Geneva, Aug. 01, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Yesterday, July 31, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence released an appalling oppressive hate propaganda statement against the persecuted Baha’i religious minority, in an attempt to justify raids on homes and the businesses of 52 Baha’is across Iran and the arrest or imprisonment of 13 people.
The Intelligence Ministry issued an official statement about the moves – which came after weeks of mounting pressure on Baha’is – and said the arrests were aimed at members of “Bahá’í espionage”. [political] party” and that those arrested were “spreading the teachings of fabricated Bahá’í colonialism and infiltrating educational environments”, including kindergartens. The mention of kindergartens is an apparent pretext to target a number of Baha’is who are pre-school teachers.
The Baha’i International Community rejects these preposterous and absurd claims as outright fabrications. What the Iranian government is doing is both an act of blatant oppression and a brazen example of the worst kind of hate speech.
Thirteen people – including Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, former community leaders and prisoners of conscience who each spent a decade in prison – were arrested in the raids. One of them is being held in solitary confinement in Evin prison and the whereabouts of the other two are unknown.
“We are outraged that a significant number of Baha’is, including Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, have again been detained in Iran,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community ( BIC) at the United Nations. “And it is even more infuriating that the Ministry of Intelligence tries to portray these individuals as agents of foreign powers trying to undermine Iran’s security. The ministry’s statement is totally inconsistent and contradictory and the allegations are clearly absurd and baseless. The Iranian authorities, rather than face up to their country’s challenges, instead direct their attacks at innocent people and attempt to stir up religious hatred.
“The Iranian government has claimed for over 40 years that Baha’is are spies for foreign countries, but all the while it has failed to produce any credible evidence. Now they are reduced to attacking kindergarten and daycare teachers as a threat to national security,” Ala’i added.
Sabet, Kamalabadi and Naemi were members of a group of people known as “Yaran” or “Friends” of Iran, which until 2008 served as the informal leadership of the Iranian Baha’i community. Its seven members were arrested in 2007 and 2008 and imprisoned for a decade. The Yaran cared for the basic pastoral needs of the community – the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran – and did so with the knowledge and acceptance at the time of the Iranian authorities. But the Yaran disbanded following their initial arrests and were never reunited or re-established. The implied statements by the Ministry of Intelligence that they are part of a so-called “senior member” of the Baha’i “spy party” are therefore absolutely false in every way.
The raids and detentions come days after 20 Baha’is from Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd and Bojnourd were arrested, jailed or subjected to house searches and business closures, and less than a month since 44 other Baha’is across Iran have also been arrested, tried or imprisoned. Twenty-six of the 44 people who were in Shiraz were sentenced to a combined 85 years in prison.
More than 100 Baha’is have been targeted in Iran in recent weeks.
Mahvash Sabet, who wrote poetry during her decade in Evin Prison in Tehran, which was shared while incarcerated and later published in English as “Prison Poems”, was recognized in 2017 as a writer of courage PEN International English(link is external) .
“We are deeply concerned by reports that Mahvash Sabet, winner of the 2017 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage, has again been detained in Iran,” said Daniel Gorman, Director of English PEN. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Fariba Kamalabadi, a developmental psychologist, was arrested in 2008 and also spent a decade behind bars. In 2017, the United States Commission on Religious Freedom recognized and defended her as a prisoner of religious conscience(link is external).
Afif Naemi, an industrialist who was also arrested in 2008, spent much of his 10-year prison sentence in poor health but was denied the medical treatment he needed. He was released in 2018 alongside the other members of the former Baha’i ruling group.
“The detention of these Baha’is demonstrates the senseless cruelty of the Iranian government in its systematic campaign to persecute the entire community,” Ala’i said. “Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi are symbols of resilience in Iran, recognized worldwide for their courage as prisoners of conscience, and no one will believe the Iranian government’s excuses for attacking a helpless and peaceful community. But this relentless and growing psychological warfare is setting the stage for increased persecution of Baha’is in the weeks and months to come.