This month [May 14] marks the eighth anniversary of the arrest of the seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community. The two women and five men -- Fariba Kamalabadi, Mahvash Sabet, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezai, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm - were administering to the spiritual and physical needs of the Baha’i community in Iran before their incarceration.
In 2010, the seven were sentenced to 20 years in prison, after being convicted of espionage, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic, following trials that were widely regarded as unfair.
In a written statement, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the United States “join[s] the international community in condemning the continued imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders and in calling upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to release them immediately, along with all other prisoners of conscience in Iran.”
According to the U.S. State Department’s latest report on international religious freedom, there are approximately 300,000 Baha’is in Iran, making them the largest non-Muslim faith community in the country. All non-Shia religious minorities in Iran face persecution, but as the State Department reports, “most notably” the Baha’is.
Baha’is are denied access to education and employment; they are physically attacked with impunity; their property is confiscated; their marriages are not recognized; their cemeteries are demolished; and they are subject to arbitrary arrest.
Secretary of State John Kerry has said that “No nation can fulfill its potential if its people are denied the right to practice, to hold, to modify, to openly profess their innermost beliefs.” Iran ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - both of which make clear the fundamental importance of the religious freedom of which Mr. Kerry speaks.
“We call on Iranian authorities,” said State Department Spokesperson Kirby, “to uphold their own laws and meet their international obligations that guarantee freedom of expression, religion, opinion, and assembly for all citizens.”