Jose Kalathil,NEW DELHI
Despite Coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic, that has claimed 7,180 lives and has infected 1,27,000 people in Iran as on Wednesday, the government’s persecution against Baha’is in the country, who are a minority with 300,000 believers, has increased.
According to a press release issued by the Baha’i International Community in Geneva, in recent days, two Bahá’ís in Isfahan have been arbitrarily arrested; seven Baha’is in Shiraz have been sentenced to long prison terms ranging from one to 13 years; prison terms of five Baha’is in Karaj previously sentenced to one year imprisonment have been confirmed in an appeals court; another Bahá’í in Ghaemshahr who was sentenced to 11 years in prison has been summoned to prison; and two Baha’is — one in Shiraz and one in Karaj — who were released due to the Coronavirus pandemic, have been summoned back to prison, making them vulnerable to the disease. This is despite widespread international calls for the release of prisoners of conscience in Iran due to the deadly risks associated with the spread of the infection in prisons.
Those sentenced to prison in Shiraz were arrested under the preposterous claim that their efforts in the area of the environment and children’s education constituted “propaganda against the regime” and “forming groups against the regime.”
“The Baha’i International Community is appalled by the sentences handed down to these innocent individuals who were guilty of nothing other than selflessly serving their communities,” said Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “At a time when the government should be encouraging and promoting mutual support and assistance among citizens, it instead penalizes and condemns those who try to help others”.
Two Baha’is who had been released as part of the prison leave associated with the epidemic have been re-summoned to prison in recent days.
“These individuals are not criminals and they do not belong in prison,” said Ms.Ala’i. “During this global pandemic, when prisons are hotbeds of infection,returning these Baha’is to prison is akin to handing down a death sentence,” he added.
The Baha’is in Iran have been systematically persecuted since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. They are barred from numerous businesses and professions and employment in the public sector. They are denied the right to study in universities, are routinely arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned, their properties are confiscated, their cemeteries desecrated, and their private livelihoods are often disrupted or blocked — all because of their beliefs. The
persecution of the Baha’is in Iran has been widely documented and condemned by UN bodies and the international community for four decades.
“The Baha’i community not only has to share many of the economic and health-related consequences of the current pandemic with the rest of the population,” continued Ms. Ala’i. “They face additional layers of pressures, being denied the right to public employment, to study in universities, and having to endure arbitrary arrests and imprisonment only for their faith. This is an abhorrent treatment of an entire community at a time when lives and livelihoods in Iran are already under such severe strain,” the statement said.
Baha’is imprisoned in Isfahan are Mr. Shahzad Hosseini and Mr. Shayan Hosseini.The seven Baha’is sentenced in Shiraz are Mr. Navid Bazmandegan, Ms. Bahareh Ghaderi, Ms. Soudabeh Haghighat, Ms. Niloufar Hakimi, Mr. Ehsan Mahboub, Ms.Noura Pourmoradian, Ms. Elaheh Samizadeh. Those in Karaj are Mr. Abol-Fazl Ansari, Mr. Rouin Kohansal, Mr. Mohammad Sadegh Rezaie, and Mr. Rouhollah Zibaie. The three Baha’is summoned to prison are Mr. Ali Ahmadi, Mr. Nematollah Bangaleh, and Mr. Farhad Fahandej.