The case of Mr D. Mahrami may be just one sad item in a world-wide catalogue of abuses of human rights - but it is one which has implications for hundreds of thousands of people in Iran, Bahá'ís, Christians, and Jews alike.
It is the business of anyone who is concerned about human rights and religious freedom of conscience.
The enclosed report gives the facts.
The Bahá'í Faith had its beginnings in Iran a century and a half ago. Since then it has spread, to the extent that it is now the world's second most widespread religion after Christianity. Most Bahá'ís live outside the Middle East and have never had any connection with Islam. Despite this, the Muslim clergy of Iran refuse to consider it a religion, and because its teaching go against their own in many key aspects, they are determined to root it out of their country.
Thus the entire Bahá'í administration in Iran is banned, and many of its leading figures have been executed. At first the authorities maintained that this was for crimes they were supposed to have committed, but lately it has been admitted that it was done because they were Bahá'ís, and that the government does indeed have a programme to "cleanse" Iran of Bahá'í influence.
All Bahá'í property has been seized (not just community resources, but the homes of individuals), Bahá'í students are barred from going to university, many in work have been dismissed from the jobs, while retired people have had their pensions stopped.
In some particularly outrageous cases pensioners have been told they must repay to the state all pensions received since they retired, Bahá'í bodies have been removed from cemeteries and dumped, while their tombstones were taken and sold, and Bahá'í families have asked to pay for the cost of the bullets with which their relatives were executed.
For the past two - three years there has been some easing off of the pressure although the major discriminations against Bahá'ís remain. Bahá'ís are still in prison for their faith, two under sentence of death since 1992. It is against this background that the Mahrami case comes - with a fresh and worrying twist.
Mr Mahrami, who was a lifelong Bahá'í having been born into a Bahá'í family, was, like most of his co-religionists, subject to much harassment by the authorities. Eventually a notice was published in a local newspaper bearing his photograph and announcing his recantation of his faith as a Bahá'í and his conversion to Islam. (In such rare cases of recantation as do occur, the authorities will usually insist on the person taking out such an advertisement.)
As a result of this Mr Mahrami was suspended from the Bahá'í community and over a period of time enquiries were made. He maintained that the notice had been placed without his knowledge or consent, and that while a form stating his recantation appeared to bear his signature, he had not knowingly signed that form and had not in fact recanted. It appears that some of Mr Mahrami's Muslim work colleagues may have placed the advertisement, apparently out of concern for him and a desire to see him spared further harassment.
When the Bahá'í community in Yazd was satisfied that events had taken place as Mr Mahrami said, and that he was indeed genuinely a Bahá'í, he was reinstated in the community. He made this reinstatement known to his colleagues and the authorities soon learned about it.
Mr Mahrami was then arrested and interrogated for alleged apostasy from Islam, a crime which carries the death penalty in the Islamic code as it is applied in Iran. Throughout his interrogations he made it clear that he was Bahá'í, and he resisted great pressure, including threats of death, which were employed to try to have him state he was a Muslim.
As a result the court in Yazd has declared Mr Mahrami guilty of apostasy and decreed that he should be executed, and his possessions should be con fiscated leaving his family destitute. The case has now been appealed to the Iranian Supreme Court, and Bahá'í communities in the U.K. are asking their M.P.s and Euro- M.P.'s to take all the steps they can to try to stop the sentence being carried out.
This case sets a worrying precedent, whereby someone in Iran can be taken as having converted to Islam, even if they did not genuinely do so, and then when they affirm their own faith they can be condemned to death for having apostatised from Islam. Although the Christian and Jewish minorities in Iran are not subject to the same pressure and persecution as the Bahá'ís, it is worth pointing out that they have no special status in the matter of conversion and recantation - in other words, the same thing could happen to one of them as has happened to Mr Mahrami.
The Bahá'í community in the United Kingdom believes that everyone should know the case of this unfortunate victim of base religious persecution.
PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN
[Emblem of the Islamic republic of Iran]
Minutes of the interrogation Page number: Meeting number:
Islamic Revolutionary Courts of the Province of Yazd
Court classification number: 74/2288/D Appeal number: 74/2312/D-R
Date of investigation: 12 Day 1374 [2 January 1996]
Investigating authority: Branch number 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd
The particulars of the accused: Dhabihu'llah Mahrami, son of Ghulamrida, born in 1325 , a resident of Yazd
The nature of the accusations: Denouncing the religion of Islam and adopting the beliefs of the wayward Bahá'í sect; national apostasy
Mr. Dhabihu'llah Mahrami, son of Ghulamrida, born into a Bahá'í family, followed the wayward Bahá'í sect until the year 1360 , at which time, while he was an employee of the Department of Agriculture of the Province of Yazd, he recanted [his faith in] Bahá'ísm in a widely distributed newspaper and announced his acceptance of the true religion of Islam. Furthermore, he indicated his religion to be Muslim, of the Shi ih sect, on the form which he completed at the Department of Agriculture in 1364, on the basis of which he was not fired from his job in the government. However, he recently announced himself to be a Bahá'í and indicated that he participates in the gatherings of this sect. He has also wedded his daughter to a Bahá'í individual in Isfahan (as reported by the Department of Intelligence in Yazd in its documents of 11 Khurdad 1374 [1 June 1995] numbers 2696/m/33-23/7/70 and 21364/M/33). On 2 Murdad 1374 [24 July 1995] an instruction was issued by the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Yazd to the Department of Intelligence to take the aforementioned individual to the aforesaid Court during working hours.
On 25 Murdad 1374 [16 August 1995] he appeared before the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Yazd and attested to his being born into a Bahá'í family and to his attending the [Nineteen Day] Feasts; furthermore, while expressing his doubts about the contents of the paper bearing his signature and the matter of the form of the Department of Agriculture of the Province of Yazd indicating that he is a follower of the Shi ih sect of Islam, he declared that the signature at the bottom of the form does belong to him but that he is unaware of the contents of the form.
When asked from whom he receives his instructions, he said, from higher authorities of the Spiritual Assembly, the members of which he does not know, as he receives his instructions through liaisons. In the preliminary stages of the investigation carried out by the Department of Intelligence of the Province, while conveying his remorse for converting to Islam (when he was a Bahá'í), he stated that he had forwarded his request to the Bahá'í institutions for pardon and for returning to the Bahá'í community, and that he has been forgiven and is now recognized as a Bahá'í by the Bahá'í community (pages 33 and 35 of his file). He does however confess that in the past seven years he did attend mass prayers every once in a while and was truly a Muslim, even though he felt ashamed in front of his wife and children (pages 40 and 41 of his file). In several instances, he denies that he announced his aversion from the wayward Bahá'í sect by choice; he even states that "because prominent Bahá'ís were arrested and killed at the beginning of the revolution, my intention was to keep my family and myself safe; however, when it was determined that the Bahá'ís were no longer being bothered, I became a Bahá'í again" (pages 40 and 41 of his file).
Because of the negative effects of his accepting the wayward Bahá'í sect after being a Muslim for seven years, and based on religious axioms, the Revolutionary Court in Yazd (branch number 1) endeavoured to hold certain meetings for the purpose of guiding him [to the path of truth] and encouraging him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, i.e., apostasy. The first meeting was held on 11 Mihr 1374 [3 October 1995], during which he clearly announced himself to be a Bahá'í and a follower of the principles of this sect. Despite his limited knowledge of the blessed religion of Islam and of the misleading and wayward Bahá'í sect, he did not accept the suggestion of this court to receive guidance from well-informed individuals. In response to the question of the court about what he believes the station of Mirza Muhammad Aliy-i-Bab to be, he responded that the Bab was the Herald of the Manifestation of Mirza Husayn- Aliy-i-Bahá', Who was also a Prophet sent by God.
After he was told that according to the belief of all the sects of Islam, His Holiness Muhammad was the Seal of the Prophets, that [the acceptance] of this fact is one of the essential religious beliefs of the Muslims, and that anyone denying this fact will be removed from the Cause [of Islam], he stated, "I do not believe so", even though he had confessed to be of sound mind, had taken full responsibility for his statements and had indicated that he continued to believe in all that he has said. According to a letter numbered 4564/M/213 dated 11 Mihr 1374 [3 October 1975] from the Department of Intelligence of the Province of Yazd, the father of this individual was born into a Muslim family, became a Bahá'í when he got married, and remained a Bahá'í until the end of his life and was buried in the Bahá'í cemetery of Yazd; his mother was a Bahá'í born into a Bahá'í family.
A second meeting was held on 22 Mihr 1374 [14 October 1995] in the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd for the purpose of guiding him. When he was asked whether he had reached a decision in the time awarded to him, he stated that he remains firm in his faith in Bahá'ísm, that he was indeed a Muslim for seven years, and that he became a Bahá'í once again in light of the fact that the members of his family are Bahá'ís. When asked if he would become a Muslim if the members of his family were to become Muslims, he responded in the negative, indicating that he would remain a Bahá'í. Again, he stated that he accepts Mirza Husayn-Aliy-i-Bahá' as the Prophet of God, that he believes in Him, that he makes these statements with a sound mind and on his own accord, and that he is not willing to return to Islam or to repent for this act of apostasy.
The third meeting was held on 28 Aban 1374 [19 December 1995], in which he repeated his previous statements and, attesting to being of sound mind and in full control, indicated that he does not intend to return to Islam or to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, i.e., apostasy. After holding three consecutive meetings for guiding him [to the truth], despite the fact that he was given ample time to study the situation and to accept the suggestion [of this court] to be sent to a learned individual for investigating the shallow foundations of his beliefs, he refused to do so, and, regardless of the tremendous efforts [of this court] towards encouraging him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, i.e., apostasy, [the court] did not succeed [in its efforts] because of the enmity and the stubbornness of this individual. Therefore, in light of section 10 of the second volume of Mirath (p. 336), written by his holiness Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and section 1 of the second volume (p.494) of Al-Hudud, he was asked to select a defence attorney to defend him against these accusations.
After introducing an attorney at law [as his defence lawyer], a session of this branch [of the Revolutionary Court] was held on 12 Day 1374 [2 January 1996] with his attorney also present. Having heard his own and his lawyer's defence statements, which were presented both verbally and through a written statement, he was given one last chance to defend himself. The end of the investigation was then announced and the following verdict issued.
The Court's verdict:
Concerning the charges brought against Mr. Dhabihu'llah Mahrami, the son of Ghulamrida, i.e., denouncing the blessed religion of Islam and accepting the beliefs of the wayward Bahá'í sect (national apostasy), in light of his clear confessions to the facts that he accepted the wayward Bahá'í sect at the age of maturity, later accepted Islam for a period of seven years, and then returned to the aforementioned sect; and because of the fact that, despite the tremendous efforts of this court to guide him and to encourage him to repent for having committed the most grievous sin, he remains firm in his baseless beliefs, he has, in three consecutive meetings, while being of sound body and mind and in absolute control, announced his allegiance to the principles of Bahá'ísm and his belief in the prophethood of Mirza Husayn-Aiy-i-Bahá, he has openly denied the most essential [principle] of Islam (Prophet Muhammad being the Seal of the Prophets), and he is not willing to repent for having committed this sin, the following verdict was issued based on the investigations of the Department of Intelligence of the Province of Yazd, and the damaging consequences of his leaving the true religion of Islam and rejoining the Bahá'í sect, which, according to indisputable principles accepted by reasonable people, is a clear insult to the beliefs of over one billion Muslims.
By applying the tenth definition of "Nijasat" [impurities], to be found in the first volume of Tahrir-Al Vasilih (p. 118), in defining an infidel and an apostate, as well as section ten of the book of Al-Mavarith (on the topic of inheritance) and sections one and four of Al-hudud (on the topic of apostasy) written by the great founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, his holiness Imam Khomeini, the accused is sentenced to death because of being an apostate. Furthermore, based on section one of Almavarith (on the topic of inheritance), and in light of the fact that he does not have any Muslim heirs, a verdict is issued for the confiscation of all of his properties and assets by the Yazd division of the Imam's Executive Body.
This verdict was issued in the presence [of the accused], and can, according to paragraph 19 of the law of Public and Revolutionary Courts, be reconsidered in the Supreme Court.
Head of branch number 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Yazd.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- The Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State today condemned Iran's action in sentencing an Iranian Bahá'í to death for apostasy.
Representatives of the American Bahá'í community welcomed U.S. Government support for the Iranian Bahá'ís and urged other governments and the United Nations to join in protesting the death sentence.
Following are the official State Department statement and an explanation of the case released by the U.S. Bahá'í group, which represents 120,000 American Bahá'ís. There are more than 300,000 Bahá'ís in Iran, by far the largest religious minority group in that country.
Official statement from the U.S. Department of State spokesman Nicholas Burns, Feb. 15, 1996:
"We have learned that a court of the Government of Iran has sentenced a member of the Bahá'í faith, Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami, to death for apostasy.
"The United States Government strongly condemns the conviction and the sentence and calls upon the Iranian Government to repudiate them, to release Mr. Mahrami, and to take all steps necessary to ensure his safety.
"The United States further calls on the Government of Iran to cease its persecution of the Bahá'í and other religious minorities and to comply with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights."
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States issued the following explanation of the case:
* Yazd Court Sentences Bahá'í: Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami, a 49-year-old Bahá'í, was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Courts of the Province of Yazd (January 2, 1996). The sentence has been appealed to Iran's Supreme Court. The timing of the Supreme Court consideration is not known.
* Verdict finds apostasy based upon rejection of Islam: The court maintains that Mr. Mahrami, who was born into a Bahá'í family, became a Moslem in 1981 and that after seven years, he returned to the Bahá'í Faith. He was arrested on September 6, 1995 on charges of apostasy. The verdict states that on three occasions (October-December, 1995), Mr. Mahrami reaffirmed his Bahá'í beliefs and refused to repent his alleged apostasy, although he would be spared the death sentence if he embraced Islam.
The court found Mr. Mahrami guilty of "denouncing the blessed religion of Islam and accepting the beliefs of the wayward Bahá'í sect (national apostasy)."
* Threat to Christians and other converts from Islam: Iran officially recognizes Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism as religions whose members are afforded legal protection. If this verdict is upheld, however, an adherent of one of these religions who had converted from Islam could be prosecuted and would face the death penalty for apostasy. (Note: Iran does not recognize the Bahá'í Faith as a legitimate religion, and all Iranian Bahá'ís are regarded as "unprotected infidels." In defining apostasy, however, Iranian clerics distinguish between Bahá'ís born into a Bahá'í family and those who converted from Islam to the Bahá'í Faith.)
* Action violates international law: The Yazd court verdict violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Iran is signatory. The Covenant specifically provides for an individual's right to have a religion, not to have a religion, or to change his religion.
* Bahá'ís urge protest against Iranian action: Bahá'ís in the U.S. and other countries urge government action and public protest to persuade Iran to set aside this verdict and to permit free choice of religion, according to international law.
* Three other Bahá'ís under death sentence: Two Bahá'ís condemned to death in 1992 for membership in the Bahá'í Faith are still in prison in Karaj and have appealed to the Supreme Court. The third was released from prison in late 1993 but still faces charges of apostasy and could be rearrested.
CO: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States
ST: District of Columbia
[The well-known Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote the following column, which ran in newspapers all over the country in late February or early March, 1996. -J.W.]
By Alan Dershowitz (United Feature Syndicate)
The same day's newspaper ran the following two headlines recently: The first read, "Farrakhan Calls Iran Model of a Religious Democracy." The second said, "Bahá'í Is Said to Face Execution in Iran."
In Farrakhan's "model" democracy, it is a capital crime to convert to the Bahá'í religion after converting to Islam. And so 49-year-old Dhabihu'llah Mahrami will be executed and all his possessions confiscated for the crime of "apostasy." I'm sure it will all be done quite democratically--at least according to Farrakhan's definition--since the sentence was imposed by an Islamic revolutionary court and since Iran has had "17 elections" since the Khomeini cabal overthrew the shah in 1979. Of course, voting for the opposition could also get you into trouble, but that is just a detail, according to Farrakhan.
What does all this have to do with America? I fear that in this country as well, we are moving toward a day when "apostasy" may be a crime. One presidential candidate--Pat Buchanan--is running on a program of merging church and state. He regards himself as the "defender of the faith," and has lumped those who don't believe in God with "flag burners, illegal aliens--including terrorists--convicts and pornographers," all of who he regards as despicable criminals. He would even require religious tests for office, in clear violation of the Constitution.
It was precisely this approach that got Dhabihu'llah Mahrami in trouble in Iran, where only members of the Islamic religion may hold office. Accordingly, Mahrami converted to Islam in order to keep his job. But then he was caught practicing the Bahá'í faith and was "democratically" sentenced to death for that terrible crime.
I am not suggesting that any of the current Republican candidates -- who are trying to outdo each other in pandering to religious extremists -- would criminalize disbelief, but I think it is the case that religious bigots such as Buchanan do regard non-believers as evil pariahs, to be tolerated as second-class citizens rather than treated as equal in every way to religious fundamentalists.
Buchanan has even declared religious war on liberal Catholic cardinals who do not share his tribalistic image of Christianity. He has condemned "the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate" and urged those men of reconciliation to "step aside" and make room for "bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith." The cardinal sin committed by these princes of peace was a conciliatory statement made by them toward Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who were offended by the presence of a Catholic monastery at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp at which millions of Jewish men, women and children were murdered. Buchanan, who has defended virtually every Nazi war criminal and himself flirted with Holocaust denial, declared that to "orthodox Catholics," like him, "the demand that we be more `sensitive' to Jewish concerns is becoming a joke."
Nor is Buchanan sensitive to those millions of Christian Americans who do not share his religious fundamentalism, his opposition to a woman's right to choose abortion, his demand for prayer in schools, his opposition to gay rights, and the rest of his theocratic program for America.
Pat Buchanan's vision of America is reminiscent of the kind of intolerant religious autocracy he admired as a youth--Franco's Spain. If Iran were a Christian theocracy, rather than an Islamic one, it would be Pat Buchanan, rather than Louis Farrakhan, who would be praising it as a "model of a religious democracy." A "religious democracy" is an oxymoron. There can be no true democracy where religion dictates who shall live and die, who shall govern, and who shall be deemed a first-class citizen rather that a tolerated pariah.
Freedom from religious compulsion is as important as freedom of religion in a democratic society. That is why our founding fathers--some of whom were agnostics, deists, skeptics and dissidents--wrote a Bill of Rights whose first guarantee was against "an establishment of religion" and whose second was in favor of the "free exercise" of religion. Moreover, the body of the Constitution mandated that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification of any office or public trust under the United States."
Despite these provisions, candidates for office insist on taking religious tests and bragging about their high scores. The spirit of the Constitution would be better served if candidates were required to submit to constitutional tests designed to remind voters that the president of the United States--as distinguished from the queen of England and the ayatollah in Iran--is not the defender of the faith. He is the defender of a Constitution which is premised on the separation of church and state. Patrick Buchanaan would fail this constitutional test.
February 23, 1996
The National Spiritual Assembly is happy to inform the Bahá'í community that as a result of the pressure of international opinion, the Supreme Court of Iran has set aside the verdict against Mr. Mahrami who had been convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death. The news was conveyed orally to the UN Human Rights Centre in Geneva by the Human Rights Section of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The conviction had been handed down by the Revolutionary Court of Yazd but has now been referred by the Supreme Court to a civil court.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States
2 April 1996
To all National Spiritual Assemblies
Dear Bahá'í Friends,
In the last days of 1995, the Universal House of Justice received news of a very disturbing case of persecution in Iran. Mr. Dhabihu'llah Mahrami, a Bahá'í in Yazd, a city where the harassment of the friends has been severe and continuous in recent years, had been charged by the Revolutionary Court with apostasy (abandoning the Faith of Islam). The outline of the case is as follows.
The Bahá'ís in Yazd had been under such pressure from the authorities that a non-Bahá'í work colleague of Mr. Mahrami, in order to save him from losing his job, placed his photograph in the newspaper, together with a statement that he had recanted the Bahá'í Faith. As Mr. Mahrami unfortunately did not disavow this at the time, the community accepted that he should not be considered a Bahá'í. When the situation was ultimately clarified, some years later, his membership in the Bahá'í community was restored.
Having discovered that Mr. Mahrami had been reinstated as a Bahá'í, the Security Department of Yazd questioned him about his return to the Bahá'í community. He answered truthfully, stating his belief and his actions. Mr. Mahrami was arrested by the public prosecutor of Yazd and charged with apostasy, for which the prosecutor demanded the death sentence. Mr. Mahrami denied the charges against him, charges which themselves represented a gross violation of his human rights. It was reported that Mr. Mahrami, although in prison and in danger of being executed, remained firm in his faith and faced his peril with detachment.
Hitherto, whenever Bahá'ís in such circumstances in Iran have attempted to engage a lawyer to defend them, the lawyer has been subjected to intimidation and has refused to act. On this occasion, however, for the first time, the Friends in Iran were able to engage for the defence of Mr. Mahrami a Muslim lawyer who is a man of exceptional courage, compassion and sagacity.
A number of National Spiritual Assemblies were advised of the circumstances and asked to take up the case with their governments, seeking to apply pressure on the Government of Iran, without publicity at that stage. The United Nations Office of the Bahá'í International Community also informed the offices of appropriate agencies of the United Nations.
At the end of January 1996, the Universal House of Justice learned that the court had sentenced Mr. Mahrami to death. His lawyer had lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court of Iran. Selected National Assemblies were asked to obtain media publicity for the case and to seek the active and open support of their governments in condemnation of the action taken against Mr. Mahrami. The Government of Iran was faced with the protests of agencies of the United Nations and the censure of many of the world's governments, while the deep concern of a number of national Bahá'í communities was expressed through Iranian Embassies.
Our knowledge of the precise situation in Iran was obscured by the difficulty of obtaining confirmation of reports on the development of the case, but we are now relieved to learn that the Supreme Court of Iran has rejected the verdict of the Revolutionary Court of Yazd, and has referred the case to a civil court. Although neither Mr. Mahrami nor his lawyer has been officially informed of the outcome (an official silence which is the usual practice in Iran as far as Bahá'ís are concerned), confirmation was contained in a letter from the Charge d'Affaires of the Iranian Embassy in London who, in answer to the enquiries of a member of the European Parliament, wrote, "the proposed death sentence was quashed" by the Supreme Court. Although Mr. Mahrami's life therefore appears not to be in danger, the civil court has yet to decide on the charges against him, and pressure is being maintained on the Iranian authorities to persuade them that Mr. Mahrami should be discharged without penalty.
An episode of this dimension always proves the solidarity of the Bahá'ís worldwide. It will surely also move Bahá'í communities, inspired by the sacrifices of the Bahá'ís in Iran for the glorification of the Cause of God, to exert even greater efforts to spread the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, the only means of healing the wounds of present-day society.
With loving Bahá'í greetings,
[SIGNED: THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE]
cc: The Hands of the Cause of God International Teaching Centre Counsellors Bahá'í International Community, Office of the Secretary-General Office of Public Information, Haifa and Paris United Nations Office, New York and Geneva
+ AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL URGENT ACTION BULLETIN
+ Electronic distribution authorised
+ This bulletin expires: 20 March 1997.
EXTERNAL AI Index: MDE 13/07/97 30 January 1997
UA 33/97 Prisoners of conscience / Death penalty
IRAN Dhabihullah Mahrami Musa Talibi
Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Dhabihullah Mahrami and Musa Talibi may be at risk of imminent execution following reports of the confirmation of their death sentences by the Supreme Court.
Dhabihullah Mahrami and Musa Talibi are both Bahá'ís, a religious minority which is not recognised in Iran, and have been sentenced to death for apostasy. Both are accused of having converted to Islam in the past and then having reverted to the Bahá'í religion.
Dhabihullah Mahrami was sentenced to death in January 1996 by a Revolutionary Court in Yazd, central Iran. The death sentence was later overturned by the Supreme Court for reasons which were said to include the lack of competency of the Revolutionary Court to try this case, which was referred back to a lower court for reconsideration. Although Amnesty International has not received details of when his retrial took place, recent reports indicate that Dhabihullah Mahrami has been informed orally that his death sentence has been confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Musa Talibi was arrested in June 1994 in Esfahan. In October 1994 he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on unknown charges, which may have related to his religious beliefs or activities. This sentence was later confirmed, but following an appeal, he was retried in February 1995 and was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment from the date of his arrest. However, according to reports, the prosecution objected to his lighter sentence, apparently on the grounds that Musa Talibi was an apostate and that this had not been taken into consideration. At a further trial in July 1996, Musa Talibi was sentenced to death. His lawyer appealed against this sentence, but recent reports indicate that he too was informed orally that his death sentence has been confirmed.
Amnesty International believes both men are prisoners of conscience, currently held solely on account of their religious beliefs. It is calling for the death sentences against them to be lifted and for them to be released immediately and unconditionally.
Although apostasy is not a crime under the Iranian Penal Code, people who convert to Islam from other religions, and then reconvert (classed as 'national apostates' by the late leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini), can face trial and execution. Ayatollah Khomeini in his writings defined the punishment for 'national apostasy' as execution, if the person refuses to repent. The judicial system in Iran considers religious edicts, particularly those of eminent religious jurists such as Ayatollah Khomeini, to be a parallel source of law to acts of Parliament.
Freedom to hold or adopt the religion of one's choice is provided for by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a State Party. The UN Human Rights Committee (the expert body charged with interpreting the ICCPR), in July 1993 expressly recognized that this article entails the right to replace one's current religion with another, and that it bars coercion which would impair this right, including the threat of physical force or penal sanctions.
Bahá'ís in Iran suffer systematic harassment and persecution. At least 201 have been executed, most during the 1980s and apparently in connection with their religious beliefs or activities. Two other Bahá'ís, Kayvan Khalajabadi and Bihnam Mithaqi, are currently on death row in Iran.
[This is taken from URL http://WWW.UNHCHR.CH/html/menu4/chrrep/6397.htm#top. -J.W. ]
UNITED NATIONS Economic and Social Council
E/CN.4/1997/63, 11 February 1997
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS Fifty-third session
Item 10 of the provisional agenda
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD, WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO COLONIAL AND OTHER DEPENDENT COUNTRIES AND TERRITORIES
Report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, prepared by the Special Representative on the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Maurice Copithorne, pursuant to Commission resolution 1996/84 and Economic and Social Council decision 1996/287
I. THE SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE'S ACTIVITIES AND SOURCES
II. THE STATUS OF WOMEN
III. LEGAL SUBJECTS
A. The death penalty
B. Political prisoners/prisoners of Conscience
C. Religious dissidents
D. Extrajudicial groups
E. Amendments to the Islamic Criminal Code
F. Other legal matters
IV. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
V. THE FATWA AGAINST SALMAN RUSHDIE
VI. THE SITUATION OF THE BAHA'IS
VII. OTHER IMPORTANT MATTERS
A. Human rights institutions in Iran
B. Violence outside the Islamic Republic of Iran
C. The situation of certain religious minorities
[ While the document contains much of interest to Bahá'ís, for simplicity here I've cut all but the entry under heading VI, "THE SITUATION OF THE BAHA'IS." For the rest, the URL is http://WWW.UNHCHR.CH/html/menu4/chrrep/6397.htm#VI. -J.W. ]
VI. THE SITUATION OF THE BAHA'IS
50. The Special Representative has continued to receive reports of cases of grave breaches of the human rights of the Bahá'ís in Iran and of situations of discrimination against the members of this religious community, including arbitrary detentions, refusal of entry to universities, dismissals from employment and confiscation of properties.
51. According to the information received, 12 Bahá'ís continue to be held in Iranian prisons allegedly because of their beliefs, among them Mr. Bihnam Mithaqi and Mr. Kayvan Khalajabadi, who were visited by the Special Representative in Evin prison in February 1996. The Special Representative was informed that after his visit the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentences against them. They are reported to have written to the public prosecutor asking for the verdict to be rescinded.
52. The Special Representative was recently informed that the Supreme Court had confirmed the death sentences imposed by the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, on charges that reportedly include apostasy, against Mr. Dhabihu'llah Mahrami and Mr. Musa Talibi. Mr. Mahrami has been moved from the prison of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Yazd to that of the Security Information Department. Mr. Talibi has been transferred from the prison of Isfahan to Evin prison in Tehran. Mr. Talibi was arrested on 7 June 1994 and was first sentenced to one and a half years' imprisonment because of his membership in the Bahá'í community. However, the public prosecutor objected to the lightness of the sentence, stating that no consideration had been given to the fact that he had abandoned Islam and was consequently an apostate. The Special Representative has sent a joint appeal together with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Office in Geneva concerning the cases of Messrs. Mahrami and Talibi. The charge of apostasy against another Bahá'í, Mr. Ramidan'Ali Dhulfaqari, has not been dealt with.
53. During 1996 the following Bahá'ís were arrested allegedly because of their religious beliefs and remain in detention: Mr. Mansur Haddadan and Mr. Kamyar Ruhi, arrested in Mashhad on 29 February 1996; Mr. Arman Damishqi and Mr. Kurush Dhabihi, arrested in early 1996 in Gohardasht; Mr. Babu'llah Farji, arrested on 7 October 1996 in Qa'im Shahr; Mr. Nasir Iqaniyan, arrested in Simnan on 22 October 1996; Mr. Bihnam Rida'i, arrested also in Simnan on 31 October 1996 and Mr. Nasir Haqtalab, arrested in Mashhad on 31 October 1996. Mr. Bakhshullah Mithaqi, who was supposed to be released in August 1996 according to his sentence, continues to be held in prison. Other Bahá'ís were arrested and detained for short periods in various cities of the country. The practice of summoning of Bahá'ís to the Ministry of Intelligence agencies on various pretexts was also reported.
54. Cases of discrimination against Bahá'ís in the Iranian court system continue to be reported. In addition to the cases mentioned in the Special Representative's interim report (A/51/479, para. 25), the Special Representative was informed that a recent verdict of Branch No. 23 of the Central Public Court of Tehran prevented a Bahá'í from receiving her share in the inheritance following the death of her daughter because she has franklyadmitted to the Court that she is a Bahá'í. The Office of the Tehran Civil Court Registry had previously issued a certification of inheritance stating that the only heir of the deceased was her husband because the other inheritors are Bahá'ís, and subject to article No. 881 ... of the Civil Code.
55. The Special Representative was informed that the private ownership of property by Bahá'ís continues to be generally disregarded. In Yazd alone there were reportedly more than 150 cases relating to the confiscation of property during 1996. The majority of the Bahá'ís in Yazd are now prohibited from conducting any business transactions. In Kashan, a mosque was built on land confiscated from Bahá'ís. Pharmacies owned by Bahá'ís in Sari and Qa'im Shahr were reportedly closed down and sealed.
56. The Special Representative considers that the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report submitted to the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-second session by the Special Rapporteur on the question of religious intolerance on his visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran (E/CN.4/1996/95/Add.2) would constitute an important first step in the improvement of the situation of Iranian Bahá'ís.
57. Specifically, the recommendations concerned the urgent revision of the death sentences passed on Bahá'ís and the promulgation of amnesties or other appropriate measures to prevent the enforcement of the penalties imposed; the end of discrimination in the access to education in higher educational establishments or to employment in the administration; and the elimination from passport application forms of the question on religion, to guarantee the freedom of movement (E/CN.4/1996/95/Add.2, paras. 107, 109 and 112).
Musa Talibi was arrested, tried and sentenced to death apparently because of his religious beliefs. He is a prisoner of conscience whose execution may happen at any time. Musa Talibi is a Bahá'í, a religious minority that is not recognized in Iran, and has been a leader of the community there. He was detained in June 1994 in Esfahan and in October that year he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on charges of acting against the internal security of the Islamic Republic of Iran and "attracting individuals to the misguided sect of Bahá'ísm, including two [nieces]". This sentence was later confirmed. Following an appeal, he was retried in February 1995 and his prison sentence was reportedly reduced to 18 months from the date of his arrest.
In September 1997 he was reported to have been moved to Evin Prison. The prosecution reportedly objected to the lighter sentence, apparently on the grounds that Musa Talibi was an apostate and that this had not been taken into consideration during the appeal. This apparently related to the fact that Musa Talibi had stated during an earlier detention in 1981 to 1982 that he had converted to Islam, but since his release had continued to practice the Bahá'í faith. At a new trial in July 1996, Musa Talibi was sentenced to death. His lawyer appealed, but was informed verbally that the death sentence had been confirmed.
Although reports indicated that Musa Talibi had been convicted of apostasy, the Iranian news agency IRNA stated in February 1997 that he had been convicted of espionage. However, reports suggest that the sole charge on which the verdict that led to his death sentence is based is apostasy. It appears that Musa Talibi is being held under the threat of execution solely for his religious views. Apostasy is not a crime under the Iranian Penal Code, although people who convert to Islam from other religions and then reconvert can face trial and execution under non-codified Islamic law.
Men born Muslims who convert to another faith may also face execution: women face life imprisonment. The Iranian authorities deny that Bahá'ís follow any recognized religion, and treat them with hostility and suspicion, often accusing them without foundation of espionage. Many have been executed and others have suffered systematic harassment and persecution. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party, proclaims the right to hold or adopt the religion of one's choice. The Human Rights Committee, which interprets and monitors implementation of the ICCPR, has stated that this article includes the right to replace one's current religion with another, and bars coercion that would impair this right, including the threat of physical force or penal sanctions.
The detention of prisoners of conscience is facilitated in Iran by the grossly unfair trials faced by those viewed as opponents of the government. The trials, usually held before Islamic Revolutionary Courts, are often held in secret. Many defendants say they were tortured to force them to confess and often say that at no stage in the legal proceedings were they allowed contact with lawyers. In many cases, defendants are charged with espionage or with vaguely-worded charges such as being "at enmity with God" or "corrupt on earth", which often appear to be accusations designed solely to silence critics of the government. The death sentence against Musa Talibi should be lifted and he should be immediately and unconditionally released.
Serious human rights violations have continued to take place in Iran against many people, including lawyers, writers, journalists, a broad range of political opposition from members of left-wing groups to monarchists, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. There has also been a pattern of human rights violations against Shi'a religious leaders and their followers opposed to the government, particularly since 1995. In recent years, a number of people, both inside and outside the country, have been killed in circumstances suggesting that they may have been extrajudicially executed by agents of the Iranian Government. Critics of the government face imprisonment after unfair trial before special courts, as well as torture and execution. Political prisoners may be held without charge or trial in circumstances that are shrouded in secrecy. This secrecy is exacerbated by the refusal of the Iranian authorities to allow independent human rights monitors unhindered access to the country. Amnesty International has not been permitted to visit Iran for fact-finding, trial observation or government talks since 1979.
More than 200 Bahá'ís in Iran have been executed, most during the 1980s, apparently because of their religious beliefs. Others currently on death row on account of their religious beliefs or activities are Dhabihullah Mahrami, Kayvan Khalajabadi and Bihnam Mithaqi.
Please write polite letters in English, French or your own language: * Urge the authorities to lift the death sentence against Musa Talibi. * Call on the authorities to release Musa Talibi immediately and unconditionally as he is a prisoner of conscience. * Ask the authorities to ensure that no one in the future is punished solely for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs, including by reviewing relevant legislation. Send your communications to:
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed 'Ali Khamenei, Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, c/o The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. Salutation: Your Excellency His Excellency Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin Sayed Mohammad Khatami, President, The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. Salutation: Your ExcellencyPlease send a copy of your letters to the diplomatic representative of Iran in your country.