Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Iran Press Watch: The Baha'i Community

Iran Press Watch: The Baha'i Community

Elika Mahony’s music: Persecution – Dedicated to the Baha’is in Iran

Posted: 14 Sep 2010 07:01 PM PDT

The Greatest Sin: Being a Bahai in Iran

Posted: 14 Sep 2010 11:41 AM PDT

Iranian.comby Fariba Amini

12 women in ShirazIn 1952, an emissary went to Ayatollah Boroujerdi (the highest ranking Shi’a cleric) to ask him to tell members of the Fedayeen-e Islam not to engage in disruptive and violent acts. Boroujerdi did not relent. After all, he and Ayatollah Kashani were the spiritual leaders of the Fedayeen. Since long before and during the 1950’s, members of the cult were engaged in acts of violence including the murder of historian Ahmad Kasravi, journalist Mohammad Masoud, PM Razmara, and members of the Bahai faith. That emissary was my father who had been given the task by Mohammad Mosaddeq.

Even though many Bahais had supported Reza Shah [1], he had chosen to close down their main schools, Tarbyiat. Historians interpret this move differently, some arguing that in his decision to close the Bahai schools the Shah was motivated less by anti-Bahai sentiments than by a suspicion of anything beyond his control. Bahais at times suffered discrimination, but they also grew in number under his rule, encountering less violence than under the Qajars.

Nearly four decades later, a General, who had broken down Mosaddeq's house door and was involved in the coup against his government, was given clemency by the newly established Islamic regime. Under Mohammad Reza Shah, he was given the task of desecrating Hazirat ol -Qods, the main shrine [2] of the Bahais. The General's name was Nader Batmanglidj. After the fall of the Shah, as a number of generals were executed, his life was spared because of his role in the destruction of the shrine.

Recently I came across an informative but disturbing article , "The stabbing of Dr. Berjis," from the hand of Nasser Mohajer, published in Baran, Spring/Summer 1387/2008, regarding the killing of a Bahai doctor in Kashan. This happened in 1942. Dr. Sulayman Berjis, whose ancestors had come from Hamadan, had moved to the city of Kashan with his family. He was a physician doing good deeds for the community and saving lives in his practice. He had a pharmacy where poor people could get free medicine and treatment. He was also the head of the Bahai community in a city where Bahais once thrived. He had acquired a good name because of his compassionate work. One day, a few young men entered his practice, asking him to come and help a sick person. He left his patients and went with them to a location where he was met by another man. They threatened him that if he didn't abandon his faith, they would kill him. Realizing that he was trapped, he tried to escape to a nearby house. But the four killers went after him with knives. They caught him, threw him down and viciously stabbed him to death. Rasoul Zadeh, their leader, (In June 1988, Kayhan published Haj Rasoul Zadeh's obituary as having been a devout Muslim and a true follower of Navab Safavi, who had engaged in the heroic act of killing a Zionist element in Kashan!) then cut his throat. Blood was everywhere. Dr. Berjis had done nothing wrong. In fact, he was an exemplary citizen and a dedicated doctor in a place where his services were much needed. He had saved lives and was in the prime of his life (he was only 54 when he died) but he lost his own life because he was a Bahai.

The murderers went to the police and confessed to the killing. They were proud of their action and had no remorse. After all, the killing was done according to a Fatwa (religious decree) issued by Ayatollah Gharavi , the local Grand Mojtahed ( highest cleric in town). A trial took place and after 8 months of investigation, upon the orders from Tehran, all four (and an additional four more who were co-conspirators in the crime) were acquitted. All the young men, ages 17 and 18, barely having grown a beard, had been members of the Fedayeen-e Islam. Kashani and Boroujerdi (the latter being a staunch anti-Bahai ) had intervened on their behalf and had asked that they be set free. Their request had been granted. The killers went free while an innocent doctor had been given the death sentence. His family never got any form of justice. They had quietly buried him in a cemetery designated for Bahais. (See article that details the entire episode and the trial).

In 1979, shortly after the Iranian Revolution, the Bahai cemetery in Shiraz, one of the largest in Iran, was desecrated by extreme elements. Bahais were rounded up and beaten. Many were arrested. Families were dispersed. Many were not able to attend universities as a few students who were working at a grocery store in the Washington area and had left Iran through Turkey told me. They said they had wanted to stay and continue with their education in their hometown of Shiraz if they had been allowed. But they were denied their basic right as citizens to get an education. "Compared to other religious minorities in Iran, the Bahais lived under much harsher conditions, for they were the only religious minority that was neither officially recognized nor given freedom of worship." (The Forgotten Schools: The Baha'is and Modern Education in Iran, 1899-1934, Soli Shahvar).

The Islamic Republic is merciless when it comes to members of the Bahai faith. It is the greatest sin to be a Bahai because in the eyes of Islam the idea of divine revelation after the death of the Prophet Mohammad—the Seal of the Prophets— is unacceptable. The regime’s Shi’a leaders consider the Bahai faith dangerous; to them it is the highest form of apostasy. The Bahais are also branded as Zionists. One reason for this is that Mirza Hossein Ali Nouri, aka Bahaollah, who was forced to leave Iran, ended up in Ottoman Iraq and by way of Istanbul went to Palestine where he died in 1892 in the city of Akko, now in Israel. Following an anachronistic reading of history, the clergy see him and the Bahais as brothers –in- arms of the Jewish state and its potential ally.

According to a brochure published in 2009 by the International Federation of Human Rights Communities (FIDH) on the history of execution in Iran, there are about 300,000 Bahais in Iran( It is inherently difficult to establish an accurate number). “Not only they are denied their civil rights but the number of executions has been higher than any other religious minority.” The same report states that between 1979-1980, more than 200 Bahais had been executed or murdered. Fifteen others had disappeared most likely killed. In 1984, in Shiraz alone, 10 Bahai women were executed after disobeying orders giving up their faith for Islam. One was Mona Mahmoud Nejad, who at the time of her arrest was 16 years old. She was seventeen when she was executed in Adel Abad prison in Shiraz. Another 15 year old boy, Peyman Sobhany, was beaten and then stoned to death.

In recent times, a number of Bahai leaders and community members have been arrested and incarcerated. It is now a repeat of what took place almost three decades ago. Bahais are not just targeted by extreme elements of the Islamic regime. The sad part is that even a Khatami official told me once that Bahais are not to be supported even if they are imprisoned. I shook my head in disbelief and my reply was (I know I am not alone in this respect as many Iranians and Iranian Americans have expressed their outrage): "They are no different from you and I." They should not be singled out for their faith or way of life, especially if they have committed no crime, are honorable citizens and love and worry about Iran as much as the next person.

I remember talking with those young men while they were packing bags of grocery. They were two brothers and their cousin. I saw sadness in their eyes. They had lost a few years waiting in Turkey for their papers in order to travel to the US. One of them said to me, I wish I could go back and live again in the city of Shiraz where I grew up and had my roots. "I loved Shiraz," he said.

Hafez and Sa’adi of Shiraz, who wrote about beauty, wine and their love for mankind, are now turning in their graves at the thought of what is happening to Iran. Wouldn’t you?

Editor’s note:

[1] The Baha’is, in accordance with direct teaching of the Baha’i Faith, obey the ruling government of the land in which they live. As much as this practice can be interpreted as “supporting” the ruling government, that is not case. In a worldview of dichotomies where people “have positions” or “take sides” or “support” or “reject”, are “pro” or “anti” one thing or another in the frenzy of debates and clashes, it is very difficult to fully understand this particular aspect of the Baha’i teachings.

[2] “Hazirat ol -Qods” (Haziratu’l-Quds), is an Arabic term that is used to refer to Baha’i House of Worship (see Wikipedia here). However, the structure that the author refers to here was a Baha’i Centre for gatherings and meetings of the Baha’i community in Tehran.

Source: http://www.iranian.com/main/2010/sep/greatest-sin

Arab Times: Iran slaps 20-year jail terms on 7 Bahai

Posted: 14 Sep 2010 11:22 AM PDT

Arab Times(Arab Times) PARIS, Aug 9, (AFP): Iran has sentenced seven leading members of its Bahai reli- gious minority to 20-year jail terms, a spokeswoman for the French members of the faith told AFP on Monday.
The United States and the European Union had criticised Iran's detention of the Bahai members, and their reported jailing will revive calls for Tehran's Islamic regime to respect religious freedom.
"On Sunday, authorities orally announced 20-year sentences to the defendants' lawyers," said Sophie Menard, spokeswoman for the Bahai community in France, adding that the group was await- ing confirmation of the terms.
"The lawyers have begun proceedings to seek an appeal, which ought to allow
them access to the written judgements," she explained.
Iran arrested seven Bahai leaders in May 2008 and this year put them on trial on charges of "spying for foreigners" and of cooperating with Israel.
Followers of the Bahai faith, which was founded in Iran in 1863, are regarded in the Islamic republic as infidels and suf- fered persecution both before and after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, to be the latest prophet sent by God and believe in the spiritual unity of all reli- gions and all mankind.
The group now has seven million fol- lowers, including 300,000 in Iran — where its members are barred from high-
er education and government posts — and has a large temple in Haifa, in north- ern Israel, a location that has increased Tehran's suspicions about the group.
"For Muslims, there can't be another prophet or divine messenger after Mohammed," explained Bahai follower Foad Saberan.
"So they consider Bahaullah an impos- tor and his followers heretics, whereas the Bahai faith has nothing to do with Islam and is an independent religion.
"And if the headquarters of the religion is in Haifa, it's because that's where Bahaullah ended up settling in 1868 after he was exiled to Baghdad then to Constaninople, long before the creation of the state of Israel."

Source: Arab Times, p. 9, Tuesday, August 10, 2010, see an image of the page 9 here: Arbatimes Bahai

31 Eminent Indians Call on the Iranian Government for Immediate Release of the seven Baha’i leaders (II)

Posted: 14 Sep 2010 10:59 AM PDT

Baha'is of IndiaCall for Immediate Release of
the Seven Bahá'í leaders by the Iranian Government

We, add our voices to the vast and growing numbers of individuals, agencies and governments the world over who out of a sense of outrage and distress have spoken up in defense of the seven innocent Iranian Bahá’í leaders who have been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment by the Government of Iran on patently false and unjustifiable charges.

The legal process that was followed to arrive at this appalling judgment has been found to be riddled with the most glaring anomalies. These seven honest and law-abiding individuals were first arrested in 2008 and were held for nine months before the charges against them were announced. They were given no more than an hour's access to their lawyers before their trial began. Throughout this period, they were denied bail and were held under conditions of great physical and psychological hardship. This catalogue of abuses and illegal actions reached its crescendo with the announcement of the prison sentence. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Laureate whose Defenders of Human Rights Center represented these seven Bahá’ís said in a television interview on the day they were sentenced, “I have read their case file page by page and did not find anything proving the accusations, nor did I find any document that could prove the claims of the prosecutor."

The truth is that the only crime that these seven individuals – two women and five men, the oldest among them being 77 years old – have committed is that they are Bahá’ís. They are peace – loving and obedient to the law of their land and have worked for the betterment of Iranian society.

The Iranian Bahá’í community has been the object of persecution from the time of its inception in 1844. Ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, these persecutions have intensified. Bahá’ís have been expelled from jobs in public institutions, they have been deprived of higher education, their marriages are not recognized, their shrines and sacred places have been destroyed, their graves have been vandalized, their institutions and literature have been banned and they have been denied any means to express their beliefs or defend themselves. In speaking up for these seven Bahá'í leaders we are therefore also standing up for the 3,00,000 Iranian Bahá’ís, who constitute that country's largest religious minority, whose lives have been blighted and whose progress has been crippled by the injustices that have so systematically and remorselessly been visited upon them.

As citizens of India, a country that has rightfully prided itself in exemplifying for the world the spirit of coexistence and tolerance, we feel impelled to voice our strong condemnation of this travesty of justice. We also express our deep concern for the imprisoned Bahá'ís and their families.

We call upon all those who are committed to peace and justice in India to join us in petitioning the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release these and other Bahá'ís who have been unjustly imprisoned in Iran.

India and Iran have had historic ties of language, poetry, architecture, music and religion. In the name of these ancient ties that bind our two nations, we call on the Government of Iran to act according to the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it has ratified. These provisions mandate the upholding of the principles of justice and freedom-principles cherished by all great religions of the world and all nations.

We remind the Government and leadership of Iran that they must honour their own historic action of 1948 in supporting and adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Both Iran and India were prominent among the countries that voted for this landmark declaration — which confers upon all its signatories the obligation – and the privilege — to uphold, honour and defend human rights without distinction of any kind.

We call on the Indian Government to use its good offices with Iran to ensure that the seven detainees are immediately released and given a fair hearing in accordance with the international standards of jurisprudence.

August 2010


Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India
Fali Nariman, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India and President of the Bar Association of India
Soli Sorabjee, Former Attorney General of India – President, United Lawyers' Association
Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission of India
R.B. Singh, Distinguished Professor IFFCO Foundation, Ex Assistant Director General of FAO
Amitabh Kundu,Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU – Former Member, National Statistical Commission
Zia Mody, Founding Partner, AZB & Partners (Advocates & Solicitors)
Mohini Giri, Founder, Guild of Service India – Former Chairperson, National Commission for Women
Tahir Mahmood, former Member, Law Commission of India, Prof. Amity
Vrinda Grover, Lawyer, Supreme Court of India

Archbishop Vincent Concesso, Archbishop of Delhi, Sacred Heart's Cathedral, Chairperson, All India Council of Religions for Peace
Swami Agnivesh, President, World Council of Arya Samaj
Rev. Dr. Dominic Emmanuel, Spokesman of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese

Miloon Kothari, Coordinator, Housing and Land Rights Network – Former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
George Verghese, Senior Columnist – Visiting Professor, Center for Policy Research
Suhas Chakma, Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights
Maja Daruwala, Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Mira Shiva, South Asian Focal Point, International People's Health Council
Rajesh Tandon, President, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)
Ashok Khosla, President, Development Alternatives
Ajay Mehta, Executive Director, National Foundation for India
Razia Ismail, Convenor, India Alliance for Child Rights, Women's Coalition for Peace and Development with Dignity
Asghar Ali Engineer, Vice President, People`s Union for Civil Liberties
Martha Farrell, Director, PRIA Continuing Education
Neelima Khetan, Chief Executive, Seva Mandir
Rohit Gandhi, International Correspondent
Ashok Aggarwal, Member, Social Jurist
Deep Joshi, Freelance Development Consultant- Former Executive Director, PRADAN

Debolina Kundu, Associate Professor, National Institute of Urban Affairs
Satish Jain, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning
Sunita Singh Sengupta, Professor, School of Management Studies, Delhi University

Source: http://www.bahai.in, and also see press release here.

“Where is the Justice? stories from behind closed doors,” by Rosa Vasseghi

Posted: 14 Sep 2010 10:48 AM PDT

Where is the JusticeInspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, in face of bitter and most horrible injustice, the Baha’is of Iran focus their creative energies in bringing about awareness and positive transformation to the World.

Rosa Vasseghi, faithful to her belief in nobility of humanity and absolutely convinced by the truth of the core teaching of the Baha’i Faith on oneness of mankind, sets out to “tell” the world, in her book Where is the Justice: stories from behind closed doors, about her life in her homeland Iran, and the life of her dear sister, Rozita, who is at this moment in prison in Iran for her belief in same truth that motivates millions of Baha’is around the world to dedicate themselves at the hour of down of every day to the dual character of their purpose in life: to achieve a personal transformation, and to effect a social transformation to help bring about an ever advancing civilization.

treasures of wondermentSome excerpts from Rosa’s interview at Treasures of Wonderment:

rosa_book“I came from across the ocean to tell you stories from behind closed doors.
I came to tell you about the ugly face of our world and of humans.
I came to tell you about women's lives, their light, their hope, their fears and death.
I came from the world where blind law and power denies truth and smiles.
It is time that our stories shock the conscience of humanity.”

Annick: Thank you Rosa for taking the time to share your story with us. I know that you were born in Iran; how old were you at the beginning of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran?

Rosa Vasseghi: I was 24 years old.

Annick: How did you first feel discriminated against?

rosa_paintingsSRosa Vasseghi: When the new government took power they didn't let me continue my work and my studies and they also took everything I had built for my future. I remember I was working in a big company in the South of Iran. I was asked by the people who had taken over the company to change my religion and sign a paper that I was not Baha'i any longer to allow me to continue working, which I didn't do. So they fired me and confiscated all the valuable things I had in my house in the South. Also they blocked my savings in the bank and took all the savings I had. And at the same time two of my sisters could not continue their studies at their universities as they were prohibited from attending. They took the house where my parents lived and my mother's shop and all her inheritance. My sisters' children also could not study at universities and many times were harassed by teachers, the principals and people from The Centre of Education in their cities because their parents were Baha'i. It is important to remember that all these things that I mentioned have been happening to other Baha'is too. Many people were thrown from their homes, jobs and universities – their only crime was that they were Baha'i.

Annick: You mention that the birth place of your faith is in Iran, so why would the Iranian government attack its own people and destroy its own cultural treasures?

rosa_portrait6SRosa Vasseghi: I really can't understand why the authorities always attack Baha'i people but if you look at the history of Iran you can see, the manifestation of God , the founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Baha'u'llah came from a noble family. But He refused to accept a high position in the court of the King. He spent his time helping the oppressed, the sick and the poor, and championing the cause of justice. People in Iran really should be very proud and happy to have a manifestation of God in their own land. A person who prefers to give His life for people rather than hold more power. Someone who brings messages of love, unity and peace for the world. But the Iranian government cannot realize and understand what a valuable treasure it has. In reality I think people who have power are afraid of knowing new things. They don't want to accept the value of the lives of all people. When they have chosen materialism, fundamentalism or other belief systems, it is difficult for them to have their principles challenged and also they are afraid of losing their power. The clergy in Iran have always interpreted Islam in their own way and as a result the Iranian government attacks its own treasure.

Annick: If the persecution ends, and we hope that it is soon, would you move back to Iran and could you find happiness there?

rosa_portrait4Rosa Vasseghi: We are citizens of the world, and, Iran is the land of my Beloved, my birth place and where I grew up. But I also love Australia too because when I didn't have any place to go Australia opened its door for me and accepted me for who I am. I think if one day I will be able to go back to Iran, I will be very happy but I can't gave up the country and people who showed their love and support to me when I needed it.

Please read the full article here: http://www.treasuresofwonderment.com/story/2010-06-19/i-came-tell-you

Iran Press Watch.

Only Democracy For Iran calls the International Criminal Court to action.

Posted: 14 Sep 2010 10:11 AM PDT

Only Democracy for IranOnly Democracy For Iran published an article in which it discusses the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and its role in brining about charges of crime against humanity to the political leaders currently in power in Iran. Iran Press Watch of course, being inspired by the Baha’i principals of non-political involvement, does not endorse the ideas one way or the other, however, the mention of the Baha’i persecution in the article is accurate and of interest to us:

Bahā'ī Persecution
Because Bahā'ī were assumed to have been Muslims before accepting their "false" revelation, the Iranian Bahā'īs were considered to be apostates ny the Islamic Republic of Iran. By omitting them from constitutional recognition in the constitution after 1978, the clerics' hoped to destroy the conditions needed for their survival as a community with a distinct religious identity. They attacked Bahá'ís on all possible grounds and in all spheres of public life, from elementary education to professional occupations, from marriage ceremonies to cemeteries. More than 200 of their leaders were murdered. Although many fled the country, the community endured and survived the harshest years of the 1980s.

You can read the full article here: http://www.onlydemocracy4iran.com/2010/07/19/secular-democracy-it-all-starts-with-the-arrest-warrant-for-khamenei-and-ahmadinejad/
With loving greetings,
Iran Press Watch

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