Iranian Bahá’ís are victims of crimes against humanity

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 1, 2010

This week’s column is my public statement of solidarity with some of our Cochrane coffee companions who are in distress over the unjust treatment of members of their faith in Iran.

Over the past 15 years I have come to know and respect several dozen followers of the Bahá’í religion in our area. They walk the talk of their belief in the essential unity of all peoples and concern for universal human rights.

Yet on Aug. 8 in a revolutionary court in the Islamic Republic of Iran, seven Bahá’ís – two women and five men – were sentenced to 20 years each in prison on blatantly trumped-up charges of espionage and propaganda against the republic.

This is just latest example in a long history of state-sponsored persecution and eradication of a religion that had its birth in Iran a century and a half ago. Other examples of persecution of Iran’s 300,000 Bahá’ís include desecration of its cemeteries, confiscation and demolition of its buildings, disallowing Bahá’í marriages, and loss of employment and educational opportunities.

International outrage over the sentencings was immediate.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon declared:

“Canada is deeply disturbed by reports . . . that these sentences were passed without either written judgments or due process. Canada once again urges Iran to grant bail to the seven Bahá’í leaders and to ensure that they are accorded fair treatment, in accordance with international standards.

“Canada further urges Iran to protect the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The persecution of the Bahá’í community in Iran is intolerable and deeply troubling.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared:

“The United States is deeply concerned with the Iranian government’s continued persecution of Bahá’ís and other religious minority communities in Iran. . . . The United States strongly condemns this sentencing as a violation of Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Freedom of religion is the birthright of people of all faiths and beliefs in all places. The United States is committed to defending religious freedom around the world, and we have not forgotten the Bahá’í community in Iran.”

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, declared:

“This verdict is a sad and damning manifestation of the deeply-rooted discrimination against Bahá’ís by the Iranian authorities. These seven Bahá’í leaders, some of whom are elderly, are prisoners of conscience jailed solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Bahá’í minority.”

Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland, called the sentencing “a most appalling transgression of justice and at heart a gross violation of the human right of freedom of belief.”

One of the finest statements I’ve read on the whole matter comes from Prof. W. Andy Knight, Chair, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta, himself a Bahá’í. In his essay, “World community has duty to bring Iranian government to heel,” carried in the Edmonton Journal, August 15, he said:

“Perhaps (the Bahá’í) message of peace, unity and gender equality does undermine the Ayatollah Khamanei's version of Islam. But the Bahá’ís who were sentenced . . . did nothing to justify the charges of 'insulting religious sanctities' or 'spying' for Israel and the United States.

“When one adds up the instances of persecution of the Bahá’í faith in Iran . . . one is left to wonder whether this does not amount to cultural cleansing.

“If the Iranian government refuses to heed these calls, then the international community should treat the Iranian government as the pariah state it has become and ostracize it from the community of civil nations. The actions of the Ahmadinejad regime against the Bahá’í community can be considered a crime against humanity.

“When such crimes are committed by a national government, then the international community has a responsibility to step in and protect these people living within that country who are at risk. And, the leaders of that government should be forced to face trial at the International Criminal Court.”

Throughout the Islamic world this is the holy month of Ramadan. In Shia Islam, practiced in Iran, the second pillar of their faith is divine justice.

On behalf of the seven Bahá’í prisoners so grievously wronged in a perversion of justice that is anything but divine, I add my voice to those around the world calling for the righting of this terrible wrong.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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