Human Rights Voices

While the UN devotes its human rights operations to the demonization of the democratic state of Israel above all others and condemns the United States more often than the vast majority of non-democracies around the world, the voices of real victims around the world must be heard.

Iran, May 29, 2008

Ignoring Baha'i plight hypocritical

Original source

The National Post

"Let's say six Muslims are arrested in dawn raids across Canada and held indefinitely without charge. Can you imagine the outrage?

There would also be headlines throughout the West if any state were to mimic Nazi-era persecution by arresting six Jews and jailing them without cause.

Yet Iran's early morning arrest on May 14 of six leaders of an internationalist faith practised by 30,000 Canadians has barely been mentioned by the media or governments, including Canada's.

Nine days before he resigned as foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier issued what appears to have been a one-time Canadian condemnation of the snatching of the Baha'is. Washington also spoke out earlier, but hasn't publicly pursued the matter and although Baha'i activists in North America wrote to Ban Ki-moon, UN chief, his spokesman said he wasn't aware of it.

Canada should be doing more -- not least because of an unofficial division of labour among Western countries over how to react to Iran's numerous excesses.

Alongside U. S.-and European-led efforts to convince Tehran to roll back its nuclear program, Canada has led scrutiny of Iran's appalling human rights record since the 2003 murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in a Tehran jail.

The Baha'i arrests offer a chance to build on the often bland statistics-driven statements of condemnation Canada pushes through each fall in the UN General Assembly by recounting their individual stories, as well as that of a seventh Baha'i leader arrested in March.

Ottawa-based Naim Tavakkoli, 30, son of one of the group, says his father Behrouz, 57, was a psychologist before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Because of Iran's stepped-up oppression against followers of the Baha'i faith, which the ruling mullahs consider an apostate offshoot of Islam, he was forced to abandon his profession and turned to carpentry.

"There has been complete silence about where the authorities took him or the others, or even if they are still alive," said Tavakkoli, who moved to Canada in 2005 with his wife to work as a structural engineer.

"They've given my mother nothing more than a case number, and refused even a brief phone call."

Nargess Tavassolian, a former student in Montreal, can also attest to the pressure Baha'is in Iran live under daily.

Last month, her mother, the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, received death threats pinned to the door of her office in Tehran, where she has represented clients in some of Iran's most sensitive human rights cases.

"Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, we told you to give up your un-Islamic ways and Baha'i-based faith but you have continued serving the foreigners and the Baha'is and even your daughter is involved," one note said.

It indicated the writer knew Tavassolian had studied at McGill with Dr. Payam Akhavan, who recently appeared before a U. S. Congressional committee to urge opposition to Iran's draft apostasy laws.

The Baha'i faith was founded in 19th-century Persia by the professed prophet Baha'u' llah and today counts more than five million adherents worldwide. About 300,000 are still in Iran, where they constitute the largest religious minority.

Cartoons distributed in Iranian schools that disparagingly depict the forerunner of Baha'u'llah as an agent of Russia hint at the historical marginalization of the faith there.

While the current Islamic government denies it has detained or executed any Baha'is for their faith, Baha'i leaders say hundreds of their co-religionists have been killed and add the latest arrests are reminiscent of the deadly sweeps of the 1980s. In the face of minimal international condemnation, the Iranian authorities have shrugged off media inquiries.

When a journalist in Tehran asked a Foreign Ministry spokesman about the imprisoned leaders, he was told it was a "judicial matter." The judiciary said, "Ask the government."

The official Iranian line is the seven Baha'is are detained for "security reasons."

Among groups joining the call for action, the Canadian Jewish Congress has drawn an obvious parallel, saying the Baha'is, "like Iranian Jews, have been subject ... to bogus charges of acting as agents for foreign governments."

One forum in which Canada could lodge immediate additional protest is the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council, where the Conservative government has a generally commendable record of standing up to oppressive regimes. Yet its most recent action there was to last week go along with a Cubaproposed "right-to-food" special session that backers of traditional human rights say is a distraction. It was."