Two weeks have passed since I heard the alarming news: Aziz Samandari, my cousin in Tehran, was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by Iranian intelligence officials. To date, no formal charges have been framed, and he has been denied both access to a lawyer and visits by relatives.
As I read the email sent by his wife, I burst into tears. I cannot help thinking about my grandfather, Professor Manuchehr Hakim, a renowned medical doctor, shot dead in January 1981 in his practice in Tehran. I was two, at the time living in Switzerland, and still too young to grasp the scale of the tragedy unfolding.
I also think of my uncle, Bahman Samandari, the father of Aziz, executed by Iranian authorities in March 1992, a day after being summoned for questioning. I was thirteen, and was told the terrible news by my father in Paris.
Why are my family members targeted? What crime have they all committed?
The answer is simple: they are members of the Bahai community, Iran’s largest religious minority, yet the most persecuted. The followers of this religion have been targets of systematic persecution in Iran since the inception of the Bahai Faith in the middle of the 19th century.
In 1979, with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the persecutions took a new direction, becoming official Government policy. Since then, more than 200 Bahais have been executed, hundreds imprisoned, and tens of thousands deprived of jobs, pensions and access to higher education. Holy places and cemeteries were confiscated, vandalised, or destroyed.
Bahais, who have great love for their country, are deeply committed to its development, and don’t get involved in partisan politics, are persecuted solely because of religious hatred and their faith’s progressive position on women’s rights, education and independent investigation of truth.
There are 300,000 Bahais in Iran. Yet they have been deliberately omitted from the list of the three religious minorities recognised in the Constitution, and are classified as “unprotected infidels”.
Time has passed, circumstances have changed. I am no longer a teenager. I now live in India. However, the brutal reality is still the same: my cousin is at great risk in the hands of the authorities of the Islamic Republic solely because of his belief in a religion — a religion whose main purpose is to promote world peace and harmony, and emphasises the underlying unity of the world’s spiritual traditions!
[By Caroline Samandari, Columnist at the Indian Express]