LONDON, 28 May 2014, (UK Bahá’í News) — Representatives from the UK’s major religious communities have called for the immediate release from prison in Iran of that country’s seven former Bahá’í leaders.
The call came at an unprecedented commemorative meeting in Westminster Abbey, held on Tuesday 27 May, to mark the sixth anniversary of their imprisonment. The seven are each currently serving 20-year jail sentences, the longest faced by any current prisoner of conscience in Iran.
The gathering took place in Westminster Abbey’s historic Jerusalem Chamber. Dating from the late 14th century, it is the room where committees translated the Authorized Version of the Bible in 1611, and prepared subsequent revised editions.
Welcoming the guests, the Rev Andrew Tremlett – Canon of Westminster Abbey – explained how the Abbey “aspires to be a place that gathers people of all faiths and none, so it is absolutely right that this occasion is happening here.”
After the contributions, seven of the Faith leaders each lit a candle, representing a prisoner.
Parliamentarians, government officials, civil society actors, academics and representatives of Inter Faith groups, were also in attendance. Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Bahá’í Faith, said that the event was taking place “in the context of an ongoing deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran”.
The Iranian government’s treatment of its Bahá’í community is the litmus test of its regard for the human rights of all its citizens, Ms. Ellmann added.
“Today I reiterate the call in urging the Iranian authorities to release the Yaran unconditionally and immediately.”
Two prominent faith leaders – a Sunni Muslim and a Coptic Orthodox Christian – also offered remarks. In a video message which was screened to the gathering, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra – who serves as an imam in Leicester – said that “no religion teaches us to treat others wrongly and oppress them … Iran has the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Islam is indeed a religion of compassion and peace”.
Bishop Angaelos of the UK’s Coptic Orthodox Church, said that “we stand with, and pray for, the Bahá’í community, both here and around the world, and pray for the safe return of their leaders to them”.
“We pray for a change of heart, a change of policy. We pray for a change of thought and understanding,” said Bishop Angaelos.
Speaking on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom, Fidelma Meehan said it was “heartwarming” to see such a diverse group of people gather on behalf of the human rights of the Bahá’ís in Iran.
Ms. Meehan also noted that government, Inter Faith and civil society support in the UK was matched by a “growing awareness” around the world of the true intentions of the Bahá’ís to “strive for the spiritual and material welfare of others”. And even in Iran, a number of “promoters of justice, artists, statesmen, thinkers, and other enlightened citizens” had recently “broken their silence” in defence of the human rights of Iranian Bahá’ís.
In her concluding remarks, Louise Ellman MP said, “Voices calling for change; voices speaking out against oppression must be heard and after that, action must follow.”