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(Andre Penner)
(Andre Penner)

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The canaries in Iran's cages Add to ...

The Islamic Republic of Iran is going to show any wavering authoritarian regime just how it's done. No "colour" revolution will be allowed. No surrender to the street. No departing on a quickly arranged flight to seek refuge, as the Shah did. This regime has no intention of playing "nice" with anyone, including those mullahs who used to back the regime. To stay in power, even in the age of tweeting, ignore the tweets. Pick up your clubs and throw them in jail. Some technologies don't change.

The few "moderates" left in the system have all been purged. Instead of a stick in one hand and an olive branch in the other, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his coterie of like-minded extremist ideologues project mistrust and defiance. Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, expected the opposition within Iran to buckle under the heavy repression that has imprisoned several thousand and killed several hundred. But dissent has increased. Unfortunately, not nearly as much as the rate the regime has ratcheted up the force used by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia.

The regime has lost its legitimacy. As the economic situation deteriorates, more defections can be expected. Factions and fissures proliferate. Tehran's mayor, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf, a close ally of Ayatollah Khamenei, wants to throw Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overboard.

On Dec. 18, the United Nations General Assembly passed a strong resolution condemning Iran's human-rights abuses - including the denial of basic civil and political rights, the use of torture and rape, the excessive use of capital punishment, the execution of juvenile offenders, the increasing numbers of hanging and stoning, the brutal suppression of women's rights advocates, and discrimination against minorities. Not surprisingly, it made no difference.

President Barack Obama played to the European bleachers long enough to establish a record that he truly tried diplomacy even as European offers of membership in the World Trade Organization, a repeal of sanctions and modernization of Iran's oil industry were spurned. While the Obama administration has sincerely tried to negotiate a deal on the nuclear issue - in contrast with the confrontational style of the Bush era - Tehran has rejected out of hand all overtures, even when proffered by the British, French, German and, surprisingly, Russian governments.

Iran continues to add to its centrifuge stockpile from the notorious Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's proliferation supermarket, continues to enrich uranium, and continues to refuse to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Whatever the debates over Iran's capacities and readiness to build nuclear weapons, there's no question about intentions.

Comprehensive international sanctions against the regime - for its nuclear weapons projects and its brutal human-rights violations - have become a necessary next step even as threats to destroy Israel and export terrorism to Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan have somewhat receded because of the distractions of the demonstrations in Iran. (The U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany have tentatively agreed to meet this weekend to discuss Iran's nuclear defiance.) In any case, the efforts to export revolution and destroy Israel are unlikely to remain in remission for very long.

Amidst all this brouhaha, the canaries in their cages in Iran continue to suffer and die. Due to be put on trial today, in Revolutionary Court 28, are seven Baha'i members of Friends in Iran, the group that assumed the functions of the banned Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly. These leaders have been imprisoned for nearly two years.

Three previous trial dates in 2009 were postponed, adding to the psychological terror against Iran's largest religious minority. They will be represented by new lawyers. Their earlier ones, such as Abdolfattah Soltani or Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi (neither one a Baha'i), were imprisoned or forced to flee the country.

The seven prisoners:

Fariba Kamalabadi, 46, whose physician father was arrested in the 1980s, tortured and imprisoned, was an honours student denied entry to university but who became a developmental psychologist while raising three children. On the first anniversary of Ms. Kamalabadi's arrest, her youngest, Alhan, wrote an open letter expressing the "mountain load of pain and sorrow" she carried during "a year of being far from a mother."

Jamaloddin Khanjani is a 75-year old industrialist, a father of four and a grandfather of six.

Afif Naeimi, 47, is a brilliant student who was denied entry to medical school but who became a successful industrialist. He is a father of two.

Saeid Rezaie, 51, is a Baha'i scholar and an agricultural engineer with a farming equipment business. He has three children.

Mahvash Sabet, 55, is a teacher and principal who was dismissed from public education for being a Baha'i. She served as director of the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education for 15 years. She has two children.

Behrouz Tavakkoli, 57, is a former lieutenant in the Iranian army and social worker who specialized in the care of people with disabilities. He lost his government job after the Islamic Revolution because he was a Baha'i. He has spent previous time under arrest in solitary confinement. He has two sons, one a student and the other an engineer living in Canada.

Vahid Tizfahm, 35, is an optometrist and a former member of the Baha'i National Youth Committee. He has one son.

After their arrest, the seven spent five months in solitary confinement. They are accused of "espionage for Israel," "insulting religious sanctities" and "spreading corruption on the earth." They have been pushed out of government positions and universities and vilified. Baha'i cemeteries have been desecrated. Baha'is have been jailed and executed, and their religious institutions banned.

Last March, Canada's House of Commons unanimously condemned the persecution of Baha'is in Iran. Both the U.S. Congress and the UN General Assembly have also censured the persecution of Baha'is.

We must raise our voices and cry out against the calumnies of this regime, not because we will influence its behaviour - I'm convinced we won't - but because it's our duty to speak truth to power even as power tramps on truth and persecutes the almost forgotten first victims of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

Howard Adelman is professor emeritus of philosophy at York University; he founded the Centre for Refugee Studies.

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