Iranian Baha’i Leader Released After Completing 10-Year Sentence

Mahvash Sabet, one of the seven members of the former leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran who were imprisoned due to religious beliefs, has been released after completing her unjust 10-year prison sentence, Iran Press Watch reports.

Sabet, 64, and six other Baha’i leaders were arrested in 2008 and convicted of espionage and spreading propaganda against the clerical establishment. Some twenty months after being imprisoned without charge, their trial began on 12 January 2010 and ended five months later, on June 14, 2010, after six brief sessions, characterized by their lack of due legal process. They were reportedly sentenced to 20 years in prison. Their sentences were later reduced to 10 years.

Their arrest and imprisonment prompted an international outcry for their release by the United Nations (UN), governments and media around the world. In 2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed “deep concern that” their “trials did not meet the requirements of due process and fair trial” and in a 2014 report by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, he urged “their unconditional release” from prison.

Today, the conclusion of the sentence of Sabet takes place against the backdrop of increasing religious discrimination and state persecution against the Baha’is in Iran where their faith is not recognized in the country’s constitution.

“Although the news of the release of Sabet after the completion of her sentence is a welcome development, it does not signal the end of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. The reality remains that, after 10 years, Sabet is returning to a Baha’i community under increased pressure in many ways. In addition, Sabet will naturally be awaiting the release of her six colleagues who continue to be unjustly imprisoned,” Bani Dugal, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in New York, said.

The six remaining Baha’i leaders are also expected to complete their sentences in the coming months. They include, Fariba Kamalabadi, 55; Jamalodin Khanjani, 83; Afif Naeimi, 55; Saeid Rezai, 59; Behrooz Tavakkoli, 65; and Vahid Tizfahm, 43.

“The worldwide Baha’i community, along with vast numbers of people in Iran and throughout the world, eagerly await the conclusion of the unjust sentence of the six other members of the Yaran,” said Dugal. “We hope that their release will start a new chapter for the treatment of the Baha’is in Iran and that the government will begin to remove the obstacles in its way to abide by the promise it has made of ‘creating justice for all Iranians equally’”.

Asma Jahangir the UN special rapporteur for Iran, said in a March report that members of the Baha’i community in Iran “continue to be systematically discriminated, targeted, and deprived them of the right to a livelihood.”

In the past years, economic persecution against the Bahá’ís has escalated in what the Bahá’í International Community has called, in an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani, an “economic apartheid against a segment of Iran’s population”. Since 2013 alone hundreds of Bahá’í shops and businesses have been sealed, leaving scores of families without an income.