Translation by Iran Press Watch
Sunday, June 18, 2023, marked 40 years since the execution of ten Bahá’í women. In the dark hours before dawn, the ten women were brought to Chogan Square in Shiraz. One by one they were hung, as their remaining companions were forced to watch as each waited her turn. The Islamic Republic hanged those ten women for the “crime” of loyalty to their Bahá’í Faith.
During their incarceration, each of the ten underwent severe interrogation and torture, under extreme pressure to recant their faith or face execution. All remained firm and did not recant their faith.
The bus driver who drove them from the Adelabad Prison of Shiraz to Chogan Square, stated, “On the route, they were all high-spirited and although they knew they were being taken to their place of execution, they were singing the entire time. I could not believe that they were aware of their fate. I have never seen such happy human beings.”
Following their executions, their bodies were secretly buried in the Bahá’í cemetery of Shiraz. 31 years later, in 2014, that cemetery was destroyed by bulldozer by the order of the officials of Islamic Republic. A cultural and sports center was built on its ruins.
Mona Mahmoudnejad was the youngest among the ten women. She was only 17 years old. Mona was arrested in September of 1982 alongside her father, Yadollah Mahmoudnejad, and imprisoned in the Adelabad Prison in Shiraz together with five other Bahá’í women. Her father was hanged in February/March of that same year.
Mona faced the most severe of interrogations four times, under pressure to recant her faith or be executed. The soles of her feet were whipped so badly that she could not bear wearing shoes, forcing her to walk barefoot for a long time.
Another of the ten women, Roya Eshraghi, was only 23 years old at the time of her execution. She lived in Shiraz with her family, which was originally from Isfahan. Roya had been accepted into the veterinary college of Shiraz University around the time her father had retired from the National Oil Company of Iran. In the wake of the 1979 revolution, Baha’is suffered severe reprisals for practicing their faith. As part of this, Mona’s father’s pension was terminated, and Roya (along with many Baha’i students) was expelled from the university.
Roya was living with her parents and sister in 1980 when the Revolutionary Guards raided their home for the first time. (The family’s three other children lived abroad.) Following three days of interrogation, authorities released the family. A year later, in fall of 1981, Revolutionary Guards raided their home a second time. This time they arrested 22-year-old Roya along with her mother, Ezat Janami and her father, Yadollah Eshraghi. They were taken to Adelabad Prison of Shiraz.
On July 16, 1983, two days before Roya and her mother were executed in Chogan Square of Shiraz, Roya’s father was executed by hanging. Four months later, the Revolutionary Court confiscated and demolished the Eshraghi family’s home, confiscated the land and gave it to the Foundation for the Poor (Bonyad-e-Mostazafan).
Simin Saberi, another of the ten hanged Bahá’í women, was arrested in September of 1981. She was 24 years old at the time of her execution. During the height of the Islamic Revolution, extremist revolutionary Muslims were vandalizing homes of the Bahá’ís, setting fires and throwing rocks. Among the houses attacked was the family home of Simin Saberi; the broke the windows by throwing rocks. For the safety of their family, Simin’s parents were forced to clandestinely rush their children out of the house and flee to Tehran.
In this report we have limited ourselves to a brief description of three of the ten women, as multiple reports have been published about the life and history of these women and are available in several languages, including Persian and most western languages. The other seven women of the ten executed were Shahin (Shirin) Dalvand, 25 years old, Akhtar Sabet, 25, Mahshid Niroumand, 28, Zarrin Moghimi Abyaneh, 28, Tahereh Arjomand (Siavoshi), 30, Nosrat Ghofrani Yaldayi, forty-six and Ezat Janami Eshragi (Roya Eshraghi’s mother), 57 years old. Their stories, as well as many others, can be found on-line and we hope those interested will be encouraged to investigate further.
So, how did these criminal acts against Baha’is start? Although the Islamic Regime persecutes other religious minorities as well, facts bear out that in the first years following the 1979 revolution, no other religious minority was treated as cruelly the Bahá’ís in Iran. But it is also evident anti-Bahá’í fire that was kindled right before the revolution soon spread to other persecution of religious minorities and Iranian dissidents in general. The #OurStoryIsOne campaign, launched by the Bahá’í International Community on the fortieth anniversary of hanging the ten Bahá’í women, refers to this fact.
This campaign which started in June 2023, will continue for one year. The Bahá’í International Community has announced that its aim in launching this campaign is honoring the ten executed women, as well as, honoring the uncompromising struggle of all Iranian women striving for gender equality in the past decades. This struggle. which continues in the present, starting with the rise of the youth, particularly young girls, reached its peak after Mahsa Amini died in police custody on September 16, 2022. Yes, our story is one!
Following is some background about the anti-Bahá’í activities of the Islamic Republic:
In an interview during the first days of his return to Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini (founder of the Islamic Republic) banned the right for the Bahá’ís to hold religious ceremonies. Khomeini created the policy framework of Islamic Republic regarding Iranian Baha’is. From that point on, the officials of this regime expressed their animosity for the Bahá’ís whenever they found an opportunity.
Sometime after the formation of the Islamic Republic, its representative in the United States, in an interview with the Jewish community in that country, said that the religious minorities in Iran have some rights, but the Bahá’í are deprived of such rights because they were a political, and not a religious group. This bigoted mindset has allowed the persecution and murders of Bahá’ís to become normalized in the Islamic Republic. In 1979, during nine-month period of the interim government under Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, anti-Bahá’í organizations raided the homes of Bahá’ís in Tehran and other cities dozens of times, confiscating all the documents, photos, letters and books they found and detaining heads of family.
During the last months of the Shah’s regime the Hojjatiyeh Society (known as the “Anti-Bahá’í Association” prior to the revolution) was able to steal SAVAK documents and gather critical information about Iranian Bahá’ís. Comprised primarily of religious fanatics with socioeconomic roots in the bazaar, as well as laborers, The Hojjatiyeh Society gained unlimited power after the revolution. During the nine-month period of the interim government, they fomented and were active agents in vicious anti-Baha’i violence in various parts of Iran, setting fires to the homes, destruction of Bahá’í farms, and the murders of dozens of Bahá’ís. In reaction to the pleas for justice by the Bahá’í community in Iran and the world, the embassies of the Islamic Republic falsely claimed that the murder and executions of Bahá’ís was not due their religious beliefs, but for crimes related to their relationship with Israel and Zionism.
Mohammad Ali Rajai, during his various roles in the revolutionary government (1979 to 1981), conditions continued to worsen for Bahá’ís. Rajai was a former member of the Hojjatiyeh Society and held a longstanding enmity towards the Bahá’í Faith. In 1979, when he was appointed to the Ministry of Education during Bazargan’s interim government, he immediately expelled all Bahá’ís from elementary schools and high schools via issuance of a circular. He then demanded the removing of the Bahá’í teachers’ pensions. Other ministries also followed his example in depriving Baha’is of basic rights. During the presidency of Bani Sadr, Rajai became the prime minister and used his increased power to continue waging his war against Iran’s Baha’is.
On June 11, 1980, the “Islamic Revolution” newspaper published a part of Ayatollah Mohammad Sadoughi’s speech where he had claimed that Bahá’ís conspire against the revolution in the cities of Iran and had asked the public to arrest them and hand them to the revolutionary committees. On June 24,1980, Le Monde newspaper described the publication of such an article in a newspaper like “Islamic Revolution” as dangerous. In an interview, Abolhassan Bani Sadr told the reporters that the reason he was not doing anything to prevent the execution of the arrested members of the “National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís” was that he did not want to give an excuse to his opponents.
Despite being quoted in a Radio France Internationale interview (February 16, 2009) as having stated “When having any belief is free, how can expressing it be prohibited by law?”, there is no documentation available that proves Abolhassan Bani Sadr may have tried to suppress Anti-Bahá’í activities in Iran in his speeches, either before or during his presidency.
The authors of the constitution of the Islamic Republic ensured that its language deprived Bahá’ís of any civil rights and legal freedoms. The constitution gave free reign to anti-Bahá’í groups to kill and persecute the Bahá’ís. During the critical times of the new Regime, such as the hostage crisis and the war, the minds of the public were occupied with other issues. Anti-Baha’i factions seized the opportunity to harass and kill the Bahá’ís as much as they could.
Initially, prior to 1981, the regime claimed that followers of the Bahá’í Faith who were executed had been engaged in espionage. But in 1981 it was publicly proclaimed that simply being a Bahá’í constituted a crime. Ayatollah Mousavi Tabrizi, Prosecutor General of the Revolution (from 1981 to 1984), openly stated, “The Qur’an recognizes three groups as People of the Book: Muslims, Jews, Christian, and the Zoroastrians as a special exception. The rest are infidels and must be annihilated.” Ayatollah Mohammad Sadoughi, the Friday prayer leader of Yazd, also allowed the shedding of blood of the Bahá’ís. The Islamic Republic killed the largest number of Bahá’ís between 1979 and 1986. In those years, half of the Bahá’ís who were executed, by hanging or firing squad, were members of the Bahá’í Spiritual Assemblies, including the members of three consecutive National Assemblies, and most, if not all, of the members of the Local Spiritual Assemblies in larger cities.
Following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in June of 1989 and the appointment of Ali Khamenei as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, the overseeing of anti-Bahá’í activities was left to the Office of the Supreme Leader. The office of Khamanei describes his policy regarding the Bahá’ís as follows: “Bahá’ís are infidels, and not People of the Book. Therefore, the decision about whether they are under the protection of Islam or not, is made by the Islamic judge, meaning the all-comprehensive jurist.”
An article in the 1990 resolution of the Supreme Revolutionary Council regarding the Bahá’ís, was obtained by the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in 1993. It states that the Bahá’ís should not be arrested, imprisoned or punished for no reason. However, the same resolution has set such oppressive conditions for Baha’is that many have little choice but to leave the country.