By Staff Reporter – JOHANNESBURG – South African Baha’is are gravely concerned for the welfare and safety of Iran’s seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders who have been transferred to more brutal sections of their prison complex.
The seven Baha’i leaders were initially arrested in 2008 and held at Tehran’s Evin prison for 20 months without charges. They were then accused of espionage and organizing religiously activities illegally among other allegations. All charges were denied. After a brief trial, they were sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The 7 women and men were then sent to Gohardasht prison, which is infamous for its harsh and unsanitary conditions. Though at first segregated from the more violent elements in the complex, all seven of them have now been moved. The men are in the wing for political prisoners, which is more crowded and reportedly under close surveillance. They are now suffering severe physical deprivations. The women have been moved to a section which is believed to form an insecure environment that threatens their lives.
Ms Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations said “It is difficult to be certain about the reason for the move, however we believe that, since their arrival at Gohardasht, the Baha’i women – despite their own extremely challenging situation – have nonetheless been a constant source of comfort and hope to other inmates. The prison authorities apparently became alarmed that the two women began to receive signs of respect from a growing number of prisoners. As a justification for the
increased harsh treatment, the authorities accused the two of teaching the Baha’i Faith.”
“Throughout their entire imprisonment” added Ms Dugal, “the two women have conducted themselves in a spirit of service to others. In early 2009, for example, they shared a cell at Evin prison with Iranian-Japanese-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who later wrote
that they had helped her through her ordeal. Last week, a general announcement was made to all prisoners that they were not to have any contact with the two Baha’i women. Undeterred, however, fellow inmates continued to seek them out.”
Dugal continues “We say to the Iranian government once again – does it believe the principles of Islamic compassion and justice to be consistent with the imposition of such conditions on innocent citizens?”
Mrs Tahirih Matthee, Director of External Affairs for the Baha’is of South Africa, says “Bahá’ís across South Africa in numerous cities, towns and villages, continue to call upon our own government and people of good-will throughout the world to take whatever action they
can to impress upon the Iranian government that its actions are being watched, and that it will be held responsible for the safety of these and the more than 50 other Baha’is who are imprisoned throughout Iran.”
The Baha’i Faith is the largest religious minority in Iran.