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Iran Under Fire for Delayed Release of Ailing Baha'i Leader

By Michael Lipin, Ramin Haghjoo December 21, 2018

Iran faces new criticism from Baha'i activists for its delayed release of an ailing Baha'i leader imprisoned for a decade and for its threat to jail a Baha'i woman for 11 years.

The Baha'i International Community (BIC) said Iran released the last of seven imprisoned former leaders of the country's Baha'i minority on Thursday. BIC sent VOA Persian photos of 56-year-old Afif Naeimi, a father of two from Tehran, with loved ones who greeted him with flowers after he emerged from the city's Evin prison.

Naeimi and the six other Iranian Baha'i leaders had been arrested in 2008 on national-security-related charges rejected as baseless by BIC, which said they were part of a long-running persecution of Iranian Baha'is by Tehran's Islamist rulers who view them as heretics.

Situation not improved

Iran released the six other leaders of the Yaran, an informal committee that ran the affairs of the nation's Baha'i community, between October 2017 and March 2018.

In a statement posted on its website, BIC criticized the circumstances of Naeimi's detention, saying he experienced "severe" health problems and often received "inadequate" treatment. It said Iranian authorities also "cruelly" determined that the brief time Naeimi spent on a hospital furlough from prison would not count toward serving his sentence, extending his detention by months and making him the last of the former Yaran members to be released.

"We are of course happy that Naeimi has been released. However, this should by no means be seen as an improvement of the situation of Iranian Baha'is as a whole," said Diane Ala'i, BIC representative to the United Nations. "The stark reality is that scores of Baha'is still remain imprisoned in Iran because of their beliefs and tens of thousands more face intense persecution including denial of access of higher education, shop closures, and harassment," Ala'i added.

News of Naeimi's release coincided with Baha'i activists raising concerns about the fate of another Iranian Baha'i, Yekta Fahandezh-Saadi, who lives in the south-central city of Shiraz.

11-year sentence

In a Wednesday phone call with VOA Persian, Fahandezh-Saadi's Austria-based sister, Mona, said Yekta recently heard that she had been sentenced to 11 years in prison for alleged national security offenses. Mona Fahandezh-Saadi said her sister had been given 20 days to appeal the sentence to a Shiraz court.

Iran's Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) has reported that Iranian authorities arrested and temporarily detained Yekta Fahandezh-Saadi in 2010, 2012 and 2014 on similar charges before releasing her. It said she has faced charges of spreading anti-government propaganda and engaging in an anti-government conspiracy.

Mona Fahandezh-Saadi denounced those accusations as phony and baseless, saying her sister is being persecuted simply for being a Baha'i.

There was no immediate comment on the cases of Yekta Fahandezh-Saadi or Afif Naeimi in Iranian state media.

This article originated in VOA's Persian Service.

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