Bahá'í Sentenced to Death

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- The Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State today condemned Iran's action in sentencing an Iranian Bahá'í to death for apostasy.

Representatives of the American Bahá'í community welcomed U.S. Government support for the Iranian Bahá'ís and urged other governments and the United Nations to join in protesting the death sentence.

Following are the official State Department statement and an explanation of the case released by the U.S. Bahá'í group, which represents 120,000 American Bahá'ís. There are more than 300,000 Bahá'ís in Iran, by far the largest religious minority group in that country.

Official statement from the U.S. Department of State spokesman Nicholas Burns, Feb. 15, 1996:
"We have learned that a court of the Government of Iran has sentenced a member of the Bahá'í faith, Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami, to death for apostasy.

"The United States Government strongly condemns the conviction and the sentence and calls upon the Iranian Government to repudiate them, to release Mr. Mahrami, and to take all steps necessary to ensure his safety.

"The United States further calls on the Government of Iran to cease its persecution of the Bahá'í and other religious minorities and to comply with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights."

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States issued the following explanation of the case:

* Yazd Court Sentences Bahá'í: Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami, a 49-year-old Bahá'í, was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Courts of the Province of Yazd (January 2, 1996). The sentence has been appealed to Iran's Supreme Court. The timing of the Supreme Court consideration is not known.

* Verdict finds apostasy based upon rejection of Islam: The court maintains that Mr. Mahrami, who was born into a Bahá'í family, became a Moslem in 1981 and that after seven years, he returned to the Bahá'í Faith. He was arrested on September 6, 1995 on charges of apostasy. The verdict states that on three occasions (October-December, 1995), Mr. Mahrami reaffirmed his Bahá'í beliefs and refused to repent his alleged apostasy, although he would be spared the death sentence if he embraced Islam.

The court found Mr. Mahrami guilty of "denouncing the blessed religion of Islam and accepting the beliefs of the wayward Bahá'í sect (national apostasy)."

* Threat to Christians and other converts from Islam: Iran officially recognizes Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism as religions whose members are afforded legal protection. If this verdict is upheld, however, an adherent of one of these religions who had converted from Islam could be prosecuted and would face the death penalty for apostasy.

(Note: Iran does not recognize the Bahá'í Faith as a legitimate religion, and all Iranian Bahá'ís are regarded as "unprotected infidels." In defining apostasy, however, Iranian clerics distinguish between Bahá'ís born into a Bahá'í family and those who converted from Islam to the Bahá'í Faith.)

* Action violates international law: The Yazd court verdict violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Iran is signatory. The Covenant specifically provides for an individual's right to have a religion, not to have a religion, or to change his religion.

* Bahá'ís urge protest against Iranian action: Bahá'ís in the U.S. and other countries urge government action and public protest to persuade Iran to set aside this verdict and to permit free choice of religion, according to international law.

* Three other Bahá'ís under death sentence: Two Bahá'ís condemned to death in 1992 for membership in the Bahá'í Faith are still in prison in Karaj and have appealed to the Supreme Court. The third was released from prison in late 1993 but still faces charges of apostasy and could be rearrested.