Yaran

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On 14 May, the Iranian Baha'i leaders enter their third year of imprisonment without having been convicted of any crime. They are, top from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, and Mahvash Sabet; bottom from left, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie, and Afif Naeimi.

(BWNS) On 14 May, the Iranian Bahai leaders enter their third year of imprisonment without having been convicted of any crime. They are, top from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, and Mahvash Sabet; bottom from left, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie, and Afif Naeimi.

Tomorrow night the Bahá’í community of Newcastle-upon-Tyne will be having a special prayer meeting for the Bahá’ís in Iran, as the seven sacrificial souls pictured above enter their third year in prison and the Iranian Bahá’í community as a whole face continued persecution.

Referred to as leaders for ease of reference, the prisoners served as an informal body called the Yaran, or “Friends,” and attended to the spiritual and social needs of the Baha’is in Iran. The  seven have been held in Tehran’s Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008 - Mrs. Sabet on 5th March and the remainder of them on 14th May.



The Bahá’í World News Service reported on 10th May that:

As seven Baha’i leaders in Iran enter their third year of imprisonment, new details about the harsh conditions of their incarceration have emerged, prompting renewed calls for their immediate release…
 
“These innocent Baha’is have now been locked up for two full years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, under conditions which clearly violate international standards,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “We call on the Iranian authorities to release them now, and ask the international community to join us in this plea. The dictates of justice demand no less.”
 

“No court hearing was held until 12 January this year when they appeared in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court. Charges including espionage, propaganda activities and “corruption on earth” were all denied. Further appearances took place on 7 February and 12 April.

“In the three trial sessions that have so far taken place, no evidence has been provided whatsoever of wrongdoing – making it all the more obvious that the prisoners are being held only because of their religious belief,” said Ms. Dugal.

“If their freedom is not immediately granted, at the very least they should be released on bail. Steps should be taken to ensure that their trial is expedited and conducted fairly, in accordance with international standards,” she said.

 

Severe prison conditions

Friday marks the second anniversary of the group’s imprisonment, and details continue to emerge about the severe conditions under which they are being held. It is known, for example, that the two women and five men are confined to two cells which are so small that they restrict adequate movement or rest.

“They have neither beds nor bedding,” said Ms. Dugal.


United4Iran, a human rights network, asked sympathizers around the world to replicate the dimensions of the cells in Evin prison and photograph themselves confined to the space.

The place has a rancid smell, and they are permitted to have fresh air for only two hours each week. They have a light that if turned off during the day makes it impossible for them to see anything.

“Contact with their loved ones is restricted to one 10-minute telephone call a week, or visits which are mostly conducted through a glass barrier,” Ms. Dugal said.

“Such inhumane conditions show no regard for the principles outlined in international agreements for the treatment of prisoners, which provide that no one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” she said.

“The prisoners’ own requests for modest improvements to their conditions remain unaddressed, and as a consequence their health is suffering.

“These people are innocent, and there is no reason they should be made to suffer like this,” she said.

According to the journalist Roxana Saberi – who shared a cell for three weeks with two of the Baha’i prisoners – the women are confined in a small space. “They roll up a blanket to use as a pillow,” she said. “The floor is cement and covered with only a thin, brown carpet, and prisoners often get backaches and bruises from sleeping on it. … When I was with them, we were allowed into a walled-in cement yard four days a week for 20 to 30 minutes.”

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I have been closely watching the news relating to the trial of seven innocent members of the Baha’i Faith who were arrested and held for one year before any charges were made against them.

The Yaran

Referred to as leaders for ease of reference, the seven Baha’is served on an ad-hoc committee dealing with the basic administrative needs of the community, such as marriage. The more official National Spiritual Assembly had been voluntarily disbanded some time earlier when it was ruled by the state, which refuses to recognise the Baha’i Faith as a religion, that it was illegal.

Having been in prison since the first half of 2008, and having had a few trial dates set this year then postponed indefinitely, Monday 12th January finally saw the start of the trial. No observers were allowed into the court. A film crew was seen going into the court with interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence but, it is reported, even the lawyers for the Baha’is – who had virtually no access to their clients over the last two years – had to argue their way into the court. The families of those arrested had also been promised a chance to meet their loved ones, this was also denied, but another meeting was arranged for this on Thursday and this did, I understand, take place.

In the court on Monday the charges against the seven Baha’is were read out, they are espionage, “propaganda activities against the Islamic order,” the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperation with Israel, the sending of secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country, and “corruption on earth.” The last charge carries the death sentence.

These are all baseless allegations which, for the most part, are often made against the Baha’is. It is generally recognised by institutions and human rights organisations around the world – who have again raised their voices in support this week (including Muslim groups) – that Baha’is are arrested for no reason other than their Faith which the Islamic regime in Iran does not approve of. Iranian media reports have accused the Baha’is of being behind recent protests in Iran, along side Western governments and political activists, and of disseminating images around the world of the protests on the streets. They also suggest that it is obvious that Baha’is are spies for “zionist” Israel because we have a Shrine and gardens taking up a large area of Mount Carmel in Haifa and our world-wide administrative base is there.

Baha’is, and friends of the Baha’is around the world have been keeping these seven Baha’is in their prayers and I have no doubt that the power of these prayers was felt and gave strength to the seven as they stood in the court room to hear the charges.

Unfortunately there has been no date set for the continuation of the trial and the seven “leaders” remain in prison indefinitely, awaiting what is expected to be a show trial with a pre-determined conclusion. There has, meanwhile, been an increase in the arrests and harassment of Baha’is as the media play an increasing role in spreading allegations and misinformation about the Baha’i Faith and its Iranian community.

Link: Baha’i World News Service, Iran Update

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25 years on, sister of executed Bahá’í prays for change
Few incidents in Iran of recent decades have been more shocking than the group execution of ten Bahá’í women in Shiraz on 18 June 1983. Their crime? Teaching children following the government’s ban on Bahá’í pupils from attending schools… (continue reading on Baha’i News UK)


The above article refers to ten young women in Iran, 25 years ago today, who were killed for being Bahá’í. One of them, Shrin Dalvand, was Ladan’s aunt.

Most of Shirin’s family were living in the UK by 1983, when Shirin was arrested a visiting card was issued to a family member to see her in prison before the execution, below is a photo of that visiting card, enlarged is the section where the crime is detailed, in that space it simply has the letter “B”.

Between 1979 and 1998 more than 200 members of the Bahá’í Faith were killed in Iran. The persecution of the Bahá’í, however, did not stop with the last execution. Two years ago the Bahá’í community found evidence that a systematic campaign was under way to identify members of the Bahá’í Faith and monitor their activities. Bahá’í youth, who had earlier been permitted to return to education when universities sopped asking a person’s religion upon enrolment, are again being denied access to, or continuation of, higher education at the point where it becomes known that they are Bahá’í.


Most recently, seven individuals who formed an ad-hoc coordinating committee for the Bahá’í in Iran , were arrested and are being held incommunicado.

Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm were arrested in Tehran on 14th may, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet was arrested in Mashhad on 5th March.

The Bahá’í community, around the world, are seriously concerned for their safety in this escalation which is reminiscent of similar events in the early 80′s when members of two national governing bodies of the Iranian Bahá’í either went missing or were executed.

More on this story can be read here

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