They could be your neighbors. A psychologist, a factory owner, an industrialist, an agricultural engineer, a school principle, a social worker, and an optometrist. What do they have in common? Each is commemorating the grim anniversary of three years of imprisonment and torture. Their crime you ask? What the Islamic Republic of Iran will tell you is that their crimes are “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic” and “corruption on earth”. The real reason is that in Iran being a Baha'i is a crime.
On Thursday, May 12th, Capitol Hill hosted an event to raise awareness of the plight of these innocent souls who have been unjustly sentenced to twenty years in prison purely for their religious beliefs. Senator Mark Kirk (R. Illinois) emphasized during this event the importance of committing their names to memory. Their names are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naemi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Ms. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.
This remarkable and inspiring event featured public officials, artists, family members and representatives of the Baha'is of the United States, united in a single goal: to shine a light on the darkness of relentless persecution of Iran's largest religious minority. In particular, the evening was dedicated to the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders known as the Yaran-i-Iran (Friends of Iran).
Senator Kirk reminded us of the power of supporting those striving for freedom during the Soviet era through telling their stories. Ken Bowers, Secretary General of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, called on the Iranian regime to respect freedom of conscience for all its people. Representative Michael Grimm (R. New York) praised the steadfastness of the Yaran in the face of oppression. Kathleen M. Fitzpatrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor compared the Baha'is of Iran to the "miner's canary", an indication of the human rights climate in Iran generally.