Bahá’i member released
THE Bahá’í community in
South Africa is relieved to learn that Mahvash Sabet, one of the seven members of the former leadership group of the Bahá’ís in Iran who were imprisoned due to religious beliefs, has been released after completing her unjust 10-year prison sentence.
Sabet, 64, was the first member of the ad hoc group – known as
“the Yaran”, or the Friends – to be arrested in March 2008. The others were arrested that May after an early morning raid of their homes. All seven were held incommunicado for weeks, subjected to solitary confinement, and suffered appalling treatment and deprivations, including psychological and physical hardships.
About 20 months after being imprisoned without charge, their trial began on January 12, 2010, and ended five months later, on June 14, after six brief sessions, characterised by their lack of due legal process.
Following their first trial, their lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, who had hardly one hour’s access to her defendants, explained that she had read the dossier of charges against them and found no proof to sustain them.
“I am the head of the legal team representing these seven Bahá’ís. I have studied their files thoroughly,” said Ebadi. “There is not a shred of evidence for the charges levelled against them.”
The six remaining members are also expected to complete their sentences in the coming months.
They include, Fariba Kamalabadi, 55; Jamalodin Khanjani, 83; Afif Naeimi, 55; Saeid Rezai, 59; Behrooz Tavakkoli, 65; and Vahid Tizfahm, 43.
Their arrest and imprisonment prompted an international outcry for their release by the UN, governments and media around the world. In
2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed “deep concern that” their “trials did not meet the requirements of due process and fair trial” and in a 2014 report by UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon, he urged “their unconditional release” from prison.
The conclusion of the sentence of Sabet takes place against the backdrop of increasing religious discrimination against the Bahá’is in Iran.
As Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN in New York, has said: “Although the news of the release of Sabet after the completion of her sentence is a welcome development, it does not signal the end of the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran.”
The reality remains that, after 10 years, Sabet is returning to a Bahá’í community under increased pressure in many ways.
In the past years, economic persecution against the Bahá’ís has escalated in what the Bahá’í International Community has called, in an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani, an “economic apartheid against a segment of Iran’s population”.
Since 2013 alone hundreds of
Bahá’í shops and businesses have been sealed, leaving scores of families without an income.
As Dugal notes: “The worldwide Bahá’í community, along with vast numbers of people in Iran and throughout the world, eagerly await the conclusion of the unjust sentence of the six other members of the
Yaran. We hope that their release will start a new chapter for the treatment of the Bahá’í in Iran and that the government will begin to remove the obstacles in its way to abide by the promise it has made of ‘creating justice for all Iranians equally’.”
Tahirih Matthee Assistant: Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs