Sunday, September 14, 2008

Makes Me Wanna Holler


"Oh make you wanna holler, the way they do my life, make me wanna holler, the way they do my life." Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues"

The outrages against the Baha'is of Iran continue relentlessly. Here's some of the latest from Iran Update that I will include in full:

"Last updated on September 12th

Note: This report, updated regularly, is provided as a service to news media and others desiring details of the situation of the Baha'is in Iran. All information has been verified by the Baha'i International Community.

Words in italics have been altered or added since the previous update.


Baha’i leaders still in prison; Nobel Prize winner continues in their defense:

The seven members of a Baha’i coordinating committee remain in Evin Prison in Tehran, and there are fears for their safety. Their families have no information about formal charges against them, although it has been more than a month since a government prosecutor was quoted in the press as saying the individuals had “confessed” to operating an “illegal” organization with ties to Israel and other countries – charges categorically denied by the Baha’i International Community. (See BWNS article.)

Mrs. Shirin Ebadi – a prominent Iranian human rights attorney who is a Nobel laureate – maintains that she and her colleagues at the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran are prepared to defend the jailed Baha’is, despite criticism and false accusations leveled at her and her family because of their involvement, including charges that she or her daughter have become Baha’is. Mrs. Ebadi is a Muslim, and the Baha’i International Community confirms that neither she nor her daughter have ever been Baha’is. She has stated that attorneys have been trying to get access to those in jail but such access has been denied. (For more information about Mrs. Ebadi, see official Baha’i statement dated 12 August 2008.)

The members of the Baha’i coordinating committee who are in prison are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr. Vahid Tizfahm, and Mrs. Mahvash Sabet. The first six have been jailed since May, and Mrs. Sabet since March.

On 19 August, Mr. Tavakkoli’s wife was detained and held for four days after she visited the prosecutor’s office and pressed for clarification of her husband’s situation.

In early September, all seven of those jailed were allowed a brief visit with their families.

At least 22 Baha’is currently in jail:

Three Baha’is were detained overnight in Tehran on 19 August and have been accused of “teaching Baha’ism, propaganda against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and insulting the sacred institution of Islam.” It was the second time in six months that the three, Mr. Touraj Amini, Mr. Iraj Amini, and Mr. Payman Amoui, were detained.

There are still at least 22 Baha’is in jail in different parts of Iran who are imprisoned because of their religion. An example is Mrs. Simin Gorji of Ghaemshahr in Mazindaran province, who has been arrested on several occasions and recently was being held in solitary confinement.

Oppression of Baha’is continues unabated:

The broad-based, government-backed campaign to stamp out the Baha’i community continues.

There are fresh reports of Baha’is being dismissed from jobs or prevented from operating their businesses – reports that confirm the government continues enforcing work restrictions against Baha’is throughout Iran:

  • Various measures are being taken to cancel the work permits of Baha’is.

  • Workplaces are being sealed off.

  • Baha’i businesses are being reported to authorities with an aim of having them blacklisted.

  • Pressure is being exerted on landlords to evict Baha’is who lease business space, and on employers to fire their Baha’i employees.

In one recent example, a Baha’i working at a real estate agency in Shiraz was fired from his job when a group of agents met and decided that dealing with Baha’is is against Islamic law. At the meeting, a number of baseless allegations were made against the Baha’i – allegations he strongly denied – and an anti-Baha’i leaflet published by local authorities was distributed.

Another example: A young Baha’i in Ghaemshahr was fired from his job in a food store on instructions from the Public Places Supervision Office. The office specifically told the employer that the reason was simply that the man was a Baha’i.

Other recent reports from Shiraz show the multifaceted nature of the campaign against the Baha’is:

  • Three different versions of an anti-Baha’i brochure titled “Baha’ism: A Colonial Dance” were widely circulated in the city. The brochure included common false accusations about the Baha’i Faith.

  • A number of Muslim neighbors of Baha’i families have received “visits” from people who attempt to distort their perception of the Baha’i Faith and discourage them from associating with Baha’is.

  • A Baha’i youth who was a national judo champion was expelled from the national team before the team traveled to international competitions. After appeals were lodged, it was learned that there is a general directive prohibiting Baha’is from competing, coaching, or refereeing on national teams.

Other recent examples of attacks and harassment:
  • Two Baha’is in Mashhad were killed and one seriously injured when they were run over by a car, apparently on purpose. All three had earlier received threatening telephone calls.

  • After authorities first suggested that the fire that destroyed the home of the Shaaker family in Kerman had been caused by an electrical problem, the fire department of that city has now confirmed that arson was the cause. The fire was reported last month by the Baha’i World News Service as one of a string of apparent arson attacks against Baha’is. (See BWNS article.)

  • Another arson attempt occurred in Rafsanjan in Kerman province when a burning tire was wedged in the door of a home, blocking the exit for the Baha’i family living there. Neighbors ran to their rescue, thus averting injury or serious damage.

  • The official Islamic Republic News Agency published a special report on 13 August claiming that Bahá’ís were planning to plant a bomb at the Tehran International Exhibition a few months ago. Seyyed Kazem Mousavi, a historian on modern Iran, claimed to have uncovered and put a stop to a criminal plot that may have resulted in a great human catastrophe. The Baha’i International Community categorically denies that Baha’is planned any such attack.

  • More cemetery desecrations have been reported, and, in addition, three Baha’is who participated in a burial in a Baha’i cemetery that has been in use for 15 years were arrested and convicted of “taking part in the illegal occupation and use of government property.” The three were fined and ordered to “cease their occupation of the said property” (the cemetery) and to “return it to its prior condition” (that is, exhume the interred Baha’i).

  • Baha’i students continue to be barred from university, and new evidence indicates that they are being identified as Baha’is early in the application process and are being blocked even from going online to check their test scores.

Anti-Baha’i articles continue in national daily newspaper:

For more than a month, Kayhan, the government-backed national newspaper, has been publishing daily articles attacking the Baha’i Faith. They consist of excerpts from a newly published book that purports to be the memoirs of a man who had been a Baha’i but recanted his faith. The articles are filled with false and misleading material about Baha’u’llah, Baha’i administration, and supposed Baha’i activities.

The same newspaper has published more than 200 articles in the last three years maligning the Baha’is. Iranian television has also broadcast programs attempting to create ill will against the Baha’i Faith and the Baha’is.

Statements condemning arrests and persecution of Baha’is:

Many governments, international organizations, and prominent people – including some Iranian groups and individuals both at home and abroad – have condemned the detention of Baha’i leaders without due process, or condemned outright the Iranian government’s persecution of Baha’is.

Of particular interest recently are two articles published in Persian by writers not associated with the Baha’is:

  • Ali Keshtgar’s article in the online journal Gooya News – titled “We Are All Iranian Baha’is!” and published on 15 August 2008 – suggests that the intensity of the Iranian government’s anti-Baha’i campaign has intimidated even human rights activists. He makes an impassioned plea for human rights organizations “to adopt the defense of complete religious rights and equality, and opposition to all forms of religious bias, as their foremost principle.”

  • Ahmad Batebi authored a long piece published on 2 September 2008 in the journal Rooz that, among other things, (1) outlines in detail how Baha’is are prevented from enrolling in university, (2) cites clauses from the Iranian constitution that grant equal rights to minorities, (3) attempts to analyze why the Shiite government persecutes Baha’is more than other religions, and (4) offers a long argument that concludes with the statement, “Baha’is in all Islamic societies must be given complete and unhindered freedom of expression.” Mr. Batebi gained fame in 1999 when a photograph of him appeared on the cover of The Economist magazine, holding a shirt splattered with the blood of a fellow protestor in Iran. He was jailed and suffered years of torture and imprisonment before escaping; he is believed to be living in the United States.

Internationally, those who have issued statements about the treatment of the Baha’is include:

  • Six Nobel Peace Prize laureates organized as the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
  • U.S. House of Representatives in Washington.
  • European Union.
  • Government of Australia.
  • International Commission of Jurists.
  • Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
  • International Federation for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.
  • Six Nobel Peace Prize laureates – organized as the Nobel Women’s Initiative, with an office in Ottawa, Canada – called for the unconditional release of the seven Iranian Baha’is who are members of the coordinating committee. Founders of the Nobel Women’s Initiative are Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Betty Williams, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Jody Williams, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, and Wangari Muta Maathai.

  • On 30 July, the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington passed a resolution condemning the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. The vote was 408-3.

  • The European Union, in a statement of 21 May, first expressed concern about the arrests, then said: “The EU reiterates its serious concern about the continuing systematic discrimination and harassment of the Iranian Baha'is on the grounds of their religion.”

  • The White House, in a statement issued on 14 June by National Security Counsel spokesman Gordon Johndroe: “The Iranian regime’s human rights record is shameful. A month ago today, the regime arrested six Baha’i leaders solely on the grounds of their religion. They should be released immediately. Iran should uphold the basic human right to practice religion and should end its persecution of the Baha’i community.”

  • The International Commission of Jurists said in a press release that the six Baha’is were “arbitrarily arrested” and should be “released immediately or charged with a recognizable offense.” Despite reports that the Baha’is were supposedly arrested “for security reasons, not for their faith,” the ICJ said it considers there to be “sufficient evidence to show that they may have been arrested in relation to their peaceful activities as members of the national coordinating group of Baha’is in Iran.”

  • Two prominent attorneys in India and a lawyers’ group in Bangladesh have written to the Iranian government asking that the human rights of the detainees be honored, and that at a minimum they are allowed counsel, visits from relatives, and information about the exact charges to be brought against them.

  • The government of Australia addressed the following statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva: “Australia is deeply concerned by news that several Bahá'í leaders were arrested in Iran on 14 May. It is not clear if they have been charged with any specific crime, and it appears the accused have not had access to legal counsel or family members. Australia considers that the Council needs to play an active role in ensuring the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”

  • Five Canadian academics, all natives of Iran but not members of the Baha’i Faith, have written to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling the arrest of the Baha’is the “latest affront to universally accepted human rights” that “joins a growing list of violations the Iranian government has committed against a wide range of those who wish merely to have the opportunity to contribute the the well-bing of Iran. …”

  • Scottish religious leaders, including the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the cardinal who heads the Roman Catholic Church there, have called on the Iranian authorities “to fulfil their obligations under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights with regards to religious freedom and ensure the immediate and safe release of these prisoners.”

Among others who have issued statements are:

Summary:

Harassment of Baha’is is pervasive and includes many incidents of all of the following:

  • Arrests and detention, with imprisonment lasting for days, months, or years. In cases where the Baha’i is released, substantial bail is often required.
  • Direct intimidation and questioning by authorities, sometimes with the use of high-intensity lights and physical mistreatment.
  • Searches of homes and business, usually with Baha’i books and other items confiscated.
  • School expulsions and harassment of schoolchildren.
  • Prohibition on Baha’is attending universities.
  • Court proceedings where Baha’is are accused of promoting propaganda against the government “for the benefit of the Bahaist sect.”
  • Monitoring of the bank accounts, movement, and activities of Baha’is, including official questioning of Baha’is requiring them to give information about their lives, actions, neighbors, etc.
  • Denial or confiscation of business licenses.
  • Denial of work opportunities in general.
  • Denial of rightful inheritances to Baha’is.
  • Physical assaults, and efforts to drive Baha’is out of towns and villages.
  • Desecration and destruction of Baha’i cemeteries, and harassment over burial rights.
  • Dissemination, including in official news media, of misinformation about Baha’is, and incitement of hatred against Baha’is.
  • Evictions from places of business, including Baha’i doctors from their offices and clinics.
  • Intimidation of Muslims who associate with Baha’is.
  • Attempts by authorities to get Baha’is to spy on other Baha’is.
  • Threatening phone calls and letters to Baha’is.
  • Denial of pension benefits.
  • Denial of access to publishing or copying facilities for Baha’i literature.
  • Confiscation of property."
The Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights has posted an essay from an Iranian activist who is not a Baha'i speaking in defense of the Iranian Baha'is:

"If I were a Shiite, if I were a high-ranking Shiite cleric, if I were sitting in the place of the object of emulation of the Shiites, then at the same time that I would love the Shiite creed, I would also think about humanity. My heart would ache over all the atrocities that have been done to people, Shiite or otherwise. And when I saw records of the barbaric tortures that have been carried out in the prisons of the Islamic Republic, tears would pour from my eyes.

At the same time, if I had any courage and had the rank of a religious cleric, if the craving for political power and the lust for the trappings of leadership had not blinded my eyes and turned my heart into a stone, I would do the same thing that Ayatollah Montazeri did in the 1980s, through his peerless bravery and without concern for the implications of his action on his own person.

When he acted, Ayatollah Montazeri was not a member of the Mujahedin,1 nor was he a supporter of any of the Marxist or leftist groups. He was one of the architects of the Islamic regime; he occupied the seat of the deputy Supreme Leader and the “hope of people and the Imam”. But when he witnessed the slaughter carried out by the regime and the inhuman tortures in the nation’s prisons and when he heard about the carnage taking place within the prison walls, then not only did his heart ache and his eyes weep, but he also loosened his tongue to strongly protest and oppose such tyranny.

He sacrificed his entire political position and future leadership in defense of human virtues. He defended the Mujahidin, who had cravenly assassinated his own son, as well as the communists and Marxists whom he had no reason to like and indeed may not have had any sympathies for at all. He condemned the regime’s numerous massacres and the medieval tortures of that murderous decade. In carrying out his historic duty, in the strongest voice possible, he denounced the serial massacres of prisoners throughout the country which were taking place on the instructions of the powerful ruler of that time, Ayatollah Khomeini, and he deplored them as crimes against humanity, thereby parting company with the cruel and murderous leadership.

Ayatollah Montazeri denounced Khomeini’s leadership at a time when no one else would dare complain about the vicious and murderous deeds of the “Imam”. Many of those who today array themselves in opposition to the government, or who appear in the cloak of reform and who pretend that from birth they have been defenders of democracy and human rights, not only at that time, when Montazeri spoke courageously in denunciation of Khomeini, they did not utter a word against any of the criminal deeds of the regime and its leader. Indeed many of them closely collaborated with the regime in implementing those tyrannical and barbaric policies. Not only did they refuse to provide any support whatsoever to Ayatollah Montazeri, but in fact they arose in opposition to him, or with their calculated silence they aligned themselves with the murderers and thereby helped to further isolate and marginalize Montazeri.

The latest effort of Ayatollah Montazeri in defending the civil rights of the Bahais is yet more evidence of his historic bravery.2

The significance of his remarkable defense of the Bahai community and the civil rights of the Bahais is underscored even more when, even after his declaration, we still find only a handful of religious intellectuals who concur in supporting the civil rights of the Bahais. And the one or two who have found the courage to speak in support of the civil rights of the Bahai community have gained this courage after the brave pronouncement of Ayatollah Montazeri, as otherwise, most likely they would have continued with their deafening silence on this vital issue.

The defense by Ayatollah Montazeri of the Bahai community of Iran speaks of his deep commitment to human rights.

Whether as a Shiite cleric or from the position of a devoted Shiite, it is most evident that Ayatollah Montazeri has no sympathies towards the Bahai community or the followers of that religion. In fact, from his religious perspective and jurisprudential convictions, most likely he considers the Bahai Faith to be a wayward sect and an opponent and enemy of the Shiite creed.

Nevertheless, he has defended the civil rights of the Bahais of Iran, and has signified that they possess all the rights associated with such citizenship.

The historic import of this verdict is in the fact that during the past 150 years, not a single religious authority has shown the same courage in defending the rights of the Bahai, particularly at a time when the government in the name of “Islam” has devoted itself to the suppression of the followers of this religion.

Ayatollah Montazeri’s defense is a new chapter in the acceptance of the civil rights of the Bahais, a right recognized by one of the highest religious authorities among Shiite centers. I don’t know whether if I had been a high ranking cleric, or if I had been the source of emulation of the Shiites, or if I had been the deputy supreme leader of the nation, I would have had the courage, the humanity and the deep conviction in human virtues and human rights which prompted Ayatollah Montazeri to defend his imprisoned opponents. I don’t know if I could have acted as nobly as he has.

As far as I recall, many leaders of political groups, many even among the rank and file, have become very happy about the suppression of their opponents at the hands of the Islamic regime. They have never complained when the principals of various parties and political groups were tortured in the most barbaric manner and dragged before sham television shows to confess to their “guilt”.

Husayn-Ali Montazeri is among those rare figures in the contemporary history of Iran who has defended his adversaries, even has defended those who assassinated his own child. His defense of the Bahais and their entitlement to live and enjoy civil rights is yet another demonstration of his deep belief and his understanding of the rights of all people, including those with whom he disagrees." (Read the entire essay here)

The freedom to believe is a fundamental human right that should be defended, especially by those who are religious. Seeking to suppress religious beliefs that differ from one's own does not protect ones faith but rather weakens it through undermining its moral authority in the eyes of those who don't share it and encouraging fear rather than a desire to investigate the truth of one's religious claims. The most effective way of dealing with beliefs one disagrees with is to teach one's own faith in a spirit of humility while allowing everyone to freely investigate all faiths and choose for themselves. Ultimately, religious and governmental leadership in Iran are doing greater harm than good in their misguided efforts to suppress the Baha'is. God willing they will discover their folly before the damage is irreversable.

"The strife between religions, nations and races arises from misunderstanding. If we investigate the religions to discover the principles underlying their foundations, we will find they agree; for the fundamental reality of them is one and not multiple. By this means the religionists of the world will reach their point of unity and reconciliation."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 151)