LONDON, 14 May — Fifty leaders of faith communities in the United Kingdom have signed an open letter, addressed to the Rt Hon William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, calling on him to renew the UK Government’s support for the seven imprisoned leaders of the long-suffering Bahá’í community in Iran, the country’s largest religious minority.
May 14th marks the day that these seven innocent Bahá’í leaders have been behind bars for five years, imprisoned solely because of their religious beliefs.
The letter was received on the Foreign Secretary’s behalf, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, by Alistair Burt MP, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa.
“I am happy to accept this open letter calling for the release of seven Bahá’í leaders currently in prison in Iran,” he said. “It is a fine example of interfaith co-operation from across the many faith groups in the UK.”
Minister Burt renewed the UK government’s call for the immediate release of the seven Bahá’í leaders – and he condemned Iran’s wider human rights record.
“The continued persecution of the Baha’i is but one example of the intolerance that many religious minorities face in Iran. I urge Iran to release the seven Baha’i leaders and to take immediate steps to stop the systematic persecution of the Baha’i community. Iran should stop the repression of any group on the grounds of their religion or belief, should respect the human rights of all its citizens, and engage seriously with the international community on improving its human rights record,” he said.
The faith leaders, representing the Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities; and including Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi, Barry Morgan,Archbishop of Wales and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, said: “Iran has abandoned every legal, moral, spiritual and humanitarian standard, routinely violating the human rights of its citizens. The government’s shocking treatment of its religious minorities is of particular concern to us as people of faith.”
Nine faith leaders were part of the delegation to present the open letter to Minister Burt – these included Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre; Acharya Modgala Duguid of the Amida London Buddhist Centre; Dr Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance; Fidelma Meehan of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom; Dr Charles Reed of the Church of England; Imam Mufti Dr Abduljalil Sajid of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK; Lord Singh of Wimbledon, of the Network of Sikh Organisations; Swaminathan Vaidyanathan of the Hindu Forum of Britain; and Vivian Wineman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Bishop Angaelos presented the letter to Minister Burt on behalf of the 50 signatories.
“I am honoured to have been asked to hand over the letter on behalf of the Bahá’í community,” he said. “Religious freedom is very close to our hearts,” he added, referring to the 50 faith leaders who signed the letter.
The open letter cites a report by Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, which found that members of religious minorities in Iran suffer arbitrary arrests, unlawful trials, imprisonment and torture. Places of worship, businesses and homes are ransacked; students are barred from university because of their faith; cemeteries are desecrated. The persecution affects Bahá’ís; Gonabadi Dervishes, who are themselves Shia Muslims; the Yarsan, a Kurdish religious minority; and Christians, despite that faith’s constitutional protection.
The faith leaders’ open letter is part of a global campaign, running from 5 May to 15 May, under the title “Five Years Too Many”. Bahá’í communities and others around the world are holding public events that focus on the plight of the seven, who face 15 more years in prison, and whose 20-year sentences are the longest of any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Dr Kishan Manocha, spokesperson for the UK Bahá’í community, said: “Their arrest on false charges, their wrongful imprisonment and severe mistreatment while in detention, are emblematic of the suffering of the entire Iranian Bahá’í community – and the situation of the hundreds of other innocent prisoners of conscience who have been incarcerated for their beliefs.”
“The long prison sentences of the seven reflects the Iranian Government’s determination to completely oppress the Iranian Bahá’í community,” he added.
Calling for the freedom of the seven Bahá’ís, the faith leaders wrote: “The Bahá’ís wish to serve their country, the land in which their faith was born, and they have the right to work for its betterment without fear of reprisal. Emancipation for the Bahá’ís is long overdue.”