Iran Should Release Baha'i Prisoner
July 21, 2004
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom today called on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release Dhabihullah Mahrami, an Iranian Baha’i prisoner detained more than eight years ago on charges of apostasy.
Mahrami’s ordeal began in the fall of 1995 in Yazd, Iran, when he was repeatedly called before the court and accused of apostasy for refusing to renounce his Baha’i faith and convert to Islam. In January 1996, in the face of continued refusals to convert, the state confiscated all of Mr. Mahrami’s property, imprisoned him, and sentenced him to death. After an appeal was filed by his attorney, Mahrami was granted a temporary stay of execution, but his death sentence was reaffirmed a year later. In December 1999, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Mahrami descends from a long line of Baha’is, although he allegedly practiced Islam for a short time. In Iran, where all non-Shiite Muslims are marginalized, Baha’is are a particularly persecuted group. According to the U.S. State Department, a “2001 Iranian Ministry of Justice report demonstrated that government policy continued to aim for the eventual elimination of the Baha’is as a community.” Muslims who convert to the faith are singled out for especially severe punishment as “apostates,” a capital offense. Many have been imprisoned for long periods and Amnesty International reports that more than 200 Iranian Baha’is have been executed since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
“Now that Iran is seeking expanded trade ties and acceptance by the community of nations,” the time has come for that country to release all religious prisoners, including Mr. Mahrami, said Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea. ”As a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is obligated to permit citizens the peaceful expression of their personal beliefs and the right to join any religious body they choose,” she said.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the last execution of a Baha’i. In 1998, Ruhollah Rowhani, a 52-year-old medical supply salesman and father of four, was executed for converting a woman to the Baha’i religion, even though the woman insisted she had always been a Baha’i.
Iran’s government applies a hard line interpretation of Shiite Islamic law, which does not tolerate freedom of belief. The State Department has designated Iran a Country of Particular Concern for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom.
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