Bahais in Iran

Persecuting a gentle people

Barbara Kay

It was a lucky day for me and my two then-toddlers when 14-year-old Susan answered my help-wanted ad for a mother's helper (as nannies were then called). For years, this gentle, patient girl proved to be an indispensable and much-loved fixture in our Montreal household, and thereafter a valued friend.

Outwardly a typical post-religious Canadian of indeterminate Christian heritage, Susan incubated spiritual longings. She surprised us when she announced she was not only embracing the Baha'i faith, but marrying the American, Iranian-born uncle of her best friend, whose parents were leaders of the Montreal Baha'i community.

That was my introduction to Baha'is and their religion.

I learned that the Baha'i faith -- founded in the 19th century as a heretical offshoot of Shia Islam -- offers a benign belief system, promoting admirable values, such as universal literacy and high educational aspiration, and is generally respectful of both secular and religious knowledge within a democratic and egalitarian mode of self-governance.

Baha'is are casteless, generally open-minded (they actually promote interracial marriage) and -- believing there are many paths to God -- pluralistic in spiritual outlook. They tend to be rigourously non-partisan and pacifistic. A well-integrated and undemanding minority wherever they congregate, with no expansionist political goals, they typically seek neither government entitlements nor special accommodation from society.

{josquote}The Baha'is are peaceable contributors to every society they've settled in. They are perfectly safe and at home among Jews in Israel, and among Christians in the West. So what is Iran's problem?{/josquote}

Who could possibly resent, fear or hate this blameless global community of a mere five-million apolitical souls?

In a word: Iran.

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Iran accuses arrested Baha'is of Israel links: report

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Seven detained Baha'i believers have confessed to setting up an illegal organization in Iran that took orders from Israel and others to undermine the Islamic system, an Iranian newspaper reported on Sunday.

The report in Resalat daily comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel over Tehran's disputed nuclear plans. Israel accuses Iran of seeking atomic bombs and has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails. Iran denies the charge.

The Resalat report appeared to refer to a group of Baha'is, most of whom were detained in May, but did not spell this out. Judiciary officials had no immediate comment.

Baha'is regard their faith's 19th-century founder as the latest in a line of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad. Iran's Shi'ite religious establishment considers the faith a heretical offshoot of Islam.

{josquote}They have all confessed to the formation of an illegal organization, including (having ties) with Israel.{/josquote}

"Seven Baha'i individuals have set up an illegal organization with connections to a number of countries including Israel and they have received orders from them to undertake measures against the Islamic system," Resalat reported.

Full story, including a summary of the Baha'i response.

Related story: Baha’is reject allegations of subversive activity in Iran.

Iranian Baha'i leaders allowed contact with families

It is good to learn that Mrs Mahvash Sabet, the secretary of the ad hoc Bahá’í leadership group in Iran, was able to make a short phone call to her family on 3 June. She’d been moved to Evin prison in Tehran on 26 May, having been held incommunicado by the Iranian intelligence ministry in Mashhad since 5 March.

Mrs Fariba Kamalabadi was also allowed to have a brief phone conversation with her daughter. She reassured her family that she was in good health.

{josquote}They should be out of jail and free to go about their business, free to live, free to practise their faith, free to be with their families and friends without the fear of arbitrary and outrageous detention.{/josquote}

A few days earlier prison officials had asked Mrs Kamalabadi’s family to bring her reading glasses to the prison. Mr Vahid Tizfahm’s family had been requested to bring clothes to the jail. Neither family was able to see the prisoners when they took these items to Evin.

Mr Afif Naeim’i’s sons took some clothes to Evin prison for their father on their own initiative, but they couldn’t get to see him.

Mr Jamaloddin Khanjani has also had brief telephone contact with his family.

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Bahais Continue to be Arrested

Arash Sigarchi

Following Calls for 'Revolutionary Execution' of Detainees

As some religious leaders in Iran have called for “the utmost punishment” for detained Bahais using state media resources, the confrontation with the followers of this belief has intensified and yesterday such calls went deep into the country. Bahai leaders in Vilashahr in the province of Isfahan were reported to have been arrested.

The news website “Human Rights Activists in Iran” announced that according to its latest reports, the leaders of the Vilashahr Bahai community in Isfahan were arrested. Their names were listed as Hushmand Talebi and Mehran Zini, and Farhad Fardossian who is said to be a member of the community. The news site reports that these individuals were arrested by security-law-enforcement agents and transferred to the prison of the town, ‎while their conditions remains unknown.

{josquote}...a group of political ‎deviants and loose women and sex-driven boys...{/josquote}

In a related news story, it is reported that three other Bahais named Ali Ahmadi, Changiz Derakhshan, and Ms Simin too have been arrested in the northern town of Ghaemshahr. Prior to that, six leading members of the Iranian Bahai community were arrested, and their names are Fariba Kamal Abadi, Jamaledin Khanjani, Afif Naimi, Saeed Rezai, Behrouz Tavakoli and Vahid Tizfahm. Mahvash Sabet, another Bahai leader was arrested earlier in March in the city of Mashhad. All of these seven last members comprised the leadership of the sect in Iran.

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Ignoring Baha'i plight hypocritical

AT THE UNITED NATIONS -Let's say six Muslims are arrested in dawn raids across Canada and held indefinitely without charge. Can you imagine the outrage?

There would also be headlines throughout the West if any state were to mimic Nazi-era persecution by arresting six Jews and jailing them without cause.

Yet Iran's early morning arrest on May 14 of six leaders of an internationalist faith practised by 30,000 Canadians has barely been mentioned by the media or governments, including Canada's.

Nine days before he resigned as foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier issued what appears to have been a one-time Canadian condemnation of the snatching of the Baha'is. Washington also spoke out earlier, but hasn't publicly pursued the matter and although Baha'i activists in North America wrote to Ban Ki-moon, UN chief, his spokesman said he wasn't aware of it.

Canada should be doing more -- not least because of an unofficial division of labour among Western countries over how to react to Iran's numerous excesses.

Alongside U. S.-and European-led efforts to convince Tehran to roll back its nuclear program, Canada has led scrutiny of Iran's appalling human rights record since the 2003 murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in a Tehran jail.

{josquote}They've given my mother nothing more than a case number, and refused even a brief phone call.{/josquote}

The Baha'i arrests offer a chance to build on the often bland statistics-driven statements of condemnation Canada pushes through each fall in the UN General Assembly by recounting their individual stories, as well as that of a seventh Baha'i leader arrested in March.

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