Iranian Baha’is Face Persecution: My Cousin’s Story

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I am a Baha’i, a member of a world religion whose adherents strive for unity, peace, and social transformation. Because of the ongoing persecution of 350,000 other Baha’is in Iran, including my family members, I am unable to visit my homeland. Oppression of the Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, intensified after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baha’i citizens in Iran have been denied education and jobs; they have been arrested, detained, and tortured, and some have even been put to death. Despite the Islamic Republic’s evident intention to eradicate and silence the Baha’i community, Iranian Baha’is are still deeply dedicated to their home, engaging in service and aiming to better the society that so intently tries to harm them.

The duality of knowing the pain inflicted by the Iranian government on the Baha’is while feeling such a strong attraction to what I consider to be my homeland has always been an internal paradox for me. But this tension sharpened in 2019 when Ministry of Intelligence agents first arrested and detained my cousin.

In October of that year, my cousin Soroush was arrested and the apartment he shares with his wife, Noura, was searched. Agents confiscated all of their Baha’i books to search for evidence of criminality but were ultimately unable to pin anything concrete on him. After holding him in prison while they tried in vain to find a reason to incarcerate him, the government finally released him but not without threatening to return.

They were true to their word. On April 6, 2021, Soroush was arrested again. Agents forcibly removed him from his car outside of his home in Shiraz. They raided his apartment again, searching for non-existent evidence of wrongdoing, but after their initial search in 2019 there was little left for them to confiscate. The agents returned the following day while Noura was at work and tried to break down the door of their flat with a crowbar. Noura’s family, who live in the same complex, let the officers in so as to minimize the property damage. Unable to find anything more than Soroush and Noura’s marriage certificate and a few prayer books, the agents — who at this point were already in violation of the original arrest warrant for the previous night — proceeded to search Noura’s parents’ home. During this illegal search, the agents took items belonging to Noura’s parents and sister. Raids like this are common for Baha’is in Iran, and confiscated belongings, including computers and other valuable items, are never returned to their owners, presenting a large financial strain on Baha’i families who already struggle under harsh economic conditions.

On Sept. 12, Soroush was sentenced to three years and three months in prison for his first arrest. He now awaits sentencing for the second. During his initial imprisonment, my sweet and gentle cousin was stripped down, beaten, and deprived of access to the bathroom. I cannot convey in words the depth of sorrow this knowledge gives me. Every day, I think about him. I hope he knows that he is not alone, that he is always in my heart and in the hearts of our beautiful family scattered across the world. I imagine a giant web — each member of our family with heartstrings pulling toward Iran as our prayers cross land and sea to reach him. I hope these ties of love bring him strength and healing.

Despite all of the abuse that people I love endure under the Iranian government, I cannot truthfully say I am angry. I do not hold any hatred in my heart toward the Islamic Republic nor would I ever wish a similar fate on its members. My overwhelming feeling is sadness and loss — of a homeland that loves me and my family as much as we love it; of more time hearing my cousin’s infectious laugh in our family Zoom calls. These relationships and this love is precisely what I understand the purpose of the Baha’i Faith to be, and it eternally confounds me that the Iranian government so desperately tries to silence Baha’is whose only motive is to form bonds of care and friendship. My strongest wish is to raise a chorus of voices to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for its treatment of Baha’is and of my cousin. So if you can, share this piece. Help me hold the Islamic Republic accountable for the ruthless and unjust persecution of its Baha’i citizens.

My cousin’s name is Soroush Abadi. He is my hero. His kindness, empathy, and wit shine through his spirit despite the brutality he has endured. Without fail, he is the member of our family to draw me into conversation when I am quiet, or bring levity and sweetness when spirits are low. With all the love I have in my heart for a strange land I am still honored to call home, I refuse to remain silent as the Islamic Republic of Iran tries to steal away his life and the lives of so many other honest and true Baha’is.

Soroush and Noura — we love you.


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