Faith leaders call for release of Iran’s imprisoned Bahá’ís


Lord Indarjit Singh

Baron Singh of Wimbledon – a prominent British Sikh and member of the House of Lords – shared some reflections from his religious tradition at a special commemorative gathering in Westminster Abbey, 27 May 2014, marking the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of Iran’s seven Bahá’í leaders.

LONDON, 28 May 2014, (UK Bahá’í News) — Representatives from the UK’s major religious communities have called for the immediate release from prison in Iran of that country’s seven former Bahá’í leaders.

The call came at an unprecedented commemorative meeting in Westminster Abbey, held on Tuesday 27 May, to mark the sixth anniversary of their imprisonment. The seven are each currently serving 20-year jail sentences, the longest faced by any current prisoner of conscience in Iran.

The gathering took place in Westminster Abbey’s historic Jerusalem Chamber. Dating from the late 14th century, it is the room where committees translated the Authorized Version of the Bible in 1611, and prepared subsequent revised editions.

Welcoming the guests, the Rev Andrew Tremlett – Canon of Westminster Abbey – explained how the Abbey “aspires to be a place that gathers people of all faiths and none, so it is absolutely right that this occasion is happening here.”

The programme included prayers and reflections delivered by representatives of the Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities.

After the contributions, seven of the Faith leaders each lit a candle, representing a prisoner.


Seven candles were lit by the representatives of the UK’s major religions at Westminster Abbey, each representing one of Iran’s imprisoned Bahá’í leaders.

Parliamentarians, government officials, civil society actors, academics and representatives of Inter Faith groups, were also in attendance. Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Bahá’í Faith, said that the event was taking place “in the context of an ongoing deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran”.

The Iranian government’s treatment of its Bahá’í community is the litmus test of its regard for the human rights of all its citizens, Ms. Ellmann added.

“Today I reiterate the call in urging the Iranian authorities to release the Yaran unconditionally and immediately.”

Two prominent faith leaders – a Sunni Muslim and a Coptic Orthodox Christian – also offered remarks. In a video message which was screened to the gathering, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra – who serves as an imam in Leicester – said that “no religion teaches us to treat others wrongly and oppress them … Iran has the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Islam is indeed a religion of compassion and peace”.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra calls for the release of imprisoned Bahá’í leaders in Iran from UK Bahá’í Community on Vimeo.

Bishop Angaelos of the UK’s Coptic Orthodox Church, said that “we stand with, and pray for, the Bahá’í community, both here and around the world, and pray for the safe return of their leaders to them”.

“We pray for a change of heart, a change of policy. We pray for a change of thought and understanding,” said Bishop Angaelos.

Revd Nadim Nassar

The Reverend Nadim Nassar – the only Syrian priest in the Church of England – prays for the release of Iran’s seven jailed Bahá’í leaders, Westminster Abbey, London, 27 May 2014. Reverend Nassar is the director and co-founder of the Awareness Foundation, which aims to empower Christians to be a counter force of love and peace to intolerance and aggression.

Speaking on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom, Fidelma Meehan said it was “heartwarming” to see such a diverse group of people gather on behalf of the human rights of the Bahá’ís in Iran.

Ms. Meehan also noted that government, Inter Faith and civil society support in the UK was matched by a “growing awareness” around the world of the true intentions of the Bahá’ís to “strive for the spiritual and material welfare of others”. And even in Iran, a number of “promoters of justice, artists, statesmen, thinkers, and other enlightened citizens” had recently “broken their silence” in defence of the human rights of Iranian Bahá’ís.

In her concluding remarks, Louise Ellman MP said, “Voices calling for change; voices speaking out against oppression must be heard and after that, action must follow.”

Parliamentarians call on Iran to stop “illegal” destruction of Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz

Parliamentarians have called on Iran to stop the “morally repugnant” destruction of a Baha’i cemetery in Shiraz. In the letter published by The Independent, the Parliamentarians also called on others to hold Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to account on Iran’s treatment of religious minorities.

The cemetery is, among other things, the resting place of ten Baha’i women whose cruel hanging in 1983 came to symbolise Iran’s deadly persecution of Baha’is. 

Stop these assaults on Baha’i faith in Iran

We were deeply troubled to learn in recent reports that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is destroying an historically important Baha’i cemetery in Shiraz. Nearly a thousand Baha’is are buried in this cemetery – including ten women whose 1983 hanging came to symbolise Iran’s barbaric persecution of the community. More than 200 Baha’is have been executed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The violation of this site is illegal under Iran’s own laws. Desecrations of Baha’i cemeteries are just one morally repugnant part of a state-sponsored campaign to eliminate Iran’s Baha’is as a viable entity.

The Baha’is number some 300,000 people – the country’s largest religious minority – but they enjoy no rights under the constitution. Baha’is are denied jobs and education, they are vilified in the media, and they are harassed in their daily lives. More than 100 Baha’is are in prison on trumped-up charges.

President Rouhani has promised to respect the rights of all Iranian citizens. But the human rights situation for Baha’is has only become worse, while Christians and other minorities also continue to suffer. We hope that our voice, as a group of British Parliamentarians, will remind others to hold the President to account. Deeds, Mr Rouhani; not words.

Baroness Berridge, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom, Louise Ellman MP, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Baha’í Faith, Lord Alton, Sir Tony Baldry MP, The Lord Bishop  of Coventry, Baroness Cox, Mary Glindon MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, Baroness Hussain-Ece, Naomi Long MP, Neil Parish MP, Adrian Sanders MP, Andrew Selous MP, Stephen Twigg MP, Mark Williams MP. 

The Independent, 25 May 2014

Foreign Office calls for release of 7 Bahá’í leaders held in Iran


Trucks line up to demolish the Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz, Iran

Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Hugh Roberston has issued a statement calling for the release of the seven former leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran, on the sixth anniversary of their incarceration. The Minister for the Middle East said:

Six years ago today, seven leaders of the Bahá’í faith in Iran were imprisoned for 20 years each for practicing their religion. I call on the Iranian authorities to release them as a matter of urgency. I was also deeply concerned to learn of the recent reports of the desecration of a Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz, where approximately 950 Bahá’ís are buried. We urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to abide by its international commitments to ensure all Iranians are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution.

The seven leaders, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naimi, are serving 20 year prison sentences following their arrest and imprisonment in 2008 following a trial that was widely criticised by the international community.

In other developments, last month Iran’s Revolutionary Guards started demolishing a Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz. The ongoing demolition is understood to be taking place without a permit from municipal authorities.

The site is, among other things, the resting place of ten Baha’i women whose cruel hanging in 1983 came to symbolise the government’s deadly persecution of Baha’is.

“Excavation has begun and graves are being destroyed. Some 40 to 50 trucks are lined up to remove the earth and accelerate the work,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “We are urgently calling on the international community to raise its voice in protest at this disturbing act. “We also appeal directly to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to halt this act of desecration.”

The Guardian has covered the destruction of the cemetery and the statement from the Foreign Office.

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