Baha’i Leaders in Iran Mark Six Years in Prison

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By: by Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations
May 14, 2014

Today, May 14, marks six years in prison for the seven leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran. Their biographies can be found here, and they are citizens whose only crime is their religion.

They were arrested in 2008 and in 2010 were sentenced to terms of 20 years in prison for non-existent crimes against the state, nonsense like spreading “corruption” and engaging in espionage.

The persecution of Baha’i in Iran is not a new story, although the viciousness of the persecution is worsening.  Here for example are comments made last year in Geneva at a side event during the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council  by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion,Heiner Bielefeldt:

“It’s really one of the most obvious cases of state persecution,” he said, noting that the repression faced by Baha’is spans “all areas of state activity, from family law provisions to schooling, education, and security.” He asked participants at the side event – which drew some 50 representatives from governments, the UN, and non-governmental organizations – to visualize the impact such wide-ranging persecution has on an individual as he or she moves through the stages of life. ”Imagine what that means for a child, in school, maybe even kindergarten, sometimes even in the preschool phase, of young life. To be exposed to the stigma, to be told there is something wrong with your family, that you have to change, you have to adapt,” said Dr. Bielefeldt. ”Then, as the child gets to the age of higher education, now the problem is how to get access,” he continued. “We have lots of cases of Baha’is who have been expelled from universities and other sectors of higher education.” ”Imagine what it means if a person wants to gather position in life, to get a job. There is not the slightest possibility for a Baha’i to take a position in any public sector [job]. But even in the private sector, there is mobbing and stigmatization.” “How can a person start a family life, if in family law there is no official space for Baha’is to conclude valid marriages?” he asked, noting that this deficiency affects concerns ranging from inheritance to rights of custody. Attacks do not even end with death, he added. “There is the experience of desecration of cemeteries… [of] cemeteries being also bulldozed down by someone.”

One year ago Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, took office, and he is still being presented in many quarters as some form of moderate. Moderate about what? Certainly not about human rights for the Baha’i; for their situation has worsened under Rouhani. Here is an account of the Rouhani record:

[E]very report independently conducted by human rights watch groups; the United Nations, Amnesty International as well as the official statistical numbers revealed by the Iranian government, indicate not only that Rouhani has not delivered on his promises (not even keeping the status of human rights similar to that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s era), but that the condition of human rights has significantly worsened in Iran. Recent reports by Amnesty International and UN watch groups have blasted Iran for the increase in persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, the cracking down on oppositional political figures, the mistreatment of political prisoners, arbitrary detention and unfair trials. The most controversial issue in the reports has been the surge in capital punishment and public executions.

Most recently, just days ago, Iran has been digging up Baha’i graves at a historically important cemetery in Shiraz.

The Baha’is in Iran pose no threat to the government, and their seven imprisoned leaders are peaceful citizens who sought only to provide moral and intellectual leadership for their persecuted brethren. They should not be forgotten today, the sixth anniversary of their imprisonment, nor should we ever forget the inhuman treatment of all Baha’i in Iran.

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