By Ferdos Nikoumanesh
Ferdos Nikoumanesh is a Baha’i living in Virginia and the sister-in-law of Vahid Tizfahm, who is serving a 20-year sentence as a prisoner of conscience in Iran.
My brother-in-law, Vahid, is now sitting in a prison cell in Iran. He and six others were part of an ad hoc leadership group of the Baha’i community of Iran, known as the “Yaran-i-Iran,” or friends of Iran, who were arrested and detained in 2008. May 14 will mark six years since Vahid and his colleagues were imprisoned for their faith.
Vahid and his family, like many other members of the Baha’i Faith, the largest minority religion in Iran, have a long and painful history of persecution. Vahid’s own father was arrested and imprisoned in 1981, soon after the Islamic regime had come to power, when Vahid was nine-years-old. They were at home, in the town of Urmia, when a family friend called to tip them off about the guards headed towards the Tizfahm house. When Vahid recounted the story to me years ago, he said he remembered that his father had told the family that he would not flee. He had remained calm and composed, as he told them that he would stay with his family and leave the rest to God.
When the revolutionary guards took Vahid’s father, they promised the family that he would be returned home in a few days. But that promise was never realized, and Vahid’s father spent eight months in prison. The family then learned that Vahid’s father had been shot dead in prison.
Vahid has said that his father taught him the meaning of life through the way in which he sacrificed his life. His father chose to remain true to his faith. For Baha’is, this means a belief in the oneness of humanity—that we are all part of the same human family, in the richness of our diversity, and that we are all fundamentally spiritual beings. Vahid’s father did not deny who he was or what he believed, and he remained strong and serene throughout his ordeal. He showed love to his family and his commitment to something greater than himself was a source of inspiration to them. Vahid says that his father’s example taught him how transient this material life is when compared to the life of the spirit.
Last year, Vahid celebrated his fifth Naw-Ruz, the Iranian and Baha’i new year, in prison. This holiday falls on the first day of spring in March, and is an important time of renewal and rejuvenation. In a letter to his family, Vahid noted how strange it was to experience the vernal equinox – a signal of the rebirth of living things – within the enclosure of prison walls.
The last time Vahid saw anything of spring and nature was during his months of solitary confinement in the most notorious ward of Evin Prison in Tehran. It was there that Vahid’s friends had come to the front of the prison with a tuberose flower, and miraculously, the prison guard brought it to Vahid’s cell.
“What a spring I had during those days, and what an amazing few days that I spent with that flower,” wrote Vahid. “I cared for it and watered it to lengthen my spring, as it had been months since I had savored such a fragrance or seen a beautiful face such as that of the flower.”
Even in the darkest and most difficult of circumstances, Vahid was, like his father, tranquil and grateful, making the best of this transient material life. “I experienced spring in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. With that flower, life, being, happiness and love were breathed into me,” wrote Vahid.
This year, Vahid has spent another Naw-Ruz behind bars, as he and the other male members of the Yaran remain imprisoned at Rajai Shahr prison in Gohardasht, Iran. All seven of the Yaran, including Vahid, are serving the longest terms of any prisoners of conscience in Iran: 20 years.
I ask you to join me, as the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran approaches, in remembering this beautiful soul and all prisoners of conscience in Iran. Please call for the release of the Yaran, and for the respect of human rights and freedom for the Baha’is and for all people of Iran.
The Farsi version of the article can be read here.