By Michael Day
ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS | 1 APR 2011
Iranian prison authorities have told seven jailed Baha’i leaders that their twenty-year sentences which had been halved by an appeals court have now been reinstated.
The two women and five men were members of a national-level ad hoc group that attended to the needs of Iran’s Baha’i community with the full knowledge and tacit consent of the Iranian authorities until they were rounded up and jailed in 2008.
Two of the leaders have siblings in Australia, and others have other relatives here.
Australian Baha’i Community spokesperson Tessa Scrine said the reinstatement of the sentences has “stunned and appalled” Australian Baha’is.
“We are dismayed at this cruel treatment of these people who the world knows have done no wrong and who should be released immediately,” Ms Scrine said.
The new information about the sentence has come six months after Iran’s appeal court reduced their original twenty-year sentence to ten-year imprisonment.
Ms Scrine says that it appears the court’s decision was rescinded as the result of a challenge by the Prosecutor General, who can appeal any court judgement that he believes contradicts Shari’a law.
The information about the reinstatement of the original twenty-year sentence was conveyed verbally to the seven, following a pattern of gross irregularities starting from their illegal imprisonment of thirty-months prior to trial, and then continual breaches of even the most basic rules of due process.
No evidence was produced to support charges made against the seven, and no international observers were permitted in the courtroom.
The appeal court revoked charges, strongly denied by the seven, of espionage, collaboration with Israel and providing documents to foreigners with the aim of undermining national security.
Instead, in reducing the sentence to ten years, the appeal judges said that the service the seven provided to the Baha’i community was illegal.
Despite repeated requests, neither the seven nor their lawyers have ever been given an official document with the original sentence or the ruling on appeal.
Ms Scrine said that for the Iranian authorities to double what was already a completely unjustified sentence “flies in the face of world opinion.”
“For some of the seven, a ten-year sentence, let alone a twenty-year term, is effectively a life sentence,” she said.
“This move comes as a campaign of terror and intimidation continues to be waged by the Iranian authorities against the 300,000 strong Baha’i community, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in that country.
“These law-abiding people are facing arson attacks on their businesses, desecration of their cemeteries, dawn raids and arbitrary arrests, random assaults, and defamation by State-sponsored media. Some 79 are in jail on account of their religious belief.”
Ms Scrine said Australian Baha’is were grateful to the Australian Government and the Federal Parliament for their strong statements against the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran and others whose human rights are violated in Iran.
“We call on fair-minded people throughout Australia and the world to stand up in the name of justice for these oppressed, innocent people,” Ms Scrine said.
“In the past two weeks, there has been mounting international criticism of the treatment of the Baha’is in Iran and that was even before this latest outrage was known.”
In his report this month on Iran, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon specifically highlighted the case of its Baha’i community and the imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders.
That was followed by the UN Human Rights Council voting to appoint a special investigator to monitor Iran’s compliance with international human rights standards.
On 14 March, prior to the vote, Australia told the told the UN Human Rights Council that it was “deeply concerned” at Iran’s treatment of minorities, including Baha’is.
In his message of 20 March 2011 for the traditional Persian New Year, United States President Barack Obama highlighted human rights abuses in Iran saying, “The world has watched these unjust actions with alarm … We have seen … the Baha’i community and Sufi Muslims punished for their faith.”
Michael Day is the national media officer of the Australian Baha’i Community. For more information, visit http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/iran-update/ and www.bahai.org.au.