Twelve hours of interrogation, 19 days of solitary confinement and almost three years in an Iranian prison.
That was Iranian Foad Naeemi’s punishment for teaching the Baha’i Faith, which is viewed as heresy by Iran’s religious authorities.
Mr Naeemi is the nephew of Sole Ighani, a Nelson-based follower of the religion, which was founded in 19th-century Persia.
Mr Ighani said it was difficult to deal with a family member being in prison for religious reasons.
“I honestly have been trying to shut out everything. It was very hard; I have been praying and praying, but you can’t do anything.”
The Baha’i Faith is a monotheistic faith emphasising the spiritual unity of all humankind.
“We are here to serve and to help humanity,” Mr Ighani said. “We don’t say we are better or worse, but we want equality and we want human rights.”
There are an estimated five to six million Baha’is worldwide, with 300,000 living in Iran.
Mr Ighani said there were about 35 people in the Baha’i community in the Nelson region, with a further 4000 throughout New Zealand.
He said he had many relatives who had been persecuted for their beliefs. “They have all lost their jobs and cannot go to school, especially higher education.
“For every Baha’i, it has happened; for the others, they are just in hiding.”
Mr Ighani said he wanted to bring the troubles of Iran’s Baha’i community to the attention of New Zealanders.
Spokesperson for the Nelson Baha’i community, Pamela Thomas, said she was asking the Government to publicly speak out against the persecution, including the arrests of seven prominent Iranian Baha’is, who have spent a year in jail without formal charges or access to a lawyer.
“Their situation definitely appears to be worsening,” Mrs Thomas said.
“Recently, their families were told that a new charge may be made, for `spreading of corruption on earth’, which carries the threat of death under the criminal law of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
She said Nelson Bahai’s would be asking the two local MPs to ensure that the Government strongly called for the immediate release of the Iranians or for a fair and open trial that met international standards of justice.
“Baha’is worldwide have been asked to contact and update their government officials in the hope that again, worldwide protest will be effective.”