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:

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.