Bahai Educators in Iran Sentenced

Iran Baha'i Educators Sentences, April 1999

WASHINGTON, April 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Four faculty members of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE), who have been in detention in Isfahan since their arrest last fall, have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years. The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Isfahan cited the Baha'is' involvement in a program of Baha'i Studies as evidence of crimes against national security. On March 16, Dr. Sina Hakiman was sentenced to ten years in prison, Messrs. Farzad Khajeh Sharifabadi and Habibullah Ferdosian Najafabadi to seven years, and Mr. Ziaullah Mirzapanah to three years.

They had been arrested in September and October 1998 as part of the Iranian Government's crackdown on the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education. Last fall Iranian government officials raided more than 530 Baha'i homes, confiscated computers and classroom equipment, and arrested at least 36 teachers and administrators of the Institute. All of them had been released, with the exception of the four who have now been sentenced. The four Baha'is were convicted for teaching religious classes to other Bahai'is in another organization called the Institute for Higher Baha'is Studies. The court cited Chapter One, Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code which provides for prison terms for anyone organizing an association or group with the aim of disturbing the internal or external security ofthe country. However, the law makes no mention of religious instruction within one's own religious community as an illegal activity.

"This is a clear attempt on the part of the authorities to use the penal code to punish the Baha'is for studying their own religion," said Mrs. Kit Cosby, director of the U.S. Baha'i Office of External Affairs. "The charge of disturbing the security of the country is false, and is another attempt by the Iranian Government to justify its persecution of the Baha'icommunity." The Iranian Baha'i community had established the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education in 1987 to provide university-level instruction to Baha'i youth barred from universities by the Government because of their religious beliefs. In late 1998 the Institute resumed its activities, although its functioning is still hampered by the loss of equipment, especially computers, which it suffered during the raids. Since the Islamic regime took power more than 200 Baha'is have been executed on account of their religion. With 300,000 adherents, Bahi'is are Iran's largest religious minority. The Baha'i Faith is not recognized as a legitimate religion in Iran and Baha'is have no constitutional rights.

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