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Public Statements

Plight of the Bahá'í Community

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. WYDEN. Madam President, it has been 5 years since the Iranian regime arrested and imprisoned seven members of the Bahá'í community's ad hoc leadership group. Today I rise to mark this sad anniversary and to remind folks of the persecution that religious minorities continue to face in Iran.

The Bahá'í faith was founded in Iran during the 19th century. It is an independent religion not a sect of Islam and it rejects violence. The Bahá'í faith is practiced today by more than 5 million people around the world, roughly 300,000 of whom still live in Iran.

But rather than celebrate its own religious history, the Iranian regime considers the Bahá'í faith to be a heresy and brutally represses its practitioners. The regime routinely seizes personal property from members of the Bahá'í community, denies them access to education and employment opportunities, and detains them based solely on their religious beliefs. According to some reports, more than 600 Bahá'ís have been arrested since 2004. The American Bahá'í community counts 115 Bahá'ís currently in Iranian prisons and another 437 awaiting trial, appeal, sentencing, or for their sentence to begin.

Five years ago, the Iranian regime arrested seven leaders of the Bahá'í community--Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm--and detained them in Iran's notorious Evin prison. Iranian leaders accused the seven of espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

These seven have since faced sham trials in kangaroo courts. One of their lawyers, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, reported difficultly establishing basic, meaningful access to counsel. She also stated that the regime had no evidence against the accused and that their trial was riddled with irregularities. Despite these concerns the regime sentenced all seven to 20 years in prison in 2010.

I and many others found these sentences unconscionable and said so at the time. Imagine being sentenced to prison because your faith recognized the divine origin of the world's great religions, the oneness of the human race, and the equality of men and women. Imagine losing 20 years of your life because somebody objected to your personal beliefs.

For the Iranian regime, I am sorry to say, this is more business as usual. This religious persecution is hardly limited to the Bahá'ís either. In fact, since 1999 the State Department has designated Iran as a ``country of particular concern'' for its human rights record. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2012 annual report cited the regime for engaging in ``systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.'' The report goes on to state that ``even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities protected under Iran's constitution--Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians--faced increasing discrimination, arrests, and imprisonment.''

The Iranian regime must stop its assault on religious expression and freedom of conscience, and there is no better day to do so than this sad and dubious anniversary. I call upon Iran's rulers to immediately release the seven Bahá'í leaders and all other prisoners held on account of their beliefs. I also want to urge my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring S. Res. 75, introduced by Senators KIRK and DURBIN. This resolution condemns the Iranian regime for its state-sponsored persecution of its Bahá'í minority and for its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights, to which Iran is a party.

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