A campaign to free prisoners of conscience

Sunday May 19 2013

By NAFHA MAANI EBRAHIMI

A new campaign “Five Years too Many” was launched in May 2013 marking the five years of arrest and wrongful imprisonment of the seven Baha’i Leaders in Iran. And they still have another 15 years to go in very harsh prison conditions.

Among the seven are five men incar cerated at the overcrowded and dangerous Gohardasht prison in Karaj, and two women who are in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.

Unjustified detention
Official reports from the Baha’i international community indicates that during the first year of their detention, they were denied access to lawyers and were not given charge sheets for the reason of their arrest. According to the same source, for many years, hundreds of other incidents of abuse, assault and discrimination against the Baha’is of Iran have been recorded. In a statement Diane, Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community representative at the United Nations in Geneva said:

“The entire situation puts the Baha’is in an impossible position because they must ask for justice and protection from the same authorities who are systematically inciting hatred against them and from a judicial system that treats virtually every Baha’i who is arrested as an enemy of the state.”

For the love of one’s faith
All the above cases have been documented under the title “Violence with Impunity”. Ala’i added, “This report shows that attacks on Baha’is are engineered by government agents and actively encouraged by the authorities and the Muslim clergy in Iran – and that attackers are well aware that they will go unpunished.”

Many Iranian families have been touched by these aggressions in one way or the other, and most speak out of personal experience. I have written once about the story of my grandmother who at the age of 80 was taken several times to a mosque and asked to recant her faith.

After the third time of being dragged there, the old lady came back home very stressed having gone through a rough mental roller coaster that totally exhausted her. Soon after that, she succumbed to a heart attack. Our mother tells us that even up to her last breath, grandmother never said a bad word against her aggressors, she was an example of a true Baha’i, a member of a peaceful and law abiding community.

A faith under attack
In a letter to the Globe and Mail newspaper, the former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said: “The Baha’is reflect the cultural diversity of the people that make up Iran.
They harbour no partisan loyalties and their contributions to the educational, scientific, and cultural advance of Iran since the religion emerged in the 19th century are significant.

While the Baha’i faith is an independent religion with a prophet-founder, Baha’u’llah, they respect the Prophet of Islam, just as they honour Iran’s classical heritage and the religion of ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism.”
The above reflects a true picture of the Baha’i community in the eyes of an objective spectator at an international level, and I find no better words to end my article than quoting words he ended his article with:

“On this, the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of Iran’s Baha’i leaders, it is time again to renew whatever means are available to press home to Iran’s leaders how important it is to live up to its historical reputation as a leader of human civilisation.

Iran’s leaders must come to understand the serious costs to that country’s international standing, its domestic economy, and the long-term prospects for a prosperous and flourishing country if they continue to undercut the freedoms basic to any modern nation. Let Iran free the seven Baha’i leaders, and all other prisoners of conscience.”

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