Mehangiz Kar calls for lawyers in and outside Iran to raise awareness about Baha’is imprisoned on espionage charges, who face longer prison sentences than others found guilty of the same crime
I was a guest at this year’s 25th international assembly of Baha’is, which is held in Chicago every year, and witnessed a special atmosphere there for two or three days. Most of those in attendance had been victims of persecution — not for their political activities but for believing in a certain faith. One group had come from Iran and intended to go back. When they met with a lawyer or a law student they were asked: “Isn’t the maximum sentence for spying 10 years prison, according to Iranian law? So why has it become 20 years when it comes to Baha’is?”
Currently, there are several Baha’is is prison on charges of spying who, according to Iranian law, should have been sentenced to 10 years in prison, and should be released in two or three years’ time. But, with their sentences doubled, these prisoners will remain in jail for the duration of their most useful years of life.
A group of legal experts in Iran have expressed criticism against this illegal treatment of Bahai’s found guilty of spying. But, in Iran, the silence around the matter is so heavy that there is no opportunity for them to speak up or write about it. They have been told that, even to start a debate, legal experts outside the country must first step forward. I have also sensed this message and promised to open the discussion so that my colleagues can then respond and search deeper into our laws and legal frameworks for a possible solution. Maybe we can make a difference to our Baha’i co-patriots imprisoned in Iran, and maybe we find a way out of injustice.
It is important to stress the concept of “lawfulness”. Although the crackdown on Bahai’s has political, religious and historical motivations, and none of the accusations against them can ever be proven, handing down double-length prison sentences for Baha’is represents a new tactic on behalf of Iran’s judiciary. It requires a new response. If the lawyers and legal experts wish to change these sentences of 20 years’ imprisonment for Bahai’s, the best method would be to approach the matter via legal paths and by addressing Iranian legal framework. In this way, we will avoid engaging with anti-Baha’i elements in Iran — which we are all well aware of — and concentrate on helping them.
The relevant legal clause is as follows:
Article 505 of the fifth book of the Islamic Penal Code says: “Anybody, with the aim of undermining the country’s security, who proceeds in gathering classified information in any form, under the cover of official authorities or governmental officials or any other method, and who tries to deliver them to another party, will be sentenced to from two to ten years in prison if they succeeded in their intention; if otherwise, they will be sentenced to from two to five years in prison.”
Therefore, the conviction of prominent Baha’i figures who have been in jail for seven years on charges of spying is twice the sentence mentioned and provided for in the Islamic Penal Code. Here, an essential and legal question arises, which has not been answered due to the restrictions on discussions in Iran, and because Bahai’s are not entitled to a just a fair trial, or treated fairly by the media. It is wise to put forth this purely legal and juridical question so that a legal defence for Bahai’s will be made available. No governmental institution with any political or religious orientation can keep eternally silent when faced with a logical question.
It is likely that most people reading this article believe that the espionage cases against Bahai’s are made up and politically motivated. Therefore it may seem irrelevant to assume that the accusation of spying is true. But those who are realistic and recognize the difference between a 10-year prison sentence and a 20-year prison sentence might also consider feasible solutions and join us in this movement. They would agree that in order to save a person in prison, one should sometimes distance himself from ideals and long- term goals and concentrate on reducing the pain of the prisoner.
I have to deliver this message to those outside Iran: I hereby request lawyers and legal experts to look at this question about Bahai’s according to their own interpretation of the law. All of us are responsible for our co-patriots. At the very least, we should refer to the history of the massacre and killing of Baha’is and try to discuss their legal rights from the point of view of a defendant.
Even for lawyers who are not experts in Baha’i cases, it is enough to know that imprisoned Bahai’s have been convicted of spying — and not of murder — and should be sentenced according to the punishments provided for in law. The punishment for spying, according to clause 505, is 10 years in prison. So why should they remain in jail for 20 years?
The solemn and friendly face of Ms Fariba Kamal Abadi and her inmates, who are mostly middle-aged and sometime elderly, gave me the motivation to write this article. Do not hesitate to publish your own legal views and insight regarding this matter.
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