For five years, seven Baha'i leaders have been wrongly imprisoned in Iran.

Their 20-year sentences are the longest given to any current prisoners of conscience in Iran. Their harshness reflects the Government’s resolve to oppress completely the Iranian Baha'i community, which faces a systematic, “cradle-to-grave” persecution that is among the most serious examples of state-sponsored religious persecution in the world today.

Baha'i communities around the world have launched a campaign calling for their immediate release – and the release of all innocent prisoners of conscience in Iranian prisons.

Issues of legal due process and access to justice in Iran came under scrutiny at a high-level seminar in London on Thursday, organized to mark the fifth anniversary of the arrest of Iran’s seven former Baha’i leaders.

Held at the Law Society of England and Wales – and co-hosted by the Bar Human Rights Committee – the seminar on 9 May attracted more than 50 practicing barristers, solicitors and human rights lawyers.

Participants heard how the trial and sentencing of the seven Baha’is to 20 years in prison each was conducted under proceedings that violated international and national Iranian laws.

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Ahmed Shaheed, left, and Nazila Ghanea in London

Speakers at the seminar included Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and Mahnaz Parakand, an Iranian lawyer who assisted in the defense of the seven. Nazila Ghanea, a lecturer in international human rights law at the University of Oxford, was also on the panel.

For more, please read coverage of the event at the UK Baha’i News website.

In Washington DC on Monday, speakers at a forum to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders said their situation reflects all too well the repression of religious minorities generally in Iran today.

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Thomas Melia

“This is a government that also prevents Sunnis from worshiping, flogs Sufis, and detains Zoroastrians without charge simply for who they are,” said Thomas O. Melia, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US Department of State, referring to the Iranian government and its human rights policies.

“This is a government that raids house churches and arrests Christian leaders for their activities. The government discriminates harshly also against Jews and confiscates property from a variety of religious communities,” he said on 6 May, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“So just as we should understand the plight of these seven men and women as emblematic of the larger situation for Baha’is in Iran, it is also a reminder of the situation for lots of religious communities in Iran – and around the world.”

Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that since Iran’s 1979 Revolution, “no group has been immune from persecution.”

“Every religious group has seen some of its members suffer from Tehran’s oppressive policies,” she said, noting that the USCIRF had issued a major report criticizing Iran for its widespread repression of religious freedom the week before. She added, however, “no group has suffered more than the Baha’is.”

“What these prison terms for the seven Baha’i leaders really signaled was the Iranian government punishing people for daring to be Baha’is.

“Simply stated, here was a theocratic government doing everything in its power to prevent a faith community – 300,000 strong – from iving in freedom and peace. Why? Because this community, by daring to follow the dictates of their conscience, found itself on the wrong side of the government’s theology,” said Dr. Swett.

Roxana Saberi, an American journalist who was accused of spying by Iran and for three weeks in 2009 shared a cell with Fariba Kamalbadi and Mahvash Sabet in Evin Prison, spoke about her time with the two Baha’i women leaders, saying they taught her about having a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

“They tried to make the most of every day in prison,” said Ms. Saberi. “For example, they exercised in place every day. There wasn’t a gym they could go to. They discussed the books they were allowed to read, and asked me to teach them English phrases. So I taught them phrases they would need to know to shop, to travel, to cook….”

“Their positive attitudes rubbed off on other women prisoners and helped strengthen their spirits too. Word travelled through the women’s ward quickly that if you were lucky, you would get to room with the Baha’is, because they would help you lift your spirits and get through the days faster.”

At one point, discouraged and hating her jailers, Ms. Saberi asked the two Baha’is how they maintained such positive attitudes, even towards the officials who had imprisoned them.

“’We don’t hate them. We forgive them. We believe in love and compassion for all humanity, even for those who wrong us. We don’t want to become like them. We hope God will help us show them a better way,’” said Ms. Saberi, quoting their words.

Ken Bowers, secretary of the Baha’i community of the United States, described in detail the conditions that the seven are enduring in prison. “Tonight we let these seven individuals know that they have not been forgotten.”

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The audience at at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on 6 May 2013.

The evening was emceed by actor Rainn Wilson, who is himself a Baha’i.

The event received extensive coverage in the news media. This included broadcast coverage on CNN, as well as print, web or wire service coverage in The Washington Post, AFP, Iran Focus, and Roll Call. The event was also reported on by the Foreign Policy Association.

The entire event was videotaped and can be viewed at this link.

 

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Red roses laid out for the observance in Australia.

At a forum on Monday in Australia, leaders from diverse religious communities filed on stage and placed a red rose on one of seven empty chairs at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney as part of an observance of the five year anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders.

Several relatives of the seven leaders also made presentations.

Adelaide businessman Amin Tavakoli noted that his brother, Behrouz, was a psychologist who specialized in helping children with mental and physical disabilities.

“The hands that once healed children and those hands that gave them hope now only grasp the cold metal bars of a prison cell….Maybe he will never walk out of prison alive … but if by any chance I was to see him alive I would hug him and hold him and whisper in his ear, ‘Well done, my beloved brother, well done!’ ”

The forum was preceded by a call for the immediate release of the seven from Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr.

The Baha’i community of Australia has extensive coverage of the Sydney event on its news site, which can be viewed here.

A video of the event can be viewed at this link:  https://vimeo.com/66222374

 

 A group of 18 prominent British lawyers have published a letter today in the Telegraph newspaper decrying the legal process by which the seven imprisoned Iranian Baha’i leaders were tried and sentenced, and calling for their immediate release.

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The Telegraph
8 May 2013

“The seven Baha’is were purportedly ‘tried’ in 2010 in proceedings that can be barely described as a ‘trial,’ and were each sentenced to 20 years in prison,” wrote the jurists, whose letter was published on the letters-to-the-editor page of the prominent UK newspaper.

“Lawyers brave enough to represent Baha’is – including the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi – have themselves become victims of the Iranian regime and been forced into exile. Others, such as Nasrin Sotoudeh and Abdolfattah Soltani, are now serving prison sentences on similarly spurious allegations.

“Iranian authorities often claim to be champions of justice, equality and fairness. It is time for them to honour these principles, release the seven Baha’i leaders and restore the rule of law in Iran.”

Those signing the letter include:

  • Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, a leading barrister in public and administrative law who campaigned for thirty years to make the European Human Rights Convention directly enforceable in British courts.
  • Sir Desmond de Silva QC, a leading international criminal lawyer, who, as Chief Prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, help see to the arrest of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, who was convicted of war crimes at The Hague in 2011.
  • Michael Mansfield QC, one of the UK’s most recognizable human rights lawyers, who has represented claimants in some of the most high profile cases ever tried before British and international courts, and is currently a judge for the Iran Tribunal.
  • Geoffrey Robertson QC, who has been counsel in many landmark cases in constitutional, criminal and media law cases. He makes frequent appearances European Court of Human Rights and in 2008 the UN Secretary General appointed him as one of the three distinguished jurist members of the UN’s Internal Justice Council.

The full text of the letter – including the list of signatories – can be read at this link to the letters pages of the Telegraph. It is the seventh letter on the page.

 

Germany screens Iranian Taboo

The documentary film “Iranian Taboo” was screened in Hofheim, Germany, on 5 May 2013 as part of the Five Years Too Many campaign.

In Germany, a showing of “Iranian Taboo,” a documentary film by prize winning Iranian-Dutch director Reza Allamehzadeh about the persecution of Iranian Baha’is, took place on 5 May in Hofheim near Frankfurt as part of the Five Years Too Many campaign.

The 2011 film explores prejudice faced by Baha’is in Iran, tracing its historical roots and current manifestation as a government-led persecution that has killed 200, imprisoned thousands, and left tens of thousands without jobs and access to higher education.

Following the showing, Ingo Hofmann, spokesperson for human rights of the German Bahá’í community, along with representatives of Amnesty International and the group “Solidarity with the Mothers from Laleh Park,” answered questions from the audience.

Rahim Schmidt, Member of Parliament in the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate also spoke. Dr. Schmidt said the Five Years campaign raises awareness of the human rights situation in Iran not only regarding the Bahá’ís, but also of other ethnic and religious minorities and prisoners of conscience in Iran.

Hofheim is the home of the European Baha’i House of Worship.

The screening was the first major activity in Germany of the Five Years campaign. Events are planned for 11 May in Berlin and Nuremberg. In Berlin, a large gathering in front of the Brandenburg Gate is planned. It will be supported by the Society of Threatened Peoples. In Nuremberg, the Baha’i community is co-sponsoring an event with the city council. It will feature a talk by Maede Soltani, the daughter of Abdollfattah Soltani, an Iranian lawyer currently imprisoned in Iran for his defense of many prisoners of conscience, including Baha’is.

There is more information at this link.

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Participants in Brazil’s Five Years Too Many campaign line up behind a mural on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on 5 May 2013.

On 5 May, Baha’is in Brazil laid out on the sands of the famous Copacabana beach a striking mural created by artist Siron Franco as part of the Five Years Too Many campaign.

The mural, depicting the theme “Human beings should be free as birds,” drew the attention of news photographers and reporters.

A television team from Reuters produced an English-language video about the event, which can be seen on YouTube here. A print version of the Reuters story was also sent out and it can be read here.

Major media outlets in Brazil also gave significant Portuguese-language coverage to the event. This coverage included Jornal Do Brasil, O Globe Mundo, Correio Braziliense, and EBC.

In addition to members of the Brazilian Baha’i community, supporters from various human rights organizations attended. Among them were: Afro-Brazilian religious leader Ivanir dos Santos, one of the founders of Rio de Janeiro`s Committee to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR), which is responsible for the famous annual march in Copacabana; Claudio Miranda, a member of CCIR from Santo Daime; Farhad Shayani of the Brazilian Society of Physicians for Peace; and Dr. Mauricio Santoro on behalf of Amnesty International.

Mr. Ramin Shams, an Iranian Baha’i who came to Brazil with his family in the 1980s as refugee, spoke about the terrible persecutions Baha’is in Iran are forced to endure.

Senator The Hon Bob Carr (Labor NSW) Official Portrait 16 March 2012

Bob Carr, Foreign Minister of Australia

The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, has issued a call for the immediate release of seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran.

The statement comes in conjunction with a national forum scheduled for Tuesday, 7 May, that is part of the international Five Years Too Many campaign.

“We call for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience including the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders: Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mahvash Sabet, Saeid Rezaie, and Vahid Tizfahm,” said Senator Carr, in a statement posted today on his official web site.

Senator Carr’s statement will be read at tomorrow’s program, to be held at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney, where leaders of major faith communities in Australia will offer prayers and then place red roses on seven empty chairs to symbolise the five men and two women imprisoned for their faith.

Four relatives of the seven leaders will address the public forum, scheduled to be held 12:30-2:00.

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will be represented at the event by Berowra MP Philip Ruddock, who was a high ranking cabinet minister in former governments.

In his statement, Senator Carr said the Australian Government reiterates its concerns at continuing human rights abuses in Iran including those affecting the Baha’i community.

“These concerns were most recently voiced in March this year, in a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“In that statement, Australia expressed its concern at the use of the death penalty, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of human rights and political activists, suppression of personal freedoms and the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, including Baha’is.

For more information, visit the event page at the website of the Baha’i community of Australia, at this link.

To mark the five year anniversary of the wrongful imprisonment of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders, the Baha’i International Community is today launching a campaign to call for their immediate release – and to draw attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.

“On 14 May, the seven innocent Baha’i leaders will have been behind bars for five full years, unjustly imprisoned solely because of their religious beliefs,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“We are asking people of good will around the world to raise their voices in an effort to win their freedom and the freedom of other innocent prisoners of conscience in Iran,” she said.

The campaign will run from today through 15 May, under the title “Five Years Too Many.” Around the world, Baha’i communities and others are planning public events that focus on the plight of the seven, who face 15 more years in prison, and whose 20-year sentences are the longest of any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.

“The arrest of the seven Baha’i leaders on false charges, their wrongful imprisonment, and severe mistreatment while in detention are emblematic of the suffering of the Iranian Baha’i community as a whole – and, indeed, the situation of the hundreds of other innocent prisoners of conscience who have been incarcerated for their beliefs,” said Ms. Dugal.

“Their long sentences reflect the Government’s determination to completely oppress the Iranian Baha’i community, which is the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority.”

To read the full press release, click here: Press Release_Launch of Five Years Too Many campaign_5 May 2013

live streamThe 6 May event in Washington for the Five Years Too Many campaign, which has actor Rainn Wilson as its host, will be available live on the Internet.

The program will feature remarks from prominent guests including author Roxana Saberi, who was incarcerated with Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Thomas Melia; Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Kenneth E. Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, together with a musical performance from Ms. Katharine Key.

For those who wish to watch the program live, it will be available starting at 19:00 Eastern Time on Monday at website: http://link.clickstreamtv.net/playlist/1138158.

For more information, please go to an earlier posting on the event, here.

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Hi-contrast image of Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, one of the seven Baha’i leaders

Hundreds of young people will converge at the national Baha’i center in India as part of the Five Years Too Many Campaign. They will be bearing images of the faces of the seven Baha’i leaders as a means of calling attention to their imprisonment.

Government leaders, human rights organizations, and the news media will be invited to the event, which is scheduled for 14 May at 17:30 at Baha’i House in New Delhi, as the national center in India is known.

A number of prominent individuals have been confirmed as speakers. They include Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief Imam of the All India Organization of the Imams of Mosques, Prof. Amitabh Kundu of Jawahar Lal Nehru University, and Amitabh Behar, Director of the National Foundation for India and the Founder of Wada Na Todo Abhyan.

“As 14 May is the actual date of the five year anniversary of the arrest and imprisonment of six of the seven Baha’i leaders, we are hoping for a good turnout of the media,” said Farida Vahedi, director of the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’i community of India.

“There will be a signing of a joint appeal for the release of the seven leaders, along with multi-faith prayers for them,” she said.

Ms. Vahedi said the chief Imam of the main Sunni Mosque in Lucknow has sent a video message, as has Syeda Hameed, a member of the Planning Commission, and Mohini Giri, former chairperson of the National Commission for Women.

“We have also created a stencil for each of the faces of the seven, and we will be printing those images onto placards. The campaign logo will be printed on the T-shirts.

“Young people from all around the area will converge on Baha’i House wearing the T-shirts. People will also be holding up the placards. There will also be billboards and banners all around the lawns of Baha’i House,” she said.

The stencils created for the India event are available to be used by others and can be downloaded as a ZIP file here: High Contrast Face Images

Baha’i House is located at 6, Shrimant Madhavrao  Scindia Marg, opposite Andhra Pradesh Bhawan, in New Delhi. For more information, contact the Baha’is of India at: dea@ibnc.in