Penalty for a Baha’i “Spy”: 20 Years in Prison. Penalty for a Non-Baha’i Spy, 10 Years.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

By Mehrangiz Kar

Translation by Iran Press Watch


I was a guest at the 25th gathering of the Baha’is of the world, which is held in September in Chicago every year. For a few days, I was in a peculiar environment. Most of the attendees or their families had been victimized, not for being politically active but for being faithful to their religious beliefs. Some had travelled from Iran and were planning to return. When they saw an attorney or a law student, they would say: “Isn’t the maximum sentence for espionage 10 years in prison according to Iranian law? Then why does it go up to 20 years when a Baha’i is charged with espionage?”

Currently there are Baha’is in prison in Iran who, even if they actually were spies, legally should be serving no longer than 10-year sentences, and they should be released within the next 2-3 years. However, they are serving twice as many years for the same charge, and have to spend most of their useful lives in prison.

It has been said that this illegal dealing with Baha’is charged with espionage is being criticized by a group of experienced lawyers inside Iran. However, the heavy silence around this issue is such that there is no opportunity to write or talk about it. A message has been received that those Iranian lawyers who reside oversees need to act and start this conversation. I have received the message and have made a commitment to open the discussion, so that other colleagues may reply to this question with their legal knowledge and dissect it from a completely legal point of view. I do this hoping that a change will happen in the situation of a group of our fellow citizens who are in prison for any reason, based on espionage charges and hoping that a remedy is presented to resolve this injustice.

In one word, the purpose of this campaign is to put an emphasis on “lawfulness”. Even though the treatment of Baha’is has always had political, religious and historical motives, even though Mens rea and Actus reus * of their crime cannot be found in the alleged charges against them, this article is free of these issues. The best method for lawyers outside Iran who intend to help with reversing the 20-year sentences of these imprisoned Baha’is is to stay within the legal framework of the discussion in terms of the domestic laws of the country, rather than becoming involved with anti-Baha’i rhetoric, with which we are generally familiar, getting into which is not necessary under current conditions, when our goal is to provide help.

The legal article cited:

Article 505 of book five of the Islamic Penal Code states: “Anyone who, with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, collects classified information through regime officials, government agents or any other means, and who plans to provide it to others, and who succeeds in doing so, shall be sentenced to 2 to 10 years imprisonment, and otherwise to 1 to 5 years imprisonment.”

Therefore, the sentencing of the renowned and respected Baha’is who have been in prison for 7 years based on espionage charges is twice as long as has been stipulated in the Islamic Penal Code (Ta’zir)**. Consequently, a vital and legal question can be asked, which has not been brought up by legal and non-legal publications, due to an environment which does not allow free discussion and which prohibits a fair defense for Baha’is – there is a need to find a way to start this discussion. Opening this up in a completely legal form may be a reasonable move that could help people to listen to the subject of the defense of Baha’is. Any government institution, regardless of its political or religious nature, cannot leave this logical question unanswered forever.

It is possible, and may be imminent, that many readers of this article, who believe that the charges of espionage against Baha’is are political and manmade, may consider asking a question that assumes their guilt to be irrelevant. However, if these people intend to find a realistic solution for this particular case they should reflect on the difference between 10 years and 20 years of imprisonment for a human being who has a limited life span. In that case, they may join us with determined consciences, that sometimes one can separate oneself from one’s ideals and should only think of reducing the suffering of a deprived prisoner when the goal is to save them, when even the power of the prisoner’s defense attorney is dominated and restricted by countless red lines.

I have a mission to send this message. It is an issue that has been entrusted to me that has to be shared with my colleagues outside Iran. Therefore, I call on all attorneys and lawyers residing outside Iran to respond to the question of Baha’is within the confines of Iranian law, so that each can respond according to their own understanding. We are all responsible for this group of our fellow citizens whose religion and belief has turned into a dangerous taboo. We are responsible: the least we can do is to create more discussions related to their rights as defendants and condemned parties from outside the borders of Iran, where a history of murder and massacre of Baha’is has been recorded.

It is true that we have not studied their cases. However, it is enough to know that the Baha’i prisoners charged with espionage have not committed a crime, and that they should have been sentenced based on the charges brought against them. Based on the aforementioned article 505, the penalty for espionage is 10 years. Why should they stay in prison for 20 years?

The kind and patient face of Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi and her fellow prisoners, who are mostly old or past midlife, is the inspiration for this call. Justice, transparency and lawfulness are inspirations for this call. There is no other claim or attraction involved. Please do not hesitate to publish your legal views related to this issue in response to this call.



* For definitions of these terms, see:



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