Trial of Baha'i educators: condemnation spreads
As more information has emerged regarding the trial of seven Baha'i educators, the worldwide outcry at the persecution of Iranian Baha'i students and teachers continues to spread.
In recent days, politicians in Brazil, academics in Germany and Ireland, and an international group of distinguished filmmakers, have condemned the systematic barring of Baha'is from higher education in Iran, and the Iranian government's attack on the Baha'i community's informal efforts to educate its own young members.
The Baha'i International Community has recently learned that the seven jailed educators – all lecturers or helpers with a community initiative known as the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) – were taken to court on two separate days, handcuffed and chained at the ankles. There, in the presence of their attorneys, they were informed of the verdict and their sentences.
"Neither the defendants nor their lawyers has seen a written copy of the verdict," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, "but we know from transcripts taken down by people present at the hearing that the seven were found guilty of 'membership in the deviant Bahaist sect, with the goal of taking action against the security of the country, in order to further the aims of the deviant sect and those of organizations outside the country.'"
The judgements also cast the activities of the accused in BIHE as crimes – and as evidence of their supposed aim to subvert the state, added Ms. Ala'i.
Two of the Baha'is, Vahid Mahmoudi and Kamran Mortezaie, each received five years imprisonment, while four year jail terms were given to Mahmoud Badavam, Nooshin Khadem, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani and Ramin Zibaie.
"The authorities know full well that there is no truth whatsoever to the charges," said Ms. Ala'i. "The prohibition on foreign diplomats attending court – and the refusal of the judiciary to provide written documentation of the verdict – show how unjustifiable the assertions and actions of the government are, and clearly expose the blatant religious discrimination that is at the heart of this case."
In the past five months since they were first detained, the outcry at the incarceration of the seven educators has spanned the world. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has led the criticism of Iran's actions, along with such prominent global figures as Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Jose Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor. In October, some 43 distinguished philosophers and theologians in 16 countries signed an open letter protesting against the attack on BIHE.
Last Friday, in Ireland, more than 50 academics called upon the Iranian authorities to cease attacking Baha'is and allow access to higher education for all. "It is hard to believe that any government would deny the right to education to a group of students," they wrote to the Irish Times. "It is clear from these actions that the Iranian authorities are determined to block the progress and development of these young people by denying them an education solely on the basis of their religion."
In Germany, some 45 prominent professors also demanded the immediate release of the seven. In a letter dated 25 October to Iran's Minister for Science, Research and Technology, they wrote, "We insist upon the unrestricted observance of the right of higher education for all citizens of your country in accordance with international norms..."
Four days earlier, Markus Loning – Germany's Foreign Office Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid – said: "The accused must have a right to a transparent process according to the principles of the rule of law." Rolf Mutzenich, foreign policy spokesperson for Germany's Social Democratic parliamentary group described the judgement as "unacceptable, and the religious intolerance it reflects is intolerable....It is urgent and necessary for the Iranian government to end its discrimination against the Baha'is and to respect their basic rights to education and to practice their faith."
Last week, 26 filmmakers, producers and actors urged the government of Brazil to defend the rights of filmmakers, journalists and Baha'i educators and call upon Iran to immediately release them. Among the signatories to the open letter, reported in the prestigious Folha de São Paolonewspaper, were such acclaimed directors as Hector Babenco, Atom Egoyan, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Walter Salles.
In a statement on 20 October, Brazilian Federal Representative Luiz Couto – former president of the country's Human Rights Commission – said, "We all know the work that is developed by the Baha'is in Brazil in the areas of equality, justice and human rights; and many of us are also familiar with their educational work in the communities...Why can't these people have the right to profess their faith?"
Support for the imprisoned educators has also come from Scholars at Risk (SIR), an international network of over 260 universities and colleges in 33 countries dedicated to promoting academic freedom, and freedom of thought, opinion, expression, association and travel.
"[T]he facts suggest an attempt to exclude Baha'i individuals from higher education opportunities in Iran, and raise serious concerns about a wider campaign to limit the ability of intellectuals and scholars generally to work freely in Iran," SIR wrote on 31 October.
"Scholars at Risk finds these suggestions particularly distressing and unfortunate, given Iran's rich intellectual history and traditional support for the values of scholarship and free inquiry."