Parliamentary Committee Demands Release of Imprisoned Baha’is

Tri-City prayer gatheringToronto, Ontario, 27 February 2009 (CBNS) — The Canadian Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights has adopted a strongly worded motion demanding the immediate release of the seven Baha’i leaders held now for more than nine months without formal charges and no access to lawyers. The motion was adopted on 24 February; and in a public session on Thursday 26 February, the committee voted to send the motion to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Appearing before the committee on Thursday were the Baha’i Community of Canada’s Director of Governmental Relations, Susanne Tamas, and McGill Law Professor, Payam Akhavan.

Over the past two weeks Baha’i communities across Canada have held devotional gatherings for the safety of the Baha’is in Evin prison charged, according to Tehran Deputy Prosecutor with “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” The falseness of the charges has led to public outcry around the world, including strong statements by Canadian Parliamentarians, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the EU, Australia and American governments, many human rights organizations, and prominent people.

Prayer gatherings in Canada’s largest cities, prompted within hours by word that the prisoners’ case may now go before the infamous Iranian revolutionary courts, began in cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa last week, and continued this past week in many communities with a large gathering in Montreal Thursday evening where, as at other meetings, representatives from a number of religious communities expressed their support for the Baha’is faced with an increasingly grave situation in Iran.

The threat of execution of the Baha’i leadership, which the charges before the revolutionary court point to, takes place in the context of a rapidly escalating campaign of attacks against the Baha'i community that has included the circulation of lists of Baha'is with instructions that the activities of the members of the community be secretly monitored; dawn raids on Baha'i homes and the confiscation of personal property; a dramatic increase in the number of Baha'is arrested; incitement to hatred of the Baha'is in government media; anti-Baha'i seminars organized by clerics followed by orchestrated attacks on Baha'i homes and properties; destruction of Baha'i cemeteries; demolition of Baha'i Holy Places; acts of arson against Baha'i homes and properties; denying Baha'is access to higher education and vilification of Baha'i children in their classrooms; the designation of occupations and businesses from which Baha'is are barred; refusal to extend bank loans to Baha'is; the sealing of Baha'i shops; refusal to issue or renew business licenses to Baha'is; and threats against Muslims who associate with Baha'is.

For a list of recent news, please visit Iran Press Watch.

Notice of Motion

Mario Silva

February 24, 2009

Whereas, the House of commons recognizes that on 14 May 2008, six members of an informal group known as the Friends in Iran that oversee the needs of the Bahá’í community in Iran were arrested and taken to the political prisoners section of Evin prison in Tehran, where the seventh member was already being held, following her arrest in Mashhad in March 2008.

And whereas, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in October 2005, uncovered a confidential letter from the Command headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran ordering the identification and monitoring of all Bahá’ís and their activities.

And whereas, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated on March 20, 2006, that she “also expresses her concern that the information gathered as a result of such monitoring will be sued as a basis for the increased persecution of and discrimination against, members of the Bahá’í Faith, in violation of international standards … The Special Rapporteur is concerned that his latest development indicates that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran is, in fact, deteriorating.”

And whereas, the Bahá’í community of Canada is gravely concerned for the safety of these seven Bahá’ís who have been held without formal charges or access to legal counsel or evidence brought against them and being subjected to harsh treatment and interrogation with very restricted visits from family members for more than nine months.

And whereas, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi - who announced her intention to defend the Bahá’ís in court - has since been harassed and her offices have been closed.

And whereas, the Deputy Prosecutor General has announced that these prisoners will be tried by the Revolutionary court on charges of “espionage on behalf of Israel”, insult to the sacredness (of Islam)” and “propaganda against the regime” – all of which are capital offences.

And whereas, such charges are frequently used by Iranian authorities to target human rights defenders and religious minorities and there is nothing in the history or teachings of the Bahá’í community to lend any credence to such charges.

And whereas, these arrests have taken place in the context of an upsurge of arbitrary arrests, raids on home, expulsion of university students, harassment of school children, destruction of graveyards, virulent attacks in government controlled media

Therefore, be it resolved that this House condemns the ongoing persecution of the Bahá’í minority of Iran and calls upon the government of Iran to reconsider its charges against the members of the Friends in Iran, and release them immediately or failing this, that it proceed to trial without further delay, ensuring that the proceedings are open and fair and are conducted in the presence of international observers.