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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bi-partisan government body known as USCIRF, is calling for the release of 7 leaders of Iran's Baha'i community who have been imprisoned for over a year. The seven – 2 women and 5 men – were reportedly due to stand trial on July 11. According to the Baha'i World News Service, their families were recently informed by authorities that the trial was delayed.
The seven Baha'i leaders – Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Affif Naeimi and Mahvash Sabet – have been charged with a variety of crimes, according to official Iranian news reports. They include "propaganda against the system," "insulting religious sanctities," and "being corrupt on earth," a charge that is punishable by death. The 7 have not been allowed to see a lawyer.
"The charges against these imprisoned Baha'is are baseless and a pretext for the persecution and harassment of a disfavored religious minority. They should be released immediately," said Leonard Leo, chair of USCIRF, in a written statement. The statement was issued after USCIRF received a letter from Roxana Saberi, the Iranian American journalist who spent almost four months in Tehran's Evin prison earlier this year.
Ms. Saberi, who shared a cell with two of the Baha'i prisoners, wrote that Iran's political prisoners "and the authorities who have detained them need to know that the Iranian people's human rights are a matter of international concern."
The most recent State Department report on human rights in Iran noted that repression of the Baha'i community in Iran during the last year continued unabated. Baha'is are considered apostates and are not permitted to practice their religion; they are banned from government and military leadership posts, the social pension system, and public schools and universities, unless they conceal their faith. Baha'is are subjected to arbitrary arrest and government confiscation of their property. At least 40 Baha'is, including the 7 Baha'i leaders who are set to go on trial, were in prison at the end of 2008.
USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo said that the 7 members of the Baha'i leadership "are in jail solely for their religious identity, and have not been afforded any due process or direct access to legal representation." He called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint an envoy "to investigate. . . instances of repression in Iran, such as the impending Baha'i trial."