He has spent much of his adult life working with the physically and mentally handicapped — “a real angel”, in the words of his brother, Amin.
He is also a follower of the Baha’i faith, which is effectively a crime under the theocratic dictatorship that rules Iran.
Last week, Mr Tavakkoli and six other Baha’i leaders were sentenced to 20 years each in jail after being convicted by an Iranian court of the offences of “insulting religious sanctities”, “propaganda against the system” and spying for Israel.
Amin Tavakkoli was at home in suburban Adelaide, where he has lived since fleeing Iran in 1984, when he heard the news of his brother’s conviction.
“It was really a shock for us, for all the Baha’i community, because everybody knows that they are innocent, and I’m sure the regime in Iran knows they are innocent,” he said. “Their arrest was not just, keeping them in prison was not just, and was against the laws of the country.”
Behrouz Tavakkoli and his colleagues in the Iranian Baha’i Society, who include two women, were arrested in June 2008 in a crackdown on the leadership of the 300,000 strong Baha’i community in Iran.
It has endured years of systematic persecution, arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Their conviction after more than two years in prison has been condemned by international human rights groups and foreign governments.
Amnesty International said in a statement: “This verdict is a sad and damning manifestation of the deeply rooted discrimination against Baha’is by the Iranian authorities. These seven Baha’i leaders, some of whom are elderly, are prisoners of conscience jailed solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities.”
Nobel Prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi, whose Defenders of Human Rights Centre represented the detainees, said she was “stunned” by the convictions, as the Iranian prosecutor had not provided any evidence to support their guilt. Amnesty described their trial as “a parody” and has called for their immediate release.
The Iranian regime has previously blamed Baha’is, along with other groups, for engineering the political unrest and mass demonstrations that occurred in the aftermath of the country’s rigged elections in June last year, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was returned to power. The Baha’i community has denied any involvement.
Speaking at his home in Adelaide, Amin Tavakkoli told The Weekend Australian his brother’s only activities had been providing social, legal and religious services for the Baha’i people in Iran. “There was no political activity, not at all,” he said. “It’s a law of the Baha’i faith that we shouldn’t be involved in any politics, and we have to obey the law of the country, wherever we are living, and they did (that) perfectly.”
The Australian Baha’i community is holding prayer vigils for the jailed leaders. “Their only crime is they believe in the oneness of humankind, the most important thing in the Baha’i faith, and that is the only crime they have committed,” Amin said.