In 2008, seven Baha'i leaders were arrested in Iran, and following closed judicial proceedings, they were each sentenced to 20 years in prison on espionage charges. The imprisonment of the Baha'I leaders is part of a wider Iranian government strategy to “make the Baha’i community invisible,” CEU Associate Provost Prem Kumar Rajaram, also an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, said in a talk hosted by the Human Rights Initiative at CEU May 7.
In March, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed called for the immediate release of the seven, noting that Iranian Baha’i are “systematically deprived of a range of social and economic rights.” Iranian leaders do not recognize the Baha’i faith as an independent religion, but rather as an apostasy from Islam.
With reference to secret memoranda and orders from different Iranian state departments, Rajaram argued that there has been a concerted attempt by the Iranian state to remove the Baha'i community from public life. Baha'is, the largest religious minority in Iran, are prohibited from attending universities and are barred from public employment. There are currently some 115 Baha'is in prison in Iran. The imprisonment and sentencing of the Baha’i leaders followed an increase in persecution of the Baha'i community that started in about 2005, around the time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office.
The Baha'i International Community has begun a campaign called “Five Years Too Many” to pressure the Iranian government to release the seven immediately, along with more than 100 other members of the Baha’i faith and countless other prisoners of conscience, and to take other steps to end religious persecution in Iran. A number of countries and human rights organizations have voiced their concern over the imprisonment of the Baha'i leaders. More information on the campaign can be found at http://bic.org/fiveyears.