May 30th, 2013
10:43 AM ET

Why the Baha’i 7 matter

By Katrina Lantos Swett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katrina Lantos Swett is the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed reflect those of USCIRF and not CNN.

With Iran’s presidential election looming next month, ongoing uncertainty about the status of its nuclear program, and questions about the degree of its involvement in Syria’s civil war, it’s easy to forget the domestic repression some groups face under its theocratic regime. But as Baha’i communities across the globe mark a disturbing anniversary in Iran, the birthplace of their faith, they are determined that the rest of the world should also know about the hardship and discrimination they are faced with every single day.

Throughout the month, Baha’is have engaged in a global campaign titled simply “Five Years Too Many,” on behalf of the so-called Baha’i 7 – the Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Iran for the past five years on account of their faith. I was honored to have the opportunity to address gathered supporters earlier this month when the campaign came to Washington, D.C.

Who are the Baha’i 7? Since May 2008, six of them have been jailed on baseless accusations ranging from espionage to “corruption on the earth.”  The seventh was arrested and imprisoned in March of that year. Along with other Baha’is jailed on equally groundless charges, these leaders testify to the abuses visited upon the 300,000 members in Iran of this peaceful faith.

Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, which ushered in a theocracy, no group has been immune from repression. But as documented in this year’s report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which I chair, none have suffered more than the Baha’is, whom Tehran labels as heretics.

As noted in the report, since 1979, the authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders and dismissed more than 10,000 from government and university jobs. Baha’is are also barred from establishing schools, places of worship, or independent religious associations. Their marriages and divorces are not recognized; they have problems obtaining death certificates; they may not inherit property. Baha’i cemeteries, holy places, and community properties are often seized or desecrated, and many Baha’i religious sites have been destroyed.

In addition, Baha’is are banned from the military and, across Iran, they often are denied employment.

Articles in the government-run newspaper Kayhan and other media outlets, meanwhile, have vilified the Baha’i community.

An October 2011 report by the Baha’i International Community, Inciting Hatred: Iran’s Media Campaign to Demonize Baha’is,” highlighted the ceaseless drumbeat of anti-Baha’i propaganda.

“They are accused of being [imperialist] agents,” it said. “[T]hey face…utterly unfounded allegations of immorality; they are branded as social pariahs…The propaganda is shocking in its volume and vehemence, its scope and sophistication, cynically [targeting]…a peaceful…community whose members are striving to contribute to…society.”

Emboldened by Iranian law and policy, extremists have assaulted Baha’is and launched arson attacks against their property in several cities. The authorities claim they cannot find the perpetrators, yet these same officials seem to have no problem finding innocent Baha’is to arrest, detain, and incarcerate. Since 2005, they have arrested nearly 700 Baha’is. By the end of 2012, at least 110 were being held solely because of their beliefs, ten times the number in 2005.

Dozens await trial while others – all of whom are seeking appeals – have been handed prison sentences ranging from 90 days to several years. More than 500 Baha’is have cases pending, despite their release from detention.

Sadly, officials have managed to stoop to new lows in recent months, with the government jailing babies less than a year old with their Baha’i mothers at least three times in the town of Semnan. One had to be hospitalized outside of jail because of a lung disease contracted by unsanitary conditions inside. The three mothers and their infants remain incarcerated.

Baha’is in Iran have done no harm to their country, pose no threat to its people, and seek only to live in peace and worship in accordance with their conscience. As June elections approach, the world should demand that Iran free all Baha’is and drop the charges made against them on account of their faith. Iran should rescind every law permitting Baha’is to be killed with impunity, and Baha’is should be allowed to practice their faith fully.

For the sake of every dissenting Iranian, the world must stand together and proclaim with one voice that Iran must free the Baha’i prisoners and allow liberty for all.

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Topics: Iran • Religion

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. matslats

    If this was about imprisonment without due process, then we would be talking about Bradley Manning.
    This is about the enemy of my enemy being my friend.
    This is bashing Iran with any stick we can find

    May 30, 2013 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • glennpeirce

      Due process? The treatment of Baha'is in Iran is made all the worse because this is done with the veneer of due process. Similar to kangaroo courts in the Old South in cases involving black defendants, the due process of cases involving Baha'is is mere lip service. The cases of these seven incarcerated Baha'is resulted in prison sentences for crimes for which no evidence was presented.

      May 30, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
      • Michael

        I think he means that if the issue of due process was important to CNN, then they would cover due process problems in the United States itself before picking on Iran. But the Baha'i situation in Iran is preliminary to a wider cultural genocide to cleanse Iran of Baha'i presence.

        May 31, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • deep blue

      Bradley Manning is accused of disclosing classified information, putting our nation's soldiers at risk.
      The Baha'i 7 are accused of trying to teach children, of trying to get people of their religion equal rights.

      The argument that US soldiers should get a trial rather than a military commission is an interesting debate, but it doesn't belong on this forum.

      June 1, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply
      • ready

        just ignore him, hes been posting illogical and conspiracy theorist comments in every article. He probably listens to alex jones

        June 1, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • MF3

      I agree, we have guantanamo to deal with, talking about keeping innocent people without due process. Who are we to worry about Bahais.

      June 2, 2013 at 8:55 am | Reply
      • glennpeirce

        Who are we to worry about Baha'is?

        I am a Baha'i. In my local community lives a Baha'i whose brother-in-law is one of the Baha'i 7. In the United States are thousands of Iranian Baha'is who cannot go the place of their birth without risking incarceration. In the United States are tens of thousands of Baha'is who cannot go to the birthplace of their faith without risking either their own safety or the safety of Baha'is in Iran who might be "outed" by receiving an American visitor.

        That, and many of us are Americans living with the belief that freedom of religion is a fundamental right.

        June 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • GonzoG

      DUE PROCESS? What DUE PROCESS is there in "THE LAW WE HAVE DECREED DENIES YOU THE RIGHT TO EXIST?!"

      It's the same "DUE PROCESS" given to those in NAZI death camps.

      June 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  2. rightospeak

    Another propaganda piece. Bahai 7 do not matter while Guantanamo is open for business and Manning is in jail, Julien Assange in an Embassy like Cardinal Midszenty in Hungary in 1956 ( I may have misspelled names, but you get the gist ). You need history lessons before you rant propaganda, Katrina . Katalavenies ?

    May 30, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Reply
    • jaynine

      I'm sure the wonderful, civil-rights-minded, fair and open Government of Iran thanks you for your support in imprisoning babies. You surely know how to pick the right side. You do no service to the cause of prisoners of conscience in one place by sneering at those who try to help those in another place.

      May 30, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply
    • glennpeirce

      I do not understand the position you are taking. Because there are miscarriages and abuses of justice in the United States, it is okay for miscarriages and abuses of justice in Iran?

      May 31, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • povodebaha

      With you kind of reasoning I would say that USA should have never attacked Nazi Germany because the Americans have massacrated native Americans...
      We allways find good excuses for doing nothing for those who suffer, right?

      May 31, 2013 at 9:04 am | Reply
      • MF3

        OK what's your plan for Gauntanamo?

        June 2, 2013 at 8:56 am |
      • oliveiramarco

        @MF3: Justice for all! The people in Evin Prison or in Semnan Prison should have the same rights concerning access to Justice as the ones in Guantanamo. Justice is a human right and no State should deprive that right to any human being.

        June 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • ready

      another idiot, lol. CNN comments are filled wit them it seems.

      June 1, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply
  3. Ronaldo

    This abuse is incredible....why do we accept that? Why we still accept this abuse of human rights? That is so unfair, and what these 7 are passing there is so injust...and it is so sad, because we will never know a minimum of what they are passing, because we live in a great country, and have so many stuff to think about (money, family, job)...but we should care about our human race!!!

    May 31, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  4. Roberto

    Shame on the Iranian Governament!

    May 31, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  5. L. Silver

    An attack on human rights is an attack on humanity. It should not matter who it is or where they are. All injustice must be stopped.

    June 1, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  6. Bubba Butchroy

    Sorry, but the Bahai 7 DON'T matter.

    Most of CNN webnews has probably been written by part time Apple or Dell Tech Support workers in India as second jobs.

    June 2, 2013 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • NewYorkYankees

      Bubba baby of course we matter. We're here, there, everywhere. our writings include some of the most revolutionary texts ever written in text

      June 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  7. AboveLoveAndHate

    Baha'i beliefs are intended to revolutionize the order of the whole world. Baha'u'llah's claim is none less than the fulfillment of the world's religious, spiritual, philosophical, poetic, emotional, and logical highest expectations and aspirations. All religious texts praise Him and speak of Him as the origin of creation as well as He Who Appears at This Day, the End of Times. Nay, More!, the Hour has already Passed!

    June 5, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
  8. AJ Atheist

    Baha has appeared to tear down the idols of your imagination. Fear Me, If you are men of understanding. One and All shall rise up against Me.

    June 23, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Reply

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