With the release of a new State Department report on religious freedom around the world, the U.S. government revealed the shocking fact that 116 members of the Baha’i faith are unjustly imprisoned in Iran solely for their beliefs. Among them, sadly, are seven prominent Baha’i leaders unfairly incarcerated since 2008.
Prior to their arrest, the two women and five men ranging in ages from 40 to 80 — Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm — worked together to attend to the basic spiritual needs of Baha’is in Iran such as marriages, divorces and Baha’i children’s spiritual education. After five years of confinement, it is time for members of the international community to demand an end to this injustice.
In an effort to call attention to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran, members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on March 12. S.Res. 75 and H. Res. 109 condemn the state-sponsored persecution of Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i minority, which contravenes Iran’s international obligations as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international instruments. Additionally, the resolutions call on the president and secretary of State to demand the immediate release of prisoners held solely on account of their religion and to sanction Iranian officials directly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Baha’i community in Iran.
Statements by Sens. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Reps. James P. Moran, D-Va., and Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., in the Congressional Record mark the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. The statements remind Americans that the seven members are real people, with real names who face charges that include espionage, propaganda against the Islamic Republic, establishment of an illegal administration and even “corruption on earth,” among others.
Following a trial replete with due process violations, including the denial of timely and meaningful access to their attorneys — Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi and now-imprisoned Abdolfattah Soltani — the seven leaders were sentenced in 2010 to 20 years in prison. These prison terms reportedly represent the longest sentences of any current prisoners of conscience in Iran. Currently, they are detained in two of Iran’s most notorious prisons — the women in Evin and the men in Gohardasht.
Iran’s current persecution of Baha’is extends far beyond its leaders. Under Iranian law, Baha’i blood may be spilled with impunity. From 1978 to 1998, more than 200 Baha’is were killed, mainly by execution, and thousands more imprisoned. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, persecution has intensified. Since 2005, more than 660 Baha’is have been arrested. In addition to the 116 Baha’is who are currently imprisoned, 448 more sit nervously outside prison awaiting trial, appeal, sentencing or summons to serve sentences.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.