Logo of IRFBA: International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance

As Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, I express grave concern over the continuing imprisonment in Iran of two prominent Iranian Baha’is, Mahvash Sabet, an internationally acclaimed poet who is a recipient of Pen International’s Pinter Prize and Fariba Kamalabadi, accused of “meeting with Baha’is in different cities of Iran, participating in Baha’i religious ceremonies and communicating with Baha’is abroad via WhatsApp.”

Both Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi were convicted and imprisoned by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran based on their roles as former members of the group Yaran (Friends), a group that tended to the basic pastoral needs of Iranian Baha’is and which worked with the full knowledge of the Iranian government. In 2009, the members of the Yaran themselves agreed to disband it after the Iranian authorities’ announcement that it was illegal. Since 31 July 2022, both have been imprisoned based on alleged violations of Article 498 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code.

Both were previously imprisoned on similar charges from 2008 until 2017. Their repeated imprisonment is part of a pattern of increased detention of Iranian Baha’is in 2022. It reflects a systematic attack against prominent Baha’is and ongoing and sustained persecution of Baha’is in Iran. The persecution of religious minorities is a serious violation of international human rights law.

I also note and condemn the treatment and conditions of both Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi while in Ward 209 of Evin Prison. There are credible allegations that both have faced solitary confinement while in prison and have no access to family or visitors. They also suffer from serious health conditions and there is credible evidence that they have not received appropriate medical care which has led to the further deterioration of their health.

I call on Iran to release any unfairly detained members of the Baha’i community, and to refrain from using baseless and politically motivated charges as a means to further persecute this already marginalised group. Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and other Baha’is must be afforded protection under the law which safeguards their fundamental rights. I also urge Iran to ensure their proper treatment while in prison, to cease its ongoing harassment and persecution of Baha’is, and to bring its laws and regulations regarding religion or belief into line with international standards.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future