Editor’s Note: Iran Press Watch is pleased to share the following background information on the situation of the incarcerated Baha’is in Iran, and provide an update on the condition of the seven leading Baha’is who were responsible for coordinating the affairs of the Baha’i community in Iran.
After the abduction and disappearance of the nine members of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran after the revolution in 1980 and the summary execution of most members of the second such Assembly of Baha’is in 1983, the governing body of the Baha’i community in Iran voluntarily suspended its administrative activities in 1983, and the affairs of the Baha’i community were managed by small groups of three individuals in each locality.
After a few years, this group of three individuals on the national level became more organized and was named the institution of “The Friends in Iran.” The main responsibility of this institution was managing the affairs of this large religious minority, such as recording marriages, handling divorces, assisting with burials, sending letters of introduction for traveling Baha’is, arranging for worship services, and similar activities. “The Friends in Iran” guided the Baha’i community through many tumultuous years, and provided hope and reassurance through critical times with a unified vision and exemplary resolve.
The activities of the “Friends” were completely transparent and were devoid of any hidden agenda. Incidentally, during this period, a particular office was designated in the Ministry of Intelligence to follow the activities of the Baha’is. This office would contact the “Friends” directly with any questions about a specific activity. Even Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, Iran’s chief prosecutor, has referred to this close monitoring. At the time of the suspension of Baha’i administrative activities in 1983, a letter was sent by the National Assembly of the time to Mousavi Ardabili indicating that in exchange for this suspension, the Baha’i community requested that the government allow its high school Baha’i graduates to enter universities, that the dismissed Baha’i university professors be reinstated, and that the Baha’is fired from the public sector be given permission for employment. The government did not heed or honor any of these requests for minimal civil rights for the Baha’is of Iran.
In February 2008, Mrs. Mahvash Shahriari (Sabet) was summoned to appear in the office of the Ministry of Intelligence in the city of Mashhad. She was arrested upon arrival. Subsequently, Mr. Khanjani, another member of the “Friends,” was summoned to Mashhad; on multiple occasionshe was given assurances that she would be released. These promises were never fulfilled.
May 14, 2008, marked the beginning of a new chapter in repression of Baha’is in Iran, when the homes of the rest of the six members of the “Friends in Iran” were raided and Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi (Taefi), Mr. Jamaleddin Khanjani, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr. Saeid Rezai, Mr. Afif Naimi, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm were arrested and transferred to Evin prison. For the first several months, they were deprived of family visitation rights, and were only on rare occasion allowed brief telephone contact with their family in exchange for money. They have had no contact with any legal defense representatives, whether state-provided or private, since their incarceration to the present date.
The first family visit was granted on September 8, 2008, and since then weekly visitations have taken place. A representative of the Ministry of Intelligence is present at all such meetings, and only immediate family members have been permitted to participate.
In the nine months since the arrest of the “Friends in Iran,” no verifiable or written documentation regarding court proceedings or the nature of their charges had been furnished until the Chief National Prosecutor and the speaker of the Judicial Branch, without providing any witnesses or evidence, labeled the “Friends” as criminals and alleged through the official news media that they have been charged with espionage. The speaker of the Judicial Branch signaled that they would be formally charged the following week and tried in court. As of the date of this report, the “Friends” have not been granted due process and have been deprived of legal counsel. No information has been provided to them or their family regarding the date or branch of court where they will be tried. It is noteworthy that the defending attorney, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, has not had any access to her clients or their legal files.
The allegations have only been verbally communicated with the “Friends” and their families and include “activities against national security,” “insulting religious sanctities,” and “espionage for Israel.” The open letter of the chief prosecutor, Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, indicating the need for complete “annihilation of Baha’i activities” in Iran has further added to the growing concern regarding the fate of the “Friends in Iran.”
With respect to these charges, Iran Press Watch has published an Open Letter addressed to Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, rebutting all these charges and requesting immediate release of the seven imprisoned Baha’is: http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/02/an-open-letter-to-ayatollah-dorri-najafabadi/
It should be noted that the “Friends,” after enduring 3.5 months of solitary confinement, were transferred to a regular prison cell, still at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, in September 2008, where they could interact with other prisoners. A month later, they were separated from other prisoners, where the five men have been kept in one cell and the two women in another, isolated from others. Their status is still noted as “temporary detention” and their fate is shrouded in obscurity. In light of the history of anti-Baha’i activity of the Iranian government since the Revolution, the continued harassment of the Bahá’ís on the basis on their religious beliefs, lack of access to written documents on the nature of their charges, and lack of due process with legal counsel, the situation of these seven Baha’i prisoners in Iran is of grave concern.