Translation by Iran Press Watch
HRANA News Agency: On June 27, 24 Baha’is from Golestan Province who were collectively sentenced to a total of 193 years in prison, were summoned to the Third Branch of the Golestan Province Court of Appeals for judicial review of their sentences.
As reported by HRANA, citing Justice for Iran (a non-governmental human rights organization), according to the defendants and their lawyers’ communication on July 13 2016, an appeals court will consider all the cases in a mass review in which each defendant will only have less than four minutes for their defense.
Babak Etemadzadeh, the defense lawyer for a number of defendants in this case, expressing hope that the review process for all defendants in this case will be carried out according to a legitimate legal process, told Justice for Iran: “The most important objection to the charges against the accused is that teaching the Baha’i Faith is not a crime, and those Baha’is who teach the Baha’i Faith have not committed an illegal act which would require criminal prosecution.”
Previously, after an appeals court confirmed the long-term prison sentences of several Baha’i’s in a quick mass review session, 10 human rights organizations expressed concern in a letter to the European Union.
The lawyer for the Baha’is sentenced to 193 years collectively in prison said: “The most important objection to the charges against the accused is that teaching the Baha’i Faith is not a crime, and those Baha’is who teach the Baha’is Faith have not committed an illegal act which would require criminal prosecution.”
Thirty two Baha’is from various cities in Golestan Province were arrested with the excuse that they were interacting with Muslims and teaching the Baha’i Faith in September 2012; they were subjected to harsh physical and psychological torture to force them to agree to the charges against them. Eight of them were sentenced to five to ten years in prison and are currently serving their sentences in Raja’i Shahr Prison, and 24 others whose appeals process is due to take place on July 13 have been sentenced to 6 to 11 years of prison each.
These Baha’is, because they are living amongst Muslims as Baha’is, and holding private religious gatherings, have been accused of propaganda against the regime, creation of an illegal organization, creating a threat to security, and communicating with enemy states (Israel). According to Babak Etemadzadeh, the conduct of his clients is devoid of criminal context, and is not punishable.
If the appeals court upholds the conviction of these 24 people, five Baha’i couples will go to jail together, and their children will lose their parents for many years. Many of the defendants have young children 6 to 11 years old, who would be forced to endure separation from a parent.
In a joint letter from ten human rights organizations sent to officials of the European Union in May of this year, it was stressed that the case of the Golestan Province Baha’is is the largest mass arrest of Baha’is in the last 10 years, and is unprecedented in the severity of torture applied during the interrogations.
Some of the torture conducted against the defendants of this case involved suspending them in the air, dragging them on the ground with their hands tied, keeping them in the rain for an extended period of time, nightly interrogations of women, threats and harassment of their young daughters, accusing them and their daughters of immoral relations, physical and vaginal body searches during the transfer to detention centers, and severe beatings.
Following extensive coverage in the media to protest the verdicts against these Baha’is of Golestan province in Iran, Hadi Hashemian, Chief Justice of the province, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA): “Some foreign media outlets with known anti-Iranian tendencies are trying to influence the appeals decision by highlighting and repeating pointed news in support of the sentenced Baha’is…. They are using this opportunity to influence a judgment in their favor.”
However, previously this judicial authority had ignored and refused to register the complaints of these Baha’is and the request for a just process in the appeals court regarding this case. Hadi Hashemian, by shirking his duty to follow up and investigate allegations of torture and violations of the rights of the accused in this case under his authority, stated: “We cannot do anything, and are not able to help you.”
Some of those detained in the case, in letters to former Chief Justice of Golestan province, the Friday Prayer Imam of Gorgan, Governor of Golestan Province and Security Council of Golestan Province, detailing the torture and illegal acts in the process of detention, interrogation, and trial, sought to obtain a just review of this case in the appeals court, and to achieve an acquittal.
Due to the fact that their efforts have had no effect, a number of families have turned to authorities in Golestan Province, but there has been no response or reply, and there has been no effective action for justice in this case.