Friday * December 19th 2014

Fourth anniversary of imprisonment of 7 former Baha’i leaders in Iran comes as persecution intensifies

Members of the Iranian Baha’i community’s former leadership group start their fifth year in prison today as persecution of the religious minority has intensified.

The five men and two women formed a national-level ad hoc group that helped attend to the needs of Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i community. They were sentenced in August 2010 to 20 years in jail.

The seven Baha'i prisoners, photographed several months before their arrest, are, in front, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. Sabet was detained on March 5, 2008. Her six colleagues were arrested in raids on their homes on May 14, 2008.

The men are held in Gohardasht prison, about 30 miles west of Tehran, and the women are in Evin prison in Tehran. The conditions in these prisons are harsh, with poor food and bad sanitation, said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva. Most of the seven have had serious health problems, but they have not been granted any type of leave, which is something prisoners are entitled to under Iranian law.

“It is very unfortunate that for the fourth year in a row, we find these seven individuals in prison with no sign of an imminent release,” said Anthony Vance, director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Baha’is of the United States. “This is despite the unprecedented level of consensus reached by the international community over the last year, particularly at the United Nations, regarding their innocence. It is one of the purest cases of persecution based solely on religion or belief in today’s world.”

The fourth anniversary of the seven former Baha’i leaders’ incarceration coincides with intensifying persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran. A recent letter from the international governing body of the Baha’i community noted how even children have been subject to cruelty. A 2-year-old boy was put behind bars with his mother for a few days, a student’s hand was beaten and burned by her teacher because she did not participate in congregational prayers, and two young children witnessed officials violently abduct their mother.

“The Iranian government has stepped up its persecution with roughly twice the number of Baha’is in prison, about 109 currently, as there were two years ago,” Vance said.

Meanwhile, the international community has continued to speak out against the persecution and unlawful incarceration of the former Baha’i leaders. Last month, the human rights group United4Iran coordinated a campaign in 12 major cities around the world that used mobile billboards, buses, bicycles, a canal boat and T-shirts to call for the release of the Baha’i prisoners. That initiative on April 1, 2012 marked 10,000 cumulative days in prison for the seven Baha’is.

On March 29, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling for the release of the seven former Baha’i leaders. That was nine days after the release of the 2012 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which asked U.S. officials to do the same. In February, MPs in Australia called upon the Iranian parliament to seek a judicial review of the trial of the seven Baha’is. In January, members of Parliament in the UK sharply criticized Iran’s human rights violations and expressed concern for the imprisoned leaders.

More information about the seven Baha’i leaders, including a chronology of events, can be found here:

The letter from the Baha’i international governing body, which was addressed to the Baha’i community in Iran, can be read in Persian here:

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