djalili, whose clip received more than 8,000 views in its first few days.
"International outcry will continue"
The prisoners - Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm - denied all the allegations made against them which included espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic and the establishment of an illegal administration. They are now incarcerated in Gohardasht prison in Karaj, some 20 kilometers west of Tehran.
"By all accounts, the charges against them were utterly baseless, and the trial itself was nothing but a charade," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
"For as long as they are held in prison, this international outcry will continue," she said.
A Baha'i World News Service Special Report containing articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders – their lives, their imprisonment and trial, and the allegations made against them - can be read at: http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/yaran-special-report/.
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.