An Iranian court on Aug. 8 sentenced seven Baha'i leaders to 20-year prison terms on charges of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, and cooperation with Israel. All seven have denied the charges and have appealed the decision. The seven, all members of a national coordination committee for the Baha'i community in Iran, were arrested in 2008. Their arrest and subsequent trial prompted international criticism and calls for their release from the US government, UN rights bodies and governments worldwide. There are 300,000 Baha'i living in Iran, comprising Iran's largest non-Muslim minority. There are an estimated seven million members worldwide. The religion is considered heretical by the Iranian government, and the Baha'i have also faced legal restrictions on their activities in Egypt since the 1960s.
For the past two weeks, 17 political prisoners in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison have been on hunger strike to protest constant abuse; solitary confinement; lack of phone call rights and family visits; and lack of access to medical care, books and newspapers. One hunger striker, photojournalist Babak Bordbar, has been released. The remaining strikers include student activist Majid Tavakoli and human rights activist Koohyar Goodarzi. In addition to protests by the families of these prisoners, a group of political prisoners including Mansour Ossanloo of the Tehran Bus Workers Union and journalist Issa Saharkhiz have issued an open letter to urge an end their hunger strike. The letter states that "the democracy-seeking Green Movement needs capable forces and prolific youth like you to build a free Iran."
Rallies have been held in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Ottawa and other cities around the world to support Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic for adultery. Ashtiani has been incarcerated since 2005 and has already received received 99 lashes. She was initially sentenced to death by stoning, but the execution was put on hold earlier this month after an international outcry. "We do want to save her life," said Maryam Namazie, a protest organizer in London. "We are hoping this will be a stepping tone to ending stoning and executions in Iran once and for all."
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 16 ordered the State Department to reconsider the status of the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). The PMOI has been designated a foreign terrorist group by the US since 1997, but it argues that it stopped military action in 2001, and since 2003 has been without weapons. The group has also touted its actions in providing information about Iran's nuclear program. The State Department has argued that the PMOI still engages in military action and that the information it provided about Iran's nuclear program was not reliable.
The Jundallah, a Sunni militant organization whose leader was recently executed by Iranian authorities, claimed responsibility July 16 for two coordinated suicide blasts the previous night that killed at least 27 people, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guard, and injured 270 others during an evening prayer ceremony at the Grand Mosque in Zahedan. The group said its goal was to kill members of the Revolutionary Guard and avenge the arrest and hanging of its leader, Abdulmalak Rigi.
Saeed Torabian, a board member of the Tehran bus drivers' union (Vahed Syndicate), was arrested June 9 by Iranian security forces and is being held incommunicado, whereabouts unknown. His home was ransacked, and his computer and cell phone confiscated in the raid. Two other members of the Syndicate's board of directors, Mansoor Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, are imprisoned at Rajayee Shahr prison in Karaj and Evin Prison in Tehran. The International Transport Workers' Federation is calling for Torabian's immediate release. (ITF press release, June 10)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on June 2 pardoned or commuted the sentences of 81 protesters arrested following last year's disputed presidential election. The pardons were made on request of the head of the Supreme Judicial System of Iran, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, who described the pardoned protesters as repentant. They were announced the same day that defeated presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi applied for permission to hold demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of the elections. Pardons are common occurrences on national religious observances in Iran; June 2 marked the birth of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, a revered figure in Shi'a Islam.
A report says Israel is to deploy three submarines armed with nuclear-equipped cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf. Three German-made submarines from Israel's Flotilla 7 will be sent near Iran's coastline, reports the London Times citing claims in Israeli newspapers. The vessels Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan have previously been sent to the region, but the report claims the Israeli Navy has fresh plans to keep at least one of the submarines in the region on a permanent basis.