|Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, one of the former Yárán|
Reports indicate that the former Yárán (Friends, pl. of Yár), seven Bahá'ís in Írán whose purpose was to meet the minimal needs of the Bahá'í Community, have now each been given a sentence of 20 years imprisonment (a total of 140 years). According to Bahá'í World News:
The two women and five men have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008 – six of them on 14 May and one of them two months earlier.
"If this news proves to be accurate, it represents a deeply shocking outcome to the case of these innocent and harmless people," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
"We understand that they have been informed of this sentence and that their lawyers are in the process of launching an appeal," said Ms. Dugal.
The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has made the following statement:
"I was appalled to hear of the 20 year prison sentence handed out to the seven spiritual leaders of the Bahá’í faith in Iran. This is a shocking example of the Iranian state’s continued discrimination against the Bahá’ís. It is completely unacceptable.
The Iranian judiciary has repeatedly failed to allay international and domestic concerns that these seven men and women are guilty of anything other than practising their faith. It is clear that from arrest to sentencing, the Iranian authorities did not follow even their own due process, let alone the international standards to which Iran is committed. The accused were denied proper access to lawyers, and there is evidence that the trial was neither fair nor transparent.
I call on the Iranian authorities urgently to consider any appeal against this decision, and to cease the harassment of the Bahá’í community. I further call on the Iranian Government to ensure that the rights of all individuals are fully protected, without discrimination, and that it fulfils its obligations to its own citizens as set out in the Iranian constitution."
Other nations have also commented on this latest injustice. According to Bahá'í World News:
Australia, Canada, France, Germany – and the President of the European Parliament – have all expressed strong statements of concern.
They are calling for the prisoners to be released on bail, for an annulment of the judgment, and for Iran to demonstrate that the trial was fair and in accordance with international standards.
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, said that his country was "deeply disturbed" by the sentences that were "passed without either written judgments or due process." He urged Iran to grant bail to the prisoners.
Germany described the outcome of the trial as a "massive setback for all those who engage themselves for the promotion of human dignity and human rights in Iran."
Markus Loning, commissioner for human rights and humanitarian aid at Germany's Foreign Office, said Iran must annul the judgment and "provide a fair and transparent court procedure."
"There are major doubts as to the compliance with the basic legal rights during the judicial proceedings," he said.
France expressed its "consternation" at the 20-year jail term.
At a press briefing, Christine Fages, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, stated that Iranian authorities should stop persecuting Baha'is and other religious minorities and "respect the freedom of religion and conscience as defined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran has freely signed up."
Australia has also shared its deep concern at the sentences. "We continue to call on Iran to ensure that all trials are fair and transparent and are conducted in accordance with Iran's international obligations," said a spokesman for the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
In a statement issued today, the President of the European Parliament – Jerzy Buzek – called the sentences "a shocking signal and an immense disappointment for all who have hoped for an improvement of the human rights situation in Iran."
"Iran has committed itself to international standards and I underline that this includes also the respect and protection of religious freedom," he said.
International human rights organizations have additionally joined the chorus of protest against the reported prison sentences.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the sentencing of the Baha'i leaders was "politically motivated, discriminatory, unjust, and illegal under Iranian and international law."
"They have been sentenced for being Baha'is, nothing else, and their incarceration thus expresses a policy of oppression of the Baha'i Faith and its members," said Aaron Rhodes, spokesperson for the Campaign.
Amnesty International described the Baha'i leaders as "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," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
In a statement, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI) asked for the Iranian government to "act in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international human rights instruments ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Human Rights Watch demanded the Iranian judiciary to release the seven immediately "given that no evidence appears to have ever been presented against them, and they have not been given a fair and public trial."
"For more than two years now the Iranian authorities have utterly failed to provide the slightest shred of evidence indicating any basis for detaining these seven Baha'i leaders, let alone sentencing them to 20 years in prison," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch.
Iran should take concrete steps that show it is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of Baha'is, said Mr. Stork
"The immediate and unconditional release of the seven Baha'i leaders would be a good start," he said.
Diane Ala'i, Baha'i representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said the Baha'i International Community deeply appreciates the committed support offered so far by governments and human rights organizations.
"These statements demonstrate that increasing numbers of people of all races and religions throughout the world want to see justice done in Iran – not just for the Baha'is but all of its citizens who face gross human rights violations," said Ms. Ala'i.
"For how much longer will the Iranian authorities remain oblivious to these upraised voices?" she said.
Also, last month a number of homes in Ivel, Mázandarán, in northern Írán, were demolished. According to Bahá'í World News:
Homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families in a remote village in northern Iran have been demolished as part of a long-running campaign to expel them from the region.
The action occurred in Ivel, Mazandaran, when inhabitants – incited by elements inimical to the Baha'i community – blocked normal access to the village, while allowing trucks and at least four front-end loaders to begin leveling the houses.
Amateur video, shot on mobile telephones and posted by Iranian human rights activists on the Internet, showed what appeared to be several buildings reduced to rubble as well as fiercely burning fires.
The demolitions are the latest development in an ongoing, officially-sanctioned program in the area which has targeted every activity of the Baha'is.
"They're being forbidden to associate with Muslims, or even offer service to their friends and neighbours," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
"Even the smallest acts of good will – such as taking flowers to someone who's sick in hospital or donating gifts to an orphanage – these are being seen as actions against the regime."
Most of the Baha'i homes in Ivel have been unoccupied since their residents fled after previous incidents of violence or as a result of official displacement. In 2007, for example, six of their houses were torched.
"Baha'is have lived in this area for more than 100 years and it once had a large community," said Ms. Ala'i. "But in 1983, a few years after the Iranian revolution, at least 30 families from this and neighboring villages were put on buses and expelled.
"Since then, they have tried to seek legal redress to no avail, while returning in the summer to harvest their crops," she said.
The day after the demolitions took place, a Baha'i man who visited the site with his family to harvest his produce was beaten and insulted by other residents. In the past, those who are trying to drive the Baha'is out have set upon them when they tried to enter the neighborhood to rebuild or renovate their properties.
Persistent government attacks on Baha'is in all the mass media – along with inaction by local officials to protect them – have continued to incite hatred against the Baha'is in the region and throughout Iran, said Ms. Alai.
"This latest action shows the degree to which the authorities have completely failed to live up to their responsibilities to protect the Baha'is and their religious freedom," she said.
Members of the Baha'i community have made repeated complaints both before and after the latest incident to local government officials, including to the provincial governor in Sari. In every case, knowledge of the demolitions or the motive behind them was denied.
While reports about the latest action began appearing on various Persian-language websites last Friday, the Baha'i International Community was only able to confirm details of the incident today. Latest reports indicate that 90 percent of the Baha'i homes have now been demolished.