May 14, 2013 marks exactly five years since my sister, Fariba Kamalabadi went to prison. Along with six colleagues that comprise the seven former members of the ad-hoc Baha’i leadership group in Iran, called the “Yaran”, or the “Friends” Fariba was summarily arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison, solely for the crime of being a Baha’i.
The names of the other six members are Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm. These seven prisoners did nothing wrong – they are innocent, peace-loving and law-abiding Iranian citizens who conducted the affairs of the Baha’is in Iran, attended to the very basic needs of the Baha’i community such as marriage, burial needs, community education, and similar tasks.
At the time of my sister’s arrest, her younger daughter was only 12 years old. Imagine how terribly painful and cruel it would be if your innocent mom, whom you love and adore so much, and who has always been the very source of inspiration and support to you, is being taken away by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in front of your eyes at dawn, just for the crime of being a Baha’i. What goes on in the mind of this petrified young girl of a tender age, when she sees that their personal belongings, things like laptop computers, books, tapes, CDs, DVDs, jewelry, cell phones, and personal family albums all being confiscated, and the entire house turned upside down as if a tornado has struck it? How horrifying to see all your belongings searched and randomly scattered all over the place, as armed strangers handcuff and drag away your mother and drag her away to an unknown place?
After their arrests these seven innocent individuals entered Section 209 of Evin prison, supposedly a temporary detention center run by the government’s Ministry of Intelligence. There they stayed for over two years and three months, in violation of the Country’s own judicial codes, and without any formal charges brought against them. They were not allowed to meet with their defense attorneys until just before their trials began. In the only meeting they had with their attorney, they were only given a half an hour of consultation while the prison guards were present, listening to and recording the privileged client-attorney conversation; all in violation of the country’s judicial codes.
After a series of sham and closed-door trials, which were riddled with numerous irregularities, and without the government producing a single shred of evidence to support their trumped-up charges against them; they were each unjustly sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment.
These baseless and trumped-up charges were:
• Espionage for Israel
• Insulting religious sanctities
• Propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran
• Establishing and expanding illegal organizations
• Cooperation with occupant regime of Israel
• Collecting and sharing sensitive documents with foreign entities, with the aim of disturbing national security
• Meeting and conspiring with the aim of acting against internal and external security of Iran
• Tainting the image of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the international arena
• Spreading corruption on Earth
Upon the announcement of their twenty year sentences, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, their defense attorney and the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, said that she was “stunned” by the reported 20-year jail terms.
“I have read their case file page by page and did not find anything proving the accusations, nor did I find any document that could prove the claims of the prosecutor,”
said Mrs. Ebadi in a television interview, broadcast on August 8, 2010 by the Persian-language service of the BBC.
During these five long years, while in confinement, the Baha’i prisoners have been subjected to every indignity and humiliation, and exposed to frequent adverse health and safety conditions, many of them life-threatening. Despite all these pitiful and moribund conditions, the innocent former Baha’i leaders — although weary and exhausted from this terrible tribulation — have demonstrated an amazing degree of resilience and altruism, as well as genuine love and care for their fellow inmates. They have won the respect and admiration of not only their so-called fellow criminals, but also their prison guards.
I do not believe this injustice has gone unnoticed. In fact, I am happy to say that the world has not sat quiet. The conscientious peoples of the world, alongside their governments, human rights organizations, and inter-faith groups from all strata of society have raised their voices in opposition to this monumental injustice. Millions of people of goodwill have strongly condemned these gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the government of Iran against its peaceful, law-abiding, and valiant Baha’i community.
Today we all say enough – five years are five years too many. We call on the government of Iran to release these innocent Baha’i prisoners, as well as all of their other innocent compatriots, regardless of their thoughts, beliefs, and backgrounds.