Translation by Iran Press Watch
What you will read is the result of several hours of conversation with three people – Morteza, Pejman and Maryam. All three, who are not Bahá’ís, have Bahá’í friends and associates. Due to their fields of activity, these three have extensive research on the cases, the current situation and living conditions of the Bahá’ís. We talked with them about the pending status of a number of Baha’i citizens who are known as “open case” owners. The names of these three individuals in this article have been pseudonymized at their own request, and the names of the Baha’is, the dates and case numbers, and any identifiers – which were mentioned in detail during the interview – have been removed in an effort to maintain the safety of the individuals.
Aasoo: When we talk about the “open case” and Baha’i convicts, what are we talking about?
Morteza: For those who are convicted, a petition is sent to the Supreme Court for review and reconsideration. Then, the case is returned to their own town and is sent to a parallel appeals court; a court that is supposed to be fairer.
Q: So, these convicts, following their initial arrest and temporary release, are left with an open case in the judiciary?
Morteza: Yes. But the case is not necessarily investigated in a legal process. For example, if legally a verdict must be issued to them a month later, it may take months or even years. For example, there have been examples whose cases were activated after four or five years, and then two years ago the case is activated, then again deactivated, until recently when their trial courts were convened and they received the verdict, and some of them are now awaiting their appeals court.
Q: And this means that everyone’s case is undecided and up in the air?
Morteza: Yes. They are left hanging in a distressing situation.
Pejman: It’s hard at first, but the people I’ve seen get used to it. And then again, when the case is activated, all the concerns and challenges come back. A person whose case is open cannot be forward-looking or set goals that they can be confident they can achieve. Even those who have not been arrested yet are worried about being somehow trapped.
Q: Will they also be banned from existing the country?
Morteza: Yes and no. There is no certainty.
Pejman: Of course, it rarely happens that they leave the country, while in this situation, except for a temporary trip. Because they don’t want to leave Iran, the ban from exiting the country is not an especially important factor for them.
Q: Do they contact them for an arrest? Or do they just show up directly at the door of Bahais? How are these charges announced to people?
Maryam: In the cases that I know of it has rarely happened that they are summoned to the court for a conversation. In most cases they show up and make arrests.
Q: With what justification?
Morteza: Some people are arrested under the pretext of propaganda activities; some because of social or educational activities, or for closing their shops and businesses during the Baha’i Holy days, or because many Bahá’ís have been active in charity work along with others, which of course has become much less now because they don’t allow it anymore.
There are cases related to the time of Khatami’s presidency, when many young Baha’is would go to the deprived areas of big cities; areas where addiction, theft and drug sales were rampant. They used to throw a carpet under the shadow of a tree, by a stream of dirty water, and would chat with the children of the street, from kindergarten age to teenagers, and the youth and young adults who would approach them and sit with them on the carpet. They would have conversations about learning and progress, and the rights of the children, or they would organize art workshops for them, and once completed, in the same neighborhood, the children would display and share their artworks. They were arrested on the charge of “propaganda against the regime through social activities in deprived areas”. Some of them were imprisoned; for the rest, participation in Islamic propaganda classes was compulsory for a period of several years. Related to such cases, the parents of those who were imprisoned prepared a petition and circulated it among the people of the deprived areas, asking if they knew the young community activist group who were visiting. Everyone answered yes, we knew them and how lovely they were; Ever since they started visiting, the character and morals of our children changed and it’s a pity that they don’t come anymore, etc. and etc. And then they asked them if they knew these visitors were Baha’is, and they said no, not at all. In all the neighborhoods where the testimony was gathered, everyone had admitted that we had no idea that these groups were Baha’is.
Q: Do you know what happens in that compulsory Islamic propaganda class you mentioned?
Maryam: Yes. Under the guise of reciting the Quran, they actually presented documents and refutations on Baha’i Faith and its teachings and books, and they were forced to go to these mandatory “classes” for several years and were subjected to hearing this kind of talk in order to be able to release the documents and bonds they had left with the government.
Q: Focusing on the Baha’is and arresting them is the duty of which institution?
Maryam: As far as I know, the Bahá’í community had to report directly to the Ministry of Intelligence for years, until their activities were shut down and these interactions were eliminated.
If I’m not mistaken, it was during Ahmadinejad’s time that the parliament approved that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) should also have an intelligence department and become a judicial entity. If you pay attention, you’ll see that since then the arrests of all the social, political and other activists are done by the IRGC, which is completely different from the system of the Ministry of Intelligence.
Q: What does bailiff mean?
In some cases, we know that they even search all the children’s books, equipment and toys, and the children witness these behaviors in addition to the arrest of their parents. Sometimes children and teenagers suffer so much and are so disturbed that they even avoid visiting their arrested parents.
Maryam: There are several judicial entities in the security and judicial system: IRGC Intelligence Officer, Law Enforcement Forces, FATA Police, Intelligence Office and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security itself. The bailiff, based on the evidence and documents at hand, can receive the arrest warrant from the prosecutor’s office or other judicial authorities. The old interrogators of the Ministry of Intelligence had, as they say, “Bahá’í experts” who knew the basic information about the system of the Bahá’í community in various cities. But the IRGC’s intelligence is not like that. In the interrogation, they see the accused Bahai as completely political and consider him a political leader.
Q: We have read in the news many times about imprisoned Baha’i parents and couples. What is their situation? Is there a special provision for children at the time of arrest?
Maryam: Not at all.
Q: Do the officers give the parents a chance to contact someone to hand over the children to them?
Maryam: As soon as they enter the house, they take the mobile phones with the passwords. The officers’ behaviors are not lawful, not only that, but also their behavior depends on their personal motives; That is, it depends on how much the officer feels hatred and prejudice towards Baha’is or not.
In some cases, we know that they even search all the children’s books, equipment and toys, and the children witness these behaviors in addition to the arrest of their parents. Sometimes children and teenagers suffer so much and are so disturbed that they even avoid visiting their arrested parents. Support groups and family and friends are very effective in children’s resilience; Especially during interrogation, when the parents of prisoners are usually not allowed any visitors.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about how the arrests are made?
Morteza: Usually, the house is already under surveillance, then a person comes to the door under a false pretext, – sometimes a woman – and asks a question to get the door open, then suddenly they enter the house as a group. I know of cases where when people have protested, they have pointed a gun at them to give the message that they must obey. They also have a warrant and show it so that the accused can see their name and photo on the paper.
Then they search everywhere, record and take away all the things that they find inappropriate or needs to be investigated, such as the picture frames of their religious figures on the wall, iPhone pictures, books, mobile phones, hard drives, computers, etc.
Of course, sometimes devices that have nothing to do with their religious beliefs have also been confiscated; Like Hafez Collection, The Quran, and electronics such as receivers, camera and video recorder, modems or old family photo album. Then they handcuff and sometimes blindfold them and take them away in front of their children and neighbors.
Q: Where to?
Morteza: Sometimes the destination is an intelligence detention site or a prison in whatever city they are in, or the public intelligence and security police of the Intelligence Force of the Islamic Republic, which is under the supervision of IRGC. Even recently, some who were caught were taken away first by the intelligence police.
Q: Do they make a list of what they take at the time of arrest, based on which they return the items later?
Morteza: They write down a list that is not accurate at all. The number of books and pamphlets they take is very high and they don’t record any of them. They have never returned their items based on the same list. Many times, the neighbors have thought that a thief had come and wanted to call 110 to report a robbery, because of the volume of items the officers took out of the house, but when they see they are taken out handcuffed and blindfolded and are put in a car, they realized that the 110 police can’t do anything to help.
Q: When a person is taken for questioning, what steps are taken?
Many times, the neighbors have thought that a thief had come and wanted to call 110 to report a robbery, because of the volume of items that the officers took out of the house, but when they see they are taken out handcuffed and blindfolded and are put in a car, they realized that the 110 police can’t do anything to help.
Pejman: It can be different depending on each city. But what is more or less common in all cases is that they take the belongings and take the accused to a solitary room. Then the prosecutor or the investigator will charge the accused. That is, he says this is what you are accused of, do you accept it or not? The answer is generally a written disagreement with the charges; hence they are sent back to the section until the next day or the day after or a week later; It depends on the games they decide to play with the accused, till the interrogations begin again.
Maryam: Normally, these interrogations can be done in four or five days, but for some it turns into more than a month. When people are arrested in groups, the pressure increases.
Q: Do the interrogators think that all Baha’is are spies?
Maryam: We don’t know what they think, but we know that the defendants are usually told that you have gotten paid to divert all Muslims from their religion. Or, for example, your “House of Justice” is a political center that is connected with the Wahhabis and Israel in order to divert Shiites and Muslims from the path of religion.
Q: Do you have a report on prison and solitary confinement conditions that we can publish?
Pejman: Yes. I will read to you a few passages directly from the notes of several Baha’i friends:
“Solitary was a small room with a very high ceiling and two cameras and a very awkward toilet in the same room. Our only facilities were two blankets and a jar of water. I spent several weeks there without interrogation, just waiting. The solitary itself is enough to drive you insane, the anticipation and waiting is even worse.
There was very little food. It means that two or three portions of it were equal to one normal portion. For example, they used to give very little rice with a little water on the bottom, they called it stew. During the month of Ramadan, they brought the food before dawn. They also brought a frozen meal mid-day, which you could eat at any time, but you had to leave the food in the room temperature until it thawed.”
Many of the solitaries did not have toilets and showers. The room was completely white, with white tiles, and there was a small window high on the wall, and we could guess roughly where we were by the sounds coming from the window. We could only take showers at certain times when they heated the water. But when we were in the shower, there was a fear that they would call us for interrogation. Several times when I was taking a shower, they called me, and I had to quickly get dressed and go.”
“The interrogations started after two weeks. They used to bring me to the interrogation blindfolded. It was a winding corridor. The interrogator would sit somewhere, and there were many metal bars all around and in between those corridors; there were these metal bar doors. The interrogator would call me and tell me to hurry up and there was no one to guide me, I could not see anywhere, so I kept going through the walls and the table and everything that was in front of me, until I reached the room where the interrogator was sitting, and he told me to sit. I was sitting, facing the wall and a table was next to me. The interrogator sat behind me and started asking questions; One or two sessions about my personal situation and the system of administration of the Baha’i community, and then any details he wanted to know. On the first day, my interrogation resulted in thirty pages of A4 paper.
“We didn’t have a clock there, and the cells were in such a way that no light could come through to know what time of the day it was. At the end of every interrogation, my hand was shaking, and my back was hurting from writing so much, repeated questions, phycological pressure, etc. And then, at that time the interrogator would start a fresh discussion of religion, or he would ask a detailed question and he would go to take a rest while I would start writing answers to his question. They also had a print out of a list of my chats with my friends and I had to explain about all of them.
“When I entered the cell, the female prison guard came in, wearing special prison clothes and asked me to take off my clothes. I was surprised and said but you are here! She said yes, you have to do it in my presence. I took off my clothes under her direct gaze and put on the prison clothes and they took my clothes. They even checked my sanitary pad!
The women who were caretakers or guards, had a very backward level of thinking, such that I thought they were stuck back fifty years ago. It was a strange experience. According to them, we have no right to be in Iran. They said that this place is not yours at all, and you do not belong here. They said we will annihilate your entire generation.
I was in solitary confinement the whole time that I was detained. I was interrogated for maybe fifteen hours a day or more. And one week, because I was not cooperative, they made my situation even more difficult.”
Q: What does being non-cooperative mean in their vocabulary? Same as the beginning of the revolution and the instances of withholding wages and banning them from professional positions, and working at universities, etc. Will anything change by declaring that one is no longer a Bahá’i, but is a Muslim?
In their opinion we have no right to be in Iran. They said that this place is not yours at all, and you do not belong here. They said we will annihilate your entire generation.
Maryam: In the last few years, several Baha’is converted to Islam and were interviewed in various places and on television – but they were not necessarily the ones who were arrested. Some have been told that we give you a number and if you decide to cooperate, call this number so that we can reduce your punishment; Cooperation means informing them about other Bahá’ís. As far as we know, Baha’is do not have any secrets that needs to be reported on.
Pejman: But that non-cooperation during the interrogation, that you asked about, means that they did not write what the officers wanted them to write like confessing to acting against national security or propaganda against the regime and membership in anti-regime groups.
Q: By anti-regime group, do they mean, the Baha’i community?
Maryam: Yes. Of course, this phrase has a legal definition, and it means a group that works against the Islamic Republic. Then, this issue, by law, should be investigated in the National Security Commission of the Parliament, and if they determine that this group is anti-regime, it will be announced that membership in a certain group is considered anti-regime, and the punishment is one to five years in prison.
However, this did not happen to the Baha’i community, and according to the law, it is not considered a group that opposes the regime. Lawyers have also cited the issue that due to the closure of the Baha’i community and its activities in Iran, even the act of membership in it is meaningless. These people are nothing but simply Baha’i born and Baha’is. The Supreme Court and the judges of the Court of Appeals have accepted in several cases in the past years that the membership verdict in the Baha’i cases has no legal precedent.
Q: So Baha’i defendants can get a lawyer to appeal?
Maryam: When they are detained, they cannot, but when they are temporarily released, they get a lawyer.
Q: I have read that they have to post bail to get out of detention for temporary release. What happens if someone can’t get bail?
Maryam: They should stay in prison. Many defendants, even non-Baha’is and Muslims have to remain in prison due to lack of bail. This issue has put a special economic pressure on the Baha’i community because all the land and property they have is already tied up by the government. Often times, the accused has had to raise some money because the owner of the property wants to sell the house and move abroad, or because the owner wants to demolish and re-build the house, and they were forced to raise this money and use it to remove government lien on the house. All these are challenges that happen especially when the case drags on for a long time.
Q: What will happen if they do not present themselves to carry out the sentence after the sentence is finalized?
Morteza: The problem with the “open case” is that if the notice is actually served but the accused is not present, the bail is confiscated by the order of the prosecutor. And the bail will not be released until the individual goes to jail, in such cases, the Baha’is are morally obligated to present themselves to serve the sentence to protect someone else’s financial situation. Of course, the value placed on the property as collateral is not correct either. Their experts estimate the value of a 1.5 billion home as 850 million (Toumans).
Q: During the interrogation, do they harass the accused, or do they treat them respectfully and according to the rights of prisoners, as they say about Islamic decency?
Pejman: Respect or respectful behavior may be relative for each person. One may say that they have asked him/her questions politely. But in my opinion, it is not respect for the character of a human being to blindfold them, sit them facing the corner so that he cannot see the other side and ask questions in order to impose on him that he has done something wrong and deserves to be punished. Or to keep a person in a room without proper ventilation and without fresh air, to only send food through a small opening, or keep them in a room which is wired for clandestine listening and may even be monitored by cameras and be monitored while using the bathroom and the shower as well. These are all very demeaning and humiliating.
Q: Do you have any examples of harassment during detention and interrogation?
Pejman: Yes, several. But please take out all the identifying information of individuals.
Many experience irreparable emotional damage after their first arrest and release. They cannot sleep at night for a long time. The sound of the doorbell bothers them for a long time, they get anxious about who is at the door!
Pejman: “The pressures were psychological and white torture. Of the two interrogators, one of them spoke very respectfully and the other interrogator was very aggressive and rude and used all kinds of insults. He would kick my chair or throw me out of the chair. There were also cases where people were slapped and one person who was beaten up and got ill. Or some people who were first brought to the police station, they were harassed by the police station.”
“Many were beaten. One of the guys had a ruptured hernia and could not have it operated on because he might become sterile. Blows to his stomach were the cause. Or, for example, another one was taken away just last year and was hit on the head, the CT scan of his head, revealed a serious injury.”
“They were kicking the base of my chair. Or when they were sitting behind me and giving me the paper, they would stab my shoulder hard with a pen over my Islamic Cover to get my attention, and they would shout and talk ugly and vulgar things.”
“I got severe eye pain because they wouldn’t give me my glasses until the middle of the detention period. My neck also hurt, and the blood was not reaching my brain properly. When they tied me from behind – which was illegal in itself – my neck pain became much worse. When I left the prison, I realized that my vertebrae had arthritis and was severely compressed. I had to write a lot. Many times, I had to add and sign my name and surname after every paragraph I had written, and sometimes I had to write the same content over and over many times.”
How will the life of the accused be affected after the interrogation period and all these takings and taskings?
Morteza: People’s “lived experience” is different from each other, both in terms of age, support conditions, and whether it is their first or second time. Apparently, the second time is very different because both they and their family are mentally prepared. Of course, I must also say that the interrogators always have new things to reveal. Interrogation is basically an expertise and skill that tears apart the accused’s life into before and after the arrest.
Maryam: Imagine being taken to solitary confinement for a week, a month, three months or more and being interrogated every day. The type of interrogation is such that you answer questions from morning to night. You are always in the present tense there and all these issues are repeated in your short-term memory, so many times that they enter your long-term memory. For example, they ask the same question about twenty to thirty times, and you have to answer and write each down. This will make you feel scared, and you will feel ashamed and guilty if there is a question that is difficult for you to answer.
Morteza: When many people get out of prison, they cut contact with others, and no one hears about them. What they said, what they did, what happened there and what happened to them. Interrogation is a strange saga. You must have seen people who went to prison in 1980 and still remember their interrogation process very clearly. It seems like it was just yesterday. I know someone who has been so humiliated and ridiculed in connection with interrogations that he gets nervous at the slightest joke.
Maryam: They are involved in an open case, the date of their trial is not known, the date of the defense is not known, the date of the appeal is not known, it will be cancelled today, and postponed to the next week. Or it is enough to send them a text from “Sana” site, their bodies tremble. Until they realize that the text, for example, was related to another topic.
Q: Sana’s site?
Maryam: When they are released from prison, in order to be able to do judicial and administrative work, they have to get a national code from Sana’s website, which is constantly disconnected and reconnected and tracks judiciary records. They need to get the national code first then they will send them their user ID and password via Text. All these steps and chores become the first priorities of the defendants’ lives and take over all their lives.
With the passage of time and uncertainty, they finally decide to return to normal life, but their concern is whether they will be able to start work or study or not. Can they invest or not? Have children or not? Don’t forget that some of the accused of today are the children of parents who were imprisoned or killed in the 1980s. The pressure on these people is manifold. And many do not even bring up or mention this pressure. Some people say some things privately and shyly; For example, they thought of committing suicide due to the pressure and harassment there. This embarrassment itself makes the psychological burden heavier. And it is important that they know with the help of counselors and support groups that these fears, anxiety and worries are normal.
Morteza: After the first arrest and coming out of the prison, many suffer irreparable emotional damage. They cannot sleep at night for a long time. The sound of the bell bothers them for a long time, they get anxious about who is behind the door! Or they are worried that someone handcuffing them in the street. If the legal procedures were followed properly, they would at least know what will happen to them in two months, for example, but when nothing is certain, they don’t even know whether to renew their apartment’s lease or not and whether they can even afford the rent or not. Being free is no different from being detained; It is even worse and more anxiety-provoking.
Maryam: We know of cases where their marriages broke down after prison and serious challenges arose for them. For couples who are both incarcerated, the challenges can be even greater. One of the things they do in prison, especially with women, is that they touch on communication issues and harass them a lot. For example, if they are divorced, they humiliate and mock them – what was the problem they keep asking. They treat men differently. For example, they say that your wife cheated on you! Or what would you do if you knew that she is with your colleague or an acquaintance?
It can be said that the interrogators have their jobs defined in advance and they are taught methods that have been successfully experienced elsewhere. If people returning from interrogation and prison do not use psychological support and counselling help, they cannot be freed from the calculated pressures of these events. But if they have gone to counseling and worked on themselves, the severity of the effect of what they call “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) will decrease.
During the interrogations, they scare the accused that if their families inform others, they too will be arrested and harassed. Therefore, the prisoner himself calls the family and requests not to publicly write or speak about their situation. While, as a matter of fact it is very important for Baha’is to write about their situation in cyber space.
Morteza: During the interrogations, they scare the accused by telling them that if their families inform others, they too will be arrested and harassed. Therefore, the prisoner himself calls the family and requests not to publicly write or speak about their situation. While, as a matter of fact it is very important for Baha’is to write about their situation in cyber space. It is important that they come and write their “lived experiences” in the streets, schools, universities, buses and everywhere else, from childhood to today, and interact with people.
Because of the pacifism of their religion, many Baha’is both say and believe in forgiveness. Even in the interrogation, they want to talk about love for humanity. But even these may develop physical and psychological problems. Some people become recluse and do not talk to anyone, reduce their communication with everyone, withdraw from all activities. Physically, their immune system is weakened, and they develop heart and digestive issues. These are the stresses that should be analyzed in the right way.
After leaving the prison and during suspension time, the only thing that matters is support and empathy; How much society and people around you pay attention to you and your suffering.
Maryam: In the matter of resilience, in addition to how much self-confidence each person has, and whether they have problem analysis skills or not, the stronger the support networks, the less bitterness and loneliness. Especially important are the sympathies offered through the social networks.
There is no place in jail for a Baha’i! And we should not normalize that the fate of Baha’is in Iran is detention, suffering, prison and deprivation, and there is nothing wrong with this and it should be accepted! In the modern world you have to be productive in the society. Why should you go to jail? Or wait for the verdict for your religious beliefs – whatever they may be? Misunderstood cultures, miss-interpretations, surrender and submission, lack of international support, are all erosive.
Q: Of course, the external perception is not like this. We have heard many times that it is not necessary to talk about the Baha’is of Iran because they have international support.
Pejman: It’s not like that at all! For example, they need a news center outside of Iran that all networks can connect to and get information from. I mean a reliable site for information, not religious sites or their own community news. Sometimes wrong and problematic information is published on the Internet. It is necessary that there be a space in which they can clarify the news of the daily arrests and put the accurate news in the hands of the media so that everyone is aware that they can refer to it and rely on it to receive the latest news about the persecutions and arrests of the Baha’is, from young to old. The continuation of these pressures on Baha’is can lead to irreparable psychological damage.
Q: Have you recorded instances of these post-interrogation anxieties?
Pejman: Yes. I will read them to you:
“Any event can be a trigger and a reminder of the memories we experienced there. For example, a red pen takes me there. It’s really like I’m watching a movie and the interrogators are also sitting. They are sitting in my memory and because of this, I have been running away from my memories for a long time. “My brother was imprisoned in the 1980s, but still if he hears a voice in the street or on the bus that sounds like his interrogator’s, he looks around to find the source of the voice.”
“My uncle got corona last year. When I was in the Corona ward, I noticed I’m starting to feel ill. I found out that in the corona department, they don’t let clients in until they are called to go in via a bell. The sound of that bell was exactly like the sound of the bell of my detention center, every time they rang it, I felt as if I’m being called to interrogation.”
“When I get home in the evening, I get very scared and suddenly panic. I look around in the street and hesitate to go in, go for a few arounds around the house and then I go in. I can’t get over the fact that one day when I arrived at my house in the evening, they arrested me. My political friends said that more than ten years have passed since the execution of their sentence, but many things still trigger fear in them for example, when they hear the call to prayer, they feel ill, or to this day they still dream of the interrogator and feel ill.”
Maryam: My friends told me about a couple that were both taken to prison while their sick child was left without them. Just imagine how exhausting it must have been to take care of a sick child, especially a young child with cancer. The care paid off and the child recovered temporarily – but of course, the child still needed monthly checkups and continuous physical and psychological care – naturally, the tired parents had to give all their energy to their child to keep him going. This is when they were caught in such a situation of being sent to prison! It means that you face another intense pressure again on top of the confusion and fatigue of the stress of a sick child.
Q: In this situation, will the released and suspended individual find a new definition of their relationship with their child?
There is no place in jail for a Baha’i! And we should not normalize that the fate of Baha’is in Iran is detention, suffering, prison and deprivation, and there is nothing wrong with this and it should be accepted!
Maryam: It becomes very difficult! Father or mother or both, are waiting at any moment to be taken to serve the sentence. During this time, children grow up and build a stronger relationship with their parents, and parents who know what is waiting for them in the end, constantly want to reassure the child that wherever I am, I am your mom, I am your dad, I love you and I will do my best with all my heart and soul to make your life better. Every event, every birthday or trip or party with the child is accompanied by the fear of “being the last time”.
These conditions also take the child’s upbringing out of its normal routine because sometimes you say to yourself that maybe I won’t be around for another month, so don’t be too hard; And on the other hand, you know that your child is at an age where parents should be more strict in their expectations, but you just can’t find it in your heart to be strict.
Pejman: Listen to this too. I will read from my notes:
“I didn’t know how to sleep alone every night because my baby’s head was always on my arm, and we slept next to each other. I didn’t know how to sleep now without my baby and then I thought how my baby must sleep without me. Even now, when I sing a lullaby to him, he keeps telling me to record it, so he has it on his tablet so that he can listen to it and fall asleep if I’m not there again one day. I thought a lot about, for example, what should I do if the time comes that I am to go to prison, but the thought is so difficult for me that I put it aside and say let me deal with it at the moment when it comes…. It is very difficult to constantly be worried.”
Q: Can the verdict be changed in “open cases”?
Morteza: They take their cases to the Supreme Court and wait for an answer. But there are no guarantees of any change. They had arrested one of my friends and somehow linked him with some other arrested Baha’is like a gang and made up a fake story for them. Some of them have been imprisoned and one of them has an ankle monitor and one has been released.
They cheated some others illegally. They called before the Iranian New Year and told them to come to the court, so the investigator of the case can ask you questions that will not take more than five minutes, and then you can go home. They said be sure to come, or you will have issues with your case. Some of them reported in and they were handcuffed and taken to prison right there. That is, they took them without informing them or giving any prior notice.
Q: What is the purpose of these pressures?
Morteza: They have put all their energy into eliminating the Baha’is. During the interrogations, they tell the accused “Why don’t you leave Iran. As long as you are in Iran, the only right you have is to eat and sleep. This is the Islamic Republic that governs here and the fact that we allow you to breathe is your highest right. If you want to be free, you have to leave here!”
This is the question of many people, why Baha’is do not leave Iran despite all the persecution
Maryam: This is my personal opinion. I criticize these questioners and say, is the only way for an Iranian citizen who is under pressure, in order to escape from the oppression, is the only solution to run away from this oppression? Do you think the only way is for them to go to another country and start from zero? Maybe you don’t realize this, but this involves a bit of injustice, you accept what the Islamic government wants to happen.
Q: Are the society at large and non-Bahá’ís aware of the troubles and abuses experienced by their fellow Bahá’í compatriots? Do these pressures reach the people?
During the interrogations, they tell the accused “Why don’t you leave Iran. As long as you are in Iran, the only right you have is to eat and sleep. This is the Islamic Republic that governs here and the fact that we allow you to breathe is your highest right!”
Morteza: The truth is that people are very awake because they share a common pain, and the Baha’i community is no longer the only group that is oppressed. Now the entire people of Iran are oppressed. Shia Muslims are questioned and arrested for various reasons, and no one dares to say a word. What did Navid Afkari do? These days, the meaning of friendship has changed, and the atmosphere of society has changed a lot, despite negative and systematic propaganda. Maybe even I didn’t have my current outlook sixteen years ago.
Pejman: Let me read you a story about the empathy of the current society:
“The day they took my spouse, the supermarket, the greengrocer, the mechanic and the neighbors all got informed and sympathized with me. Even the local mechanic said that whenever there is a problem with your car, no matter where you are, call me to fix your car. Don’t you think even for a second that you are alone! That is, in addition to the fact that all my relatives and friends said the very same things.
the person who was a neighbor as well as a mechanic also told me the same things that my family were telling me. If I went to a grocery store and wanted to buy fruit, the seller would say that we know your spouse is not here now, I know you are working yourself, but no need to pay until your spouse comes back. Or, for example, same kind of helpfulness with our friends and my spouse’s colleagues. Of course, I didn’t have anyone’s number because our phones were taken away, but those who already had my number called, and said they would do whatever they could, and wanted to help in any way they knew how.”
“The managers of the company where I worked, all have been and still have the utmost cooperation and sympathy with me, and whatever happens, I inform them, they are aware of what is happening to us. I informed them about the verdict and some of our non-Bahá’í friends reposted it on their Instagram and posted it to defend the rights of their Bahá’í friends. This means we are seeing the effects of our persistence and are able to affect change.”
Q: And have they continued to say what the change they or many others are talking about and the image they see of Iran looks like?
Pejman: Yes. I will read for you. Maybe it’s better if you shorten it:
“That Iran will be an Iran where there is participation; instead of killing the oppressed, they sympathize with each other. What I see in the people is that they are becoming more conscious day by day and are concerned about building Iran and taking care not to even throw a piece of garbage outside, in the nature or use too much water, and plant trees and take care of this land.
That Iran will be the Iran that all of us, together, with any background, belief, ideology, ethnicity, and even from any economic class, can help towards its betterment. If I can have an influence through my words, someone else may be able to help the future of our society by raising that little child they have. Another may just sit at home, working on themselves to become a better human being and influence the world in a positive way. All of us will actually work hand in hand and build Iran. For me, who is a Baha’i, the rich Iranian culture and the diversity of its beliefs are linked with teachings that aim to create unity. This is my belief and certainty about the future of Iran. Although I may not see it myself, I have sacrificed many things and have suffered to achieve it, but the Iran that I imagine, looks like this.
Thank you all. We transmit this last part verbatim without shortening.
Leave a Reply