Monday, December 27, 2010

Proposed Egyptian law allowing marriage certification for Baha'is

Egypt's Al-Shorouq newspaper reported today that a law is being put forward by Egypt's government-sponsored National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) that would allow the official registration of Baha'i marriages in the State's Authority that deals with certifying all official transactions and registrations. The Authority is named "al-Shahr al-Aqqary."

This proposed law was just announced by Counselor Muqbel Shaker, Deputy President of the NCHR. The law will require an amendment to Article-V [No. 143, 1994] of the Civil Status/Affairs Law which currently does not allow the certification of Baha'i marriages. Presently, Civil [Personal Affairs] Courts certify marriages between couples belonging to the same "recognized religion."

The amendment would require the use of the word "belief" rather than "religion" when referring to the registration of a married couple, using the words "united in belief" rather than "united in religion."

Current official marriage registration with "al-Shahr al-Aqqary" Authority is restricted to only three types of cases, namely, when the couple belong to two separate recognized religions, or to separate denominations/sects within the same recognized religion, or used for registering marriages between Egyptian nationals and foreign nationals. The proposed law would require this "Authority" to eliminate Article-134 which forbids the registration of any marriages where Baha'is are a party to.

The proposed law clearly points out that this step is not a recognition of the Baha'i Faith, but rather a procedural maneuver and an amendment that would allow Baha'is--according to Islam's teachings and laws of non-discrimination & equality--obtain their civil rights by, subsequently, allowing married Baha'is to be granted ID cards (see previous post for details). The NCHR also bases its proposed law on a statement by the leading Muslim clergy, the late Sheikh al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, when he said that "there is no harm and no objection to documenting Baha'is as belonging to a 'belief' [rather than a 'religion']."

This development is surely seen as a positive step forward in the government's efforts to correct the civil status of the Baha'i community in Egypt. Thus, ultimately, providing them with their deserved civil rights that will allow them to be integrated in their society and be of service to their fellow citizens and to their nation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Egypt: yes you can have an ID Card, but!

As posted previously, the US State Department's annual report on religious freedom in Egypt stated:
According to Baha'i community members, throughout the first half of 2010 the government implemented the order and reportedly issued more than 180 birth certificates and 50 to 60 national identification cards to Baha'is, all with dashes in the religious identification field. The government, because it does not recognize Baha'i marriage, and there is no civil mechanism for marriage, refused to issue identification documents to married Baha'is, unless they would agree to specify their marital status as "unmarried." According to the government,...

The implications of this status quo are far reaching and quite complex. Since the Egyptian government, thus far, has not developed a mechanism by which to officially recognize Baha'i marriage, any Baha'i married couple, a widow/widower, or a divorced person cannot obtain an ID Card. The reason for this is that the application for the national ID number/ID Card requires the individual to state his/her marital status. If the person is single, then an ID can be issued to the applicant without much delay.

If the person, however, is married or is a widow/widower or divorced, he/she must produce a proof of his/her status. And since the government does not recognize Baha'i marriage certificates, such documents presented by the applicants to the authorities have been systematically refused, declared as non-valid, and the issue of IDs have been denied. Meanwhile, such applicants have been told by the officials that if they wanted an ID, they can, then, lie and state that they are single. On the other hand, the application clearly states that any false statements entered can result in a prison sentence and a fine. Thus, Baha'is have been refusing to misrepresent their marital status on these documents.

Consequently--a year and 8 months past the order of the Minister of Interior to issue ID cards with a dash (-) to those not belonging to the official three religions--an overwhelming majority of the members of the Baha'i community in Egypt precariously continue to struggle in Egypt without identification documents.

One would think that the solution to this issue should be quite simple. There is really no reason to prolong such agony. Just as Baha'is long for an end to their suffering so that they can go on with their daily life, the authorities must also want to put an end to such injustice and rid themselves of the frustrations of having to deal with such convoluted and embarrassing state of affairs.

The Egyptian authorities must find a way to provide the Baha'is with a legitimate documentation of their marital status in Egypt, whether by a civil or by any other method of certification at their disposal. By doing so, Egypt can be seen, again, as a promoter of justice and a champion for human rights. With this outcome, Baha'is can, then, fully participate in the advancement and success of their beloved homeland.

Monday, December 13, 2010

US State Department Highlights Need to Improve Status of Baha'is in Egypt

On 17 November 2010, the United States Department of State issued its annual report on International Religious Freedom. The report highlighted clearly the recent developments in the Baha'i community's struggle in its quest to obtain its full rights. The Baha'i community's principal motive in its quest has always been its longing to be integrated as an essential element in the fabric of the Egyptian society so that its members can contribute fully to their society's well-being.

The report is divided into several segments and covers various complex issues related to religious freedom in Egypt that concern the various religious minorities currently existing in Egypt.

As the focus of this blog is the Baha'is of Egypt, the quotes posted below are specific to this religious community.

Before going to these quotes, however, one must read first what the report states about the reaction of the Egyptian government to an attack on Christians by Muslim extremists in the village of Naga Hammadi (described in details in the full report). The reason for bringing up this example first is to provide a glimpse into how Egypt's government is indeed committed to improve the status of religious minorities and the elimination of religious extremism and sectarian violence. Regarding this matter, the report states:
Following the attack on Christians in Naga Hammadi in January 2010, the government quickly arrested and began prosecution of four Muslim men implicated in the attack. They were charged with premeditated murder. As of the end of the reporting period, the court had ruled on motions, heard testimony from numerous witnesses, reviewed crime scene data, and was scheduled to resume in September 2010.

Following the Naga Hammadi attack, government officials spoke out strongly against dangers posed by sectarianism and discrimination. For example, on January 21, 2010, President Mubarak stated that in a modern civil state "there is no place for those who would incite sectarianism, or who would differentiate between its Muslim and Coptic citizens." On January 24, speaking at Police Day, President Mubarak said: "terrorism, extremism, and sectarian incitement represent the major challenges to Egypt’s national security." On February 28, President Mubarak spoke of the urgent need for efforts by clerics, educational and cultural institutions, publishing houses and the media "to confront the dangers of division, extremism and sectarian incitement." In late January, 2010 the minister of religious endowments sent a group to all governorates in Upper Egypt to engage in a religious awareness campaign and to address Islam’s stance on sectarian violence and strife and the dangers they pose to society’s stability.

Now, posted below are the entire quotes taken from the report which concern the Baha'is of Egypt. For the full report, please follow this link....
The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worship without harassment; however, Christians and members of the Baha'i Faith, which the government does not recognize, face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship.

In positive steps, the government issued identification documents to some unmarried members of the Baha'i community;

The number of Baha'is is estimated at 2,000 persons.

Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities and strips Baha'is of legal recognition. Despite the ban, they are able to engage in community activities such as Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i new year's celebration. During the Nasser era, the government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries.

The government requires all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews on national identity cards. The MOI has, on rare occasions, reportedly issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other," or that do not mention religion; however, it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups not associated with any of the three recognized religions have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or to live without valid identity documents.

In 2008 the Cairo Administrative Court ruled in three cases brought by Baha'is that the government must issue official identification documents containing a dash or other mark in the religion field. The court noted that a purpose of filling the religion field with a dash or other distinctive mark was to protect members of the "revealed religions" (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) from Baha'i infiltration and to avoid potential dangers from such persons' conduct and relations with them. The ruling stated that anyone who adopts the Baha'i Faith is an apostate and that the religion cannot be recorded in any civil status or other official document, because that would conflict with public order. But in April 2009 the MOI issued Decree 520 describing procedures for members of unrecognized religious groups to obtain national identity cards with dashes in the religious identification field. According to Baha'i community members, throughout the first half of 2010 the government implemented the order and reportedly issued more than 180 birth certificates and 50 to 60 national identification cards to Baha'is, all with dashes in the religious identification field. The government, because it does not recognize Baha'i marriage, and there is no civil mechanism for marriage, refused to issue identification documents to married Baha'is, unless they would agree to specify their marital status as "unmarried." According to the government, it was attempting to find a mechanism to issue identification documents to married Baha'is that would correctly identify marital status.

Those without valid identity cards also encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Police occasionally conduct random inspections of identity papers and those found without identity cards can be detained until they produce the document.

While the government complied with court rulings by issuing identity documents with a “dash” for religion to unmarried Baha’i, it continued to refuse to issue marriage certificates. This made it impossible for married members of the Baha'i community to obtain identity documents recognizing their marital status. The government cited its nonrecognition of the Baha'i Faith and the country's lack of a civil marriage mechanism as reasons for the denial.

During the reporting period, the government did not investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of a March 2009 attack on the homes of seven Baha'i families in the village of al-Shuraniya in Sohag Governorate. Muslim villagers, some of them related to the Baha'i villagers, attacked Baha'i houses with bricks and rocks until police dispersed them. On March 31, the attacks escalated when attackers returned and set fire to the homes, forcing the Baha'is to flee.

On July 27, 2009, a Cairo family court awarded legal custody of Aser Usama Sabri, whose parents are Baha'is, to the child's Muslim aunt. The ruling, which came in a lawsuit filed by the boy's grandfather, had no immediate practical effect as the boy and his parents live abroad.

On January 26, 2010, Cairo's Administrative Court rejected a legal challenge filed by private citizens challenging the government's authority to issue identification documents to Baha'is. The government issued birth certificates and national identification documents to some unmarried Baha'is throughout the reporting period.

The US government's policy in reaction to its report is stated as follows:
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialogue. The right of religious freedom has been raised with senior government officials by all levels of the U.S. government, including members of Congress, the secretary of state, the assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, the ambassador, and other Department of State and embassy officials. The embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The embassy also regularly discusses religious freedom matters with other government officials, including governors and members of parliament. The ambassador has made public statements supporting religious freedom, interfaith understanding, and efforts toward harmony and equality among citizens of all religious groups. Specifically, the embassy and other Department of State officials raised concerns with the government about the ongoing discrimination that Christians face in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005; official discrimination against Baha'is; arrests and harassment of Muslim citizens whose religious views deviate from the majority; and the government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert. During the UN Human Rights Council periodic review of the government's human rights record in February 2010, the U.S. delegation made a number of interventions regarding religious freedom.

U.S. embassy officials maintain an active dialogue with leaders of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i religious communities, human rights groups, and other activists. U.S. embassy officials investigate complaints of official religious discrimination brought to its attention. They also discuss religious freedom matters with a range of contacts, including academics, businessmen, and citizens outside the capital area. U.S. officials actively challenge anti-Semitic articles in the media through discussions with editors in chief and journalists.

U.S. programs and activities support initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom, including funding for programs of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services that work with Coptic and Muslim community groups, as well as support for NGOs that monitor the country's media for occurrences of sectarian bias.

The U.S. government is working to strengthen civil society, supporting secular channels and the broadening of a civic culture that promotes religious tolerance, and supporting projects that promote tolerance and mutual respect between different religious communities.

The embassy supports the development of educational materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language curricula.

The embassy facilitated Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) grant-making efforts, a number of which promoted religious freedom and interfaith dialogue. For instance, MEPI funded a Christian-Muslim dialogue entitled "Accept Me to Accept You" in Assuit, an area known for communal tensions.

Embassy officials also worked with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.

It is hoped that future blog posts will address the essential elements of this report, with further clarification of the current challenges.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Baha'is of Egypt: Entire Story Researched

If any reader or interested party wants to be fully appraised and well-informed of the whole story of the Egyptian Baha'i struggle, this is the essay to read....

Daniel Perell, then a third year law student from the University of Virginia School of Law, visited Egypt in December 2009/January 2010 as a Cowan Fellow under the auspices of Human Rights Study Project (HRSP). His area of interest was the status of the Baha'is of Egypt and their struggle to obtain their citizenship rights so that they can continue to serve their beloved homeland and contribute to its progress and prosperity.

The Human Rights Study Project met with former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali during their trip to Egypt. Pictured from left to right are Kristen Voorhees, Jennifer Nelson, Patrick Mott, Ghali (now president of the National Council for Human Rights), Daniel Perell, Lauren Willard, Robert Sherman and Emily Higgs.

All students selected to participate in this project have been required to conduct research on their specific subject and subsequently produce a scholarly paper for possible publication. Daniel Perell's 58 page paper was submitted on 14 May 2010 under the title: The Baha'is in Egypt Fighting for Their Identity.

This paper is so well researched and so professionally written that, to date, one can hardly find any scholarly work on this specific subject that can get any close to this article's superior scientific quality and its comprehensive content. It is a must read!

As this article is no longer available online, its author will provide a hard copy to those who wish to read it. For a copy, you may contact Mr. Perell at: .

The Baha'is in Egypt
Fighting for Their Identity

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I: The Actors; Egypt and the Baha'is
Egyptian Law and Freedom of Religion
Civil Law
Islamic Law
International Law
The Baha'i Faith
The Baha'i Faith in Egypt
Part II: The Legal Disputes
'Izzat Case
Hindi Case
Part III: Observer Commentary
Egyptian Press
The NGO Community
International Community
Part IV: The Baha'i Perspective
Positive Practical Effects
Remaining Legal Questions
Documentation
Family Law
Social Struggles
Part V: Expanding the Effects
Conclusion
Bibliography
Cases
Legal Authority
Interviews
Miscellaneous

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

More Scholarly Work on the Baha'is of Egypt

The University of Virginia School of Law conducts a program named Human Rights Study Project (HRSP) which it describes as follows:
The students who participate in HRSP, called Cowan Fellows, journey abroad to study human rights issues in foreign countries. Now in its eighth year, HRSP has sent past members to Cuba, China, Sierra Leone, Syria and Lebanon, India, Uganda and Cambodia. The final results of their work are compiled into research papers that may be submitted for publication. This year’s team traveled to Egypt for three weeks in late December and January, where they studied issues ranging from the right to water to corruption. With a population of 80 million people, Egypt is the largest Arab nation. In some ways, the fellows said, Egypt serves as a model for other Arab countries, which makes examining how they handle human rights all the more important.

The report, posted in May 2010, covered the various human rights issues examined during the group's visit to Egypt last spring. The report also comments on Daniel Perell's work, who was then a third year law student, and who was one of the project's participants that examined the status of the Baha'is of Egypt. It writes:
Third-year law student Daniel Perell examined the rights of Bahai residents of Egypt. People of the Bahai faith prospered in Egypt until 1960, when the government dissolved the religion’s institutions in the nation.

Bahais were not allowed to carry national identification cards, which give citizens access to health care, the right to marriage and even bank accounts. Only three religions were allowed to be listed on the card — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In 2006, the Bahais took the matter to the courts, which ruled in 2009 that citizens could have a dash on the card where the religious affiliation was listed.

“This ruling in favor of the Bahais will not only permit them to start their lives, but it will also contribute to the betterment of Egypt as a whole,” Perell said.

Consequent to his work in Egypt, Daniel Perell submitted an elaborate 58 page scholarly article titled, "The Baha'is in Egypt Fighting for their Identity."

This article will be the subject of next post....

Monday, December 06, 2010

Back to Egypt and Back to Blogging

Because of certain unexpected circumstances I have not been able to write in this blog recently. My apologies are sincerely submitted here to the readers of this blog, to those who continue to endure hardships in Egypt, and to all those who have vested interest in the status of the Baha'is of Egypt. I am hoping to be able to write more regularly now and to provide updates on the subject matter of this blog.

Obviously there have been significant developments during the past few months which will be gradually explored during the following few posts, but in order to focus the readers' attention on the matter at hand, without bias, I would like to introduce a recently published scholarly work on the Baha'is of Egypt.

This extensively researched work was done by an independent Italian Scholar (not a Baha'i), named Daniele Cantini, and was recently published in Anthropology of the Middle East, vol. 4: 2 (Winter 2009): 34–51. The article is titled "Being Baha’i in Contemporary Egypt: An Ethnographic Analysis of Everyday Challenges."


Being Baha’i in Contemporary Egypt


An Ethnographic Analysis of Everyday Challenges

Daniele Cantini


Abstract: Following the 2003 reform and the Supreme Court ruling of 16 December 2006, Baha’is of Egypt find it increasingly difficult to have their citizenship rights recognised. This article draws on personal observation and analysis carried out in the context of broader research on Egyptian citizenship. I will introduce the condition of Baha’is in this country, from a historical and legal perspective, before starting an overall analysis of what being an oppressed minority means, in concrete terms, in the practice of everyday living. The article will then delineate how the ambiguities of state policies towards Baha’is are reflected in their daily lives.

Keywords:
Baha’i, citizenship, Egypt, minority, religion, state policies
______________________________________________________

In order to read the entire article, please go to this link....

Monday, September 20, 2010

Standards of Justice Demand More Than Just a Reduced Sentence!

According to recent reports, the prison sentence of the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders has been reduced from 20 years to 10 years. Even though this development appears to show an element of good will, the fact of their innocence must never be ignored and nothing short of their immediate and unconditional release would satisfy the accepted standards of justice. Posted below is a reprint of the article published recently in the Baha'i World News Service reporting on this decision--a decision that must not mitigate the need to go beyond the mere reduction of an unjust sentence. The judiciary must fulfill its responsibilities toward the Iranian public and do justice by releasing these innocent seven.


Prison sentences for Iran's Baha'i leaders reportedly reduced to 10 years

16 September 2010

— The 20-year prison sentences received by Iran's seven Baha'i leaders have reportedly been reduced.

The Baha'i International Community has learned that the lawyers representing the seven were informed orally yesterday that the 20-year jail terms have now been changed to 10 years.

The seven - Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm - were all members of a national-level group that, with the Iranian government's knowledge, helped see to the minimum spiritual needs of Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community.

The trial of the seven consisted of six brief court appearances which began on 12 January this year after they had been incarcerated without charge for 20 months. They were allowed barely one hour's access to their legal counsel during that time. The trial ended on 14 June.

The defendants were accused of propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations. All the charges were completely and categorically denied.

The seven were moved from Evin Prison after receiving their sentence to Gohardasht prison in Karaj.

Reports of the 20-year sentence provoked a chorus of condemnation from governments around the world - including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.A. The European Union and the President of the European Parliament also joined the protest, along with numerous human rights organizations, other groups and countless individuals.

Special Report - "The Trial of the Seven Baha'i Leaders"

The Baha'i World News Service has published a Special Report which includes articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders - their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing - and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran's Baha'i community.

The Special Report can be read here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Omid Djalili on the Baha'is in Iran

This video, regarding the current situation of the Baha'is in Iran and the imprisonment of their leaders, was just released by the well known British comedian Omid Djalili. It speaks clearly and pointedly to the current dire situation and is indeed worth viewing:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Strong Statement by the International Baha'i Community

The Baha'i International Community has just released its strongest statement to date regarding the recent flagrant violation of the judicial process in Iran that led to the sentencing of the seven innocent Baha'i leaders to 20 years imprisonment. In this statement, Ms. Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, also said "the Baha'i International Community condemns the widespread injustice perpetrated by the Iranian authorities against others throughout Iran, whether religious minorities, journalists, academics, civil society activists, women's rights defenders, or others."

The link to the news article can be found here, and the entire text of the article is posted below:

Harsh sentences are a judgment against an entire religious community
15 August 2010

— The harsh prison sentences handed down to seven Iranian Baha'i leaders who are absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing is a judgment against an entire religious community, the Baha'i International Community said today.

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, whose Defenders of Human Rights Center represented the Baha'i defendants, said she was "stunned" by the reported 20-year jail terms.

"I have read their case file page by page and did not find anything proving the accusations, nor did I find any document that could prove the claims of the prosecutor," said Mrs. Ebadi in a television interview, broadcast on 8 August by the Persian-language service of the BBC.

The flagrantly unjust sentence has provoked vehement protest from governments throughout the world - including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S.A. The European Union and the President of the European Parliament have also joined the chorus of condemnation, along with numerous human rights organizations - including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and FIDH - as well as other groups, and countless individuals. Read international reaction here.

"The trumped-up charges, and the total lack of any credible evidence against these seven prisoners, reflects the false accusations and misinformation that Iran's regime has used to vilify and defame a peaceful, religious community for an entire generation," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

Ms. Dugal noted that the seven have reportedly been transferred to Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, a facility about 20 kilometers west of Tehran. "The reason for the move is not yet known and it is too early to assess the implications for the prisoners," she said. "It does, however, clearly impose an added burden to their families, who now have to travel outside Tehran to visit their loved ones."

  • The seven Baha'i leaders imprisoned in Tehran are pictured together with their spouses, before their arrest in 2008.

  • The arrest of the seven Baha'i leaders in March and May 2008 was ominously reminiscent of episodes in the early 1980s when Iranian authorities rounded up and… »

  • Ten Baha'i women, aged between 17 and 57, were hanged in Shiraz on 18 June 1983, convicted of teaching classes to Baha'i children. The youngest was Mona… »

  • The House of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran, one of the most holy sites in the Baha'i world, was destroyed by Revolutionary Guardsmen in 1979 and later razed by the… »

  • Interior of the house of Mirza Abbas Nuri, the father of Baha'u'llah. This architectural landmark in Tehran, acclaimed as an outstanding example of period… »

  • Gravestones in the Baha'i cemetery near Najafabad were left in a heap by a bulldozer that destroyed the burial ground in September 2007.

  • In May 2007, the home of a Baha'i in the village of Ivel was burned by unknown arsonists. In June 2010, homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families were demolished… »

  • A Baha'i family in Fars province narrowly escaped injury in June 2008 when an arsonist poured gasoline and caused an explosion and fire that destroyed a hut near… »

The seven - Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm - were all members of a national-level group that, with the government's knowledge, helped see to the minimum spiritual needs of Iran's Baha'i community.

"That these manifestly innocent people should each be jailed for 20 years after a sham trial is utterly reprehensible," said Ms. Dugal. "We ask the Iranian government: Does such a callous disregard for justice contribute to the advancement of Iranian society? Or does it, rather, further diminish your credibility among your own people and among the nations of the world?"

Ms. Dugal said the Baha'i International Community condemns the widespread injustice perpetrated by the Iranian authorities against others throughout Iran, whether religious minorities, journalists, academics, civil society activists, women's rights defenders, or others.

A catalogue of abuses

Even before the sentences were pronounced, the arrest, detention and trial of the seven leaders was a two-year long catalogue of abuses and illegal actions, both under international law and Iranian statutes.

"Iranian law requires that detainees be quickly and formally charged with crimes. The seven Baha'is were held at least nine months before any word of the charges against them were uttered by officials, and even then it was at a press conference, not in a court setting," said Ms. Dugal.

"For a long time, the seven were also denied access to lawyers. When they were allowed contact, it lasted barely an hour before their so-called trial began," she said.

"Detainees who have been charged also have the right to seek bail and to be released pending trial. The seven have continually been denied bail, despite numerous requests."

"These are black and white concerns, not subject to interpretation," she said.

Systematic persecution

Since 1979, Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community has endured a government-sponsored, systematic campaign of religious persecution. In its early stages, more than 200 Baha'is were killed and at least 1,000 were imprisoned, solely because of their religious beliefs.

In the early 1990s, the government shifted its focus to social, economic and cultural restrictions aimed at slowly suffocating the community and its development. Measures included depriving Baha'is of their livelihood, destroying their cultural heritage, and barring their young people from higher education.

Since 2005, there has been a resurgence of more extreme forms of persecution, with increasing arrests, harassment, violence, and arson attacks on Baha'i homes and businesses.

This systematic campaign of attacks has included:

  • the creation and circulation of lists of Baha'is with instructions that the activities of the members of the community be secretly monitored;
  • dawn raids on Baha'i homes and the confiscation of personal property;
  • summary arrest and interrogation of Baha'is throughout the nation;
  • daily incitement to hatred of the Baha'is in all forms of government-sponsored mass media;
  • the holding of anti-Baha'i symposia and seminars organized by clerics followed by orchestrated attacks on Baha'i homes and properties in the cities and towns where such events are held;
  • destruction of Baha'i cemeteries across the country;
  • demolition of Baha'i Holy Places and Shrines;
  • acts of arson against Baha'i homes and properties;
  • denying Baha'is access to higher education;
  • vilification of Baha'i children in their classrooms by their teachers;
  • the designation of numerous occupations and businesses from which Baha'is are debarred;
  • refusal to extend bank loans to Baha'is;
  • the sealing of Baha'i shops;
  • refusal to issue or renew business licenses to Baha'is;
  • harassment of landlords of Baha'i business tenants to force their eviction.

Specific examples of persecution in recent weeks include:

  • homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families in the remote northern village of Ivel being demolished as part of a long-running campaign to expel them from the region;
  • the intelligence service that has an office in every university and governmental organization in Iran instructing university officials at Shaheed Beheshti University not to have any business dealings with companies owned by Baha'is;
  • two Baha'i-owned optical shops in Tehran receiving warning letters from the Opticians' Trade Union to close down, after similar shops in Khomein and Rafsanjan were forced to close;
  • an anti-Baha'i tract, titled Supporters of Satan, being widely distributed in the city of Kerman. The tract purveys misrepresentations of Baha'i history, including falsely asserting that the Baha'i Faith was a creation of the British;
  • truckloads of construction refuse and soil being dumped on graves in the Baha'i cemetery of Boroujerd. Buildings in the Baha'i cemetery in Mashhad - including the place where the prayers were recited - were severely damaged by heavy machinery.

Currently, including the seven leaders, some 50 Iranian Baha'is are in prison, some of them incarcerated for months at a time in solitary confinement cells, designed only for temporary detention.

"The pattern is clear: the Iranian government is systematically persecuting Baha'is for no reason other than their religious beliefs," said Ms. Dugal.

"The government knows that the Baha'i teachings advocate non-violence and non-involvement in politics. Yet this campaign is rigorously pursued with one aim in sight - the eradication of the Baha'i community as a viable entity in Iran," she said.

"In this light, the imprisonment of the seven must be seen as an attempt to decapitate a community's leadership, and strike a devastating blow to Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority."

Special Report - "The Trial of the Seven Baha'i Leaders"

The Baha'i World News Service has published a Special Report which includes articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders - their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing - and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran's Baha'i community.

The Special Report can be read at: http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/yaran-special-report/.

Friday, August 13, 2010

U.S.A. joins Netherlands, U.K. and European Union in chorus of condemnation at prison sentences

The Baha'i World News Service continues to provide regular up-to-date information on developments related to the sentencing of the Baha'i leaders in Iran and the systematic, State-sponsored persecution and oppression of the Baha'is in that country. Today, the news release reported on further strong condemnation by the governments of the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the European Union. The entire article can be viewed here and is quoted below:

13 August 2010

— The United States of America has said it "strongly condemns" the sentencing of seven Iranian Baha'i leaders to 20 years imprisonment.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the act as a "violation of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

In a statement dated 12 August, Secretary Clinton said that the United States is "deeply concerned with the Iranian government's continued persecution of Baha'is and other religious minority communities in Iran."

"Freedom of religion is the birthright of people of all faiths and beliefs in all places," she said.

"The United States is committed to defending religious freedom around the world, and we have not forgotten the Baha'i community in Iran."

"We will continue to speak out against injustice and call on the Iranian government to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens in accordance with its international obligations," said Secretary Clinton.

The statement from the United States came as reports reached the Baha'i International Community that the seven Baha'i leaders have been transferred from Tehran's Evin Prison, where they had been incarcerated for more than two years.

  • The seven Baha'i prisoners, photographed several months before their arrest, are, in front, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi,… »

They have been taken to Gohardasht Prison - also known as Rajaishahr Prison - in Karaj, some 20 kilometers west of the Iranian capital.

Other support

Support for the prisoners has also been expressed by the European Union, in a statement made by Baroness Catherine Ashton, the E.U.'s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

"The European Union expresses its serious concern about the sentencing of seven Baha'i leaders in Iran to 20 years imprisonment and calls for their immediate release," the declaration said.

"The verdict appears to be based on the defendants belonging to a religious minority and the judicial process was seriously flawed, respecting neither Iran's international commitments under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) nor its national legislation regarding fair trial rights."

"The EU recalls that freedom of thought, conscience and religion are fundamental rights
which must be guaranteed under all circumstances according to article 18 of the ICCPR
which the Islamic Republic of Iran has signed up to and ratified."

"The EU calls on Iran to put an end to the persecution of the Baha'i community," said Baroness Ashton.

In the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "appalled" to hear of the prison sentences, describing them as a "shocking example of the Iranian state's continued discrimination against the Baha'is."

"It is completely unacceptable," said Mr. Hague in a statement released on Wednesday.

"The Iranian judiciary has repeatedly failed to allay international and domestic concerns that these seven men and women are guilty of anything other than practicing their faith. It is clear that from arrest to sentencing, the Iranian authorities did not follow even their own due process, let alone the international standards to which Iran is committed. The accused were denied proper access to lawyers, and there is evidence that the trial was neither fair nor transparent."

"I call on the Iranian authorities urgently to consider any appeal against this decision, and to cease the harassment of the Baha'i community. I further call on the Iranian Government to ensure that the rights of all individuals are fully protected, without discrimination, and that it fulfils its obligations to its own citizens as set out in the Iranian constitution," said Mr. Hague.

The Netherlands' Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, expressed his country's concern at "the poor execution of the judicial process in the case of the seven Baha'i leaders" and its fears that the arrest and sentence is "based solely on discrimination of religious belief."

"That these people seem to be condemned because of their faith is shocking," said Mr. Verhagen.

"I urge the Iranian authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations. The Baha'i leaders have a right to a fair trial and they must be released as soon as possible."

Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the President of the European Parliament earlier expressed strong statements of concern at news that Iran's seven Baha'i leaders have each received prison sentences of 20 years, as reported by the Baha'i World News Service on 11 August.

Human rights organizations

Human rights organizations - including Amnesty International, FIDH and Human Rights Watch - have issued calls for the prisoners to be released, for the judgment to be annulled, and for Iran to demonstrate that the trial was fair and in accordance with international standards.

"This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice and one more example of how the Iranian regime is a gross violator of human rights and religious freedoms," said Leonard Leo, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "The prosecutions and sentences are, pure and simple, politically and religiously motivated acts, and the Commission calls for the unconditional release of these seven individuals."

Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva said the actions of the Iranian authorities, against individuals who are innocent of any crime, represent an "outrageous travesty of justice that defies adequate description."

"At every stage of the case - from their illegal detention and the brutal conditions of their confinement, through the trial, and now to a completely unlawful imprisonment - not even the most basic and fundamental norms of justice were respected."

"We welcome the message coming loud and clear from governments and human rights organizations throughout the world. It is time for Iran to right the wrongs it has done."

(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.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

International Outcry at Prison Sentences for Iranian Baha'i Leaders

An article, published by the Baha'i World News Service (BWNS), reported on the international outcry at the prison sentences for the ad hoc group, formerly known as Yaran [Friends in Iran], that helped attend to the minimal needs of Iran's Baha'is, numbering over 300,000 individuals and representing the largest religious minority in that country. In order to access the BWNS website, please click here. The entire news release is printed below:


International outcry at prison sentences for Iranian Baha'i leaders
11 August 2010

— Reports that seven Iranian Baha'i leaders have each received prison sentences of 20 years have been met with condemnation from governments and human rights organizations around the world.

Australia, Canada, France, Germany – and the President of the European Parliament – have all expressed strong statements of concern.

They are calling for the prisoners to be released on bail, for an annulment of the judgment, and for Iran to demonstrate that the trial was fair and in accordance with international standards.

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, said that his country was "deeply disturbed" by the sentences that were "passed without either written judgments or due process." He urged Iran to grant bail to the prisoners.

Germany described the outcome of the trial as a "massive setback for all those who engage themselves for the promotion of human dignity and human rights in Iran."

Markus Loning, commissioner for human rights and humanitarian aid at Germany's Foreign Office, said Iran must annul the judgment and "provide a fair and transparent court procedure."

"There are major doubts as to the compliance with the basic legal rights during the judicial proceedings," he said.

France expressed its "consternation" at the 20-year jail term.

At a press briefing, Christine Fages, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, stated that Iranian authorities should stop persecuting Baha'is and other religious minorities and "respect the freedom of religion and conscience as defined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran has freely signed up."

Australia has also shared its deep concern at the sentences. "We continue to call on Iran to ensure that all trials are fair and transparent and are conducted in accordance with Iran's international obligations," said a spokesman for the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In a statement issued today, the President of the European Parliament – Jerzy Buzek – called the sentences "a shocking signal and an immense disappointment for all who have hoped for an improvement of the human rights situation in Iran."

"Iran has committed itself to international standards and I underline that this includes also the respect and protection of religious freedom," he said.

International human rights organizations have additionally joined the chorus of protest against the reported prison sentences.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the sentencing of the Baha'i leaders was "politically motivated, discriminatory, unjust, and illegal under Iranian and international law."

"They have been sentenced for being Baha'is, nothing else, and their incarceration thus expresses a policy of oppression of the Baha'i Faith and its members," said Aaron Rhodes, spokesperson for the Campaign.

Amnesty International described the Baha'i leaders as "prisoners of conscience jailed solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Baha'i minority."

"The seven were held for months without charge before being subjected to a parody of a trial. They must be immediately released," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

In a statement, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI) asked for the Iranian government to "act in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international human rights instruments ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Human Rights Watch demanded the Iranian judiciary to release the seven immediately "given that no evidence appears to have ever been presented against them, and they have not been given a fair and public trial."

"For more than two years now the Iranian authorities have utterly failed to provide the slightest shred of evidence indicating any basis for detaining these seven Baha'i leaders, let alone sentencing them to 20 years in prison," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch.

Iran should take concrete steps that show it is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of Baha'is, said Mr. Stork

"The immediate and unconditional release of the seven Baha'i leaders would be a good start," he said.

Diane Ala'i, Baha'i representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said the Baha'i International Community deeply appreciates the committed support offered so far by governments and human rights organizations.

"These statements demonstrate that increasing numbers of people of all races and religions throughout the world want to see justice done in Iran – not just for the Baha'is but all of its citizens who face gross human rights violations," said Ms. Ala'i.

"For how much longer will the Iranian authorities remain oblivious to these upraised voices?" she said.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Iran's Baha'i Leaders Reportedly "Sentenced"

The Baha'i World News Service has just released the following information regarding the imprisoned seven Baha'i leaders in Iran:

Reports say Iran's Baha'i leaders "sentenced"
8 August 2010

NEW YORK — The Baha'i International Community has received reports indicating that seven Iranian Baha'i leaders have each received jail sentences of 20 years.

The two women and five men have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008 – six of them on 14 May and one of them two months earlier.

"If this news proves to be accurate, it represents a deeply shocking outcome to the case of these innocent and harmless people," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"We understand that they have been informed of this sentence and that their lawyers are in the process of launching an appeal," said Ms. Dugal.

The prisoners – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – were all members of a national-level group that helped see to the minimum needs of Iran's 300,000-strong Baha'i community, the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority.

The trial of the seven consisted of six brief court appearances which began on 12 January this year after they had been incarcerated without charge for 20 months, during which time they were allowed barely one hour's access to their legal counsel. The trial ended on 14 June.

The defendants were accused of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations. All the charges are completely and categorically denied.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Press Release by US State Department on Iran's Persecution of Religious Minorities

The 14th of May marked the second year anniversary of the incarceration of the seven leaders of the Iranian Baha'i community, an ad hoc group of individuals formerly known as "Yaran" [Friends in Iran]. On this occasion the United States Department of State, in one of its press releases, strongly denounced the ongoing persecution of religious minorities in Iran and the unjust treatment and incarceration of these innocent individuals. The entire text of the press release is posted below:




U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
____________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release
2010/628
Washington, DC
May 14, 2010

STATEMENT BY PHILIP J. CROWLEY, SPOKESMAN

Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iran

The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing persecution of Baha'is and other religious minority communities in Iran.

Today marks the second anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders. Although there have been three hearings of their case since January 2010, no date has yet been set for another hearing, and they continue to be denied access to their attorneys. The United States strongly condemns their continued incarceration as a violation of due process and calls on Iran to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in February 2010, Iran pledged to abide by international law and highlighted its ethnic and religious diversity. We were disappointed, however, that the Iranian government publicly rejected a UPR recommendation to end discrimination against the Baha'i religious minority. Once again, we join the international community in urging Iran to uphold its obligations to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Issues a Press Release

A year after the sectarian attacks and the burning of the homes of the Baha'is of the southern Egyptian village of Shuraniya, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights commemorated the anniversary of the incident with a press release, issued two days ago, which clearly describes the incident and its various consequences.

The following is the complete text of the English version of the press release. The original Arabic text can be found at this link.

One Year After Sectarian Attacks on Baha’is in Shuraniya: No Accountability for Inciters or Assailants; No Justice for Displaced Baha’i Families

Freedom of Religion & Belief

Wednesday 31 March 2010

One year after the criminal attacks on Egyptian Baha’is in the village of Shuraniya in Sohag, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) expressed its disappointment at the Public Prosecutor’s failure to bring the assailants and those who incited the attacks to justice. For one full year, state authorities have yet to bring justice to the victims of the attacks or enable Baha’is forcibly removed from their homes to return.

“State officials consistently deny the prevalence of a climate of impunity that prevents the prosecution of perpetrators of sectarian violence, but the Shuraniya attacks expose that lie,” said Hossam Bahgat, the EIPR’s Executive Director. “What has the Public Prosecutor’s Office done to uphold the victims’ rights? What happened to the prosecutor’s investigations that were opened last April and still have led to nothing? When will those who burned down the homes of innocent Baha’is be brought to account?”

The four-day period from 28 to 31 March 2009 saw unprecedented violence against Egyptian Baha’is living in Shuraniya, located in the Maraagha district of Sohag. Five homes owned by Baha’i families were torched after assailants threw stones at them, broke in and looted some of their contents. The attackers threw Molotov cocktails at the houses as they chanted religious slogans. Although the police arrived during the attacks, they took no action to arrest the assailants and merely dispersed the crowd. As a result of the attacks, five Baha’i families were also made to leave the village, and the security authorities have not yet enabled them to return to their homes.

Six Egyptian human rights organizations, including the EIPR, filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office on 2 April 2009, asking for an immediate investigation to identify those responsible for these criminal attacks. While the Public Prosecutor did open an investigation, over the past year it has failed to fulfill its responsibility of finding the criminals, bringing them to justice and compensating the victims.

Adel Ramadan, the EIPR’s Legal Officer, said, “Not bringing those responsible for sectarian violence to justice sends a very dangerous message to citizens. It gives a green light to engage in further crimes.” Ramadan added, “The failure to address violence against Copts in the early 1970s has led to the grave situation we face today. Will we allow a repetition of the same failed pattern with regard to Baha’is? Who will be next?”

The attacks on Baha’is began after the broadcast of an episode of “al-Haqiqa”, a political talk show, on the private channel Dream 2 on Saturday, 28 March 2009. The program examined the situation of Baha’is in Egypt and featured a Baha’i from Shuraniya, as well as Baha’i activist and university professor Dr. Basma Moussa. Gamal Abdel-Rahim, a journalist with the state-owned al-Gomhouriya and a member of the Journalists’ Syndicate board, also took part. During the program, Abdel-Rahim pointed to Dr. Moussa and said, “This one should be killed.” On 31 March, only hours before the torching of the Baha’i homes, Abdel-Rahim published an article in al-Gomhouriya praising the residents of Shuraniya for stoning the homes of Baha’is in the village in the preceding days. He considered these crimes to be evidence of Shuraniya residents’ “protectiveness of their religion and faith.” Although the Public Prosecutor opened an investigation of Abd al-Rahim on charges of incitement to murder, it has yet to announce any results or indictment.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Amnesty International Calls for Nowruz Action

Amnesty International has launched an action for Nowruz [Naw‐Rúz]—which is not only a Baha'i Holy Day but also an ancient holiday for the people of Iran. To mark this time‐honored festival, Amnesty International has launched a campaign for individuals around the world to send messages of goodwill to prisoners of conscience in Iran. Mirroring the "Haft Sin"—the seven dishes beginning with the letter "s" that are traditionally placed on the Nowruz feast table—Amnesty International has selected seven cases for this campaign, one of which is the unjust imprisonment for nearly two years now of the seven former members of the now dissolved ad hoc administrative group known as the Yárán (Friends-in-Iran). Regarding these imprisoned Baha'is, the call for action states:

Seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community are currently on trial on serious, but baseless, charges that could lead to the imposition of the death penalty. Although they have done nothing more than peacefully practice their religion, they have been charged with spying for Israel, for “insulting religious sanctities,” with “propaganda against the system” and with being “mofsed fil arz” or “corruption on earth.” They have denied all charges.

The seven include two women, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet, and five men: Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaei, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm. All are leading members of a group responsible for the Baha’i community’s religious and administrative affairs. Mahvash Sabet who acted as the group’s secretary, was arrested on 5 March 2008. The others were arrested on 14 May 2008. All seven are held in Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence. They have only been allowed very limited access to their lawyers while they have been in custody.

The first session of their trial—which had been repeatedly postponed—finally began before a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on 12 January 2010. Their next court date is scheduled for 10 April. Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized proceedings held in Iran’s Revolutionary Courts for their failure to adhere to international standards for fair trials. In fact, the authorities attempted to bar the Baha’is’ lawyers from the courtroom on 12 January and only allowed them access after they insisted upon entering.

You can send Nowruz greetings to the seven Baha’is to:

Baha’i International Community
15 route des Morillons
1218 Grand Saconnex Switzerland

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Storms for the Records

Skiing in the middle of an avenue beside the National Mall, Washington, DC (6 February 2010)

On Monday night, there was a narrow window to exit the Washington/Baltimore area before getting stuck there for a very long time. These back-to-back record breaking blizzards will be remembered for quite a while. Although the severe weather has been causing much hardships to many, one cannot ignore the beauty of it all. See more pictures here....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More on Haiti

On January 25, 2009, PBS NewsHour Ray Suarez talks with Dr. Paul Farmer (Partners in Health co-founder and the United Nations' deputy special envoy to Haiti) about the obstacles facing aid workers in Port-au-Prince, where thousands require urgent care:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti: Beyond the Surface of Catastrophe

This is an outstanding interview that, not only examines the Haiti disaster, but goes way beyond the apparent surface of the country's catastrophic state.

Katie Couric of CBS News "speaks with Mark Schneider from the International Crisis Group, and Ophelia Dahl, Executive Director of Partners in Health about the disastrous earthquake in Haiti and the relief efforts to help Haitians in need." A must watch!


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Ominous Threat to the Baha'is of Iran

Here is a brilliantly written analysis on CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) about the ominous current threat to the Baha'is of Iran. Its Canadian author is Brian Stewart, whose biography describes him as:
One of this country's most experienced journalists and foreign correspondents, Brian Stewart was, until his retirement in the summer of 2009, a Senior Correspondent with CBC's flagship news program, The National, and the host of Newsworld's international affairs program.

He is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

In almost four decades of reporting, he has covered many of the world's conflicts and reported from 10 war zones, from El Salvador to Beirut and Afghanistan. Though retired, he continues to write a regular column for CBCNews.ca on international affairs and will be contributing to CBC documentary reports from time to time.

In its introduction, the report prepares the reader to understand the depth and the seriousness of the motives and strategy undertaken by Iran's regime in its grand scheme to isolate and destroy the Iranian Baha'i community. The analysis, published on the CBC website on 13 January 2010, and titled "The scapegoating of Iran's Baha'is", begins by stating:
Oppressive regimes attack human rights on two levels. The most obvious assault, as we have seen in Iran in recent months, aims at suppressing political opponents and protest.

But history teaches us that we need to worry about a secondary level of attack as well, the kind that takes place in the shadows.

That's the persecution directed at weak segments of the population targeted for special repression, the old and sickening story in which minority religious or ethnic groups are singled out as scapegoats of the state, blamed for all its troubles.

This is why we need to be very concerned now for the safety of Iran's approximately 300,000 Baha'is, followers of the gentle, internationalist Baha'i faith, the country's largest minority religion.

The Baha'i religion has been officially banned in Iran since 1979. But now, in a textbook case of scapegoating, Iran's theocratic leaders are blaming the Baha'is for stirring up all the unrest sweeping the country today.

They are even accusing them of stockpiling firearms, which seems ludicrous given the peaceful nature of the religion.

But in an ominous nod to even more persecution ahead, Tehran argues that the Baha'is are doing this in conjunction with Israel, which is really directing the whole conspiracy.

Read the rest of the report here....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Iran's Trial of Baha'i Leaders: First Session Ends...No Date Set for Future Sessions

According to the Baha'i International Community, "the trial of seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders began today in Iran. Initial reports indicate that the trial was marked by numerous violations of legal due process."

The report adds: "After about three hours, the hearing ended. Authorities indicated that today’s proceeding was merely the 'first session,' and no date for future sessions was given."

The entire story is posted below with permission:

First session ends in trial of Baha'i leaders in Iran
12 January 2010
__________________________________________________________

GENEVA — The trial of seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders began today in Iran. Initial reports indicate that the trial was marked by numerous violations of legal due process.

After about three hours, the hearing ended. Authorities indicated that today’s proceeding was merely the “first session,” and no date for future sessions was given.

"We understand that no observers were allowed in the court," said Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva. "We find this completely outrageous, given that these seven have been held purely because of their religious beliefs, in total contradiction to any human rights standards.

"We understand that even the lawyers had to argue their way inside the court – lawyers who in any case had virtually no access to the accused for nearly two years.

"At the same time, the prisoners' interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence and a film crew were seen going in, raising questions about the nature of the trial," she said.

Ms. Ala'i also noted that an Iranian Web site linked to state-run television posted a story Monday evening announcing that the trial had already begun and listing the same baseless accusations made in the past against the seven.

"In any event, all of these accounts point to a trial that is highly irregular, very similar to the show trials that have been held in Iran in recent months," she said.

The seven are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

All but one of the group were arrested on 14 May 2008 at their homes in Tehran. Mrs. Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 while in Mashhad. They have been held in Tehran's Evin prison ever since, spending their first year there without formal charges or any access to lawyers.

"Whatever happens, it is clear that the trial of these seven innocent people represents the trial of an entire religious community, and is an attempt to further intimidate and ostracize all Iranian Baha'is simply because they hold a different religious viewpoint from those in power."

Note: The headline and article were updated at 9 p.m. on 12 January 2010 (Geneva time).
_______________________________________
Blog Update


Some world media coverage, opinions and statements:

1) CNN
2) Washington TV (Shirin Ebadi's statements).
3) Guardian (Cherie Blair's statements).
4) The Globe and Mail (Howard Adelman).
5) US Department of State (Philip Crowley).
6) United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
7) BBC (Lembit Opik).
8) CBC (Brian Stewart: extensive article)
9) Canada's Foreign Affairs

Shirin Ebadi's interview:

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Iran: Another Wave of False & Outrageous Allegations

In a statement published today by the Baha'i International Community, the false and outrageous allegations lodged against the Baha'is by Iran's government were categorically rejected.

The story in its entirety is posted below with permission:

Baha'i International Community rejects allegations that arrested Baha'is had weapons in homes
9 January 2010
_________________________________________________________

GENEVA — The Baha'i International Community today categorically rejected new allegations by the Iranian government that arms and ammunition were found in the homes of Baha'is who were arrested in Tehran last Sunday.

"This is nothing less than a blatant lie," said Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva. "Baha'is are by the most basic principles of their faith committed to absolute nonviolence, and any charge that there might have been weapons or 'live rounds' in their homes is simply and completely unbelievable.

"Without doubt, these are baseless fabrications devised by the government to further create an atmosphere of prejudice and hatred against the Iranian Baha'i community. For more than a century Baha'is have suffered all manner of persecution in Iran and have not resorted to armed violence, and everyone knows this. Unfortunately, the Iranian government is once again resorting to outright falsehoods to justify its nefarious intentions against the Baha'i community. It should know that these lies will have no credibility whatsoever.

"We are particularly concerned by the fact that these accusations come just days before the scheduled trial of seven Baha'i leaders, who have been locked up for nearly two years on equally unfounded charges," she said.

"All of these latest accusations are so far-fetched as to be ludicrous if they were not so obviously aimed at putting innocent lives at risk," she said. "As we have said before, rather than accepting responsibility for the turmoil in the country, the Iranian government seeks to lay the blame on others, including foreign powers, international organizations and media outlets, students, women, and terrorists."

On Friday, several news agencies reported that Tehran's general prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said the Baha'is who were arrested on Sunday "were arrested because they played a role in organizing the Ashura protests and namely for having sent abroad pictures of the unrest."

"They were not arrested because they are Baha'is," said Mr. Dolatabadi, according to Agence France Presse. "Arms and ammunition were seized in the homes of some of them."

Ms. Ala'i also rejected Mr. Dolatabadi's assertions that Baha'is were involved in the planning of the Ashura demonstrations, or in any violent or subversive activity related to the recent turmoil in Iran.

"For the past 30 years, Iranian Baha'is have been subjected to the worst forms of persecution, ranging from arbitrary execution to the exclusion of their children from school," said Ms. Ala'i. "Yet they have responded only through means that are peaceful and legal."

Seven Baha'is leaders are scheduled to go on trial on Tuesday on trumped-up charges of espionage, "insulting religious sanctities," and "propaganda" against the government. They have been held in Evin prison since mid-2008. The seven are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

On Sunday, 13 Baha'is were arrested in early morning raids on their homes in Tehran. Three have been released but 10 remain detained at Evin prison.

They are: Leva Khanjani, granddaughter of Jamaloddin Khanjani, and her husband, Babak Mobasher; Jinous Sobhani, former secretary of Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, and her husband Artin Ghazanfari; Mehran Rowhani and Farid Rowhani, who are brothers; Payam Fanaian; Nikav Hoveydaie; and Ebrahim Shadmehr and his son, Zavosh Shadmehr.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Baha'i Named as One of Egypt's Most Influential Women

Cairo's newspaper "Al-Youm Al-Sabeh" [The Seventh Day], in its end of the year edition, has just named 15 women whose influence in Egypt has been most noticeable, most controversial and most thought provoking for the year that had just ended.

Among these 15 women, and named in the article's primary title, is Dr. Basma Moussa, who is publicly known in Egypt as a Baha'i. The other names mentioned in the title are: Hayda Alaa Mubarak (wife of the President's son), Dr. Nawal El-Sadaawi (a prominent activist & former Cabinet Minister during the Nasser rule), Muna Zaki (a well known actress), and the Virgin Mary.

In a detailed article, the writer (Nahed Nasr) expounded on the struggle Basma Moussa has endured over the years, simply because of her religious affiliation, and her constant refusal to submit to oppression no matter what the cost is or the involved risks were. Regardless of the various tests and difficulties she had been subjected to, she remained steadfast in her Faith and continued unabated to serve the Egyptian society with absolute dedication and devotion to her profession, her students and to the progress of science in her own field of medicine. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Cairo University's Faculty of Dentistry. She is subspecialized in oral and maxillofacial surgery. She has exemplified the good citizen who loves her country and who is committed to serve its citizens.

Despite the Egyptian Government's current efforts to address the civil status inequities in the country by ensuring that every Egyptian enjoys his or her full and unrestricted civil rights--most recently by granting several Baha'is their identity documents--there remain some procedural barriers that have prevented several Egyptian Baha'is from the acquisition of their ID cards.

One of these obstacles concerns married couples who have not been able to obtain their identity documents while the authorities continue to search for a mechanism by which the civil status department can officiate their marital status prior to granting these documents.

A married individual must submit a proof of marriage in order to obtain an ID card, which must state the person's marital status (thus far, Baha'i marriages are not recognized by the Egyptian authorities).

In naming Basma Moussa, the newspaper has also indicated that she was unable to obtain her ID card because, as a married woman, she refused to state on the application that she was celibate, as instructed to do so by an official, if she desires to obtain her document without any further delays.

A few weeks ago, however, Egyptian media reported that a senior government official has stated that he is actively pursuing a solution to this procedural obstacle. Fortunately, one can be optimistic that a solution will be found, just as has been the case with previous impediments, even though the process might be tedious and complex.

This demonstration of excellence is yet another acknowledgment by an independent Egyptian media outlet of the contributions to the well-being of the Egyptian society effected by Egyptian Baha'is. Even though they are a tiny minority, they have shown, once again, that they are integral threads to the the fabric of the Egyptian society, whose only aspiration is to assist in promoting its well-being and to serve it to the best of their abilities.