Amnesty International: Iranian Baha'i leaders hit by 'vindictive' sentence extension

Amnesty International: Iranian Baha'i leaders hit by 'vindictive' sentence extension

Azerbaijan , Baku, April 1 /Trend T.Konyayeva/

The reimposition of 20-year jail terms on seven leaders of Iran's Baha'i religious minority is "outrageous", Amnesty International said today in the official statement.

"Yet again, the Iranian authorities are manipulating their own justice system to persecute members of a religious minority," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Instead of doubling their sentences, the authorities should be setting the Baha'i leaders free, right now, and guaranteeing their freedom to practice their religion free from threat or persecution."

In August, 2010, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran initially issued 20 year sentences for the seven Baha'i leaders, two women and five men. They were convicted for alleged crimes including "espionage for Israel", "insulting religious sanctities" and "propaganda against the system". They denied all the charges against them. Later, the verdict was reviewed and "decreased to 10 years' imprisonment."

However, it was first reported on 18 March that the 20-year sentence had been reinstated and this was confirmed by the Baha'i International Community on Thursday.

According to Smart, "such arbitrary and vindictive acts are a salutary reminder of why the UN Human Rights Council voted recently to create a Special Rapporteur on Iran."

"The Council's decision came not a moment too soon," he said.

On 24 March, the UN Human Rights Council voted to create a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran.

This is the latest example of the deeply entrenched discrimination faced by the Baha'i minority in Iran, Smart believes.

"It is also a reminder to the international community of how little regard the Iranian authorities pay to international human rights standards on freedom of belief, association, expression and the right to a fair trial," he told.

According to the statement, arrests and harassment of Baha'is has increased sharply in recent years, with at least 79 Baha'is currently in prison.

The seven Baha'is, who were all members of a national-level ad hoc group that attended to the needs of Iran's Baha'i community, were arrested between March and May 2008.

The seven are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm.

Trial over them consisted of six short judicial proceedings, which started January 12, 2010, 20 month after their stay in the Evin Prison without accusations. During this period layers were allowed to meet with them just once for an hour. The process ended June 14, 2010.

Currently, the seven are detained at Reja'i Shahr (also known as Gohardasht) prison in Karaj, about 50 kilometers west of Tehran.

The sentence provoked a wave of blame across the world, including in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, UK and USA. The European Union and President of the European Parliament have also joined the protest along with numerous human rights organizations, other groups and a great number of people.

Amnesty International has been campaigning for the immediate and unconditional release of the seven since their arrest in 2008.

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