In May 2013 many Bahá’í communities around the world took part in a campaign to bring public attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. Widely acknowledged by the United Nations and independent human rights monitors as the most persecuted group in Iran, there are currently over a hundred Bahá’ís in prison in Iran – including three babies. The only crime these people have committed is that they are members of the Bahá’í Faith.
However, it is important to remember that Bahá’ís are not the only innocent people in Iranian prisons. There are, unfortunately, many other prisoners of conscience in jail in Iran at present – human rights activists who are working to protect workers, women and children, journalists, bloggers and world-renowned human rights lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Abdolfattah Soltani.
May 2013 marks the 5th anniversary of the arrest of six out of seven of the Yaran (the seventh, Mahvash Sabet has been in prison since March 2008) and so, it was deemed timely to run a campaign to highlight their situation and the fact that their 20 year prison sentence is the longest of any prisoners of conscience currently in Iranian jails.
These seven Bahá’ís, known to the Bahá’í community as the Yaran or Friends of Iran, and known in the press and human rights circles as the Seven Bahá’í Leaders, were an informal body who worked to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Bahá’ís who live in Iran. This community of Bahá’ís has been forbidden to have any elected administration since 1983 and therefore these seven people were voluntary workers helping the Bahá’ís deal with burial, weddings and other ordinary activities, until May 14th 2008 when they were arrested in early morning raids on their homes. After a long delay, and without any proper legal representation, these seven Bahá’ís were eventually brought to trial where they were sentenced to 20 years in prison. (You can read more about the charges against them and their trial here)
The Irish Bahá’í community were happy to be part of this international campaign. On May 15th there was a public press briefing held at Buswell’s Hotel in Dublin. Tomi Reichental, a human rights campaigner, well known author and Holocaust survivor (who has lived in Ireland for over 50 years), spoke very movingly at the event. He warned of the dangers of ignoring human rights abuses no matter where they are happening and encouraged the Bahá’í community to keep the attention of the public on the situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran in order to keep prevent further deterioration.
This briefing was attended by a supportive crowd including Maureen O’Sullivan T.D., Dr. Roja Fazaeli, a member of the Executive Committee of Amnesty Ireland and Lecturer in Islamic Studies at TCD, and Keith Donald, Chair of Burma Action Ireland. A very interesting ‘new’ media sidebar to this traditional-style press briefing was the great support received via Twitter during the event itself from people as diverse as the heads of human rights organisations to members of the Dutch parliament.
During the May campaign another form of ‘new’ media was used in Ireland to bring attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, and the case of the Yaran in particular. A Five Years Too Many Campaign – Ireland Facebook initiative brought enormous and heartening support from both Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís all around Ireland and, indeed, from all over the world. People of all ages, races and backgrounds sent in photographs to the Facebook campaign in support of the call for the release of the Yaran and all prisoners of conscience.
During the ten day period of the international campaign, more than 2,000 people were actively engaged with the Five Years Too Many Campaign – Ireland page and, therefore, the international campaign. This particular type of engagement translated into actual actions being taken by these people. They ‘liked’, posted, shared and commented both on posts on the Five Years Too Many Campaign- Ireland Facebook page and also on their own Facebook pages as well.
In addition, this Page also reached over 20,000 people each week during the Campaign and, as of today – May 27th – the Five Years Too Many Campaign – Ireland Facebook Page has 629 Page ‘Likes’. This latter means that – according to the Facebook statistics – the posts and photographs and articles on the Page have the potential to reach c.194,541 so-called Friends of Fans.
In early May, Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, stated that the purpose of this campaign was to ask people people of good will around the world to raise their voices in an effort to win the freedom of these seven Bahá’ís and all other innocent prisoners of conscience in Iran.
And all around the world people of good will from every religion, race and walk of life did raise their voices in a call for justice.
(Click here to read more about the Five Years Too Many Campaign around the world)