Iranian Baha’i Psychologist Released after Lengthy Imprisonment
September 25, 2017
On September 18, Iranian Baha’i psychologist and community leader Mahvash Sabet was released from prison after serving 9 ½ years of her 10-year prison sentence. She was one of seven members of the Friends in Iran (Yaran-i-Iran), an ad hoc national coordinating group responsible for the Baha’i Iranian community’s religious and administrative affairs. At the time of her arrest, she was also the director of and taught psychology and management at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, an alternative academic institute of higher education created and run by the Baha’i community to provide education for Baha’i youth who are barred from attending universities in Iran.
The Baha’is—the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran—have faced longtime government discrimination and harassment. Their religion is not recognized in Iran’s Constitution, and they are deprived of many internationally recognized human rights. Ms. Sabet and the other Baha’i leaders were arrested in spring 2008 and subsequently charged with “espionage for Israel” (apparently because the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i faith, is located in what is now Israel), “insulting religious sanctities,” and “propaganda against the system.” The leaders’ trial, which concluded in June 2010, failed to meet international fair trial standards. Their access to legal counsel was irregular, and no credible evidence was presented to support the charges brought against them. It appears that the leaders were imprisoned solely because of their faith and their peaceful activities to assist the Iranian Baha’i community. In August 2010, the leaders’ lawyers were informed orally, without any legal process, that their clients had been convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In late November 2015, in accordance with a new stipulation in Iran’s Penal Code, which allows for sentences to be served concurrently, their prison term was reduced from 20 years to 10 years. Throughout her imprisonment, Ms. Sabet was held under extremely harsh conditions of confinement.