The arrests have been criticized internationally, and on February 13 the United States said they are part of the systemic persecution of Baha'is in Iran.
Roya Kamalabadi, whose sister Fariba is among the detained, agrees, telling RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari that her sister and the other six Baha'i leaders were detained solely on the basis of their faith, which is not recognized in the Iranian Constitution.
RFE/RL: Have your heard from your sister since her arrest last May? Has your family in Iran been able to meet with her?
Roya Kamalabadi: Her family in Iran -- her husband and children -- have been able to meet with her every now and then. During the first months of her detention they weren't allowed to meet with her, but later [officials] gave them permission to visit her.
RFE/RL: How is she doing? And how are the prison conditions?
Kamalabadi: We don't know much about her conditions. Recently during a visit she was very sick and unfortunately she didn't have enough warm clothes to keep warm in the cold winter. She apparently has to sleep on the cold floor and she had a very bad situation. Before her arrest my sister had some heart problems and she was taking medication. Her family took her medication to the prison, but unfortunately [prison officials] wouldn't accept them.
RFE/RL: Your sister is among the seven Baha'is who are expected to go on trial in the near future on security charges. What kinds of activities was she involved in before her arrest?
Kamalabadi: Baha'i religious institutions were banned in Iran after the revolution and religious and other issues such as marriages, divorces, death, and other similar issues are being managed by a group called "The Friends of Iran." The Iranian government has always been aware of the existence of this group and [government officials] have had meetings with this group.
My sister is one the members of "The Friends" that takes cares of the issues of Iran's 300,000 Baha'is, including education. As you know, Baha'is are deprived of higher education in Iran. [The Friends of Iran] had created a university and they were involved in educating young Baha'is in Iran, and in [administrative and religious] issues.
Government Pressure Increasing
RFE/RL: Iranian authorities have leveled serious accusations against your sister and the other Baha'i leaders. They've accused them of spying for Israel and insulting religious sanctities. Do you see any basis for these accusations?
Kamalabadi: All of the accusations are totally baseless. Their arrest is in fact one of the [steps] that is being used to suppress the Baha'i faith and members of the Baha'i community in Iran. The international Baha'i community has its main headquarters within today's Israel. The reason for this is that the founder of the Baha'i faith was sent to exile by the then-Iranian government and the Ottomans to a region that is today Israel, 80 years before Israel was created.
Aside from that, Baha'is are banned from having government jobs in Iran, even the most insignificant ones, and they have no access to government documents to enable them to spy for a foreign government. Regarding the charge of insulting religious sanctities -- one of the main principles of the Baha'i faith is respect for all sanctities and we believe that all religions come from God and we respect them.
RFE/RL: There has been growing pressure on Baha'is in recent years. But lately more arrests are being reported, and now there is this case against the Baha'i leaders, including your sister. What do believe the reason is behind this?
Kamalabadi: Apparently, whenever there is an [issue], in order to divert people's attention, [officials ] create these kinds of problems and they crack down on Baha'is. This is one of the steps in the elimination of the Baha'i community in Iran.
The arrest of these people and the charges that have been brought against them is unfair; they haven't enjoyed their most basic rights, including access to a lawyer. Iranian Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi had said she would represent the seven Baha'is, but [the judiciary] has not allowed her to meet with them and she hasn't even been able to study their files. Ebadi herself has been threatened and harassed for accepting the case and this just shows that justice is not being applied to them.
Despite all the pressure on Baha'is in Iran, I'm seeing a very positive aspect and that is that many people, governments, rights groups, and also many Iranians know very well that the accusations against the Baha'is are baseless and Baha'is are being persecuted only because of their faith.
RFE/RL: You left Iran seven years ago and you now live in Australia. Did you leave because of the pressure and discrimination that exists in Iran against the Baha'is?
Kamalabadi: Yes. All the Baha'is in Iran are under pressure in Iran. I was a student after the revolution; I was fired just because of my faith and was not able to continue my studies.
When I had my own family, we were facing problems, like all the other Baha'is, in making a living. It was not possible for us to have government jobs and permission to run private [businesses] was often cancelled. It was very difficult. My children were harassed at school, and finally a time came when there was too much pressure and we decided to leave Iran.