By Iraj Kamalabadi
Iraj Kamalabadi is a Baha’i living in California and is the brother of Fariba Kamalabadi, a prisoner of conscience in Iran.
Nava Taeifi was born in November 2013, while her grandmother was serving time as a prisoner of conscience in Iran. As of May 14, it will have been six years that Nava’s grandmother, my sister, Fariba Kamalabadi, is in prison.
Fariba, along with six other members of the Yaran-i-Iran, or Friends of Iran, was arrested in 2008 for serving on an ad-hoc committee that met the basic needs of the persecuted Baha’i community of Iran, where they are the largest religious minority. Baha’is are not granted their rights of citizenship in Iran, their marriages are unrecognized by the government, their cemeteries are desecrated, their education is barred at the college level, and their employment impeded. Under these circumstances, the Yaran were a source of support and assistance for the long-suffering Baha’i community.
When news reached Fariba in prison that her daughter had given birth, Fariba pleaded with the authorities to permit her to call her daughter. Officials refused a few times but finally allowed her to phone them only once. Fariba might have heard Nava’s faint sounds of happiness or cries, but it will be years until she can spend time with Nava.
Fariba and the Yaran are serving a 20 year sentence, the longest assigned to any prisoner of conscience in Iran. At the time of her arrest, Fariba’s youngest daughter, Taraneh, was just 12 years old. Her mother’s last words to the family before being taken into custody were to tell them, “Don’t worry about me, I will be okay. Please take care of yourselves and each other while I’m gone.”
What was left behind was a house torn apart and white dust scattered all over the floor—flour emptied from sacks the officials had taken from a nearby bakery when they realized they had no containers to use for confiscating the family belongings, which included items of sentimental value, books and photos.
Imagine experiencing, at Taraneh’s age, your family’s home raided, as your innocent mother is handcuffed and taken away by armed strangers to an unknown place, where she and six family friends you have known your whole life will be interrogated and held in solitary confinement. It was weeks before officials even confirmed to the families of Fariba and the other Yaran where they were being held: in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Not even the defense of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, along with her three other capable colleagues, Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani, Ms. Mahnaz Parakand, and Dr. Hadi Esmailzadeh, could prevent the Yaran from being convicted of the unfounded charges brought against them. These were baseless accusations of espionage, propaganda against the Islamic order, cooperation with Israel and corruption on Earth. Moreover, the legal procedures were riddled with irregularities. The defense attorneys were not allowed to meet with their clients until a week or so prior to the first court hearing. Even during the one short attorney-client meeting, which lasted only half an hour, government agents were present and listening in and recording what was supposed to be a privileged conversation. Most of their court sessions were conducted behind closed doors without family members or independent observers allowed to be present.
Baha’is, who are a strictly non-violent and non-political community, accept and honor Islam, believe that all great religions are inspired by the same divine source, and that all people are part of the same human family and should be afforded the same human rights. Baha’is observe the law of the land wherever they reside and seek to serve society. As for allegations of colluding with Israel, the location of the Baha’i World Center there is often cited by the Iranian government as evidence. Yet, it was the actions of the Persian and Ottoman empires in exiling Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, to Ottoman Palestine that placed the headquarters of the faith there. He was imprisoned there, ultimately died there, and Baha’i holy sites and institutions were then established there, decades before the establishment of the state of Israel. It should also be noted that three of the world’s great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have holy sites in Israel, which are certainly not cited as proof of collusion with the government.
Despite the utterly unfounded nature of these and similar accusations, the Baha’i community of Iran has experienced intense and systematic persecution at the hands of the Islamic regime. The Yaran, as well over 100 other Baha’is currently in prison and another 400-plus Baha’is who are either free on bail or awaiting trial, are, in short, being persecuted for no good reason.
Notwithstanding the undeserved pain brought to bear on the Yaran, and the emotional and financial strain their families suffer in their absence, Fariba and the rest of the Yaran have remained a source of inspiration, even to alleged criminals and to some prison guards who have witnessed their inner strength, as they remain true to their beliefs and convictions, while enduring these unjust circumstances with patience.
We who believe in freedom of conscience and the human rights of all must match the patient fortitude of Fariba and the Yaran with the power of our own voices. Please remember and speak out for the Yaran and all prisoners of conscience in Iran.
The Farsi version of this article can be read here.