Mohammad Zolfaghari

Mahvash Sabet released after 10 years while falsely accused of spying for Israel

Mahvash Sabet, one of seven members of the former leadership group for Iran’s Baha’i community, was released on the afternoon of Monday, September 18 after serving 10 years in prison. Sabet and six other members of the group known as “the Yaran,” or “the friends,” were arrested in early 2008. Sabet is the first of the group to be released.

Mahvash Sabet, 64, and six other Baha’i leaders were arrested in 2008 and convicted of spying for israel and spreading propaganda against the clerical establishment.

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Sabet was a school teacher and a school principal and worked with Iran’s National Literacy Campaign. After the revolution, like many other Baha’is, she was expelled from teaching. The Baha’is set up the ad-hoc leadership group the Yaran after the new Islamic government banned Baha’i formal institutions.

The six remaining Baha’i leaders are also expected to complete their sentences in the coming months.They include, Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, 55, Mr. Jamalodin Khanjani, 83, Mr. Afif Naeimi, 55, Mr. Saeid Rezai, 59, Mr. Behrooz Tavakkoli, 65 and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm, 43.

The “Baha’i 7” were each sentenced to 20 years in prison on sham national security-related charges before their sentences were reduced to 10 years upon appeal.

The Baha’i community is one of the most persecuted religious minorities in Iran. Members of the faith are forbidden to publicly practice their religion, are routinely denied employment and education, suffer the confiscation of their property and the closing of their businesses, and its leaders are imprisoned. There are currently some 90 members of the Baha’i faith in prison in Iran due to the practice of their religion.

Since the beginning of the Islamic Republic, authorities have accused Baha’is of spying for Israel. Early on after the revolution, many Baha’is were executed for espionage. The central argument for handing down the charge has been that the Baha’i religious center is based in Israel.

According to Mahnaz Parakand, one of the lawyers who represented Mahvash Sabet and other jailed Baha’is, the Islamic Republic judiciary argued that since the center in Israel is tax-exempt, then the Baha’is must be spying for Israel.

The simple fact, however, is that all religious organizations are tax-exempt in Israel, including those belonging to Muslims.

About the Author
Mohammad Zolfaghari is a Baha'i News reporter and human rights defender who worked exclusively on Human Rights Violations especially religious minorities in Iran and as a documentary maker with Amnesty International. Lives in Norway.
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