Sunday * December 21st 2014

Iranian Baha’is denied the chance to contribute

From left: pianist Pegah Yazdani; judo champion Khashayar Zarei; and chess player Pedram Atoufi.

A talented pianist, a national judo champion, and a teenage chess champion are usually considered valuable assets to their society. Yet this is not the case for pianist Pegah Yazdani, judo champion Khashayar Zarei, and chess player Pedram Atoufi. These three extraordinary individuals have unique stories, with one common theme: as members of the Baha’i Faith, they have been denied the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to their fields due to Iran’s systematic policy – laid out in a 1991 government-issued memorandum – to systematically “block [the] progress and development” of Baha’is and “deny them any position of influence.”

As Iran brought home a record number of medals from the 2012 Olympic Games in London, 19-year-old Khashayar Zarei could only dream of what might have been. In his age and weight class, Khashayar is one of the country’s finest judo competitors. Yet he was barred from competing on behalf of Iran because he is a Baha’i.

Similarly, Pedram Atoufi, at 16, won a 1991 national chess championship, but was told he could not represent Iran at the Asian Chess Championships because he was a Baha’i.

Barred from pursuing her musical ambitions in Iran, Pegah Yazdani traveled alone to Moscow in 1998 to study piano. After completing her instruction, she obtained her degree and returned to Iran to her family. She was offered a part-time job at Tehran’s conservatory. But when employees were asked to fill out a form asking them to mark their religion, Pegah was fired and banned from giving music lessons or playing recitals.

Bani Dugal, the Baha’i International Community’s principal representative to the United Nations, says the Iranian government’s strategy towards Baha’is is denying the country the benefit of a host of talents and capacities.

“The lengths to which Iran will go to prevent young Baha’is from obtaining higher education has grown more and more convoluted and extreme,” she said. “These stories are pitiful examples of a state-sponsored campaign which, in the end, only deprives Iran of the valuable and exciting contributions that could be made by some of the country’s best and brightest young people.”

Read the full story from the Baha’i World News Service


Yahoo! Voices article: Niknaz Aftahi on Education Under Fire in Iran

Niknaz Aftahi is a graduate of the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education — the open university established to educate Baha’i youth who have been banned from the state-run colleges in Iran. In this Yahoo! Voices article, she was interviewed about the “Education Under Fire” campaign and what it was like to study at the BIHE:

I did not study in a normal classroom like everybody else in America. Our classes were held at homes and the university was underground. Every day of studying at the BIHE involves risk factors and restrictions. Every day, I did not know if tomorrow my university will be there or not. Every day the fear existed that our professors would be arrested and our equipments confiscated.

There was no permanent place for our classes and workshops.

Many Bahai homes and their basements, big or small, and the professors’ offices and workplaces, were ready to instantly turn into classrooms and studios and labs.

We as students were happy under any circumstance, whether there were enough chairs or we had to sit on the floor; whether the room was spacious or cramped, whether, there was an overhead projector or a whiteboard, would not matter and our minds were ready to learn. Sometimes for attending two classes in one day, I had to go from one class in the north of Tehran to another class in the south.

We were always very careful to avoid traffic while going and coming out of the house, not to attract any attention.

Read the full article on Yahoo! Voices.


State Department’s 2011 International Religious Freedom Report documents Baha’i persecution in Iran

The U.S. State Department has released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011. At a briefing today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (pictured in this State Department photo by Michael Gross) talked about the importance of religious freedom:

Religious freedom is not just about religion. It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a mass, or Muslims to hold a religious funeral, or Baha’is to meet in each others’ homes for prayer, or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together – as important as those rituals are. Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship without the state looking over their shoulder.

Suzan Johnson Cook, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, spoke of the troubling trend in Iran of arrests based on religious beliefs:

The government continues to detain over 100 Baha’i, including the seven Baha’i leaders whose sentences for espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the system have been re-extended to the original 20-year penalty.

In 2011, at least 60 Baha’is were arbitrarily arrested. Some were later released after paying a large fine or posting a high bail. By the end of the year, at least 95 Baha’is were in jail and 416 Baha’i cases were still active, the report stated, citing human rights groups.

Meanwhile, at least 30 Baha’is were barred or expelled from universities. In May of 2011, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), created to give Baha’is in Iran an alternative way to earn a college degree, was reportedly declared illegal, the report stated.

The State Department report catalogs the injustices committed against this minority religious community, numbering between 300,000 and 350,000 people. Baha’is are banned from the social pension system, barred from leadership positions in the government and military, denied compensation for injury or crimes committed against them, refused the right to inherit property, and prohibited from officially assembling, the report stated. Their marriages and divorces are not officially recognized.

Acts of arson were reported throughout the year targeting Baha’is in several cities, according to the report. In some cases, letters sent to the owners of the burned businesses warned that Baha’is should not befriend Muslims. Also, Baha’i children were reportedly harassed in school and subjected to Islamic indoctrination, the report stated.

Read the full report here.

Read the Baha’i World News Service story on the release of the report here.


California magazine article describes what it’s like for Iranian Baha’is to study at BIHE — an open university created after they were denied higher education

A Santa Barbara, Calif.-based magazine has profiled an Iranian Baha’i who attends the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education — an open university created by the Baha’i community to educate its youth who have been banned from attending state-run universities in Iran.

Holakou Rahmanian, who was interviewed on a video call from Turkey where he is seeking asylum, told the Pacific Standard that despite being one of the top math students in the country, he was not allowed to attend the state-run universities in Iran because of his religious beliefs. He and a former student described what it was like to study at the BIHE.

In 2007, during Rahmanian’s first semester at BIHE, administrators set up a makeshift campus in a rented office space in a four-story building in Tehran. After one semester, many of the faculty members were threatened by Iranian security officers; BIHE leaders were told to vacate the building. The institute pared down its ambitions for physical space.

Now BIHE runs mostly online, over email and rotating websites made safely accessible through Internet protocols that obscure online activity from government monitors. Staff and students avoid certain email and chat clients because they are not secure enough, and they never discuss BIHE over the phone. A few times each semester, students still meet with professors or teaching assistants in person in Tehran, usually at someone’s home or business. They arrange the chairs and someone sets up a white board to make the space feel as much like a classroom as possible. Laptops are attached to home televisions to show slides.

Read the full article here.


Capitol Hill event raises awareness of religious minorities in the Middle East

The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East may appear grim, but there is hope that the situation could change amid the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said Friday at a reception on Capitol Hill.

“The efforts of various countries to draft constitutions provide a window of opportunity to consider not only protection for members of religious minorities, but for every individual,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, the chair of the commission (pictured at right).

Her remarks were made at an exhibit on religious minorities in the Middle East held 19 July, 2012. The Baha’is of the United States joined 15 other non-profit organizations and religious associations representing religious minorities throughout the Middle East, such as the Coptic Christians of Egypt and Assyrians and Yezidis of Iraq. The groups shared with Congressional staffers and members of the public the tenets of their faiths and their histories of religious persecution in the Middle East.

“Tonight, we recognize the importance of the religious minorities in many countries, whether it be the Hindus of Pakistan, the Christians, Jews, or Baha’is of Iran, or minority Muslim sects,” said Congressman Brad Sherman. “We are working with all of them to make sure that those who live in the Middle East have full rights of citizenship regardless of their religion.”

The event, co-hosted by the International Religious Freedom Caucus, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Congressmen Sherman, Trent Franks, Heath Shuler and Gus Bilirakis, had the dual purpose of promoting a stronger cultural awareness of the traditions and practices of these minorities as well as bringing to light the challenges they face.

“We must hold Middle Eastern governments accountable, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring,” said Congressman Bilirakis.

Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran are considered by the commission to be among the worst religious freedom violators, Lantos Swett said.

“While religious minorities in Iraq and Egypt are threatened by a climate of impunity that encourages violence against them by private citizens, in other Mideast nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, the biggest threat they face comes from the direct hand of government,” she said.

Several speakers, including U.S. Ambassador At-large for Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook and Congressman Franks, emphasized that having religious freedom is important for a democracy to develop.

“We find that when people are free to believe or not to believe, sectarian tensions diminish, terrorism crimes have less traction, civil society can grow, and the seeds of democracy begin to bloom,” Johnson Cook said.

The speakers also made a point of addressing some of the specific abuses faced by the different minority groups and those responsible for perpetrating it.

“Since 1979, Iranian authorities have murdered more than 200 Baha’is while removing 10,000 from government and university jobs. For the first time since the early years of the Khomeini revolution, more than 100 Baha’is are being held in prison solely because of their religious beliefs, including seven of its leaders and several Baha’i educators,” said Lantos Swett, adding that, “for anybody who knows the Baha’i community, it is such a source of pain to imagine that this incredibly wonderful and peaceful religion is being targeted in this way.”

Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Lantos Swett also articulated the course of action that the United States should take in response to this persecution.

“For Iran, where the problem is religious repression through the dictates of specific Iranian officials, we advocate that the United States continue to identify these officials – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad – and impose asset freezes and travel bans on them, while demanding the release of all prisoners of conscience,” she said.

The event emphasized the spirit of oneness and brotherhood that must undergird all efforts to combat religious persecution.

“True tolerance is not pretending that we have no differences with each other,” said Congressman Franks. “True tolerance is in loving each other, respecting each other, caring for each other, and treating each other peacefully, in spite of our differences.”

Drawing on symbolism from a traditional Jewish story that she shared with the audience in her closing remarks, Lantos Swett eloquently summed up the true end goal of the fight to uphold religious freedom in all parts of the world.

“If we can look at one another and recognize in the faces of strangers the face of our brothers and sisters, then we will know that the night has turned to day,” she said.

Check out more photos of the event from the International Religious Freedom Caucus.


Opinion article: ‘Iran’s greatest concern is weapons of mass repression’

In this perspective piece on, Randolph Dobbs notes that “while the rest of the world speculates about Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program, of greater concern to the Iranian people are the Islamic regime’s weapons of mass repression.”

“According to Amnesty International, the Iranian government has an arsenal of repressive weapons at its disposal including broad powers of censorship over domestic news. The regime also limits public access to foreign news, jamming the signals of international satellite broadcasts and blocking access to selected Internet websites.

… Yet in spite of Iran’s best efforts, its weapons of mass repression, while devastating to individuals, have so far proven impotent when it comes to suppressing ideas.”

The article goes on to describe the government’s denial of access to higher education for members of the Baha’i Faith. Read the full article on


Chicago Tribune article: Local woman says her father’s belief in the Baha’i Faith is behind his imprisonment in Iran

Nasrin Nakhaei, a Baha’i living in Highland Park, Ill., spoke to a Chicago Tribune reporter about the arrest in Iran of her 85-year-old father, Muhammad-Husayn Nakha’i.

Although government officials have not told the family why he was arrested, Nakhaei said she believes it was because he is a member of the Baha’i Faith, a persecuted religious minority in that country. About 100 Baha’is are in prison in Iran, the largest number since the early 1980s.

Nakhaei said she has asked her parents several times why they won’t leave Iran. She even applied for a U.S. green card this year on their behalf, but her father was adamant about staying put.

“He said, ‘We don’t want to leave — this is our country,’” Nakhaei said.

Read the full story here.


Actor Rainn Wilson speaks about denial of education for Baha’is in Iran

In an interview to a Santa Fe newspaper, “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson called the denial of higher education for Baha’is in Iran “a very insidious way to hold people down.”

Wilson was at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design to introduce a presentation of “Education Under Fire,” a 30-minute documentary that profiles the growth and struggle of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). The BIHE is an open university created by the Baha’i community to educate its youth who have been banned from attending state-run universities in Iran.

Read the full Santa Fe Reporter story here.


Denial of education in Iran addressed at Human Rights Council

At the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council on June 28, Puyan Mahmudian — a student activist who in 2007 spent three months in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison — called attention to violations of academic freedom and the right to education in Iran.

Mahmudian, who was speaking on behalf of the Democracy Coalition Project in coordination with the human-rights organization United for Iran, called for the release of all students and educators who have been jailed for exercising their rights, and an end to the targeting of students based on their religious, political or civic activities.

Women and ethnic and religious minorities also face increasing discrimination in higher education. Gender quotas recently implemented by the government restrict women’s admission to specific fields of study violating Iran’s legal obligations to ensure the equal rights of men and women to education. And members of the Bahá’í faith are systematically targeted and prevented from pursuing higher education solely on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Click here to watch the video.

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Voice of America to broadcast ‘Iranian Taboo’

The documentary film “Iranian Taboo,” which depicts the plight of Baha’is in Iran, will be broadcast on Voice of America’s Persian service tomorrow.

The film was directed by the award-winning Iranian-Dutch filmmaker Reza Allamehzadeh, who is not a Baha’i.

The film will be aired on VOA’s regularly scheduled “Shabahang” program on Saturday, June 23, beginning at 2:30 p.m. EDST (11:00 p.m. in Tehran time).

The broadcast will include a live in-studio interview with Allamehzadeh.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share this important film with global audiences, especially the viewers inside Iran” the director and producing team said in a press release. “Our main and only goal in making this film has been to raise awareness and expose the injustice that has taken place for over 150 years against the followers of the Baha’i Faith in Iran, a historical fact that has not been talked about in this format. We thank VOA for accepting our request to broadcast this film.”


Persecution of Baha’is in Iran spotlighted on New York radio show ‘The Advocates’

Yesterday, the persecution of Baha’is in Iran was the subject of the radio show “The Advocates” with host Richard J. Garfunkel. The show was broadcast on WVOX AM 1460 in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Kenneth E. Bowers (pictured below), secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, the annually elected body that governs the activities of the U.S. Baha’i community, was the guest on the 50-minute show. He gave an overview of the Baha’i Faith and talked about how its adherents have long been persecuted in Iran, the country of its birth, since its founding in the mid-19th century.

“The Baha’i Faith has always suffered persecution in Iran, especially in the earliest decades when Baha’u'llah was alive, and many thousands of his early followers were killed, and countless others suffered in other ways for their beliefs. … Baha’u'llah himself was the victim of intense persecution, including torture, impoverishment, imprisonment and eventually exile out of Iran.

“Although conditions improved somewhat during a large part of the 20th century, there was never really a time when the Baha’is enjoyed the full protection of the law. There were many episodic attempts to eradicate the Baha’is or its leaders, often instigated by the clergy, but also with the help or at least the complicity of the civil authorities. During the mid-20th century, a group was formed called Hojjatieh whose main purpose was the eradication of the Baha’is.

“But then when the Islamic Revolution happened and the Islamic leadership finally seized full power, we really began to see a more far more wide-ranging and systematic pattern of activity designed to suppress the Baha’i community as a matter of state policy. So this regime that now exists began very early on a plan literally to strangle, if not eliminate, the community. So its administration was dismantled, its records were seized, anyone who could be identified as Baha’is were removed from all government jobs, denied pensions, refused entry into higher education, and so on, seized assets. And also about 200 of the more prominent leaders of the Baha’i Faith were put to death.”

Listen to the full radio show here.

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Closures of Baha’i-owned factories in Iran illustrate effort to economically strangulate religious community

A recent intensification of attacks on Baha’i-owned businesses in Iran further demonstrates the Iranian authorities’ determination to suffocate the economic prospects of the Baha’is of that country, solely on account of their religious beliefs.

The Baha’i International Community has learned that on May 28, Intelligence Ministry agents raided and closed two factories, with full or partial Baha’i ownership, in the central northern city of Semnan. One of the factories – which manufactured vertical blinds – employed 51 staff, 36 of whom were not Baha’is. The other, a lens grinding factory, had two Baha’i and six other employees.

Persecution of the Baha'is of Semnan has included the fire-bombing and vandalization of homes and Baha'i-owned businesses.

“These factory closures not only illustrate the bitter animosity that the Iranian authorities hold towards Baha’is,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “They also show that, in this ongoing effort to strangle the Baha’is economically, the authorities are perfectly happy to cause other workers – including Shia Muslims – to face economic hardship as well.”

In late 2008, Semnan’s Chamber of Commerce – along with 39 member trade unions – decided to stop issuing business licenses and managerial permits to Baha’is, and to cease renewing current licenses. Existing business licenses and permits for Baha’is were revoked and confiscated. Since that time, at least 15 Baha’i-owned shops and manufacturing businesses in the city have been closed, depriving dozens of families of an income. Banks have refused to extend loans to Baha’is; Baha’i farmers have been harassed; and citizens have been urged not to patronize Baha’i-owned businesses.

The information has come to light as the annual conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) concludes in Geneva. The ILO, the principal intergovernmental body promoting and protecting rights to employment and vocational education, has repeatedly called on the Iranian government to end its persecution of Baha’is.

Read the full story from the Baha’i World News Service.

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Opinion article about imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran published in PBS Frontline’s Tehran Bureau

Arash and Kamiar Alaei, physicians specializing in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, were found guilty in 2009 of “cooperating with an enemy government” and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Kamiar was conditionally released after spending two and a half years in prison. Arash was granted final release after more than three years in prison.

Kamiar Alaei wrote the following article, which was published in PBS Frontline’s Tehran Bureau:

I spent two and half years of my life unjustly imprisoned in Iran. I’m fortunate I was released in the fall of 2010. But for my former cellmates, members of Iran’s imprisoned Bahá’í leadership group, freedom has proved elusive.

In 2008, my brother, Dr. Arash Alaei, and I were serving sentences in Iran’s notorious Evin prison after being accused of trying to overthrow the government. In reality, we were running a public health program for HIV/AIDS patients and drug addicts. We had been doing this not only with government approval but also government funding. However, the government’s priorities changed, and my brother and I soon found ourselves in prison for doing what had been praised in the past.

My Baha’i cellmates, however, were never in the good graces of the government.

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NGOs urge Iran to uphold right to higher education

In a statement addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 17 nongovernmental organizations have expressed concern about the alarming state of academic freedom in Iran.

The NGOs, including the Baha’i International Community, cited violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly on campuses; and institutionalized procedures that allow authorities arbitrarily to expel and suspend students, and fire graduate instructors on the basis of their political views or activities. Read the full statement here.

“The right to education for all persons without discrimination is explicitly guaranteed under international instruments, which Iran has accepted or to which it is party,” the statement reads. “It is also guaranteed under Iran’s Constitution.”

Since 2009, more than 600 students and some college lecturers have been arrested for expressing their opinion.

Other organizations that signed the statement include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, United4Iran, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

The NGOs also note that Iran’s minorities face systematic deprivation and discrimination in education: “Authorities have prevented – and specifically targeted – members of the Baha’i Faith from pursuing higher education solely on the basis of their religious beliefs…”

In May 2011, Iranian authorities raided homes of Baha’is associated with an informal community initiative, known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). A number of Baha’i educators were arrested and are currently serving four- or five-year jail terms.

The statement strongly urges Iran to release “immediately and unconditionally all Iranian students and higher education personnel who have been jailed for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including educators at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, and including those who have expressed political opinions…”

The organizations also urged Iran to abolish “all policies and practices that discriminate against or otherwise violate the rights of religious and ethnic minorities…particularly the Baha’i community, including in regard to their access to higher education and academic freedom.”

Read the Baha’i World News Service story on the statement here.

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Assistant secretary of state calls attention to former Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Iran

At a press briefing today to announce the release of the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael H. Posner made mention of the seven former Baha’i leaders in Iran who are in prison solely for their religious beliefs.

The seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders are, from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Mahvash Sabet; Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie and Afif Naeimi.

While answering reporters’ questions, Posner said: “I want to in particular single out the case of the seven Baha’i leaders who were sentenced to 20 years in prison. The sentence was reinstated last year. They’re now – in May, they marked four years of a 20-year sentence for basically practicing their religion. It is a human rights situation that is very disturbing, and we’ll continue to call it out.”

The remark came after a reporter asked Posner what he felt was different about Iran in 2011 compared to previous years. Posner said it was a continuation of “intolerance of dissent, particularly a crackdown on demonstrators in February; free speech restricted; internet freedom restricted; political participation severely circumscribed; unfair trials, amputations, floggings; lots of death penalty, including some this year, many held in secret.”

Speaking earlier about the human rights reports around the world, Posner noted there was “continued, and in some cases, increasing persecution of many religious groups, including the Ahmadis, the Baha’i, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews and Christians.”

Read the State Department’s Human Rights Report on Iran here.

A section of the report describes how the constitution in Iran allows the government to seize property acquired “in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law” and how this law has been used to harass religious minorities, particularly Baha’is. Last November, the Baha’i International Community reported several attacks on Baha’is and their property.

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Article in the Chronicle of Higher Education details struggle of Baha’i youth to receive a higher education

An in-depth story published in the Chronicle of Higher Education details the struggle for Baha’i youth to get a college education in Iran. It explains how the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s special representative on Iran in 1993 revealed a memorandum from an Iranian government official setting out a national policy that all Baha’is should be expelled from universities once their religious beliefs are known. The article then describes the perseverance of volunteers that formed the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, a distance-learning program, in the face of such discrimination. Many of the institute’s graduates have since gone on to study at prestigious Western universities. The story also delves into the recent crackdown on the Baha’i institute, with several Baha’i educators arrested last year and sentenced to 4- and 5-year prison terms.

From the Chronicle article, posted online Sunday:

Despite its uncertain future and the regime’s ever-tightening noose, the institute’s faculty will press on. “This is a matter of principle for the Bahais,” said Behrouz Sabet, a Capella University faculty member and board member of the Council for Global Education, who has been assisting the institute with research and curriculum design for more than 20 years. “They have no other choice. Public employers do not hire them, and the private sector is closed off as well. The BIHE is the only hope they have.”


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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Voice of America broadcasts ‘Education Under Fire’ documentary in Persian

This past weekend, Voice of America Persian aired the “Education Under Fire” documentary with a Persian language voice-over. The film describes how members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran have been denied access to higher education for three decades by the government. It is a story of resilience in the face of oppression.

Here is a clip of the 30-minute documentary dubbed in Persian.

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‘Iranian Taboo’ documentary detailing persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran to be screened in the U.S.

Reza Allahmehzadeh, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who is a Dutch-Iranian national, has produced a documentary about the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran entitled “Iranian Taboo.” Allahmehzadeh, who is not a Bahá’í, was banned from entering his homeland, so he asked his friends to film inside Iran.

The film has already been screened in several places in North America and in Europe, including the Netherlands, where Allahmehzadeh lives for part of the time.
















The film will be shown in San Diego, Dallas and the San Francisco area (Berkeley, California) this Thursday, May 3. It will also be screened in New York City and the Washington, D.C. area (Bethesda, Maryland) on Thursday, May 17. See below for screening dates, times and locations in each city.

May 03, 2012SAN DIEGO – “Iranian Taboo” – Hillcrest Cinema

May 03, 2012DALLAS – “Iranian Taboo” – The Magnolia (Landmark)

May 03, 2012SAN FRANCISCO AREA – “Iranian Taboo” – California Theatre

May 17, 2012WASHINGTON, DC AREA – “Iranian Taboo” – Bethesda Row Cinema

May 17, 2012NEW YORK CITY – “Iranian Taboo” – Sunshine Cinema

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New York City Bar calls for Iran to release imprisoned defense attorney Abdolfattah Soltani

The president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York has written an open letter calling upon Iran to reaffirm the rights of Iranian lawyers to practice their profession without governmental interference and to release prominent defense attorney Abdolfattah Soltani.

Soltani (pictured left) has been in prison since he was arrested on Sept. 11, 2011. He was the senior member of a legal team representing prisoners accused of threatening national security by teaching academic subjects such as biology and architecture to Baha’i youth who were not allowed to go to college due to their beliefs.

Soltani is not a Baha’i, but he has defended Baha’is and other human rights cases in Iran. He was also incarcerated in 2006 and 2009. Soltani was one of four lawyers, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, to establish the Defenders of Human Rights Center.

The New York City Bar Association’s president, Samuel W. Seymour, wrote the letter to Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s representative to the United Nations, in February on behalf of the independent professional organization’s 23,000 members from New York and around the world.

The letter noted that, as of September of 2011, some 42 attorneys had faced government prosecution since 2009, according to a report from the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the situation of the Human Rights in Iran.

Read the full text of the open letter in English and Persian.


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