Canada’s House of Commons Passes Resolution on Iran’s Persecution of Baha’is

Ottawa, Ontario, 31 March 2009 (CBNS) — After a 90 minute debate, Monday evening 30 March 2009, Canada’s House of Commons adopted a strongly worded motion condemning the persecution of Baha’is in Iran and calling on the Government of Iran to immediately release Baha’i leaders currently in prison in Tehran. The debate was moving in the eloquence and well informed nature of the contributions from Members of Parliament representing virtually all regions of Canada, and as one MP noted, all parties were united in their concern about the situation of the Baha’is of Iran.

The Parliamentary debate came after a unanimous vote 26 February on the motion by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. That vote followed testimony before the Subcommittee by McGill Law Professor, Payam Akhavan, and Susanne Tamas, Director of Governmental Relations for the Baha'i Community of Canada. The Subcommittee agreed to report the motion to the Standing Committee with the recommendation that it be reported to the House of Commons and that concurrence on the motion be sought.

The motion examined by the House of Commons was first introduced to the Subcommittee by Member of Parliament for the Toronto Riding of Davenport, Mario Silva, in June 2008 shortly after the arrest of seven Baha'i leaders in Iran, members of the ad hoc coordinating group, known as the Friends in Iran, which had, with the Iranian Government’s full knowledge, functioned for over 20 years in place of more formal Baha'i administrative institutions banned by the Iranian regime in the early 1980s. The Baha’i leaders, five men and two women, have been in Evin Prison for almost ten months, the five men together in a 10 foot by 10 foot cell without beds.

Baha’i communities across Canada have had very positive meetings with Members of Parliament from all parties over the past months. Baha’is are gravely concerned about the intensification of persecution of Baha’is in Iran, the many arrests of Baha’is, increasing incidents of arson attacks on Baha'i properties, anti-Baha'i propaganda in government media, and severe economic and education restrictions on the Baha'is, Iran’s largest religious minority.

The text of the motion follows, with the transcript of the debate available
on Hansard.

Notice of Motion

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 Baha’i 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 Baha’is 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 Baha’i 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 Baha’i community of Canada is gravely concerned for the safety of these seven Baha’is, who have been held without formal charges, 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 Baha’is 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 Baha’i 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 Baha’i 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.