Roxana Saberi and USCIRF Call for Release of Iranian Baha'is
Source: The U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)- responding to
a letter from Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist who spent
almost four months in an Iranian cell-today demanded the release of seven
Iranian Baha'i prisoners of conscience who are set to go on trial Saturday
and could face the death penalty, noting that this particular action is just
one manifestation of the much broader pattern and practice of the
theocratically supported repression that marks Iran's current electoral
Reports from Iran say that the case of the Baha'i group arrested
in the spring of 2008 will soon be sent to the revolutionary
courts. The individuals who form the committee that was
imprisoned are, seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid
Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm,
Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet.
"In addition to the hundreds of Iranians who
have been detained in the context of Iran's disputed presidential poll, many
other 'security detainees' arrested long before the June election remain
behind bars," wrote Miss Saberi in a letter to USCIRF requesting U.S.
government intervention in the Baha'i case. "These Iranians and the
authorities who have detained them need to know that the Iranian people's
human rights are a matter of international concern."
"The elections in Iran last month have exposed
the world to the cold realities about how the Iranian government regularly
deals with dissent or views that are a perceived threat to the theocratic
regime," said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. For example, a senior cleric,
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, recently said in a Friday sermon that election
demonstrators should be convicted and sentenced to death for "waging war
The seven Baha'is to be tried, two of whom
shared a cell with Miss Saberi, are charged under the jurisdiction of Branch
28 of Iran's Revolutionary Court, the same judicial process which convicted
Miss Saberi in April. The Baha'is are accused of spying for Israel and other
"The charges against these imprisoned Baha'is
are baseless and a pretext for the persecution and harassment of a
disfavored religious minority. They should be released immediately," said
Mr. Leo. "USCIRF urges the President and other leaders in the international
community to speak out and call for the release of the seven Baha'i leaders,
as the President did for Miss Saberi. These prisoners are in jail solely
because of their religious identity, and have not been afforded any due
process or direct access to legal representation."
On April 18, Miss Saberi was tried, convicted,
and sentenced to eight years in prison on false espionage charges. After an
international outcry, including statements by President Barack Obama, Miss
Saberi appealed the verdict and was released weeks later. Currently, in
Iranian prisons are more than 30 members of the Baha'i community, which is
banned from practicing its faith.
On July 6, 10 Nobel laureates, including former
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and South African Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, called on the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to urge the
release of political prisoners and appoint a special envoy to assess the
Iranian elections and their aftermath. The letter noted the laureates'
concern for 2003 Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer
who is legal counsel for the seven Baha'is and has not been permitted access
to her clients. "USCIRF urges Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to appoint an
envoy to investigate the elections and other instances of repression in Iran
such as the impending Baha'i trial," said Leo.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S.
federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the
President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the
House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review
the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom
internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the
Secretary of State and Congress.
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