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.
Among the most moving moments of the evening however involved stories of unconditional love demonstrated by the Yaran during their captivity. Actress Eva LaRue of CSI Miami spoke of the experience of American journalist Ms. Roxana Saberi who shared a cell with Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi and Ms. Mahvash Sabet. When Ms. Saberi began a hunger strike to protest her detention these two Baha’i women sought to distract her from her hunger through funny stories. Iraj Kamalabadi, brother of Fariba Kamalabadi told the story of a fearsome fellow inmate who was so transformed by Fariba’s love that she placed her own slippers in a puddle of filth so that Fariba would not have to walk through it. This is what the Iranian regime regards as corrupting the earth?
The Iranian government would do well to ponder questions posed by the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah during his own forty years of imprisonment, torture and exile. During an interview with British Orientalist Edward Granville Browne, Baha’u’llah stated: “Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile…We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment…That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled — what harm is there in this?”
If you think that there is no harm in believing things like this. If you think that the Baha’is of Iran and their fellow Iranians deserve freedom of conscience. If you think that enough is enough, then I urge you to contact your representative(s) and Senators and encourage them to co-sponsor House Resolution 134 and Senate Resolution 80. These resolutions call on the government of Iran to stop its persecution of the Baha’is.