Iran frees one of seven Baha’i members jailed for spying for Israel

Mahvesh Sabet, 64, stresses she and six others still serving lengthy terms were unjustly imprisoned; Baha’i protests Iran’s persecution of community

Mahvash Sabet (Facebook)
Mahvash Sabet (Facebook)

GENEVA, Switzerland — The Baha’i community on Tuesday welcomed the release of a member serving a 10-year prison term in Iran, but expressed concern for six co-religionists tried alongside her.

Mahvesh Sabet, 64, was released on Monday, Diane Ala’i of the Geneva-based Baha’i International Community told AFP.

Sabet, a former teacher and school principal, and six other leaders of the minority community were arrested in March 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for heresy and espionage for Israel.

Their sentences were later reduced to 10 years.

Iran allows prisoners more than halfway through their sentences to win parole for good behavior.

Sabet “will naturally be awaiting the release of her six colleagues who continue to be unjustly imprisoned,” BIC said in a statement.

“Although the news of the release of Ms Sabet… is a welcome development, it does not signal the end of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran,” it added.

It described “increased pressure” on Baha’is as “economic apartheid against a segment of Iran’s population.”

Iran allows religious freedom for several minorities but targets the Baha’i faith, which believes in unity among religions and equality between men and women.

The Baha’i faith considers Bahaullah, an Iranian born in 1817, to be the latest prophet sent by God, in contrast with Islamic orthodoxy.

Baha’is have been targets of persecution and discrimination in Iran since the emergence of the faith in the second half of the 19th century, well before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Islamic Republic regards Baha’is as “heretics” and suspects many of espionage for Israel, where they have a center in the northern city of Haifa.

A view of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

The Baha’i community claims to have more than 7 million followers worldwide, including some 300,000 Iran.

It says they are barred from higher education and government jobs.

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