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Foreign Secretary William Hague issues response to Faith Leaders’ open letter on Bahá’ís in Iran

To mark the fifth anniversary of the incarceration of the seven former leaders of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran, fifty UK faith leaders signed a letter addressed to the Foreign Secretary William Hague MP, asking him to call on Iran to cease its persecution of the Bahá’ís in that country.

The letter was presented to Foreign Officer Minister Alistair Burt MP at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 14 May 2013. The Foreign Secretary’s response is reproduced below.

From the Secretary of State 

Thank you for your open letter about the incarceration of the seven Bahá’í leaders by Iran, which was presented to Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt on 14 May by a delegation of faith leaders led by His Grace Bishop Angaelos.

As you will know, I very much share the concerns in your letter. I have made clear many times that I do not believe that there is any justification for the arrest and imprisonment of the seven Bahá’í leaders. That they have remained in prison for five years on baseless charges following an unfair trial is a terrible reflection of how the Iranian regime chooses to treat its religious minorities. The UK fully supports the call for their immediate release, and will continue to work with the international community to highlight Iran’s violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief as well as of its other international obligations. In this context, we strongly support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur and urge Iran to allow him access to Iran to further his important work.

I commend the Bahá’í Community of the UK for this cross-faith initiative to highlight the plight of their seven community leaders and the wider persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran. I should like to thank the many signatories for giving such strong support. Through this kind of co-operation, you underline your common resolve to defend the rights of all to freedom of religion or belief, whatever their faith or belief, in Iran or elsewhere. This is something which I wholeheartedly support.


Faith leaders urge William Hague to call for release of imprisoned Bahá’ís in Iran

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.


His Grace Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt

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.


Front row: Ms Fidelma Meehan, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the UK, Acharya Modgala Duguid, Amida London Buddhist Centre; His Grace Bishop Angaelos, The Coptic Orthodox Church Centre; Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt; Naomi Long MP; Mr Swaminathan Vaidyanathan, Acting Secretary-General, Hindu Forum of Britain; Lord Avebury, Chair, All Party Parliamentary Friends of the Bahá’ís Group. Second row: Mr Vivian Wineman, President, Board of Deputies of British Jews; Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs, Evangelical Alliance; Dr Charles Reed, Foreign Policy Advisor, The Church of England; Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Network of Sikh Organisations; Imam Mufti Dr Abduljalil Sajid, Chairman Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK.

“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.”

Law Society and Bar Human Rights Committee hold legal seminar on trial of seven former Baha’i leaders in Iran

Issues of due legal process and access to justice in Iran came under scrutiny at a high-level seminar, on 9 May, organised to mark the fifth anniversary of the arrest of Iran’s seven former Bahá’í leaders.

Held at the Law Society of England and Wales – and co-hosted by theBar Human Rights Committee – the seminar attracted more than 50 practising barristers, solicitors and human rights lawyers.


From left to right: Ms Mahnaz Parakand, defence counsel for the seven Bahá’ís, Ms Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, and Dr Nazila Ghanea, Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford

The seminar heard how the trial and sentencing of the seven Bahá’ís to 20 years in prison each, was conducted under proceedings that violated international and national Iranian laws. The case can be seen as a major example of wide scale abuses in the Iranian justice system, used as a tool of oppression against religious and ethnic minorities, human rights lawyers, activists and others.

Coinciding with the seminar, a letter signed by 18 prominent UK human rights lawyers was published in the Telegraph newspaper. The trial of the seven, “violated national and international laws as well as shariah norms,” they wrote. Signatories to the letter included Sir Desmond de Silva, Cherie Booth CBE QC, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC, Michael Mansfield QC, and Professor Philippe Sands QC.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Dr Nazila Ghanea

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran and Dr Nazila Ghanea, Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford

The history of the case of the seven – who formed an ad hoc group that looked after the affairs of Iran’s 300,000-strong Bahá’í community – Iranian human rights lawyer Mahnaz Parakand (left), with Kirsty Brimelow QC, chair of Bar Human Rights Committee was outlined by Mahnaz Parakand, the Iranian lawyer who defended them and herself fled Iran in 2011 fearing execution.

Detailing the blatant disregard of due legal process in their case, Ms. Parakand recounted how, among other procedural violations, the seven prisoners were deprived of any meeting with their legal representatives for the first two and a half years of their incarceration.

Mahnaz Parakand and Kirsty Brimelow QC

Mahnaz Parakand, Iranian human rights lawyer, and Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of Bar Human Rights Committee

She also noted how the particular official dealing with them had a dislike for the Bahá’ís. “And this actually meant that the way they were dealt with did not follow correct legal procedures,” she said.

“Having studied their case, it was clear that there was no basis for the allegations that had been brought against them,” Ms. Parakand added.

She further noted how human rights lawyers in Iran are put under extreme pressure – either imprisoned or forced to leave the country. “And those that are as yet untouched are also put under a lot of humiliation and intimidation,” she said. “At present there are 10 lawyers who because of their profession are serving prison sentences.”

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran opened the seminar.

“The Bahá’ís are the most persecuted religious minority in Iran,” he said. As a consequence of three Articles in the Iranian constitution, Bahá’ís are considered “non-persons outside the protection of the law.”

“When we look at the case of the seven Bahá’í leaders, we see the hallmarks of the legal issues faced by the Bahá’ís and other minorities in Iran. They are frequently subject to unfair trials and persecuted.” Dr. Shaheed stressed the importance of documenting cases, highlighting those who abuse human rights, and supporting workers for justice in Iran.

Dr Nazila Ghanea – a lecturer in international human rights law at the University of Oxford – outlined a number of specific violations of due legal process exemplified by the case of the seven. These included the non-independence and partiality of the judiciary; a lack of transparency towards the accused, their lawyers and their families; and the hampering of the efforts of their lawyers who defend them, even by threat of imprisonment.

The seminar – which was chaired by Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee and a leading international human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.

Six of the seven were arrested on 14 May 2008 in a series of early morning raids in Tehran. The seventh had been detained two months earlier on 5 March 2008. The seven are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm.

Today they are enduring harsh conditions in two of Iran’s most notorious prisons. The five men are incarcerated at Gohardasht prison in Karaj, a facility known for its overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and dangerous environment. The two women are held at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison.

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