Bahá’i mem­ber re­leased

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION -

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

Cape Town

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