The State Department has strongly condemned Iran's conviction of a Bahá'í for apostasy and called on the Iranian Government to repudiate the death sentence recently imposed on Mr. Musa Talibi. In a special statement issued at yesterday's press briefing, State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns urged Iran to release all other Bahá'ís imprisoned on apostasy charges and to cease its persecution of the Bahá'ís and other religious minorities in Iran.
Four Iranian Bahá'ís currently face death sentences on account of their religious beliefs. On February 15, the State Department had issued a strong appeal in the case of Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami, who had also been sentenced to death for apostasy. Following the U.S. appeal and actions by U.N. officials and representatives of other governments, Iran's Supreme Court referred the Mahrami case to a civil court for re-trial. Two other Bahá'ís who have been imprisoned since 1989 have also appealed death sentences based on their religious beliefs.
U.S. Bahá'í spokesman Firuz Kazemzadeh noted that Christians and other converts from Islam could be in danger of prosecution if the apostasy verdicts are upheld.
Following is the text of the State Department Spokesman's statement, with additional background information provided by the American Bahá'í community.
Statement by Nicholas Burns, State Department Spokesman, October 1, 1996
"We understand that Mr. Musa Talibi, an Iranian ahá'í, has been sentenced to death for apostasy by a court of the Government of Iran.
"The United States Government strongly condemns this conviction and calls on the Government of Iran to repudiate it immediately, to release Mr. Talibi from custody, and to guarantee his safety. We further urge that the Government of Iran release all other Bahá'ís imprisoned on apostasy charges.
"The United States once again calls on the Government of Iran to desist in its persecution of members of the Bahá'í and other religious minorities residing in Iran, and to comply fully with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights."
Mr. Musa Talibi was arrested on June 7, 1994 and has been in prison in Isfahan for more than two years on religious charges. He was recently sentenced to death for apostasy by the Islamic Revolutionary Court, branch number 31. His current appeal of the death sentence marks the second time that Mr. Talibi's case has gone to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Talibi was initially sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for having shared the tenets of his religion with others. An appellate court then reduced the sentence to eighteen months. The public prosecutor protested that the sentence was too light, that the court had failed to consider the charge of apostasy, and that the matter should be referred to the Supreme Court of Iran. The case went to the Supreme Court, which in turn referred it to the Islamic Revolutionary Court, branch 31. That court set aside the reduced sentence and imposed the death sentence for apostasy. Mr. Talibi has appealed the apostasy verdict and his case is now before the Supreme Court for the second time.
Other death sentences imposed on Bahá'ís for religious beliefs:
Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court of Yazd. In late February 1996, following international protest, including a statement issued February 15 by the U.S. State Department, the Supreme Court referred Mr. Mahrami's case to a civil court for retrial. No trial has yet been held.
Two other Bahá'ís, Mr. Bihnam Mithaqi and Mr. Kayvan Khalajabadi, have also been sentenced to death. They have been confined since 1989 and are now held in the Evin Prison in Tehran. They have appealed their sentences to the Supreme Court.
With a membership of more than 300,000, the Bahá'ís are the largest religious minority in Iran. Since the current regime took power in 1979, more than 200 Bahá'ís have been executed on account of their religious beliefs. Thousands have been imprisoned, many subjected to torture. Bahá'ís have been systematically excluded from education and employment opportunities and the survival of the Bahá'í community is threatened by continuing religious repression.
There are more than 130,000 American Bahá'ís, including some 12,000 who have sought refuge from persecution in Iran.