Source: Iranwire, http://iranwire.com/features/6488/
Translation by Iran Press Watch
Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
On June 13, 1981, the phones rang in several homes in Hamadan at 7 o’clock in the morning. The phone calls resulted in whimpers and screams as the news of the execution of seven members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of that city was given to their families (1). These seven individuals had been supposed to have been freed, but their bloodied and tortured bodies were left abandoned on the street. Charged with “espionage”, “connection with Zionists” and “disturbing people’s minds”, during their one year imprisonment they were repeatedly interrogated by officials and had denied all the accusations. However, the Islamic Republic’s courts ultimately sentenced them to death.
Providing a historical narrative of this event, linguist, scholar and author of the book “160 years of the Persecution of Baha’is in Iran”, Fereydun Vahman, told Iranwire that the interrogators insisted on these charges, claiming that “’these people are spies’ although they did not find any evidence in their homes or the offices of the Local Assembly, and when the Baha’is said they had nothing to confess, the officials ordered them to repent and to return to Islam”. The prisoners, however, refused to do so, and so “for that same reason, the interrogators turned to horrific tortures to break them and to get false confessions”.
According to Vahman, the officials had made holes in Tarazollah Khozein’s thighs and feet with a bayonet. They had dipped Sohrab Habibi’s ring in fire and burnt his entire body with the ring. They had cut off Hossein Khandel’s fingers and torn his abdomen. They had broken Naeemi’s back, had cut Vafayee’s thigh and shattered Soheyl Habibi’s shoulder. The only person who had not been tortured was Hossein Motlagh, who had the highest number of bullet wounds on his body.
Among Hossein Motlagh’s manuscripts that were provided to Iranwire, one of the main charges was “sending money to the Zionists – Israel”. Motlagh had confirmed sending money but had emphasized that the action had nothing to do with espionage. In explanation of the reason why Baha’is send money to that part of the world, Vahman explained that the Baha’i World Center “is situated in today’s Israel, whether it was intended or not. The remains of the Bab, who was executed in 1850, were also transferred to Haifa and buried there. Building the Shrine of the Bab and maintaining houses and structures that are significant in Baha’i history require expenditures. With the expansion of the Baha’i community, many Baha’is travelled to Haifa and Akka on pilgrimage. Building facilities and a visitor center for them and construction of gardens around the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa and the Shrine of Baha’u’llah in Akka required funds that were donated by Baha’is all around the globe, including Iranian Baha’is. The money was not sent to the government of Israel.”
Citing Vahman’s words, a group of Baha’is had been exiled to the prison fort of Akka in 1863, and had been living in that region for half a century when the State of Israel was founded. Following an order by Naseruddin Shah, Mirza Hussein Ali Nouri, titled Baha’u’llah, was exiled to Iraq. However, as the number of Baha’is increased in Baghdad “the government of Iran did not consider their presence appropriate at a Shi’i place of pilgrimage, and persistently asked the Ottoman Government to exile the Babis/Baha’is to a location farther from the borders of Iran. Baha’u’llah passed away in Akka. At the time there was no sign of Zionism or the state of Israel.”
Vahman believes that the intention of the Islamic Republic in accusing “Baha’is of having connections with Israel” was “to accuse and overthrow the Shah. However, they themselves started believing it was the truth, although sending money to places which people consider sacred and venerable is not a new phenomenon. The Vatican has become rich from the donations of people all over the world, and a big portion of the expenditures of Muslims and the holy sites in Iraq are supplied by donations made by the merchants and people of Iran. A spy gets paid. He doesn’t pay his employer.”
Hamadan of course was not the only city where Baha’is were persecuted. The execution of several Iranian citizens in Shiraz is another example of the Islamic Republic’s conduct toward followers of this Faith. However, what happened in Hamadan was not mentioned or reviewed except in newspapers around the same date. Why?
In response to this question, the author of “160 Years of the Persecution of Baha’is in Iran” says “the sudden, all encompassing and unexpected attacks on this community left the Baha’is bewildered and in disbelief, thinking ‘how could these crimes happen in this century and period in history, despite all the promises of freedom that Mr. Khomeini made while in Europe?’ I know several examples of individuals who in the morning visited their spouses in prison, where there was no talk of trials or punishments, and the next day they received calls from the prison to go and collect their spouse’s belongings, because he/she had been executed the night before. All these events were important to the Baha’i community, even the burning of a young Baha’i couple in the village of Nook. The significance of the Shiraz incident was due to its large scale. They executed 24 people within 24 hours, including a 17 year old girl (2) and her father, and a son and his mother. Among them were 10 young women who were college students (3), and were all guilty of nothing but being Baha’is. They were all tortured, and this was incredibly painful”.
When these 7 Baha’is were arrested and executed, Abolhassan Banisadr (4) was the president of Iran. After many years of monarchy a republic government had been established and the first president was in charge. Even though Banisadr has repeatedly claimed that he brought up the plight of Baha’is at the Revolutionary Council, Vahman is of the belief that “Banisadr was not an effective individual; even if the Mullas allowed, he was hardly able to do anything. He had personally said that if he had tried to defend the Baha’is even a little bit, his situation would have been endangered more than it was.”
This scholar believes that, even though the Hojjatieh (5) started the movement against the Baha’is “it was encouraged by Mr. Khomeini’s silence and validation.”
Explaining the formation of the Hojjatieh, Vahman stated that the Shah created a “secret organization” named Hojjatieh through a clergyman from Mashhad named Mahmoud Halabi, whose goal was to “rise against the Baha’is.” “This organization that – based on published documents – was supported by Savak, inflicted the biggest blows to the defenseless Baha’i community. The members of this group learned the Baha’i teachings and ways in order to oppose them in organized classes; some were given the task of claiming they were Baha’is by attending Baha’i meetings and infiltrating the community from within. As a result, the Hojjatieh managed to collect expansive and accurate information about the Baha’i community, identify most of the Baha’is and sit waiting to inflict the final strike against the community. The Islamic Republic provided this golden opportunity to the members of the Hojjatieh.”
Sohrab and Soheil Habibi, Tarazollah Khozein, Hossein Khandel, Hossein Motlagh, Firouz Naeemi and Naser Vafai were the seven members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Hamadan who – after many months of incarceration and interrogation – lost their lives while being tortured.
1. These have been named the Seven Martyrs of Hamadan, and there is a tribute to them available here, with music by Farzad Khozein, a nephew of one of them: http://youtu.be/c6LwbauCrG8
2. Mona Mahmudnizhad. A description of her life and death is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Mahmudnizhad
3. A tribute to these ten young women can be found here: http://youtu.be/c6LwbauCrG8
4. An account of Abolhassan Banisadr can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolhassan_Banisadr
5. For a description of the Hojjatieh Society, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hojjatieh