USCIRF condemns sentencing of Baha’i women

USCIRF (26.12.2022) – – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRFcondemned Iran’s sentencing of two Baha’i women who were former members of the imprisoned Yaran Iran, known as the Baha’i Seven.

Following an hour-long trial, Judge Iman Afshari of Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Mahvash Sabet (age 69) and Fariba Kamalabadi (age 60) to 10 years in prison. Both women previously served a 10-year sentence between 2008 and 2018 alongside five other Baha’is related to their social and spiritual work in the Iranian Baha’i community. Amid ongoing protests in Iran over mandatory religious headscarf laws and other restrictions on freedom, Iran’s government has arrested scores of Baha’is and other religious minorities.


Iran’s relentless persecution of Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi is the latest in its decades-long campaign against the religious freedom of Baha’is. The Iranian government targets women in this community as part and parcel of a larger assault on the religious freedom of Iranian women in a desperate attempt to re-assert control at a time of unprecedented calls for freedom by the Iranian people,” said USCIRF Commissioner Sharon Kleinbaum. “USCIRF urges the U.S. government to amplify the efforts of Iranians protesting for greater religious freedom and other rights. It should leverage the full force of its economic power against Iranian officials complicit in egregious religious freedom violations and continue to support the efforts of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran to document and investigate Iran’s gross violations of human rights against those who peacefully assert their freedom of religion or belief.”


Iran’s government considers Baha’is a “deviant sect” of Islam and has systematically denied the community freedom of religion or belief for decades. Baha’is are excluded from pursuing higher education, have their businesses shuttered, and face harassment and arrest by Iranian security forces. In recent years, the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO) has seized Baha’i properties that community members have owned for decades.


Following the outbreak of protests over mandatory headscarf laws for women in Iran, the government escalated its persecution of Baha’is and other religious minorities including Sunnis, Christians, Gonabadi Sufis, and Yarsanis. Iran has used the Baha’i practice of mixed-gender religious gatherings and the lack of mandatory headscarves for women as evidence that Baha’i women are immoral and represent a threat to the religiously-grounded public order that Iran’s government endorses.


Iran’s ongoing mistreatment of Baha’is lays bare its utter contempt for freedom of religion or belief. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to these outrageous violations,” added USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland. “The U.S. Department of State should continue to engage constructively but frankly with the international community to combat the ongoing repression of religious minorities in Iran and give full support to other like-minded governments pursuing sanctions against Iranian officials complicit in these restrictions. Rights abusers in Iran need to be held accountable for their persecution and unjustified arrests of religious groups.”


In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. State Department redesignate Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, which Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced a few weeks ago.


USCIRF published a country update on religious freedom conditions in Iran in the first half of 2022, held a hearing on “State-Sanctioned Religious Freedom Violations and Coercion by Saudi Arabia and Iran,” discussed the situation for religious prisoners of conscience in Iran on an episode of USCIRF Spotlight Podcast, and published a report on Religious Propaganda in Iran, in addition to highlighting the mandatory hijab law protests.


See HRWF Database of Baha’is in prison

Photo: Fariba Kamalabadi

Further reading about FORB in Iran on HRWF website