I am saddened to hear from BWNS that seven innocent members of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) detained for several months in Iran have just been sentenced to four or five year prison sentences by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Vahid Mahmoudi, Kamran Mortezaie, Ramin Zibaie, Mahmoud Badavam, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani and Nooshin Khadem were helping to provide educational courses to Baha’i youth prevented from entering higher education due to their membership of the Baha’i Faith.
I am saddened by the continuing persecution of Christians in Iran.
The Baha’i International Community has joined the call for the release of Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor from Rasht, Iran. Pastor Nadarkhani, who is the father of two young children, leads a network of house churches. He was found guilty of apostasy – “turning his back on Islam” – and “converting Muslims to Christianity,” and sentenced to death in September 2010. Iran’s Supreme Court recently asked for a re-examination of the case to establish whether or not he had been a practising Muslim adult before he converted to Christianity. The court ruled he was not but, nevertheless, is still guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. The case has sparked strong condemnation from governments, organizations and religious leaders around the world.
I am very concerned about the recent detention of Abdolfattah Soltani – a leading human rights lawyer in Iran. Mr Soltani has been detained since the 10th September. He is part of a legal team defending a number of Baha’is on trial for providing higher education to their community. He is a brave defender of human rights in Iran and my best wishes and prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.
In an outrageous new incident of religious discrimination, authorities in the city of Tabriz, Iran, have refused to allow Baha’is to bury a relative in accordance with Baha’i law – and instead have promised to entomb the deceased woman without a coffin under Muslim rites. “To anyone who understands the culture of the Middle East, the idea that the government would force a family to bury their loved one according to the rites of another religion is beyond the pale,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. She noted that according to Baha’i rites of burial, the deceased must be interred in a coffin, whereas under Muslim law, no coffin is used. “This incident demonstrates the almost unbelievable length to which Iranian authorities are willing to go to express their prejudice and animosity against Baha’is,” she said. The incident began on Monday when authorities in Tabriz told the family of Mrs. Fatemeh-Soltan Zaeri that they would be unable to bury her in the local cemetery according to Baha’i law. Instead, they said, she would have to be interred according to Muslim customs. The family objected, noting that the cemetery has always been accessible to members of all religions in the area to bury their dead as they wished. In response to this protest, authorities demanded that Mrs. Zaeri be buried without a coffin – and they withheld her body for 48 hours, preventing them from taking her body somewhere else. Yesterday, when the family member contacted cemetery authorities again, pleading that her body be released so they could bury her elsewhere, they were advised that she would be buried on Thursday anyway, without a coffin, in a Muslim ceremony – and that only her husband would be allowed to be present.
I am shocked by the campaign of cultural genocide pursued by Iranian authorities against the Baha’i community in Iran. The latest phase is an attempt to destroy community educational programmes set up because Baha’i youth are excluded from state-run institutions. BWNS reported on the 22nd May that
A coordinated series of raids have been carried out on the homes of several Iranian Baha’is, active in a community initiative to provide a higher education programme for young members who are barred from university. Initial reports indicate that raids took place yesterday on houses in Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Shiraz. As many as 30 people may already have been arrested…All of the targets were homes of individuals closely involved with the operations of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education…The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was established in 1987 as a community initiative to meet the educational needs of young Baha’is who have been systematically denied access to higher education by the Iranian government. The BIHE has been described by the New York Times as “an elaborate act of communal self-preservation.”
Iranian authorities have arrested a number of Baha’is who provided education to children in a region devastated by an earthquake seven years ago. The Baha’i International Community has so far been able to confirm the arrest of four Baha’is this month in connection with the provision of kindergarten-level education in Iran’s Kerman Province, south-east of Tehran. Two other Baha’is from the city of Kerman were also arrested on Sunday 13 March. Their involvement in education projects has not yet been confirmed. “More than 26,000 people died and one in five teachers in the city of Bam reportedly lost their lives in the 2003 earthquake,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “These Baha’is were offering a vitally needed service to children whose education system had been all but completely destroyed.” Last week, the Iran Student News Agency, reported that the prosecutor-general of the revolutionary court in Bam announced that a “number of Baha’is” had been arrested for “promoting their programs under the guise of kindergartens in Bam, Kerman and Tehran.” Mohammad Reza Sanjari claimed that Baha’is “took advantage” of the need for cultural, social and educational measures following the earthquake. “This latest round of arrests is yet another example of the widespread, and intensifying, religious persecution being carried out by Iran against its 300,000-strong Baha’i minority,” said Ms. Ala’i. “This and other recent actions suggest that the authorities will stop at nothing to keep Baha’is away from Muslims, even when the Baha’is are providing a service to those in their society in desperate need.” Three Baha’is from Isfahan – including two 18 year olds – were also arrested earlier this month while teaching children. They were subsequently released. Some 79 Baha’is are currently being held in prison in Iran.
The Beech family Haft Sin…
I am saddened to hear more worrying news from Iran.
Iran’s seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders have been transferred to more brutal sections of their prison complex. In the case of the two Baha’i women, the circumstances of the move have raised concerns that it may have been orchestrated as a means of creating an insecure environment that threatens their lives. The Baha’i International Community has learned that one of them – Fariba Kamalabadi – has already been physically threatened by inmates since being sent to the notorious Section 200 of Gohardasht Prison.”Apparently, the atmosphere is highly charged in this section, and there is a great deal of tension and animosity among the inmates,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. Mrs. Kamalabadi was transferred to Section 200 on Saturday 12 February, along with Mahvash Sabet.”It is difficult to be certain about the reason for the move,” said Ms. Dugal. “However we believe that, since their arrival at Gohardasht, the Baha’i women – despite their own extremely challenging situation – have nonetheless been a constant source of comfort and hope to other inmates. The prison authorities apparently became alarmed that the two women began to receive signs of respect from a growing number of prisoners. As a justification for the increased harsh treatment, the authorities accused the two of teaching the Baha’i Faith.”
I have just read the Human Rights Watch World Report 2011 and it paints a bleak picture of the situation in Iran.
The government denies adherents of the Baha’i faith–Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority–freedom of religion. In August the judiciary convicted seven leaders of the national Baha’i organization to 20 years each in prison; their sentences were later reduced to 10 years each. The government accused them of espionage without providing evidence and denied their lawyers’ requests to conduct a prompt and fair trial. Iranian laws continue to discriminate against religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, in employment and education. Sunni Muslims, about 10 percent of the population, cannot construct mosques in major cities. In 2010, security forces detained several members of Iran’s largest Sufi sect, the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, and attacked their houses of worship. They similarly targeted converts to Christianity for questioning and arrest. The government restricts cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, and Arab minorities, including the organizations that focus on social issues. Sexual minorities also face a precarious situation. Law enforcement and judiciary officials discriminate, both in law and in practice, against Iran’s vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Iran’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex acts, some of which are punishable by death. During the past few years, a steady stream of LGBT Iranians has sought refugee status in Turkey and are awaiting resettlement in third countries.
Source: Human Rights Watch
In December the United Nations once more condemned human right abuses in Iran.
By a vote of 78 to 45, with 59 abstentions, the UN General Assembly confirmed a resolution that expressed “deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations.” In more than two decades of such resolutions about Iran, the vote passed with one of the highest percentages ever. The resolution specifically expressed concern over Iran’s “intensified crackdown on human rights defenders and reports of excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, unfair trials and allegations of torture,” as well as its “pervasive gender inequality and violence against women,” and its discrimination against minorities, including members of the Baha’i Faith. “The world community has clearly spoken. It is outraged at Iran’s continued and intensifying violations of human rights,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. Welcoming the result Ms. Dugal noted that the resolution documents a wide range of violations, from torture to the oppression of women to the persecution of minorities. “All of this has been going on for too long, and it is high time that Iran pays heed to the call of the international community and complies with the standards of international law,” she said. The resolution devoted an entire paragraph to Iran’s treatment of members of the Baha’i Faith, cataloging an extensive list of recent anti-Baha’i activities. These included: “increasing evidence of efforts by the State to identify, monitor and arbitrarily detain Baha’is, preventing members of the Baha’i faith from attending university and from sustaining themselves economically, the confiscation and destruction of their property, and the vandalizing of their cemeteries…” It also expressed concern over the recent trial and sentencing of seven Baha’i leaders, saying they were “repeatedly denied the due process of law.”
The firebird is a recurring motif in world mythology from the Phoenix of classical times referred to by the Roman poet Ovid to the mythical Garuda of Ancient India.
In Iranian legend the ‘Simurgh’ (or ‘Angha’) is a magical bird so long lived that it is considered to be the wisest of all God’s creatures. (The name ‘Simurgh’ has been seen as meaning ‘thirty birds’- perhaps a reference to it’s majesty). In one form of the legend the Simurgh is said to live for over a thousand years before being consumed by fire. I find this an interesting reversal of the legend of the Phoenix which finds it’s rebirth in fire instead.
The Simurgh is a common reference in both classical and contemporary Persian literature. Arguably the most notable appearance is in Ferdowsi’s ‘Shahname’ (or ‘Book of Kings‘) where Prince Zal- cruelly abandoned on Mount Alborz -is raised by the kindly Simurgh.
In the poems of the Sufis the Simurgh is often used as a symbol for God. An example of this is the poem’ Conference of the Birds’ by the 12th Century poet Farid ud-Din Attar. This poem concerns the quest of a flock of birds for the wondrous Simurgh. The poet describes the Simurgh luring creatures siren-like to it’s nest and consuming them (arguably a metaphor for Sufi ideal of being ‘consumed’ by the beloved).
This literary tradition continues in the writings of Bahá’u'lláh with a reference to the ‘immortal phoenix’ which can be read as a metaphor for the soul.
‘O immortal phoenix! dwell not save on the mount of faithfulness. Therein is thy habitation, if on the wings of thy soul thou soarest to the realm of the infinite and seekest to attain thy goal’.
‘O SON OF SPIRIT! Burst thy cage asunder, and even as the phoenix of love soar into the firmament of holiness. Renounce thyself and, filled with the spirit of mercy, abide in the realm of celestial sanctity‘.
I personally also see ‘the immortal phoenix’ and ‘the phoenix of love’ as references to Bahá’u'lláh’s station as a spiritual educator of humankind and was interested to find `Abdu’l-Bahá make this connection explicit when he wrote-
‘O phoenix of that immortal flame kindled in the sacred Tree! Bahá’u’lláh’
This is a particularly rich metaphor as the mythical Simurgh is pictured as an agent of purification and fertility; like the great spiritual educators the Simurgh is also described as uniting both ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ as a messenger.