Release the Baha’i seven now
Nine years ago, seven innocent men and women were rounded up by Iranian authorities and thrown into the infamous Evin prison solely because of their religious beliefs.
The seven were the ad hoc, appointed leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community, which has undergone severe persecution since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Over the last 38 years, more than 200 Iranian Baha’is have been killed or executed, hundreds have been imprisoned, and tens of thousands have lost jobs or businesses or have been deprived of higher education.
Currently, there are about 90 Baha’is in Iranian prisons – all held because of their religious beliefs and activities.
Among them are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm, who formed the entire membership of the now-disbanded group known as the “Yaran” (which means “Friends” in Persian). With the full knowledge and permission of the government, they tended to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i community. Their arrests in 2008 stirred an international outcry because of their prominence in the Baha’i community and Iranian society.
The seven spent their first year in illegal detention and then, in 2010, were put on trial on false allegations of espionage, “propaganda against the regime,” and other alleged crimes that, in fact, were related solely to their belief in and practice of the Baha’i Faith.
They were ultimately convicted of these charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. This year marks the ninth year of their wrongful imprisonment.
During these nine years, the seven have endured awful conditions that are common in Iranian prisons. In human terms, they have also missed out on the numerous day-to-day joys – and sorrows – that make life sweet and precious.
As part of an effort to bring attention to the need for their immediate release, we are launching an international campaign to call attention to these “missing years.” The idea is to remind ourselves of how deeply wrongful incarceration cuts into the lives of innocent prisoners everywhere.
All seven were married with children and, prior to their arrests, had rich family lives. All seven were also extremely active in working for the betterment of their community – not to mention Iranian society as a whole.
Their long-running imprisonment has meant, among other things, that they have missed out on the birth of numerous grandchildren, the joyous weddings of children and close relatives, and the funerals of relatives and close friends. They have been forced to celebrate their national and religious holidays in prison, instead of in the company of their loved ones. And, while in prison, they have been unable to tend to their farms and businesses, which have languished – or, in at least one case – been destroyed by the government.
Many of them have also faced severe health problems while in prison, and their incarceration and the hard-hearted attitude of Iranian officials have prevented them in many cases from obtaining proper treatment – treatment that would have likely long ago cured or at least greatly alleviated their conditions had they been free.
These injustices are compounded by the fact that under Iranian law, the seven were eligible for conditional release four years ago – a form of parole that has been denied to them without explanation.
Their long-running imprisonment has also been marked by another difficult feature: they have all too often been joined in prison by other, mostly younger relatives who have also been swept up in Iran’s campaign against Baha’is. It is a bizarre aspect of Iran’s long-running persecution of Baha’is that it has now, after nearly forty years, become an inter-generational assault.