(New York) - Iran should immediately free seven detained Baha'i community leaders, or bring them promptly to trial so they can defend themselves in fair and open proceedings against the serious charges against them, Human Rights Watch said today. Today is the one-year anniversary of the detention of six of them, while the seventh was detained earlier. None have had access to a lawyer.
The seven men and women have been charged with spying for Israel, "insulting religious sanctities," and spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic. In addition, prison officials at Evin prison in Tehran informed relatives visiting the detained men and women last week that they would also be charged with "spreading corruption on Earth" (mofsede fel arz), said Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the UN in Geneva. This offense is punishable by death under Iran's Penal Code.
"These Baha'i leaders have been languishing in prison for a year now, with no access to their lawyers and no glimmer of a trial date," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "These reported new charges only add to the fears for their lives under a government that systematically discriminates against Bahai's."
As with other religious communities throughout Iran, Baha'i observance is grounded in local community organizations. On May 14, 2008, six leaders of the national organization of Bahai's - a group that operates in the absence of the normal Baha'i practice of having a National Spiritual Assembly - were arrested at their homes in Tehran. They are: Fariba Kamalabadi; Jamaloddin Khanjani; Afif Naeimi; Saeid Rezaie; Behrouz Tavakkoli; and Vahid Tizfahm. A seventh, Mahvash Sabet, the secretary of the national community organization, was arrested on May 5, 2008, in Mashhad, northeast Iran, after responding to a summons from the Ministry of Intelligence.
The Baha'i faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Baha'ullah in 19th-century Iran and has approximately 300,000 followers in Iran. The Iranian government considers Baha'is to be apostates from Islam. Today, Baha'is face discrimination in their pursuit of higher education and many areas of employment. In addition, the inclusion of Israel as a "holy place" in the Baha'i faith in 1868 has, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, been used to fuel persistent accusations against Baha'is in Iran of spying for Israel, with which Iran has hostile relations.