Iranian Bahá'ís in captivity are living, and suffering, for all of us
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011
Some recent events in Iran got me thinking. Why would a small group of people, or even a single individual, think they could have a significant impact on the world by suffering imprisonment and possibly death for a matter of principle? Do the actions of a few good people really have any effect?
At the time of writing this article, seven Bahá'ís in Iran finished their fourth court hearing. In the three court hearings preceding this, no evidence of wrongdoing had been presented. They are now in their third year of incarceration.
Despite the United Nations' repeated condemnations of the denial of human rights shown by Iranian authorities to its own citizens because of their beliefs, the Bahá'ís continue to suffer abuse in Iranian government media, there are arbitrary arrests and releases and various other tactics aimed to harass a people whose resolve is to be of service to the human race.
Ironically, this recent court hearing dates very close to an anniversary that marks another dark time in Iran's history. On June 18, 1983, 10 Bahá'í women, ranging in age from 17 to 57, were led to the gallows in the city of Shiraz. The women knew well what their fate would be.
They had already been interrogated and tortured. The youngest of the group was Mona Mahmudnizad, a 17-year-old girl who was lashed on her soles with a cable and forced to walk with bleeding feet. The assaults faced by the others would later be visible on their bodies as they lay in the morgue.
Besides Mona, a high school student, the women's professions included a sociologist, a homemaker, a physicist and two nurses. Teaching children's classes was the apparent crime that warranted the arrests of the 10 women, a duty they felt was theirs due to the government's decision to bar Bahá'í children from attending regular school.
The women were told that, to be freed, they would have to renounce their faith as Bahá'ís. The torture and questioning ensued for months, but none of them bent to the demands of their captors.
The authorities then hoped they would be motivated to give in once the women saw the others be strangled slowly by hanging. One by one, the older ladies being followed by the girls, they were forced to watch their colleagues die.
Mona, being the youngest, was the last. After kissing the hands of her executioner, she kissed the rope before placing it around her own neck.
This example of the Iranian authorities' sense of justice, the hanging of a teenager for teaching a children's class, was more widely shown in the deaths of more than 200 Bahá'ís since 1979. Hundreds more were imprisoned, and tens of thousands have been denied access to jobs, pensions, businesses and education.
And, sadly, this sense of justice is presiding over the fate of the seven national Bahá'í leaders and some 41 other Bahá'ís in prison. They are people who have led communities, children and youth classes, devotional gatherings open to all, just as they are in Canada.
As Bahá'ís, they are required to be obedient to the laws of their government, but there is one demand the Iranian authorities and clerics have made to which they will not abide -- the renouncing of their faith.
So, again, what impact do they expect to make in their resolve? Why wouldn't these people simply renounce their beliefs so they can go home to their families? They are Bahá'ís. They see the human race as one family. In their hearts, they believe the truth of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings that "the Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."
Consider what it is in our own lives we are living for and why. If the Iranian Bahá'ís believe that humanity is one, then it is clear that they, and anyone who stands up for the freedom of belief, are living for us.