Human rights groups renew support for Iran's seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders

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Human rights organizations from around the world have spoken out about the 10-year jail terms received by Iran's seven Baha'i leaders, as well as their recent transfer to harsher prison conditions. In a recent statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "We call on Iran to free all political prisoners and persecuted minorities..."
New York

The global support for Iran's seven jailed Baha'i leaders is continuing as one of the prisoners begins her fourth year in detention.

Mahvash Sabet – a schoolteacher and mother of two – has been incarcerated since 5 March 2008. For the first 175 days of her imprisonment, she was detained in solitary confinement.

On 14 May 2008, six other prominent Iranian Baha'is were also arrested. After 20 months held without charge in Tehran's Evin prison, all seven were accused in court of espionage and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations. All the charges were denied. They are now serving 10-year jail terms at the notorious Gohardasht prison.

The recent transfer of the prisoners to harsher conditions within the jail has prompted renewed concern from human rights organizations. Amnesty International USA is now asking its members to send greetings cards for the forthcoming Persian new year to the seven Baha'is and a number of other Iranian prisoners of conscience.

"Grave concern"

A joint statement from three major organizations last month called upon the international community to act with urgency for the release of the seven.

"Subsequent transfers and worsening conditions of detention lead us to believe that the well-being and lives of the detained Baha'i leaders are at risk and their ongoing arbitrary detention places them in a clear and present danger that requires urgent reaction," said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Iranian League for Human Rights (LDDHI) and the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC).

In a news release issued by FIDH on 18 February, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi reminded the international community that "none of the prisoners were granted a fair trial and their continuing arbitrary detention is of grave concern."

"I call once again for their immediate release and a cessation of all harassment against the Baha'i community," said Mrs. Ebadi, who is also a senior member of the legal team that is defending the seven Baha'is.

Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) also issued a report saying that the "scale of repression against minority groups in Iran is a central but under-reported factor in the renewed struggle for democracy" and that the "persecution of any Iranian minority is most pronounced in the case of the Baha'is.

"The informal leadership of the Iranian Baha'i community, who have been detained since 2008, were sentenced in 2010 to ten years of imprisonment on charges of conspiring against the Islamic Republic, and their lawyers...have also been subject to intimidation, imprisonment, and attacks," said the report.

On 23 February, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed deep concern at "the persecution of Iranian citizens at the hand of their government..."

"Iran's leaders also continue to persecute ethnic and religious minorities," said Secretary Clinton.

"We are troubled by reports that, of the dozens of prisoners executed in 2011, most are ethnic minorities. At the same time, Baha'is and other religious minorities continue to be subjected to arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, harsh sentences, and unsafe prison conditions. We call on Iran to free all political prisoners and persecuted minorities...The world will continue to watch and will hold accountable those responsible for these actions," said Secretary Clinton.

The conviction and sentencing of the seven was also mentioned in the 2011 World Report issued in January by US-based human rights group Human Rights Watch. "The [Iranian] government accused them of espionage without providing evidence and denied their lawyers' requests to conduct a prompt and fair trial," it said.

Greetings for the Persian new year

Amnesty International USA has called upon its members to send greetings cards for the forthcoming Persian new year to the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders.

The action notes that "Nowruz," which means "new day," is an ancient Persian holiday celebrating the first day of spring and the coming of the new year.

"On this Nowruz we want to remember several courageous prisoners of conscience in Iran with Nowruz greetings," said the organization.

Referring to the seven Baha'i leaders, Amnesty International wrote, "Although they have done nothing more than peacefully practice their religion, they were convicted on serious, but baseless, charges including 'espionage for Israel,' 'insulting religious sanctities' and 'propaganda against the system.'"

The group also suggests sending cards to seven other Iranian prisoners of conscience, depicting scenes "in keeping with the spirit of the holiday and the message of hope and renewal."

"The support of Amnesty International USA is greatly appreciated," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"The awareness generated by Amnesty and other groups – along with expressions of concern by governments and international organizations – remains the main source of protection and comfort for these innocent prisoners and others who are deprived of their rights in Iran," she said.