The Parliament of the World’s Religions is committed to cultivating harmony among religious and spiritual communities across the globe. That, in turn, demands that we stand and speak against actions that contribute to the conflict, disrespect, and oppression of faith communities throughout the world.
As we observe the 8th anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders and the oppression inflicted on other members of the Baha’i community in Iran, the following statement expresses our dismay that these conditions continue to exist and conveys our encouragement for actions that will bring an end to this kind of abuse in Iran and anywhere it occurs across the globe.
Larry L. Greenfield
Parliament of the World’s Religions
May 14 marks the eighth year of imprisonment for seven Baha’i leaders in Iran.
In 2008, during their first four months in prison, the seven leaders were held in solitary confinement and denied meaningful access to their lawyers. After a series of short, closed-door sessions in 2010, they were formally charged with espionage, propaganda activities, and corruption on earth, among other related charges.
Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who was one of the lawyers for the seven, stated that there was no evidence to sustain any of the charges against them. Nonetheless, each of them was sentenced to twenty years in prison – the longest sentences of any prisoner of conscience in Iran today. In the last few months, those sentences have reportedly been reduced to ten years with the application of provisions of Iran’s new penal code issued in 2013. Nevertheless, even one day more behind bars is a gross injustice. Independent observers around the world, recognizing their innocence, have advocated for the seven leaders’ immediate release. Yet they remain behind bars.
The treatment of these leaders is indicative of the widespread, systematic repression of Baha’is in Iran, stemming from the highest ranks of Iran’s clerical and political establishment. In the last two years, hate speech and anti-Baha’i propaganda have risen to disturbingly high levels from an average of 22 anti-Baha’i articles per month in 2010 and 2011 in the state-controlled media to 340 on average in 2014 and 2015. Baha’i youth are barred from the country’s system of higher education and eight Baha’i educators remain behind bars for daring to provide tertiary education to them. Harassment by police, cemetery and property destruction, job loss, and business closure are some of the harsh tactics used against this peaceful and law-abiding community.
It is heartening that in December 2015 and March 2016 respectively the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council highlighted these abuses in their respective resolution and report on human rights in Iran, which included not only Baha’is but also the persecution of journalists, advocates of women’s rights, lawyers, and political dissidents as well as ethnic and other religious minorities. The diverse faith communities around the world would do well to urge their political leaders not to waiver in their pursuit of human rights in Iran. Improvement in this area is a moral imperative and would be the most solid foundation for improved relations with the West as well as between the government of Iran and its own citizens.