October 2, 2010
Tehran, Iran – A Baha’i assistant of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has been sentenced to two years in prison in Iran, the semi-official Mashregh news website said Saturday.
Jinous Sobhani was arrested in early January with her husband and eight other members of the Baha’i faith after anti-government protests on the Muslim holy day of Ashura.
The Baha’is were blamed for the protests, said Diane Ala’i, representative to the United Nations for the Baha’i International Community.
“They had nothing to do with the demonstrations,” Ala’i said. “The accusations are completely false.”
They have been jailed in Tehran’s Evin prison. Ala’i said Leva Khanjani has also been sentenced to two years behind bars. It was not clear whether the other Baha’is arrested after the Ashura protests have been sentenced.
Sobhani, the former secretary for Ebadi’s banned Defenders of Human Rights Center, was also arrested in 2009 and detained for 55 days in jail.
Mashregh news said Ebadi’s center was established to defend the Baha’is and accused Ebadi and her colleagues of being on French and German payrolls.
Iranian authorities view followers of the the Baha’i faith, the largest minority religion in Iran, as “heretics” who may face repression on the grounds of apostasy.
Baha’is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. In addition, Baha’is are barred from the military and denied government jobs, according to a report by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Iran, however, denies mistreatment of Baha’is and says followers of the faith are free to live in Iran. But it says activities against the Islamic state are illegal and the government thus views the seven Baha’is as criminals.
Seven national Baha’i leaders are currently serving 10-year sentences.
The two women and five men were arrested in 2008 and accused of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, according to the Baha’i International Community.
The group denies all charges and says they were trumped up in an effort to stifle the Baha’i religion. In the absence of official recognition of their faith, the seven national leaders helped meet spiritual needs of Iran’s 300,000-strong Baha’i community.
CNN’s Moni Basu and Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.