Via Human Rights Activists in Iran

This article will share some background information and provide an update on the condition of the seven detained Bahá’ís tasked with coordinating the affairs of the Bahá’í Community in Iran.

After the abduction and disappearance of the nine members of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Iran after the revolution in 1980 and the summary execution of most members of the second such Assembly of Bahá’ís in 1983, the governing body of the Bahá’í Community in Iran voluntarily suspended its administrative activities in 1983 and the affairs of the Bahá’í community were managed by small groups of three individuals in each locale. After a few years, this group of three individuals on the national level became more organized and was named the institution of “The Friends of Iran.” The main responsibility of this institution was managing the affairs of this large religious minority such as recording marriages, handling divorce, assisting with burials, sending letters of introduction for traveling Bahá’ís, arranging for worship services, and similar activities. “The Friends of Iran” guided the Bahá’í community through many tumultuous years and provided hope and reassurance through critical times with a unified vision and exemplary resolve.

The activities of the “Friends” occurred with complete transparency and were devoid of any hidden agenda. Incidentally, during this period, a particular office was designated in the Ministry of Information to follow the activities of the Bahá’ís. This office would contact the “Friends” directly if any questions would arise regarding a specific activity. Even Mr. Dorri Najafabadi, the chief prosecutor, has referred to this close monitoring. At the time of the suspension of Bahá’ís administrative activities in 1983, a letter was sent by the National Assembly of the time to Mr. Mousavi Ardabili indicating that in exchange for this suspension, the Bahá’í community requests that the government allow its high school Bahá’í graduates to enter universities, that the dismissed Bahá’í university professors be reinstated, and that the Bahá’ís fired from the public sector be given permission for employment. The government did not heed or honor any of these requests for minimal civil rights for the Bahá’ís of Iran.

In February of 2008, Mrs. Mahvash Shahriari (Sabet) was summoned to appear in the office of the Ministry of Intelligence in the city of Mashhad. She was arrested upon arrival and subsequently Mr. Khanjani, another member of the “Friends,” Mr. Khanjani, was summoned to Mashhad and was given assurances that she would be released on multiple occasions. These promises never materialized.

May 14, 2008, marked the beginning of a new chapter in repression of Bahá’ís in Iran, when the homes of the rest of the six members of the “Friends in Iran” were raided and Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi (Taefi), Mr. Jamaleddin Khanjani, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr. Saeid Rezai, Mr. Afif Naimi, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm were arrested and transferred to Evin prison. For the first several months, they were deprived of visitation rights and were only on rare occasion allowed brief telephone contact with their family in exchange for money.

The first family visit was granted on September 8, 2008, and since then weekly visitation has been occurring. A representative of the Ministry of Intelligence is present in all such meetings and only immediate family members have been permitted to participate.

In the nine months since the arrest of the “Friends of Iran,” no verifiable or written documentation regarding court proceedings or the nature of their charges had been furnished until the Chief National Prosecutor and the speaker of the Judicial Branch, without providing any witnesses or evidence, labeled the “Friends” as criminals and alleged through the media that are charged with espionage. The speaker of the Judicial Branch signaled that they would be formally charged the following week and tried in court. As of the date of this report, the “Friends” have not been granted due process and have been deprived of legal counsel. No information has been provided to them or their family regarding the date or branch of court where they will be tried. It is noteworthy that the defending attorney, Ms. Shirin Ebadi, has not had any access to her clients or their legal files to date.

The allegations have only been verbally communicated with the “Friends” and their families and include “action against national security,” “irreverence to Islamic sanctities,” and “collaboration with Israel.” The open letter of the Chief National Prosecutor, Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, indicating the need for complete “annhilation of Bahá’í activities” in Iran has further added to the growing concern regarding the fate of the “Friends of Iran.”

It is noteworthy that the “Friends,” after enduring 3.5 months of solitary confinement, were transferred to a regular prison cell in September 2008, where they could interact with other prisoners. A month later, they were separated from other prisoners, where the five men are kept in one cell and the two women in another, isolated from others. Their status is still noted to be “temporary detention” and their fate is shrouded in obscurity. In light of the history of anti-Bahá’í activity of the Iranian government, the continued harassment of the Bahá’ís on the basis on their religious beliefs, and lack of access to written documents on the nature of their charges, and lack of due process with legal counsel, the situation of these seven Bahá’í prisoners in Iran is gravely concerning.