Two Iranian Baha’i women, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet, who previously spent 10 years in Tehran's Evin Prison as prisoners of conscience because of their Baha'i beliefs, have been sentenced to a second 10-year imprisonment.
Kamalabadi, aged 60, and Sabet, aged 69, were first arrested in 2008 as members of an informal group that tended to the basic pastoral needs of the Baha’i community. All members of this group, including five men and two women, and which operated with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for their beliefs. Kamalabadi, Sabet and the others were finally released in 2018.
The two women were arrested on July 31 at the start of a fresh crackdown against Iran’s Baha’i religious minority. The arrests were the second time both had been detained by the Iranian authorities.
Dr. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel laureate and lawyer for this group during their first trial, said in 2008 that “not a shred of evidence” was offered to prove the national security charges or other allegations. Nor was any new evidence forthcoming at this latest trial.
The Baha'i International Community reported today that the latest jail sentence was handed down after a one-hour trial on November 21, in Tehran, almost four months after their arrest. Judge Iman Afshari, presiding over the Revolutionary Court’s Branch 26, reportedly rebuked the two women for “not having learned their lesson” after their first incarceration.
“It is profoundly distressing to learn that these two Baha’i women, one of whom is almost 70, and who have both already and unjustly lost a decade of their lives to prison for their beliefs, are once again being incarcerated for another 10 years on the same ludicrous charges,” said Simin Fahandej, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “Fariba and Mahvash are wives, mothers and grandmothers to families who have already been forced to endure their absence for 10 brutal years. Instead of compensating these families for the unjust imprisonment they have already suffered, the Iranian government is repeating the same cruelty for a second time. This ridiculous sentence, handed down without any basis in evidence, makes an absolute mockery of the Iranian judicial system where judges preside as prosecutor, judge and jury all in one.”
Mahvash Sabet rose to international prominence after a volume of poems she had written in prison was published in English under the title Prison Poems. Sabet was recognized by PEN International as its 2017 International Writer of Courage.
Several other prominent Iranian women were jailed at the same time as Kamalabadi and Sabet during their first imprisonment. Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who herself is back in prison for supporting the demands of women in Iran, and the activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, also currently in jail, made headlines when she visited Kamalabadi during furloughs and after her release.
And the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who shared a cell with the two Baha'i women, said that they became sources of comfort and hope to their fellow inmates.
“As Time Magazine names Iranian women as “Heroes of the Year”, the international community has rightly recognized the bravery and heroism of all Iranian women as they stand firm in demanding justice and equality in the face of the violent and brutal repression of their rights and the tragic loss of life,” Fahandej added. “Fariba and Mahvash are two such women, who for many years have upheld and promoted the equality of women and men, called for justice and truth, and who, as a result, have already paid a heavy price for upholding these principles. Let us all stand with them now, and with all Iranian women, to tell Iran’s government that it must revoke this sentence, free Fariba and Mahvash and all other prisoners of conscience, and to dismantle every part of its repressive machinery that systematically violates the human rights of its peoples.”
IranWire has reported on the intensifying crackdown on Iranian Baha’is since the July 31 arrests of the two Baha’i women. A fresh round of arrests was reported just four days ago, even as reports emerged that the authorities were abusing and pressuring a jailed Baha’i to confess against himself on television. Several Hollywood actors joined an international chorus of support for the Baha’is in early September, just days before the start of the nationwide crisis sparked by the police murder of Mahsa Amini.
The United Nations Human Rights Council recently voted to create a special fact-finding mission to investigate human rights abuses in Iran since Amini’s death – during which the Baha’i International Community also called on the Iranian government to respect the rights of all Iranian citizens.