A Case of Injustice: Imprisoned Baha’i Leaders in Iran

Iko Congo writes about the imprisonment of Baha’i leaders in Iran and reflects on how you can be a champion of justice

I wish to share the story of seven imprisoned Baha’is in Iran to raise awareness about their sacrifice and the hardships they have faced in trying to make a contribution to their country. And ask you to reflect on what this situation tells us about the world.

Today marked the end of a seven day global campaign called “Seven Days in Remembrance of Seven Years for the Seven Baha’i Leaders”. In remembrance of the seventh anniversary of their wrongful imprisonment, and to call for their immediate release, each day of the campaign was dedicated to a different member of the arrested Baha’i leaders.

For those unfamiliar with the Baha’i Faith, here is a brief explanation; Baha’is follow the Teachings of Baha’u’llah, who is regarded as the most recent Manifestation of the sequence of Manifestations of God—among them Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad. Baha’is view the teachings of the Faith as a source of inspiration for individuals and communities as they work to improve their own lives and contribute to the advancement of civilization. Baha’u’llah writes that “The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men…(www.bahai.org). These seven Baha’is, who are wrongfully imprisoned for their beliefs, formed the entire membership of the now-disbanded ad hoc group tending to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i community (in the absence of a formally elected Baha’i leadership banned in Iran in 1983) and are sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest sentences of any prisoners of conscience currently held in Iranian prisons.

This situation has concerned many international institutions, among which are:

the Secretary General of the United Nations who in a 2009 report about human rights in Iran, states that “reports continued to be received about members of the Baha’i community being subjected to arbitrary detention, confiscation of property and denial of employment, Government benefits and access to higher education” and continues stating  “the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on numerous occasions to express concern and seek clarification about the status of seven members of the Baha’i faith who had been detained…”

The United States Senate as we find in the Congressional Records a resolution that reports that in March and May of 2008, intelligence officials of the Government of Iran in Mashhad and Tehran arrested and imprisoned Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm, the members of the coordinating group for the Baha’i community in Iran”.

The resolution mentions “these 7 Baha’i leaders were targeted solely on the basis of their religion”. A conclusion easily made after evaluating the false charges made (a year after their imprisonment!) against them: ‘‘spying for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, propaganda against the regime and spreading corruption on earth’’.

While addressing the EU Parliament in 2011 Ms. Parakand, a lawyer for the group, explained that “the bill of indictment that was issued against our clients…was more like a political statement, rather than a legal document. It was a 50-page document…full of accusations and humiliations levelled against the Baha’i community of Iran, especially our clients. It was written without producing any proof for the allegations.” Mr. Malick Sow, United Nations human rights expert, said that “these persons were condemned after trials which did not meet the guarantees for a fair trial established by international law”. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Laureate, acting as their lawyer was denied all access to the prisoners and their files. Some members of the EU Parliament have been interviewed by the Baha’I International Community office in Brussels to share their views on the situation among which are Andrew Lewer, Julie Ward, Tunne Kelam , Cornelia Ernst and Ana Gomes.

As I shared previously, the purpose of this article is to bring attention to the plight of the members of the Baha’i community wrongfully persecuted in Iran. Another hope that motivates me to write this is to ask you for an honest reflection.

Humanity, as a whole, has learned to use powerful words such as “justice”, “human rights” and “freedom” and to define them as lofty standards. Article 1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” But humanity as a whole has not yet learned how to fully translate these ideals into action, and to establish them to have effect as real as the force of gravity or as visible as the light of the sun. Looking at the world we can see many more examples of prisoners of conscience, people facing injustices beyond these seven Baha’is which show that Humanity is still learning how to walk the talk.  Articles 5 to 11 of the UDHR are a few examples:

  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
  • Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Other expressions of this problem Humanity faces can be said to be the conflict rampant in the Middle-East, the frequent battles between police forces and football club supporters, the stealth selfishness of money makers exploiting their non-fiduciary duty (fiduciary duty is a legal duty to act solely in another party’s interests – so when not legally obliged to act in other people’s interests some made sure to act against it) or the extreme gap between the rich and the poor which translates to 1% of the population holding 93% of the income growth. These instances are not embodiments of the words present in the very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

I think it is not only institutions and agencies that have the power to influence Humanity towards the goals set in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their efforts must be complemented by everyone else. The power of example is quite strong. The seven Baha’is now in prison have tried to bring about change in the world and make their contribution to the prosperity and advancement of Humanity by having a selfless look at their daily life. They are acting on the counsel of Baha’u’llah “Let deeds not words be your adorning.”

Considering we have the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of Humanity without the restrictions on our freedom and without the fear of persecution that many others in the world have, we are gifted with the great responsibility to do so; responsibility which we can only fulfil with the well-being of others as our concern. I myself will try to fulfil my responsibility by striving to tread the path paved by Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm and labouring for the material and spiritual prosperity of my community. How will you fulfil your responsibility to contribute to the advancement of Humanity? What example will you set?

If you want to know more about the story of these Baha’is click the link: https://www.bic.org/index.php?q=7Bahais7years