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Thursday October 22nd 1998

Davis Baha'is react to recent persecutions in Iran

By Manish Daftari
Aggie New Writer

With the recent arrests and executions of members of the Baha'i Faith in Iran, Davis Baha'is are being forced to react to a situation that has been given limited national and international attention.

In early October, James Rubin, the spokesperson for the United States State Department, said that death sentences were confirmed against three prisoners on death row in Mashad, Iran. They were all members of the Baha'i Faith and arrested in October or November of last year for holding "family life" meetings.

More recently, the state department reported a widespread assault on Baha'i educational activities in Iran. According to the report, 36 faculty members of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education were arrested in 14 cities across the country. These actions, including the confiscation of textbooks, 70 computers, scientific papers and documents, were orchestrated by the Ministry of Information, an intelligence agency of the Iranian government.

Along with these events, Ruhollah Rowhani, an Iranian salesperson of medical supplies and health products, was imprisoned in Mashad in September 1997. He was charged with converting a Muslim woman to the Baha'i Faith and was subsequently executed July 21, 1998.

Rubin condemned the recent events and urged the Iranian government to re-evaluate its policy toward members of the Baha'i Faith.

"We have urged, publicly, the government of Iran to protect members of the Baha'i Faith and...ease restrictions on the practice of religion," Rubin said in a release.

In Davis, members of the Baha'i Faith reacted to the latest news with collective sadness.

David Mackill, a professor in the agronomy department and a member of the local spiritual assembly of the Baha'is of Davis, said the Baha'i community in Davis has been personally affected by the recent persecutions in Iran.

"These events have affected the Baha'is in Davis because of the close bonds that unite the Baha'is throughout the world," Mackill said.

"There are Iranian Baha'is in the U.S. who personally know individuals who are suffering or have been killed, but the feeling of loss is shared by all members of the Baha'i community," he added.

Though a clear motive has not been defined for the recent events, Glenn Fullmer, the assistant to the coordinator for internal affairs of the national spiritual assembly of the Baha'i, said the reason behind the recent persecutions is based primarily on religious differences rather than politics.

"The motive is based entirely on religion, " Fullmer said. "The Baha'is have never sided with any faction in government. Their sole desire is to exist as a religious community in Iran, regardless of who is in power."

Fullmer also said the recent events do not show an existing animosity between the Muslim majority and the Baha'i community in Iran.

"The average Iranian Muslim has no animosity against Baha'is," Fullmer said. "In fact, there's a lot of friendships, there's a lot of family relationships and even marriages."

"There's been a lot of misinformation on the part of the government about the Baha'i community in that country," he continued. "I think that might lead to some of the prejudices."

Fullmer went on to say that persecutions of Baha'is in Iran have been instigated by the government as a way of diverting attention from domestic problems.

"None of the legal proceedings are public and there are no paper documents produced," Fullmer said.

"In other words, the charges are not public and there are no court records that are available on paper," he continued. "The consensus is that all these things are being conveyed orally...apparently, the legal proceedings are all taking place in secrecy."

Because the creed of the Baha'i Faith does not allow members to participate in party politics, Baha'is of Davis are finding other means to respond to the current situation in Iran. Pejman Naraghi-Arani, a graduate student in the department of plant pathology, said local members are primarily trying to educate and inform the community on the recent situation.

"We have written letters to our congressmen and senators, and we have tried to contact newspapers," Naraghi-Arani said.

"The Baha'i International Community, located in New York, has brought the situation to the attention of the United Nations, and the National Spiritual Assembly has brought this to the attention of the White House," he added.

Despite the relative distance of the events, Naraghi-Arani said the Baha'is of Davis have stressed how important it is that Davis students acknowledge and understand international affairs.

"It is important because today's university students are tomorrow's leaders, educators and industrialists, and it is important for them to understand the importance of a world view," Naraghi-Arani emphasized.

©Copyright 1998, The California Aggie

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