Trial of seven Baha’i religious minority members delayed in Iran

The fate of seven members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority remains undecided after their trial was postponed on Saturday.

The seven could have faced the death penalty, had they been found guilty at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. They were likely to have been charged with mofsed fil arz (being corrupt on earth), “espionage for Israel”, “insulting religious sanctities” and “propaganda against the system.”

Their families have been told that there will be no trial for the moment and that they will be informed in due course.

Amnesty International is continuing to call on the Iranian authorities to release the seven Immediately and unconditionally, as it considers them to be prisoners of conscience, held solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the Baha’i community.

The detainees were arrested in March and May 2008. Their families were told in May 2009 that they were now facing the additional charge of mofsed fil arz, which can carry the death penalty. Their lawyers have never been able to visit them since their arrest, though they have been allowed family visits.

The detainees are members of a group responsible for the Baha’i community’s religious and administrative affairs in Iran. They are held in Section 209 of Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence.

Officers from the Ministry of Intelligence arrested six of the group’s leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi Taefi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm – following raids on their homes on 14 May 2008.

A seventh person, acting as a secretary for the group, Mahvash Sabet, was arrested on 5 March 2008.  Fariba Kamalabadi Taefi, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Jamaloddin Khanjani had previously been arrested for their activities on behalf of the Baha’i community.

The Baha’i faith was founded about 150 years ago in Iran and has since spread around the world. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Baha’i community has been systematically harassed and persecuted.

There are over 300,000 Baha’is in Iran, but their religion is not recognized under the Iranian Constitution, which only recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Baha’is in Iran are subject to discriminatory laws and regulations, which violate their right to practice their religion freely.

The Iranian authorities also deny Baha’is equal rights to education, to work and to a decent standard of living by restricting their access to employment and benefits such as pensions. They are not permitted to meet, to hold religious ceremonies or to practice their religion communally. Since President Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, dozens of Baha’is have been arrested.

Members of the Baha’i community in Iran profess their allegiance to the state and deny that they are involved in any subversive acts against the government, which they say would be against their religion. The Baha’i International Community believes that the allegations of espionage for Israel, which have been made by the Iranian authorities against the Baha’i community over the years, stem solely from the fact that the Baha’i World Centre is located in Israel.

Amnesty International has urged the Iranian authorities to drop the charges against the seven detainees and to release them Immediately and unconditionally – and In the meantime, to ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and that they are given regular access to their families, lawyers of their choice and to any medical treatment that they require.