In a strongly worded statement, opposing capital punishment for any reason, Mr Downer expressed deep distress at news of the execution of Mr Rawhani and called on the Iranian Government to respect freedom of religion under its obligations in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Mr Downer said that the execution was "contrary to the Iranian Government's stated intention to introduce change in the fields of social policy and personal freedom."
Judy Hassall, Bahá'í Community spokesperson, welcomed the statement by Mr Downer and other leaders of the international community. "We are extremely concerned about the lives of 3 other Bahá'í religious prisoners who have just been given the death sentence and who may also face imminent execution. We appeal to the Iranian government to listen to international appeals and not execute any more Bahá'ís."
"We strongly condemn this brutal execution of an innocent Bahá'í." said Judy Hassall, Director of Public Information, speaking on behalf of the 10,000 Australian members of the religion. "This execution is a gross violation of international human rights, carried out without process of law, and without any cause that a reasonable person would regard as even remotely justifying such an act."
Mr Rawhani's family learned of the execution the morning of his death when prison officials asked Mrs Rawhani to come and collect her husband's body. They were given one hour to bury Mr Rawhani, denying his relatives the chance to attend the funeral. From the marks on his neck it is clear that he was hanged. "The cruelty of this case is made worse by the months of mental torture his wife and four children endured." said Mrs Hassall. "For ten months his family were told nothing about his condition and didn't even know whether he was alive or dead".
"The situation of the Bahá'í community in Iran is alarming." said Mrs Hassall. "The approximately 300,000 Bahá'ís there are denied the basic civil rights taken for granted by other citizens. The Bahá'ís in Iran have suffered ferocious religious persecution incited by fanatical elements for over a century, despite the peaceful nature of their beliefs and their contribution to society." The Bahá'í Faith, an independent religion with five to six million followers around the world, teaches respect for all faiths and the unity of humanity.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to the persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran. Last year, in bipartisan motions, both Houses of the Australian parliament strongly condemned death sentences and other persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran and called for implementation of UN recommendations. The Australian government has consistently supported UN resolutions calling for the emancipation of the Bahá'ís and publicly protested the death sentences against them. Yesterday, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy condemned the execution of Mr Rawhani and called on Iran's leaders to state clearly that this action was carried out without their knowledge or consent. "We had hoped that President Khatami's assertions about freedom, justice and the rule of law in Iran would apply to the Bahá'ís. This is clearly not the case. If anything, under the Khatami government, the situation has become worse." said Mrs Hassall. "We hold deep fears for the lives of four Bahá'ís already on death row and for the eleven other Bahá'í prisoners held because of their religious beliefs. Some of whom are held in similar circumstances and in the same prison where Mr Rawhani was executed." "We urge the international community to vigorously protest the execution of Mr Rawhani and to continue to seek justice for the Bahá'í community in Iran," concluded Mrs Hassall.
A secret Iranian government document published by the UN Human Rights Commission in 1993 confirms official policy to suppress the Bahá'í community. Written by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and signed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, this "blueprint" of 25 February 1991 sets forth specific guidelines for dealing with Bahá'ís to block "their progress and development".
More than 200 Bahá'ís (mostly elected community leaders) have been executed since 1979, solely on account of religion. In July 1998 a 52 year old Bahá'í accused of converting a Muslim to the Bahá'í Faith was executed. Two Bahá'ís were killed in 1997. One, a 63 year old man, was severely beaten by prison guards, dying shortly after. The second, a young Bahá'í conscripted into the Iranian army was shot three times by his weapons training officer.
Four Bahá'ís are currently under death sentence, two of these for the 'crime' of changing their religion. Fifteen Bahá'ís are now in prison and individuals face harassment and arrest on account of their religious beliefs.
Bahá'ís are not allowed to elect their sacred religious institutions, which were banned by the Iranian government in 1983. Since Bahá'ís have no clergy, the ban threatens the survival of the community and violates freedom of religion.
Many Bahá'ís have lost their jobs or been prevented from working because of their religious beliefs. More than 10,000 were have been dismissed from government and university posts since 1979. All holy places, community properties and Bahá'í cemeteries were seized soon after the 1979 revolution. Many have been destroyed, none returned. Many properties of individual Bahá'ís have also been confiscated and illegally misappropriated. Bahá'ís are denied any legal recourse for such confiscations. Bahá'í marriages and divorces are not recognised, and the right to inherit is denied.
Bahá'í students have been barred from universities since the early 1980's and recently from the fourth year of high school. Denial of education limits economic opportunities and impoverishes the community.
In May the home of a Bahá'í where scripture classes were being held was raided and the owner and teacher arrested and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The twelve students aged 15 and 16 were given suspended sentences of five years imprisonment if they should ever again commit the crime of participating in a Bahá'í scripture class. They were all sentenced without the chance to engage a lawyer.
Last year two Bahá'ís were arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment for educational and other community activities. The Iranian Appeals Court referred to the Bahá'í Faith as an "illegal organization" and a "wayward sect", contradicting government claims of religious freedom in Iran. The Court without embarrassment condemned the men, among other things for "improving the standard of education of Bahá'í students and their families." It regarded English classes and similar activities as evidence of "crimes" and "espionage" for the state of Israel. Bahá'ís are persecuted solely on religious grounds.
The Bahá'í community is entirely law abiding and peaceful.