Iranian Regime Still Fears Girl Hanged 30 Years Ago


Iran’s Revolution Guards hanged a girl 30 years ago as part of their attempt to purge the country of its Baha’i religious minority. In doing so, they created a martyr they fear to this day.
17-year-old Mona Mahmudnizhad was hanged by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1983 and has since become a hero of the country's persecuted Baha'i minority, of which she was a member.

By: Payam Akhavan Published on Mon May 12 2014

Imagine a muscular bearded revolutionary with a machine gun. Now imagine him putting the hangman’s noose around the neck of a blindfolded 17-year-old girl. Her heinous crime? Teaching Sunday school for children. And then imagine the same militant forces returning to excavate her gravesite 30 years later to remove all traces of this shameful act.

This shocking scenario unfortunately is not from a poignant Hollywood film. It is the reality playing out in Iran today, as the powerful Revolutionary Guards excavate the historic cemetery in the city of Shiraz where Mona Mahmudnizhad and nine other women executed in 1983 are buried, together with 950 other members of the persecuted Baha’i religious minority.

This latest act is profoundly repugnant and perplexing. What, it may be asked, are the mighty Revolutionary Guards so afraid of?

Since the earliest days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Baha’i minority of Iran has been subject to violent persecution. Almost the entire leadership of this peaceful community was systematically exterminated in what UN expert Benjamin Whitaker had described by 1985 as a “genocide.”

It was in this context that on June 18, 1983, 17-year-old Mona Mahmudnizhad and nine other women were executed. Thousands of others were imprisoned, tortured, dismissed from employment and schools, or had their properties confiscated. The desecration of religious sites and cemeteries was a particularly blatant expression of a hateful ideology of “cultural cleansing,” aimed at eliminating all traces of Iran’s Baha’i citizens.

I was a contemporary of Mona, and her extraordinary courage left a deep and lasting impression on my generation. Reports emerged from sympathetic prison guards that, after severe torture, when she was being insulted and spat upon by those that were about to hang her, she put the noose around her own neck and smiled in a final act of defiance. Her torturers had not managed to break her. Hers was a triumph of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable cruelty.

The Baha’is continue to be an all-purpose scapegoat for the Islamic Republic. A relentless stream of hate propaganda has accused them of every conceivable evil in the fertile imagination of the authorities: American imperialism, espionage for Israel, Wahhabism, religious “waywardness,” sexual promiscuity, satanic rituals, and myriad other misdeeds.

The Baha’is have also been blamed for the massive 2009 post-election protests — the so-called Green Movement. In short, the Baha’is are an expedient distraction for all the woes of a regime that continues to subject its citizens to human rights abuses, including the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world, as well as corruption and poverty.

So what are the Revolutionary Guards so afraid of?

The escalating demonization of Baha’is in recent times speaks volumes about the regime’s fear of losing its grip on absolute power. The Iranian people have awakened to the reality of the hate propaganda as an instrument of repression. In unprecedented acts of solidarity, senior Islamic clerics such as Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani have spoken in defence of Baha’is.

Another example is Mohammad Nourizad, a former senior figure in the regime, who went to the home of a four-year-old Baha’i child whose parents are both in prison and — defying the fanatical view that Baha’is are “ritually unclean” — kissed the child’s feet in a courageous act of contrition.

While the Revolutionary Guards busy themselves with desecrating the bones of their victims, a new post-hatred Iran is being born, in which the people demand respect for the human rights of all citizens. That is what those in power fear the most.

Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “if the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” The fanatic, whose ideas cannot prevail through reason, needs to hang a 17-year-old girl to feel powerful and heroic. He needs to even erase traces of the long dead victims to desperately convince himself he has triumphed. But no matter how deep he digs the earth, the spirit of Mona and others like her will continue to inspire people of conscience to defy hatred and violence.


Payam Akhavan is co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, a former UN prosecutor at The Hague, and professor of International Law at McGill University in Montreal.


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7 Responses

  1. vafa-canada

    May 13, 2014 4:48 pm

    Mona Mahmudnizhad, you and all Baha’i martyrs are our HEROES. You are a Legend that will be remembered and cherished for millennia. We salute all Baha’i martyrs and prisoners in Iran. Our prayers are for all suffering innocent minorities that suffer under the cruel oppression of the revolutionary guards.

  2. N. E. Hoyle

    May 13, 2014 6:59 pm

    Tyranny cannot enjoy a long shelf-life. The day when a shroud of secrecy can cloak the misdeeds and thuggery of the vainglorious oppressor is long gone. They are right to fear exposure as the world witnesses anew the legacy of Mona and her fellow-religionists. Thanks to the world-wide gift of the internet, their ongoing martyrdom is becoming a beacon of light, hope and education those who had previously been relegated to the darkness of ignorance.

    Thank you Payam Akhavan for sharing this information with us all.

  3. Bruce

    May 14, 2014 5:14 am

    The guard did not put the noose around Mona’s neck. She demaneded to be the last of the ten hanged so she could comfort those who went before her. When her time came, she kissed the rope and placed the noose around her own neck. It is her legacy.

  4. Joe Walshe

    May 14, 2014 10:20 am

    Well written article.
    It seems the Iranian population and some of the more enlightened leadership have been stirred and are starting to sympathise with the Baha’is in their mist. For this I have hope for the many good people of Iran in the future.

  5. Paul P

    May 17, 2014 12:27 pm

    There are some other things to imagine in that top line that are in danger of being sanitised out of the story. Mona was tortured along with her fellow captives before this execution, mentally and physically. They murdered her father before her and, although she was not informed formally for over 48 hours from the date of execution, she knew. She had refused food and fasted for 30hours without any pre-warning. He was executed on the day she started that fast (March 12, 1983). They arrested her mother too, at first accepting their small flat as bail collateral and then rejecting it and taking the title anyway. They then put her mother in the same cell with her. Another ploy to try to break her spirit, but she did not break once. June 18, 1983 was the day of her death on a makeshift gallows put up on what was once a polo field. Mona would never want to be the only blessed soul remembered. The others were: Mrs. Nusrat Yalda’i, 54 years old,
    Mrs. ‘Izzat Janami Ishraqi, 50 years old,
    Miss Roya Ishraqi, 23 and daughter of ‘Izzat,
    Mrs. Tahirih Siyavushi, 32 years old,
    Miss Zarrin Muqimi, 28 years old,
    Miss Shirin Dalvand, 25 years old,
    Miss Akhtar Sabit, 19 or early 20’s,
    Miss Simin Sabiri, early 20’s,
    Miss Mahshid Nirumand, 28 years old.


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