NEW YORK, 15 February (BWNS) – International reaction to news that Iran may soon put on trial seven Baha’i leaders for espionage and other charges came swiftly last week as governments, parliamentary leaders and human rights organizations expressed strong criticism of any such trial. Many called for the immediate release of the Baha’is.
The group of seven has been imprisoned in Tehran since last spring. Since then, no formal charges had been announced, but the Iranian news agency ISNA reported last Wednesday that the Baha’is would be accused of “espionage for Israel, insulting [Islamic] religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic.” The Baha’is have had no access to their attorney, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.
In the United States, the Department of State condemned “the Iranian government’s decision to level baseless charges of espionage against seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community.”
“Authorities have detained these Baha’i for more than nine months without access to legal counsel or making public any evidence against them. The accusations reported in Iranian and international media are part of the ongoing persecution of Baha’i in Iran,” Department of State spokesman Robert Wood said Friday.
In London, Amnesty International issued an “urgent action” appeal on behalf of the seven, calling for their “immediate and unconditional release.”
In Canada, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler spoke in the House of Commons and expressed concern that the trial could lead to the death penalty for the seven Baha’is. He called the charges “trumped up.”
“The systematic and systemic abuse of the Bahai minority in Iran unfortunately manifested itself again this week as seven members of the Friends of Iran group, already being held for almost a year in the notorious Evin Prison, were charged on Wednesday with spying for Israel, insulting Islam and spreading propaganda against the state,” Mr. Cotler said.
In Germany, Bundestag member Dr. Peter Ramsauer, leader of the Christian Social Union party, expressed “deep concern” over the fate of the seven. “Our minimum expectation for a fair trial is unconstrained access for the defense attorney, the Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, to her clients and to have a public trial,” he said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement saying “it is disappointing that the Iranian government is demonstrating that it will use any pretext, however baseless, to harass and detain those whose religious beliefs differ from those enforced by the state.”
“Due process, something to which Iran is committed as a signatory of the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is absent from this case,” commission Chair Felice D. Gaer said in the statement.
Last week’s report from the ISNA news agency did not specify the names of the accused, but it was assumed to refer to Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.
They constitute the membership of an informal coordinating body known as the Friends, which – with the knowledge of the government – was established some years ago to see to the minimum needs of Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i community after its elected governing bodies were banned by government decree in 1983.
A spokeswoman for the Baha’i International Community last week stated emphatically that the seven are innocent of all charges and are being held solely because of their religious belief.
“The accusations are false, and the government knows this,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “The seven Baha’is detained in Tehran should be immediately released.”
In its “urgent action” appeal last Thursday, Amnesty International said it “considers the charges to be politically motivated and those held to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely because of their conscientiously held beliefs or their peaceful activities on behalf of the Baha’i community.
“If convicted, they would face lengthy prison terms, or even the death penalty,” the organization said.
Other human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations made similar statements.
In Washington, Freedom House published a condemnation of Iran over the possibility of a trial for the seven, saying: “The five men and two women should be released immediately, along with dozens of other Baha’is who are in prison for exercising their human right to religious freedom.”
The Institute for Religion and Public Policy, also based in Washington, called the charges “absurd.”
“The arrest of Iran’s top Baha’i leaders has simply been another move to intimidate and undermine the faith’s followers. Iran has an especially poor record in respecting the right to worship of non-Shiite Muslims, and we call on them to drop the charges and release the prisoners,” said the institute’s president, Joseph K. Grieboski.
(Note: On 15 February, a correction was made to state that Freedom House is based in Washington.)
[Source: Bahai World News Service]