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Baha'i Woman Shares Story of Imprisonment

by Sean Gorman
When Olya Roohizadegan heard her door bell ring Oct. 29, 1982, the men outside said they were her neighbors. But when she opened the door, she found four armed members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who were there to take her away to prison.
Her crime - practicing the Baha'i faith in a country that sees the religion as heresy.
"Just imagine you are home. Home is a safe place. But they attacked our house so suddenly," Roohizadegan told a small group gathered to hear her speak Friday afternoon at the United Campus Ministry.
She said her son cried and begged for his mother not to go as she was put into a car with the men. He followed them out and tried to open the car door.
"He couldn't do anything because they had the guns," she said.
The religion started around 1850 in Iran by Baha'u'llah, whom members consider a prophet, Roohizadegan said.
Members of the Baha'i faith believe in the equality of all men and women, she said.
They also believe the leaders and prophets of the world's religions are messengers from God, said Llynn Krasko, a local member of the Baha'i faith.
"They told me I must deny my faith. I wouldn't do that," Roohizadegan said.
She was taken to prison with other members of the Baha'i faith where they were tortured. She has written a book about her experience in Iran called "Olya's Story, a Survivor's Account of the Persecution of Baha'is in Revolutionary Iran."
At the presentation, she showed the pictures and told the stories of the people she stayed with in prison. Some were teachers, others were university students. One picture showed a mother, father and their 21-year-old daughter, who wanted to become a doctor. All were executed for practicing the Baha'i faith.
She said there were always fanatical Muslims who persecuted the 300,000 Baha'is living in Iran. But it became worse after the Ayatollah Khomeini regime came to power in 1979. Baha'i holy places were destroyed and cemeteries were vandalized.
Roohizadegan was released eventually, but the other 10 women in her cell were executed. She said she prayed in prison and believes her release was God's plan for her. Before leaving the women, she promised she would tell their story.
"I don't want what happened to me and my friends to happen to anyone," she said.
Terry Krasko, a resident of The Plains and a member of the Baha'i faith, said the U.S. government is pressuring to stop persecution of the Baha'i community in Iran. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution March 27 unanimously urging Iran to give religious rights to the Baha'i community. A similar resolution also has been presented to the U.S. Senate.
"I find it extremely sad that things like that happen in this day and age," said Llynn Krasko. She has read Olya's book and said she was interested to meet her in order to learn more about the people she stayed with in prison.
"(We) think we're too modern to have that happen, but it still does."

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