Translation by Iran Press Watch
Wednesday October 22
Baha’i prisoners from Gorgan at Raja’i Shahr Prison
By Masood Bastani
They are seven. These seven are known as ideological prisoners amongst the political prisoners of Raja’i Shahr Prison, Baha’is from Gorgan who were arrested two years ago and have been imprisoned since. Their names are usually listed among the ideological/political prisoners; in the annual census of Human Rights Activists, their share is merely one number among the many other ideological/political prisoners in Iran. My intention and effort is to show them as more than just a census number and birth certificate introduction, because a prisoner is more than just a name in a long list of names. A prisoner is not merely a creature in a cage, but a soul that has been incarcerated, who in the tight space between the walls continues to live and search for life’s meaning with curiosity.
Journalism and documentary from this vantage point is worth twice as much to me, inasmuch as with this method it is possible to draw and display a picture of the soul of these human beings in addition to the news about them.
The story is very simple and short. On the morning of 17 October, Farhad Fahandezh, Kamal Kashani and Farahmand Sanai were arrested; two days later, Payam Markazi, Siamak Sadri, and Foad Fahandezh, Farhad’s brother, were detained as well. Two days after that they detained Korush Ziari at city of Gonbad. After one month of transfers from place to place and intensive interrogations and solidary cells in various prisons in Gorgan and the building of the Ministry of Intelligence of the Province of Golestan (for the first group arrested), and three days of detention with one round of interrogation plus realizating the simple charge (for the second group), in addition to keeping Korush Ziari without any interrogation whatsoever, all of them were transferred to ward 209 of Evin prison on 22 November of 2012. Five days later, they were sent to ward 350 of the same prison. After staying with the ward 350 prisoners for a month, and endudring interrogation by the 3rd branch of the Shaid Moghadassi court in Evin, all these prisoners were transferred to the quarantine section of Raja’i Shahr prison in Karaj. On the 23rd of December of the same year they entered Hall 12 of the prison.
The date of their first trial was quickly set by the 28th Branch of the Revolutionary Court, with weighty charges of establishing an illegal group, breaching National Security, collaborating with a hostile government*, and propaganda against the Regime. Following an objection by the lawyers and a request for a moratorium to study the case, finally on May 14 2013, in a span of less than 1.5 hours, the court convicted all of these individuals to 5 years of mandatory imprisonment, except for Farhad Fahandezh who was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
The pace of the events was so fast, and the hearing so sudden and abrupt that they themselves do not yet know why they are in prison! They must remain in prison for five years simply due to the charge that they believe in their own religion, and that they assist their fellow Baha’is in administering their personal affairs (birth, marriage, divorce, and death).
When they entered the hall number 12, they embraced other Baha’is and shed tears. Today also, after all this time, the faces of all of them are filled with worry and anxiety on the snowy nights when their relatives brave the 400 kilometer distance from Gorgan to Karaj to visit their loved ones.
The Gorganis share the same table, they gather together and eat together, watch TV, and chat. It is as if they have converted a specific area of the prison into their own city, and here they are abiding according to their old traditions, only in a different geographical area. The small cell that is currently occupied by Farhad Fahandezh and Foad, his younger brother, is known as “the Gorganis’ room”.
Kamal Kashani, prison’s newspaper man
He is a 56 year old man who tasted prison life once before, in the 80s. Kamal’s sense of humor is the most striking feature of his outward character. His most bitter memories go back to the days when his older brother Jamal was executed in prison. When he talks about those days his tone changes, and you no longer see a trace of that lively middle-aged man. He lowers his voice and says: “After having been in prison for 14 months, in 1983, in Aliabad Prison in Gorgan, for a period of a week, I consecutively dreamt that Jamal had been executed, and my worry was how to tell my mother about these dreams, or what reaction I would have, if they actually give me news of Jamal’s execution! Finally, on the day of her regular visit, I asked my mother about Jamal’s wellbeing; she replied: “Jamal is gone.””
To this day, when Kamal remembers those years, the memory of his hardships are very vivid, he says: “For four full years, I along with 14 other people lived in a locked room, and every day we could only leave the room at three designated times to go to the toilet and wash our dishes!”
He was arrested in 1983 and charged with being an elected member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Bandar Torkaman. He was subjected to interrogation and physical and mental torture, and was finally was sentenced to three and a half years of prison. At the end, after suffering five years in prison, he was freed in January of 1989.
Here in Hall 12, he delivers the newspapers purchased by prisoners. Prior to distribution, he glances at the titles and their contents. Then he sets out into the ward and delivers the newspapers to each room. He shares a joke with each of the newspaper owners daily. Sometimes it is a political joke, and at times sports-related,… he always has material to use.
Kamal says: “The issue of prison for me and my family is like a spiritual test that we endure.”
But the hardships that his wife and four children have withstood over these past two years bother him. He has named his oldest son Jamal, after his brother. Kamal recalls: “When we were being interrogated in Ward 209 (of Evin prison), our families had come to Tehran, and were searching for any news about our situation. At this time Badi’, my youngest son, was 10 years old, and he, in front of Evin prison, told his mother: “I wish God would send another Messenger, so they would leave us alone!”
Kamal says: “Over these prison years, despite the distance, I feel as though my relationship with my sons has improved. Although in prison I have lost a substantial amount of my professional and material capital, I pray every morning and night, and I am content with these conditions!”
He has endured many deprivations for the sake of being a Baha’i and because of his prison record. Kamal Kashani was suspended from university after the Cultural Revolution, in the year 1981. He has taken on many jobs to make a living – jobs such as radio and TV repair, painting buildings, agriculture, and aviculture rentals.
He also tells the story of his trial in a funny way: “That day, when it became my turn, the presiding judge of the court read aloud the case of another individual for 10 minutes (the case of Farahmand Sanai), and only after he heard my laughter did he realize his mistake!”
Despite everything, Kamal says he has no grudge in his heart against anyone. He believes that Baha’is in Iran are not victims of Islam, but are merely oppressed by a bunch of prejudiced and professional status-seeking individuals.
Raja’i Shahr Prison, October 2014
To be continued…
* The Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, was forcibly exiled from Tehran to Baghdad, which was subject to the Ottoman government at the time, then removed to Istanbul, and then at the urging of the Persian government of the time (egged on by Shi’ite clerics), imprisoned in Akka in Palestine. After Baha’u’llah’s death and burial there in 1892, the World Center of the Baha’i Faith was established among Baha’i exiles in Haifa, which subsequently became part of the State of Israel. For this reason, Baha’is are often accused of collaboration with the government of Israel. This would be similar to accusing Muslims of collaboration with the Israeli government because the Dome of the Rock (the third holiest site of Islam) is in Jerusalem, or Christians because Jesus was born in Bethlehem and died at Gethsemane.