Recently I had a chance to do an interview with Donna Hakimian, a project coordinator at the Canadian Baha’i National Centre, who spoke to me about the 1 year anniversary of the arrest of 7 Baha'i Leaders in Iran. Please find her interview below.
1) As the Iranian government has sought, through propaganda in government owned media outlets, to spread falsities about the Baha’i Faith, please explain a little bit about the history of this community.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you today. Today thousands of Baha’is around the world are standing in solidarity with their co-religionists in Iran. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the imprisonment of the leaders of this community in Iran. A year in which, they have not had formal charges against them nor access to their lawyer. It has been a year in which these individuals, along with dozens of other Baha’is, have faced intense interrogations, solitary confinement, and difficult conditions in prison. But it has also been a year of unity and support from Baha’is all over the world. A short description of this community can be found at the following website: http://info.bahai.org/. I share with you extracts from this site:
“The Bahá'í Faith is the youngest of the world's independent religions. Its founder, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), is regarded by Bahá'ís as the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad.”
“The central theme of Bahá'u'lláh's message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. God, Bahá'u'lláh said, has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification.” (http://info.bahai.org/)
As I see it, the unity of mankind and the goal of peace is what most human beings are naturally inclined towards. Another central principle of this community is the concept of the equality of women and men. In a letter dated, 20 June 2008, from the Universal House of Justice (The House of Justice directs the spiritual and administrative affairs of the Baha’i International Community), they write:
“For you, the equality of men and women is not a Western construct but a universal spiritual truth about an aspect of the nature of human beings, promulgated by Baha'u'llah nearly one hundred and fifty years ago in His homeland, Iran. It is, above all, a requirement of justice.”
While there is much more to this community those are some of the key concepts to which this community adheres.
2) On this one-year anniversary of the Yaran being held in Evin prison, what can you tell us of the situation? What is the situation like for the rest of the Baha’i community in Iran, for those who maybe unaware?
A press release issued on 12 May 2009, by the Baha’i International Community states:
“Despite their obvious innocence and the call by many for their immediate release, these seven men and women have been in legal limbo for a year now, against all international human rights standards," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.” (http://news.bahai.org/story/713)
In another press release issued 12 February 2009 it explains:
“The seven Baha’i leaders have been held in prison for over eight months and no evidence against them has been brought to light. Further, at no time during their incarceration have the accused been given access to their legal counsel, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi. Mrs. Ebadi has been threatened, intimidated, and vilified in the news media since taking on their case and has not been given access to their case files. In December, the government moved to shut down the offices of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, which was founded by Mrs. Ebadi. “The government must now allow Mrs. Ebadi access to the prisoners and to their files,” said Ms. Ala’i.
All Baha’i elected and appointed institutions were banned by the government in 1983; most of the members of the previous three national governing councils having successively been executed. In the absence of a national governing council (known as a “National Spiritual Assembly”), the ad hoc leadership group, called the “Friends in Iran,” was formed with the full knowledge of the government and since then has served as a coordinating body for the 300,000 Baha’is in that country. The various governments in power in Iran since 1983 have always been aware of this group. In fact, over the years government officials have routinely had dealings with the members of this group, albeit often informally.” (http://news.bahai.org/story/694)
In the widespread persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community, which has dated back to the very inception of this Faith in the late 1800’s, children, youth, adults and the elderly have all been the target of government orchestrated repression. Baha’i youth are forbidden from entering university, the state sponsored media routinely issues attacks on this community, and as present over thirty Baha’is are imprisoned. For the most up to date information, please see:
3) Why is such a persecution important for this community, but also for the entire population of Iran, whether Baha'is or not?
The idea that you can judge a nation's development by how it treats it most vulnerable citizens is particularly apt in this context. As we see in Iran, being a minority, whether linguistic or religious, can result in violence, social marginalization and many forms of persecution. A point though that I think is important to raise is that Iran has such diversity and regional particularities that almost everyone can be considered some form of a minority. The illusion of a homogenous Iran population is both inaccurate and a particularly dangerous way of seeing our nation. The beauty of Iran lies exactly in this diversity whether Baluch or Kurd, Zoroastrian or Christian, Baha’i or Muslim. Just as the landscape of Iran is noted for geographic diversity, this diversity is reflected back by its population. Do we curse the desert for being arid and dry? Or punish the North of Iran for its lushness? The thought of persecuting the trees and sea in different regions is absurd. How then can we justify and stand by when ethnic minorities are faced with violence for speaking their mother tongue? Or when Baha’i youth are not allowed to attend university because of their belief, a belief that is absolutely non-violent? Baha’is stand in solidarity with all those innocent Iranians desiring freedom.
4) What do Baha'is feel about the situation of human rights in Iran? Do you feel for example, the crackdown on women's groups and student activists to be a concern for your community as well?
As a member of the Baha’i community, I have always had a deep affinity for Iran. I see this also with so many non-Iranian Baha’is, they themselves often learn Persian, give their children Iranian names, and know the geography and history of Iran. A falsity the Iranian government is spreading is that Baha’is are not supporters of their homeland. While a central principle of the Baha’i Faith is the oneness of mankind, and many Baha’is travel and live in different parts of the world. This does not make Baha’is anti-Iranian, or in any way less Iranian than their fellow citizens. Ironically, following the Iranian Revolution thousands of other Baha’is were forced into exile.
I myself was raised in a household where there was a deep reverence for our homeland, along with the language, literature and other cultural traditions. Such an attitude then makes it very hard for me to witness the violations of human rights of thousands of Iranians daily. I do not see myself as separate and different from the people of Iran. The pain and suffering of a women, student leader and child prisoner in Iran is the suffering of all Iranians. It is also the obligation of all of us to work shoulder to shoulder in the creation of a just and peaceful society.
5) What do Baha'is feel people can do for this community? How can awareness be raised?
Just as you have done in this blog, raising awareness on the persecution of the Baha’i community can be done through blogs, websites, and various media outlets. Other avenues are academic research on this subject, or simply contacting the Baha’i National offices in the country with which one lives and requesting information for one’s personal knowledge. The following websites in English http://www.bahai.org/ and http://news.bahai.org/ and the following in Persian http://info.bahai.org/persian/index.html all have useful and pertinent information.
When fair-minded and just individuals can speak out in defense of the Baha’is, as well as other targeted groups in Iran, a ray of light is shed upon the darkness of such injustice. As the current Iranian government has worked to spread misinformation about the Baha’i Faith simply knowing the truth about this community, and sharing it with individuals inside Iran, is a positive step in defending the rights of its members.
It is the integrity and courage of the Iranian people, as has many times been exemplified, which promises the bright future that Iran is no doubt destined. As I have already mentioned before, the respect and rights towards all the citizens of a nation, regardless of ethnicity and belief is a goal that is the responsibility for all individuals to work for, whether inside the country or not.
For more contact information for Baha’is in your country please visit:
Donna Hakimian is a Project Coordinator at the Canadian Baha’i National Centre, Toronto, Ontario