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Iran: Heavy sentences against Baha'i leaders condemned

Trial was a ‘parody’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

Amnesty International has condemned the sentencing of seven members of Iran's Baha’i religious minority to 20 years in jail on a series of politically-motivated charges.

The five men and two Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community who were arrested over two years ago, were convicted on 7 August of crimes including "espionage for Israel", "insulting religious sanctities" and "propaganda against the system” by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm all denied charges against them and lawyers for the seven have indicated that they will appeal.

Amnesty International Middle East Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

"This verdict is a sad and damning manifestation of the deeply-rooted discrimination against Baha'is by the Iranian authorities.

"These seven Baha’i leaders, some of whom are elderly, are prisoners of conscience jailed solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Baha'i minority.

"The seven were held for months without charge before being subjected to a parody of a trial. They must be immediately released."

The seven, originally arrested between March and May 2008, faced several postponements to their trial while they remained in detention. Their lawyers were rarely allowed to visit their clients and were initially denied access to the court room. One of their lawyers, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been unable to return to Iran since June 2009. In February 2010, she told Amnesty that the seven’s file was empty and the accusations baseless.

The Iranian authorities blamed the Baha'is, among other groups, for orchestrating much of the unrest that took place on the Ashoura religious holiday in December 2009, the last mass demonstration in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Baha’i community denies any such involvement.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui added:

"The authorities tried to make the Baha'i minority scapegoats for the unrest when there is no evidence that they were involved.”

The Baha'i religion is not recognised in Iran’s Constitution and Baha’is have no legal protection. The Iranian authorities also deny Baha'is equal rights to education, work and a decent standard of living by restricting their access to employment and benefits such as pensions. Iran’s 300,000-strong Baha’i community are not permitted to meet, hold religious ceremonies or practise their religion with other believers.

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