Iran halves 20-year jail terms on seven Bahai: faith leaders

18th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Iran has cut jail terms imposed on seven leading members of the country's Bahai religious minority from 10 to 20 years, French members of the faith said Saturday.

The seven, including two women, were arrested in May 2008 and put on trial in January this year on charges including spying for foreigners, spreading corruption, undermining Islam and cooperating with Israel.

They were sentenced on August 8 to 20 years imprisonment, but the French Bahai community said in a statement Saturday that their lawyers had been told orally that the term had been halved.

"The Bahais of France, greatly concerned for their co-religionists, call on the authorities in Iran to take immediate steps to release them unconditionally," it added.

The defendants have been identified as two women, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet, and five men: Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm.

They "were all members of a national-level group that helped see to the minimum needs of Iran's 300,000-strong Bahai community, the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority," a statement by the French Bahais said in August.

"The trial of the seven consisted of six brief court appearances which began on 12 January this year after they had been incarcerated without charge for 20 months, during which time they were allowed barely one hour's access to their legal counsel. The trial ended on 14 June," it added.

The case brought condemnation from Washington, where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the sentencing was "a violation of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

Clinton was referring to the 1966 UN treaty on fundamental freedoms, which Iran ratified before the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the pro-Western shah.

"The United States is deeply concerned with the Iranian government's continued persecution of Bahais and other religious minority communities in Iran," she added in August.

"The United States is committed to defending religious freedom around the world, and we have not forgotten the Bahai community in Iran," she said.

"We will continue to speak out against injustice and call on the Iranian government to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens in accordance with its international obligations."

Followers of the Bahai faith, which was founded in Iran in 1863, are regarded in the Islamic republic as infidels and suffered persecution both before and after the Islamic revolution.

The Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, to be the latest prophet sent by God and believe in the spiritual unity of all religions and all mankind.

The group now has seven million followers, including 300,000 in Iran -- where its members are barred from higher education and government posts -- and has a large temple in Haifa, in northern Israel.

"For Muslims, there can't be another prophet or divine messenger after Mohammed," Bahai follower Foad Saberan told AFP, explaining why the group has been dubbed "non-protected infidels" in Iran.

"So they consider Bahaullah an impostor and his followers heretics, whereas the Bahai faith has nothing to do with Islam and is an independent religion.

"And if the headquarters of the religion is in Haifa, it's because that's where Bahaullah ended up settling in 1868 after he was exiled to Baghdad then to Constantinople, long before the creation of the state of Israel."

Bahai leaders believe a total of 47 members of their religion are imprisoned in Iran simply for their beliefs.

© 2010 AFP

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