The Bahá’ís of Iran have endured unrelenting persecution since the inception of their Faith in 1844. Today, the Iranian government—to whom the Bahá’ís continue to show sincere loyalty—is trying everything they can to block their progress, destroy their livelihood, and extinguish their very life.
As the Five Years Too Many campaign continues, support for the Yarán—the seven wrongfully imprisoned Bahá’í leaders in Iran—continues to pour in from around the world. One of the most impressive things I’ve found so far is the unofficial Five Years Too Many tumblr, which has been gathering photos of men and women of all ages and races, from many different nations, holding up their hands in solidarity with the Yarán. It’s been quite touching to see the groundswell of support in such a visual way!
Beyond a simple grassroots campaign, however, the Five Years Too Many campaign has continued to gather prominent voices at official events the world over. Here’s some of the latest news since my last post on the subject:
The plight of these seven is representative of the countless Iranian men and women who have been jailed for defending their freedom and human rights. Our message to the seven is this: The world has not forgotten you, and we will continue to fight for your freedom and that of other Iranian prisoners of conscience.
It was five years ago today. Six law-abiding Iranian Bahá’ís, members of a committee devoted to looking after the minimum needs of the long-persecuted Bahá’í community in their homeland, were arrested in early morning raids by government agents. Their whereabouts unknown, the six—along with a seventh compatriot who had been arrested earlier—were held incommunicado, while their captors cooked up charges: they were being held “for security reasons”, and they were somehow linked to “Zionists”—baseless charges that have been debunked and denied many times since. After languishing in crowded prison cells for over a year and a half—during which the number of unjustly imprisoned Bahá’ís continued to grow, and during which trial dates were repeatedly set and postponed—they were finally called to appear in court. Their trial, however, quickly turned out to be a sham—a televised “show trial” that was closed to observers, during which their legal counsel was obstructed and denied the right to speak. In the end, the seven were sentenced for 20 years’ imprisonment—the longest sentence given to any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Support for the Bahá’í Yaran—”Friends”—has poured in from around the world, along with outrage at the gross injustice to which they continue to be subjected. Earlier this year, the U.N. General Assembly adopted its 25th resolution condemning human rights violations in Iran, and academics, artists, media personalities and human rights supporters across the globe have become increasingly vocal in calling for the rights of Iranian Bahá’ís to be respected. Today, on the fifth anniversary of the arrest of the Yaran, a worldwide campaign is underway in support of human rights in Iran, gathering what may be unprecedented support and attention.
Things have not improved for the long-suffering Bahá’í community in Iran. In fact, it seems as though the persecution to which they’ve been subjected has increased in recent years. Anthony Vance, Director of Public Affairs for the Bahá’ís of the United States, recently summarized the situation, stating that
“[T]he number of Bahá’ís in prison currently stands at 116. It has more than doubled since the beginning of 2011 when the number was 56. This number includes not only the seven-person, former leadership group but also educators and administrators of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education, the community’s informal solution to higher education from which Bahá’í youth have been barred for over 30 years, as well as Bahá’ís in Semnan, a town especially targeted by the government of Iran for severe persecution of Bahá’ís.”
The one source of good news seems to be the sustained international reaction condemning Iran for its treatment of Iranian Bahá’ís. After passing its third committee in November, a resolution decrying Iran’s “serious ongoing and recurring” human rights violations was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly just before the holidays, the 25th such resolution adopted on Iran’s human rights violations since 1985.
“This vote signals loud and clear the international community’s refusal to accept Iran’s ongoing and intensifying repression of its own people – or the government’s claims that such violations do not take place,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.
“The list of abuses outlined in this resolution is long and cruel. Overall, the picture it paints is of a government that is so afraid of its own people that it cannot tolerate anyone who holds a viewpoint that is different from its own repressive ideology.”
“For the Baha’is, there has been persistent and worsening persecution at the hands of the government and its agents,” she observed.
The United Nations resolution was soon echoed by the United States House of Representatives, which passed a resolution on January 1st specifically “condemning the government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Bahá’í minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.” Kenneth E. Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, outlined the importance of the resolution, saying, “The Bahá’í community is encouraged by the emphasis the U.S. Congress has placed on the human rights abuses in Iran… We are convinced that this continued international pressure has kept the situation for the Bahá’ís in Iran from getting much worse.”
Nor have the United States been the only country voicing their protests at Iran’s continued pattern of repression and persecution. As in previous years, Canada was the main sponsor of this year’s resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations. Academics, artists, media personalities and human rights supporters across the globe, including Brazil, Hungary, Slovakia, India and Australia, have all made the news in recent months by speaking out against the repression of Bahá’ís and other minorities in Iran, adding one voice after another to an ever-loudening chorus shouting in defense of human dignity.
For years, this peaceful community has been targeted by the Iranian authorities and subjected to discrimination and detention. Baha’i leaders have been arrested and imprisoned for practising their faith. Iranian officials have also made statements to try to link the Baha’i to the political unrest in that country. These are trumped-up accusations and a cause of concern for the safety and well-being of those unjustly detained in Iran. In fact, today, on the fourth anniversary of the arbitrary arrests and detention of several Iranian Baha’i community leaders, we are particularly reminded of the ongoing, persistent and pervasive prosecution of religious minorities. (Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs)
The plight of the Baha’i in Iran offers a looking glass into the plight of human rights in Iran in general, and the criminalization of innocence, as finds expression in the criminalization and targeting of Iran’s largest religious minority in particular. (Irwin Cotler, Mount Royal)
Bahá’ís are routinely executed. Others are arrested arbitrarily with no clear reason for it. Worst of all, this is done with the full support of the country’s judicial, administrative and law enforcement systems. The mullahs of Iran have long regarded the Bahá’í faith almost as an enemy of Islam. According to a report from Amnesty International, at the end of January 2012, over 80 Bahá’ís were held because of their beliefs. (Wayne Marston, Hamilton East—Stoney Creek)
From my familiarity with Baha’i people in my riding, these people promote peace wherever they are. It is just absolutely incomprehensible that any regime would target them as enemies. (John Weston, West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)
News about the trial of the 7 Baha’i Yaran (“friends”, often often referred to as the “7 Baha’i leaders” by the media) continues to float in from across the Internet, championed by the Baha’i International Community’s (BIC) World News Service and helped along by reliable and dedicated sources on Twitter.
Diane Ala’i, the BIC’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, called the trial “highly irregular, very similar to the show trials that have been held in Iran in recent months”, noting that “even the lawyers had to argue their way inside the court—lawyers who in any case had virtually no access to the accused for nearly two years”. A report from the group Human Rights Activists in Iran describes the first session of the trial, held January 12th, 2010:
The first session of the trial of the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran was held in Tehran today. The defendants were arrested over 20 months ago.
In today’s session, the families of the defendants were not allowed to witness the proceedings and their lawyers did not get the opportunity to address the court. The session concluded with the reading of the charges. The prosecutor of this case is an interrogator at the Information Bureau.
The first session was reportedly videotaped by the government. One of the defense attorneys confirmed that the trial will continue. The defense attorneys, however, have not been allowed to review parts of the government’s evidence and have not been allowed to meet with their clients. The charges leveled against the Baha’is over a year ago consisted of spying for foreign governments, acting against the security of the regime, insulting the sacred and “corrupting the earth” which is a charge punishable by death. According to government websites, the defendants have also been charged with collecting classified documents and holding meetings contrary to national security interests.
The website of the “Press Club”, which is a subsidiary of the Islamic Republic’s radio and television, carried a report of the court proceedings a day before trial even started on January 11. This premature report was removed from the website when it caused some embarrassment. This incident showed that the outcome of the trial is preordained and that the reports of the trial proceedings are actually written by government agents prior to the court session.
The court has already discredited these proceedings by blocking the lawyers’ access to the relevant files and preventing them from meeting with the defendants.
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the lawyers defending the Yaran, stated in a Persian-language interview: “If justice is to be carried out and an impartial judge should investigate the charges leveled against my clients, the only verdict that could be reached is that of acquittal,” adding with regret that “Unfortunately, for some time now, the Judiciary has distanced itself from justice.”
World support for the wrongly detained Baha’is poured in on the date of the trial, with representatives from India, Brazil, the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom denouncing Iran’s treatment of the Yaran and the fairness of their trial, and calling on it to respect the universal human right of all Iranian Baha’is to freedom of religious practice. Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, ex-prime minister of the United Kingdom, accused the Iranian government of using the Baha’is as scapegoats in recent post-election protests, and claimed that Iran should be “shamed into respecting basic rights of the Baha’is”.
Canada’s Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon called “deplorable” the fact that the Yaran “were detained on the sole basis of their faith and have been denied a fair trial”, in between scathing criticisms of Iran’s refusal to repatriate the body of slain Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, killed in 2003 while in the custody of interrogators.
Human rights organization Amnesty International denounced what it called a “show trial” based on “spurious charges”, calling the 7 Yaran “prisoners of conscience, held solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Baha’i community,” and called for them to be “immediately and unconditionally set free”.
The Baha’is of Iran are currently facing a very dark situation; the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran cites a “fear of imminent executions” as Iranian media and government continue to scapegoat Baha’is for the recent unrest during the period of Ashura, a holy period for Shi’ite Muslims. Combine this with the awareness of an upcoming trial of seven prominent Baha’is, who bear charges such as “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic”, charges deemed “utterly baseless” by Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community representative to the United Nations in Geneva. Maja Daruwala, director of the India-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, asserted that the trial was “designed to harass and intimidate” and amounts to “persecution” of the Baha’i community.
In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness. This is that which hath been revealed at the behest of Him Who is the Ordainer, the Ancient of Days.
It is binding and incumbent upon the peoples of the world, one and all, to extend aid unto this momentous Cause which is come from the heaven of the Will of the ever-abiding God, that perchance the fire of animosity which blazeth in the hearts of some of the peoples of the earth may, through the living waters of divine wisdom and by virtue of heavenly counsels and exhortations, be quenched, and the light of unity and concord may shine forth and shed its radiance upon the world.