Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Readers of this blog are not strangers to the idea that the Iranian politico-religious machine has stifled freedom of expression (remember Neda) and gone out of its way to falsify charges to justify the means of its agenda, no matter how despicable and inhumane (think of Sakineh). Given the Iranian government's tactics against its citizens, it should be no surprise that persecution infiltrates other corners of the Iranian world, especially those occupied by minorities. Readers will, for instance, no doubt remember Kurdish dissident Zeynab Jalalian, sentenced to death for moharebeh, or "enmity against God". But even the religious minorities in Iran are targeted if they fail to follow the right religious faith.

 Bahá'í Ringstone

The symbol above hardly looks like a ticket to being accused of apostasy or espionage. But the Bahá'í ringstone is, apparently, just that. Practitioners of the Bahá'í faith are illegally persecuted at present in Iran.

You may ask about what I mean about illegal persecution. Well, under Article 3 of the Iranian Constitution of 1979, the Iranian State follows the following goals: (please safeguard your computer's screen and keyboard before reading...)
  • Support good moral values based on faith
  • Fight all forms of vice and corruption
  • Raise public awareness through the proper use of the mass media and press
  • Free education
  • Free physical training
  • Strengthening advanced scientific research
  • The elimination of imperialism and foreign influence
  • The elimination of despotism, autocracy and monopoly
  • Ensure social and political freedoms within the law
  • The end to all forms of undesirable discrimination
     These goals were designed to emphasize positive liberty.
Considering some of the stratagems that I'm aware of being required for some of my Iranian readers, I'm thinking that line item #3 was repealed or their definition of proper in Iran is very different from mine. Item #8 also appears to be under interesting interpretation by the current Iranian administration. But mostly, I'm thinking that the Bahá'i community in Iran would have a whole lot to say about Items 9 and 10.

Even the United Nations thinks things in Iran are questionable with respect to the regime's treatment of minorities. Yesterday, August 30, CERD, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Iran to tackle its racism and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. The specific language of the report (see link within the Reuters article above) reads:

The Committee expresses concern at the low level of participation of persons from, Arab, Azeri, Balochi, Kurdish, Baha’i, and certain other communities in public life. This is reflected in, for example, the scant information provided about them in the national report, in the national census and in public policies. (Art. 5)
- UN CERD Report, unedited version August 27, titled Concluding observations 
of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
                        in the Islamic Republic of Iran

I'm really hoping that the UN pays attention to the matter, though based on their interest in Congolese women, I'm not very hopeful.

I can tell you that after a couple of days of research and asking around among various friends, that being Bahá'i in Iran is a seriously risky business. How risky? Imagine an American journalist who mentioned being Bahá'i once in college publication being told it wasn't safe to go to Iran  for an assignment. You'd be imagining the Iran faced by Maryam Ishani. Ishani's column at HuffPost is a potent reminder of the extent of Bahá'i repression in Iran today. She directs readers to June 28, 2010, for instance, when Iranian authorities were actively destroying 50 homes of Bahá'i citizens in one village alone, for no reason other than their apparent faith.  

Losing your home because of your faith is terrible. But the grimmest circumstances are faced by brave leaders of Iranian minorities.

Roxana Saberi, journalist, author, and a former guest of the Iranian regime, had a column Sunday in the Washington Post in which she described meeting two brave and ill-fated souls in Evin Prison in Tehran. Two female Bahá'i leaders, Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, who languished in Evin Prison for over a year before being convicted, and sentenced to 20 years at Rajai Shahr (Gohardasht)  prison about 20 km outside Tehran. They are not alone, as five men who were also Bahá'i leaders were convicted.

What were they convicted of? Espionage for Israel, propaganda against the Iranian Republic and Islam, establishment of an illegal administrative body, insulting Islamic religious sanctity, among other things.

What is the Bahá'i faith you might ask? Is it a bellicose faith? Is it geared toward usurping authority? Does it claim the Shi'a  practice of Islam is wrong or insult it? Is it aligned with Judaism or Christianity or something objectionably Western? Quite to the contrary. In fact, the Bahá'i faith, which grew out of Shi'a Islam, advocates for things like world peace, unity of humankind, equality of men and women, universal compulsory education and independent investigation of Truth.

(Ah, you say, one can easily, therefore, see why the Iranian politico-religious regime wants to root out its very last practitioner. That last part is especially sticky, isn't it?)

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have decried the incarceration and conviction of the Bahá'i Seven, whose only transgression has been to practice a faith that advocates tolerance, world peace, equality and that damning investigation of Truth.

The seven Baha'i prisoners, photographed several months before their arrest, are, front row, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet.
© 2010 Bahá’í World Centre

Saberi's moving account of the inspiring support that Fariba and Mahvash gave her while incarcerated is colored by fear for their fates in Rajai Shahr (Gohardasht), one of the most infamous (think about that, folks) prisons in Iran. Gohardasht has poor hygiene conditions of course, but is best known for the number of prisoners who have suffered, and horribly so, within its walls.

You can read more about the seven Bahá'i leaders here

I encourage readers to join the e-mail/letter writing campaign for the Bahá'i prisoners. Twenty years in prison just because you read a different book from the Qur'an is inconceivable. But in these prisons... one shudders to imagine.

Rajai Shahr Gohardasht Prison, Karaj, Iran
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Oh, and Dennis... keep your paws off this post. Please? I'll put up a nice little picture of a Dawkins book or something for you, okay?

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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