A CRY FROM THE HEART
I am a Baha’i refugee from Iran living in Australia, persecuted and eventually driven out of my country by the government which came to power in the revolution in 1979. I am urgently trying to bring to the world’s attention the increasingly desperate plight of Baha’is in Iran. Members of the Baha’i Faith have been systematically persecuted for the last three decades.
When the revolution happened in Iran most people lost their freedom. Baha’i people in particular were persecuted – many were tortured and imprisoned; some two hundred lost their lives. Our right to work, study, worship and live normal human lives as Iranian citizens was taken from us.
The experiences endured by my family and me over the years may serve to reflect the experiences of the whole Baha’i community. Before the revolution my father worked in the courts. After the revolution he had to retire. When he had retired the government stopped his retirement benefits and demanded repayment of salaries paid by the previous government. We were forced to leave our home.
When the new government took power they didn’t let me continue my studies or my work which took away my future. In 1986 they arrested me and put me in prison for some time where they physically and mentally tortured me. They told to me they would do something to me that I would always remember them by; and they did. They tortured and killed many people (people I did not know) in front of my eyes and these memories still haunt me today. My only crime was to be a Baha’i. Finally they made it impossible for me to be in Iran and eventually I was able to come to Australia.
In 2005 they arrested my sister, Rozita Vasseghi, who was imprisoned for nearly one month (27 days); her only crime was to be a Baha’i. My mother put her house up for bail and Rozita, who lives with my mother, was released from prison and awaited her court hearing. Authorities went many times to their house and confiscated many items of my sister ‘s property. My mother is in her seventies and had to witness this persecution.
In the first week of January 2010 in Mashhad, they summoned Rozita and eight other Baha’is and read to them their court decision, refusing to allow them to have copies. My sister and her friends all received 5 year jail sentences and for 10 years they wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country. They gave them 21 days to appeal to the court. My sister and her friends appealed their sentences.
Suddenly on March 15th 2010, at about 7.00 o’clock in the morning, the authorities went to my mother’s house again, confiscated many of Rozita’s belongings and took her into custody. Even though my mother had just had an operation, she went to many places searching for her daughter, asking why she had been arrested. It was not until almost two months later, on May 9th 2010, that she was given any information about her daughter and allowed to visit her for ten minutes.
Almost six months ago my mother told me that the appeal by my sister and four of her friends to reduce their initial sentences was not successful. Rozita and one of her friends had been incarcerated since March this year, notwithstanding that their cases were still under appeal. Rozita has been detained, in solitary confinement in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Mashhad even though her name is listed in the normal prison system. Her health is seriously deteriorating. She has lost too much weight, has low blood pressure and she is suffering pain in her body, especially in her feet.
Five days a week my elderly mother goes to Mashhad’s legal offices seeking news of Rozita. She has only been able to see her three times for very brief visits. Rozita was shivering all over even though it was very hot. My mother was shocked the last time when she saw her daughter’s condition, although Rozita, with a smile, tried to hide her pain.
At the moment my family and I live in darkness. We don’t have a normal life and we are exhausted and live with broken hearts and sadness. We walk, we talk, we eat and laugh without enjoyment, only to survive. Here, alone in Australia, I try to be strong and hide my tears but in my heart I scream and beg for help.
When the authorities don’t allow Baha’i people to have normal lives like other people, raid the homes of innocent Baha’is, searching their houses, taking personal property, taking members of the family away to prison, what can we call the way they act? When children of Baha’i families are harassed by their teachers, or their classmates, or the parents of the other students, and young people and adults are prevented from going to university, what can we call this behaviour? When the authorities are monitoring Baha’i people’s bank accounts, their phone calls and letters, and where they are going and coming, what can we call their attitudes? When the authorities confiscate people’s property, destroy their cemeteries and close Baha’i people’s businesses, what can we call the way those people act? When the authorities don’t allow Baha’i people to practise their own religion and when they destroy their holy places, what can we call those behaviours?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
At this time there are many Baha’is in prison in different cities of Iran. The seven individuals who formed the national leadership of the Baha’i community, known as the Friends in Iran, after two years in prison have recently finished their trial and we have just heard they have been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and already they have been moved from Evin prison to another prison where conditions are known to be very severe. There was no evidence against them whatsoever. The purpose of the Baha’i Faith is to unite all the races and peoples in the world. The Baha’i Faith is about world peace, the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, education for all, the elimination of prejudice … and it can’t have any involvement with partisan political issues. These individuals and the others Baha’i prisoners I have mentioned have no involvement in politics and their imprisonment is based entirely on the fact that they are Baha’is.
Personally, even after all that has been done, the Baha’i concepts of acceptance, forgiveness and love mean that I cannot hate the persecutors but I abhor the madness of their actions.
As I have been imprisoned by Iranian authorities and have first-hand experience of the capabilities of these people and prison conditions, I am desperately concerned for the welfare of the Baha’is who are now in prison in Iran, including my sister. I seek your urgent assistance to expose to the world what is happening in Iran by raising the matter in Parliament, in the media, in your organisations, expressing concern to the Iranian Ambassador in your country, or speaking out publicly and asking the government of Iran to repeal the prison sentence of all those who have been falsely imprisoned, including my sister, and to allow them to be free.
With many thanks