New UN report calls for release of seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders

March 5, 2013
Ahmed Shaheed (left), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have submitted reports on the continuing persecution of lawyers, journalists, activists and minorities, including Baha’is, in the country. UN Photo/ Paulo Filgueiras.

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The UN's independent investigator on Iran has called for the immediate release of seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders, asking that Iran "fully honor" its legal commitments to freedom of religion or belief.

The plea came last week from Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, in his annual report to the Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.

In a separate report to the Council, also issued on 28 February 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon underscored the serious concerns raised by Dr. Shaheed. Mr. Ban highlighted the magnitude and scope of ongoing human rights violations in Iran, including the widespread use of torture, the detention of lawyers and journalists, and continuing repression of minorities. In this latter respect, he noted that "serious discrimination in law and in practice against ethnic and religious minorities continues to be reported, especially against the Baha'i community."

"An ongoing anti-Baha'i media campaign resulted in increasing attacks on its members and their properties," said Mr. Ban. "This national campaign that consists of anti-Baha'i pamphlets, posters, seminars and the broadcasting of anti-Baha'i speeches on radio networks appears to be tacitly condoned by the authorities." He said there has been a "notable increase" in the arrest and detention of Baha'is, with more than 100 currently in prison.

Overall, Mr. Ban said "human rights violations have continued, with an intensified crackdown on journalists, human rights defenders and women's rights activists."

Dr. Shaheed's report described how the Iranian government uses torture, solitary confinement, and arbitrary arrest and detention in a continuing crackdown on journalists, human rights defenders, and others.

He also expressed concern over laws and practices that repress women, noting that women face gender disparity in employment, education, and freedom of movement. He said women's rights activists "continue to be harassed for making statements that criticize policies or Government actions."

About Baha'is, Dr. Shaheed conveyed "alarm" about the "systematic persecution of members of the Baha'i community," which includes "severe socioeconomic pressure and arrests and detention." He called on the Iranian government to "consider the immediate release of prisoners of conscience such as (Christian) Pastors Behnam Irani, Farshid Fathi, as well as the leaders of the Baha'i community."

The seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – have been wrongfully imprisoned since 2008. In 2010, they were convicted on false charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison, which is currently the longest sentence of any prisoner of conscience in Iran.

Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, welcomed both reports, saying that they "offer powerful documentation of the degree to which Iran continues to deny its citizens their fundamental human rights".

Ms. Ala'i continued: "The reports depict a country where not only Baha'is, but also journalists, women, human rights defenders and numerous ethnic and religious minorities face severe repression.

"Yet in the United Nations, and at the Human Rights Council, Iranian diplomats continue to deny that anything is wrong, claiming that Iran is a pillar of democracy and a strong proponent of human rights."