10 Jan., 2010
I am not Baha’i. I didn’t even know Baha’is existed! What a strange name – Baha’i…
In Iran, they are pursuing Baha’is, imprisoning them, destroying their possessions. But what crime are they accusing them of? Born in the 19th century, this religion, “Baha’ism”, based on the concept of one prophet succeeding another, is characterized by tolerance and pacifism. This community practices, among other principles, the equality of men and women, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, education for all, religious tolerance. I didn’t know that the Baha’i Faith is the second most widespread religion in the world, existing in 218 countries and sovereign territories.
How did I learn all this?
My memory goes back to the book faire of Saint Louis, in Alsace – one of the most important of such expositions in France – whose organizers refused to exhibit my novels for all kinds of reasons. The truth was that that I wasn’t part of the powerful group of well-known names of the literary microcosm; that is, I wasn’t well-known to the media. I was resentfully about to abandon all hope of actively participating in the fair when the Baha’is, who had rented a booth to display their own literature, spontaneously offered me a place to sign my works in their stand. Nothing was negotiated; no conditions were imposed on me; no one tried to recruit me. This simple gesture of generosity accompanied by a smile was a lesson to me!
Therefore, in response to this magnanimity, I would like to inform you of the following press release:
Seven accused of spying for Israel to be judged Tuesday, tension mounts for the Baha’is of Iran
Acute anxiety, once again, for the Baha’is of Iran. The seven Baha’i leaders, two women and five men, held in Evin prison of Tehran for 20 months, are to appear in court on Tuesday, January 12, on charges that could lead to the death penalty. As the date approaches, bad news has been received that pressure is mounting as though the ground is being laid for a trial that will teach the Baha’is a lesson.
In addition, thirteen Baha’is were arrested on Sunday, January 3. Among them was Negar Sabet, the daughter of Mahvash Sabet, one of the seven to be tried on Tuesday, as well as Leva Khanjani, the granddaughter of Jamaloddin Khanjani, the older of the seven leaders. This young woman was arrested along with her husband, Babak Mobasher. Jinous Sobhani, the former secretary of Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and her husband, Artin Ghazanfari, were also summoned. Ten of the thirteen are still in detention. At the same time, and for some weeks, an anti-Baha’i campaign has been intensifying in the official media.
Baha’is, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran, have always been the scapegoat of the Islamic Republic. The Iranian regime is constantly charging them with well-worn allegations of conspiracy theories, adapted to suit the new circumstances. These days, the Baha’is have been accused, by “experts” interviewed by the reporters of ultra-conservative newspapers, as being “behind” the post-electoral disturbances, or for having fomented the December 27 protests which took place during the festival of Ashura, and for being hidden consultants for the reform candidates. In addition, the old accusation of being agents of Zionism persists. For good measure, the authorities are requiring those being summoned to sign a commitment not to participate in demonstrations. Note that the Baha’is, according to their principles, abstain from any political activity.
The seven Baha’i leaders to be judged on Tuesday have never received an official accusation, but have been accused in the ultra-conservative newspapers of being “spies for Israel”, to have insulted the sacred character of Islam and for having produced “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” – all unfounded accusations, and each one liable to the death sentence..
Shirin Ebadi is a lawyer for the seven Baha’is. Although she is abroad, her colleague, the courageous fighter for human rights, who is well-acquainted with Iranian prisons, Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani, has agreed to defend them. He was arrested in June, and then freed, after a fine of 90,000 euros was paid at the end of August.
“Enemies of God Organization”
During the last ten months, 60 Baha’is have been arrested and then freed, each held for between one days and several months. At the moment 48 are incarcerated, the only reason being their faith. For thirty years they have been considered to be “unprotected infidels”. This community of 300,000 believers is known as “the enemies of God organization”. Second class citizens in their own country, Baha’is are deprived of post-secondary education, and have no access to the public sector. Just for being a Baha’i one can have one’s property and possessions seized, can be deprived of retirement funds, can be denied a loan or a license. In school, teachers are encouraged to publicly humiliate Baha’i children. Hundreds of Baha’i cemeteries have been desecrated and razed. Citizens who attack Baha’is are not questioned. More than 200 Baha’is, among them minors, have been executed since the founding of the Islamic Republican.
However, the Baha’is have at least one ray of hope: they note that, among their countrymen, inside and outside of Iran, the number of those who sympathize with them is growing.
And, humble craftsman of literature I am, I would like to be associated with the protests emanating from the United Nations, from the European Parliament, from the foreign ministers of different countries around the world, from well-known personalities such as François Jacob of the Academy of Science, and from a considerable number of organizations and institutions, as well as from citizens who are passionate about justice and tolerance.
Translation by Iran Press Watch