Four top UN human rights experts call for immediate release of seven imprisoned Iranian Baha'i leaders

May 13, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland — Four high-level United Nations human rights experts today called on Iran to immediately release the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders.

In a press release issued on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the arrest of the seven, the four experts emphasized that the seven are held solely because of their religious beliefs, that their continued imprisonment is unjust and wrongful, and that Iran's treatment of religious minorities violates international law.

"The Iranian government should demonstrate its commitment to freedom of religion by immediately and unconditionally releasing these prisoners of conscience," said Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. "These cases are apparently characterized by failures to safeguard fair trial standards and jeopardize overall religious freedom in Iran."

Joining Dr. Shaheed, with each contributing their own short statement to the press release, were El Hadji Malick Sow, head of the UN's Working Group on arbitrary detention; Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Rita Izsak, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues.

"These seven Baha'is are imprisoned solely for managing the religious and administrative affairs of their community," said Mr. Malick Sow. "These persons were condemned after trials which did not meet the guarantees for a fair trial established by international law."

Ms. Izsak noted that Baha'is are Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority. "Their existence and religious identity must be protected under the UN Declaration on Minorities," she said. "Otherwise, their right to profess and practice their own religion freely and without interference or any form of discrimination may be violated."

Dr. Bielefeldt said "Iran must ensure that Baha'is and other unrecognized minority faiths can practice their beliefs without hindrance and fear."

Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said the statements send an "unequivocal" message to Iran.

"It is an extremely powerful signal, sent by those in the United Nations system who are most directly concerned with monitoring human rights in Iran, that the government's treatment of Baha'is is unacceptable," said Ms. Ala'i.

"Their findings, based on their careful examination of the situation in Iran, leave no room for Iranian government officials to justify the imprisonment of these seven individuals – or the more than 100 other Baha'is currently imprisoned in Iran because of their religious beliefs," she said.

The press release from the four experts comes as Baha'is and other groups are engaged in a global campaign – themed "Five Years Too Many" – that seeks to highlight the entirely unjust and wrongful imprisonment of the seven and the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.

Six of the group were arrested five years ago tomorrow, on 14 May 2008. The seventh had been arrested two months earlier, on 5 March 2008. Their names are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm.

At the time of their arrest, the seven were members of an ad hoc group tending to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha'i community, which has been intensely persecuted by the Iranian government since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

In a 2010 trial lasting six days, the seven were wrongly convicted of various "crimes" – such as espionage or working against the regime – and sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest sentences of any prisoners of conscience currently held in Iranian prisons.