Congressional Record article 7 of 15

(Senate - July 30, 1998)

[Page: S9484]

Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, on December 10, 1948--nearly 50 years ago--the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and called on member nations `to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded . . . ` Since that time, the Universal Declaration has become the bedrock document for human rights standards and aspirations for signatory governments.

One government, however, the government of Iran, is distinguished as an egregious violator of a central principle this document expounds--namely, that of religious freedom. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration explicitly states: `Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.'

On Tuesday, July 21st, the Iranian government summarily executed an Iranian Baha'i for the single alleged act of converting a Muslim to the Baha'i faith. The Baha'is are Iran's largest religious minority with about 300,000 adherents and suffer continuous persecution for their faith.

The executed, Mr. Ruhollah Rowhani, a medical equipment salesman with four children, had been picked-up near the northern Iranian city of Mashad by the Iranian authorities in September 1997. He was held in solitary confinement during that extended period until final execution.

The facts are stark in their cruelty. His family was allowed to visit him briefly the day before his execution but, amazingly and cynically, they were not notified that his execution was set for the next day. They finally discovered the death only after they were given one hour to arrange for his burial. With brutal disregard, the Iranian government refused to divulge any information to this grieving family who were forced to conclude from the rope marks that their beloved relative had been executed by hanging.

It is safe to say that Mr. Rowhani was accorded no due process nor afforded a lawyer prior to his execution. He died alone at the end of a rope for the alleged sin of sharing his sincerely held faith. I will state this very clearly--Mr. Rowhani was the victim of the most extreme form of religious persecution. Mr. Rowhani died for his faith and this is an outrage which must be denounced.

Mr. President, this barbarous act flies in the face of the Universal Declaration to which Iran is party. Mr. Rowhani had a fundamental right to practice his religion. Iran denied him that right. Mr. Rowhani had a fundamental right to a public trial. Iran denied him that right. Mr. Rowhani had a fundamental right to counsel. Iran denied him that right. Mr. Rowhani had a fundamental right to NOT be hung at the end of a rope for holding minority religious beliefs.

My deepest concern now rests with the fifteen other Baha'is now being held by the government of Iran for essentially the same charges that resulted in Mr. Rowhani's execution. As I speak now, at least three Baha'i men in the city of Mashad presently sit on death row, facing imminent execution because they dared to quietly celebrate their faith. I speak as much for them today as I do in protest to the brutal killing of their fellow-believer.

This hour, I call on the Government of Iran to ensure the safety of these individuals. Better yet, I call for the release of these individuals whose only crime was the sincere expression of their faith, which happens to be a minority religion. Most importantly, I call upon the government of Iran to provide freedom of religion to its people, including the famously peaceful yet brutalized Baha'is community.

I want to take this opportunity to commend the international community for its swift response to Mr. Rowhani's execution and urge other governments and organizations to vigilantly monitor the fate of the 15 jailed Baha'is, particularly the 3 jailed in Mashad presently facing the death penalty.

Religious persecution demands a tireless counter response; it demands a vigilant defense. If we hold the principle of religious freedom to be a precious and fundamental right, something worth protecting, then we must always defend those who are wrongfully and brutally crushed for their faith by hostile national governments.

We cannot bring Mr. Rowhani back or right the wrong that was done to him and his family, but we can advocate against this happening again. Iran must abide by global human rights principles. Accordingly, Iran must release the fifteen Bahai who have been incarcerated for their faith. Iran must preserve the lives of those facing execution for their faith. Iran must honor its commitment to the religious freedom principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and set these prisoners free

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