Editor’s Note: The following is a Letter to the Editor that Iran Press Watch has received from a concerned reader. Many readers may have experienced situations similar to those which are now occurring to the Iranian Baha’is or others who have suffered at the hands of oppressive regimes. IPW encourages its readers to write about these experiences, as these are important pages in our collective history and greatly enrich our understanding of the world around us and human nobility to withstand suffering.
Letter to the Editor:
In the fall of 1981, I was a 21 year old college student in Canada, when I received a phone call from my uncle, informing me that my parents had been arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards at their home in Tehran. My parents had been hosting a meeting of the governing body of the Baha’is of Tehran comprising of nine (9) individuals who oversaw the affairs of the local Baha’i community. The authorities had taken my parents and their guests to the notorious Evin Prison.
The nine member governing body merely provided support and comfort to the members of the local Baha’i community, including providing support to people who were being persecuted and whose families had been kidnapped, tortured and killed by the government. The Baha’is were not involved in politics, nor were they doing anything illegal. As such, I thought that my parents and their guests would not remain in prison very long, and would be released after the authorities had realized that this whole thing was a mistake. I was wrong. My parents remained in prison and were subjected to harassment and interrogation.
The Baha’i Faith, an independent religion that started in Iran in the mid-19th century, has always been demonized by the Shiite religious establishment as being heretical and against Islam. In the early 1980s the persecution reached new heights after the revolution, resulting in kidnappings, disappearances, and executions. The Baha’i commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, non-interference in partisan politics and obedience to governmental authority made them an easy target. Theological differences between the Baha’i Holy Writings and those expressed by the Islamic clerical establishment – including the Baha’i viewpoints on the universal and progressive nature of religion, as well as equality of men and women – caused the authorities to want to stamp out the Baha’i community from Iran. This was despite the fact that the Baha’is were – and are – the largest religious minority in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Months after my parents were arrested at their home, after they had been physically and emotionally abused and tortured, and their property had been confiscated, my mother, Shidrukh Amirkia Bagha, together with seven of her guests who were arrested that fateful night, was summarily and secretly executed on January 4, 1982, without any trial or opportunity to defend herself. She was only 45 years old. My mother’s sole crime was that she was a Baha’i who would not renounce her faith. In this way my mother was taken from me and I was denied the chance of seeing her again and introducing her to my son.
My mother never hurt a soul in her life. She loved her family and nurtured each of her children with utmost care. She loved music and the arts, and was always encouraging and supportive to everyone. It is beyond comprehension that the government would sanction her killing because of her religion.
Now, over 28 years have passed since the day my mother was killed. The persecution of Baha’is at the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued in different forms throughout these years. Within the last few years, it has increased in intensity, forcing me and my family to relive that nightmare.
In 2008, seven members of the unofficial “Friends of Iran” [Yaran] were arrested and imprisoned without any explanation. This seven member group was allowed by the Iranian government to exist after the official nine member national governing body of the Bahá’ís of Iran were executed and all Baha’i institutions were dismantled. The government had long known of this body and its members, whose only duty was to serve and attend to the needs of the members of the Baha’i community of Iran. They were operating with permission and with the full knowledge of the authorities. On October 18 the seven former leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community will go on trial on capital charges of espionage and threatening national security. They have been in prison for well more than a year now. The group’s two lawyers have not only been refused the legally required visits with their clients, but more likely will not have access to their clients. One – Abdulfattah Sultani – is in prison on charges of participating in the so-called “Velvet Revolution”, while the other, the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, stands accused by the regime of participating in the same “conspiracy”, but has been fortunately traveling in the West.
I cannot help but feel the pain of the families of the imprisoned Baha’i leaders, as I know only too well what they are going through. At this time there are over 40 Bahá’ís in prison in Iran solely because of their religion.
I pray and hope that this time we can save them and all the innocent people imprisoned in Iran, and that their families do not experience the hell that my family has gone through. When my mother was killed, all of the newspapers in Iran and outside were largely silent! No one protested. We cannot let this happen again! Every day that goes by, I wonder how I could have helped my mother. I cannot bring my mother back, but I cannot stay silent and see others lose their loved ones too.
August 23, 2009
[A note by IPW: For further information on the Baha’i martyr Mrs. Bagha, kindly refer to: http://www.shidrukh.org/index.htm]