By Terry Glavin
In the coming weeks, the Khomeinist regime in Iran will stage yet another sham presidential election and Canada’s Parliament will proceed with the fourth annual Iran Accountability Week. Every year, participating Canadian MPs each “adopt” an Iranian political prisoner as a gesture of solidarity, an act of remembering. Among the tens of thousands of people languishing in the Iranian police state’s dungeons, there are seven people whose names deserve to be remembered straight away.
Fariba Kamalabadi. Jamaloddin Khanjani. Afif Naeimi. Saeid Rezaie. Mahvash Sabet. Behrouz Tavakkoli. Vahid Tizfahm.
On May 14, these seven people will mark the beginning of their 10th year in prison for the crime of being leading members of Iran’s viciously persecuted and harmlessly devout Baha’i community.
These seven people formed the entirety of the Yaran, the “Friends,” in Persian, a group that that looked after the needs of Iran’s Baha’is – in the Baha’i tradition there is no clergy. The Friends served as the successor group to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran, an administrative group whose several members were “disappeared” during the Khomeinist revolution of 1979. The last eight members of the Spiritual Assembly were executed by firing squad on Dec. 27, 1981.
Ten years ago, the seven Friends were arrested and held without charge for more than a year. In January 2010 they were tried in a charade of secret criminal prosecutions on a variety of preposterous allegations: espionage, insulting religious sanctity, collaboration with Israel, propaganda against the regime and “spreading corruption on Earth.” They were each convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. A 2015 amendment to an administrative law should have reduced their convictions to 10 years, and in any case they each were eligible for parole by then, but the seven remained, and remain, behind bars.
Having emerged in Iran in the early 1800s during a schismatic tumult within Shia Islam, the Baha’i religion emphasizes human unity, equality between men and women, the alleviation of poverty and respect for science. Religious devotions consist mainly of meditation, teaching and good works. There are an estimated six million adherents of the Baha’i faith in the world, nearly half in India. About a third of Canada’s roughly 35,000 Baha’i people are originally from Iran, where only about 300,000 remain.
Under the Khomeinist regime, the law defines Baha’i people as “unclean.” Excluded from two-dozen employment categories, Iran’s Baha’i people are not legally persons, so they have only the most tenuous legal protections. They are denied government services, their marriages are not recognized in law and their children are considered illegitimate. Because they are barred from enrolment in post-secondary education, Iran’s Baha’i have organized a semi-legal national university of such high standards that its credentials are recognized by dozens of universities around the world.
Iran’s Baha’i live in a state of unrelenting, debilitating fear.
At least 1,000 Baha’i people have been jailed in recent years for merely being Baha’i. Last year the authorities shuttered 98 Baha’i-owned businesses – toy stores, optometrist offices, auto-body repair shops, stationery stores and so on – after it was noticed that the shops had been closed during Baha’i holy days. Last week, seven Baha’i people in Bandar Abbas were picked up by the Intelligence Ministry; their families have not heard from them. Last Saturday, three Baha’i men in Mashad were each sentenced to a year in prison for “acting against national security” by teaching the Baha’i faith.
The Khomeinists’ reach has not spared even the tiny Baha’i community of Yemen, where Iran is arming the Shia side in a proxy war, with the Saudis supporting Sunni forces. It’s a bloodbath that has taken more than 10,000 lives and pushed seven million Yemenis to the brink of famine over the past two years. Last week in Sana’a, where police routinely harass Yemeni Baha’i to renounce their faith, Shia authorities issued arrest warrants on unspecified charges for 25 Baha’i people.
In Tehran last week, Supreme leader Ali Khamenei announced his Guardian Council had decided on the six presidential candidates Iranian voters will be permitted to choose from when they go to the polls May 19. The three leading contenders are poster boys for theocratic fascism.
Tehran mayor Mohammed Ghalibaf is the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the leading police-state paramilitary agency tasked with keeping the Khomeinist boot on Iranian necks (the IRGC’s Quds Force is a listed terrorist entity in Canada).
Ebrahim Raisi is an especially creepy mullah who is highly regarded among the ayatollahs for the key role he played in the “Death Commission” that oversaw the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners – an atrocity that Canada officially identified as a prosecutable crime against humanity in June 2013.
The odds-on favorite of the three is incumbent president Hassan Rouhani, whose reputation as a “moderate” was carefully constructed and assiduously burnished by the Obama administration in its drive to spit-and-polish its nuclear-file rapprochement with Iran. Under Rouhani, the predicament facing Iran’s Baha’i people, and its journalists, gay people, reformists and dissidents, has grown only more terrible.
But never mind those names just now.
Remember instead the seven names of the Yaran, or choose just one.
Fariba Kamalabadi, 54, developmental psychologist, mother of three.
Jamaloddin Khanjani, 83, whose factory was expropriated by the Khomeinists in 1979, and whose closest comrades were executed for being Baha’i in 1984.
Afif Naeimi, 55, teacher, former factory owner, father of two.
Saeid Rezaie, 59, agricultural engineer, father of three.
Mahvash Sabet, 64, a fired school principal, member of the pre-Khomeinist National Literacy Committee, mother of two.
Behrouz Tavakkoli, 65, a fired social worker, former army lieutenant, father of two.
Vahid Tizfahm, 43, an optometrist from Tabriz, whose son was in Grade 3 when Tizfahm was jailed with the others in 2008.