Enough! Australian Lawyers Call on Iran to Release Baha’i Seven

2 hands gripping vertical bars with 'Enough' written in red aboveOn Wednesday night I attended an annual human rights event which I hope I never have to attend again. It marked yet another year during which Iran’s authorities have trampled on the human rights of its own people.

The event in Sydney highlighted the unjust imprisonment of the seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community. Every year the anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of these five men and two women is marked by events around the world. Each additional year marks an increasing burden of injustice felt by the prisoners, their families and their communities. Each year the Iranian government brings more shame on themselves and besmirches Iran’s reputation world-wide.

The Baha’i seven have now been unjustly incarcerated for eight years. Those gathered at New South Wales Parliament House heard a message from Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran, including the seven Baha’i leaders. Concern about the persecution of Iran’s Baha’is has been expressed by both sides in Australia’s parliament over a number of years. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has also expressed concerns about the treatment of the seven Baha’i leaders, as have governments and human rights campaigners around the world.

Fariba Kamalabadi and Jamaloddin Khanjani

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Refugees: Custodians of a Nation’s History

Book cover with face of Manijeh Saatchi

Manijeh: Not only a change of name by Manijeh Saatchi with the assistance of Fereshteh Hooshmand (George Ronald: 2014).

The people we share a train carriage with on the way to work, the hundreds we pass in a busy shopping centre, all these people carry a story within them. Each story is changing, developing and interlinked with others. Each story is a multi-faceted tile that helps to build the complex, mosaic of human life on this planet.

Fortunately for us Brisbane resident, Manijeh Saatchi, with the help of her daughter, Fereshteh Hooshmand, has shared her memories in the book, Manijeh: Not only a change of name. It is a classic tale of an ostensibly ordinary person who has faced extraordinary hurdles in her life. In telling it, she takes us to a culture, time and place very different to our own.

Manijeh Saatchi was born in 1929 in Iran to a poor family. It was a hard life, and was not made easier when Manijeh and her husband, Javad, decided to change their religion and become members of the Baha’i Faith.

Manijeh and Javad lived in the southern city of Shiraz. Less than one hundred years before they became members of the Baha’i community, a young Shirazi merchant had caused a tumult throughout the Persia, as Iran was then called. He became known as The Báb (pronounced Bahb) and urged all to prepare themselves for the imminent coming of the long-awaited Messenger of God. His message captivated the nation but many were opposed and the followers of The Báb suffered terribly from the prejudice and violence which ensued. Nineteen years later Baha’u’llah, the son of a Persian nobleman, declared He was the Messenger of God about Whom The Báb was referring. Baha’u’llah founded the Baha’i Faith on the principle of bringing harmony among the diverse peoples of the world, yet the followers of this new religion suffered terribly from prejudice and repression fanned by those in power. Waves of violence against Baha’is in Persia were always around the corner.

Despite his peace-loving nature, the neighbourhood children could often be heard calling him ‘kafar’, which meant infidel. The children would not include him in any game which included physical contact, as they would say that he was ‘najess’ or unclean.

Manijeh had witnessed the harassment of Baha’is during her childhood. She and Javad knew her lives would not be easy when they became Baha’is. Facing poverty and rejected by their families they moved to the southern port city of Bushehr where they became custodians for the building from which The Báb had worked a century before. Continue reading

The Prison Poet is Heard

Book cover for Prison Poems

Mahvash Sabet, Adapted from the original Persian by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Prison Poems, (George Ronald, 2013).

I write if only to stir faint memories of flight
in these wing-bound birds,
to open the cage of the heart for a moment
trapped without words.
For how can one not faint for these women,
beaten so brutally?
How can one not fear for them, suffering
such tyrannical cruelty.

Mahvash Sabet, ‘The Perfume of Poetry’, Prison Poems, p. 32

A woman sits in her prison cell in Iran, poetry flows from her pen. Of all Iran’s prisoners of conscience she and six fellow prisoners are serving the longest sentences of all. A member of a persecuted minority, the charges against them were patently false and their trial transgressed basic standards of legal procedure. The jail door has been slammed shut for a long time. Continue reading

The Destruction of Memory

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012.

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012. Photo via The Telegraph, India.

The rebels had fled, but before they left they had destroyed a precious archive. The world gasped in dismay as the mayor of Timbuktu announced that a library recently built to hold Timbuktu’s historic manuscripts had burnt to the ground.

At the time the Mayor did not know that while some historic manuscripts were now a pile of ashes, most had been saved. Yet these manuscripts were not the only physical reminders of a rich culture that were destroyed.  During their ten months ruling Timbuktu the rebels destroyed most of the city’s Sufi shrines. It was no accident.

The deliberate targeting and destruction of culturally significant items occurs too often. In our life time we have witnessed the detonation of the giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001. In 1992 the heart of the cultural heritage of Bosnia was destroyed when the library in Sarajevo was subjected to the artillery fire of Serbian troops who were encircling the city. The deliberate nature of the attack was evident when snipers shot at firemen trying to save the library.

Director of 'The Destruction of Memory', Tim Slade.

Director of ‘The Destruction of Memory’, Tim Slade.

Director, Tim Slade is working on a documentary which he hopes will help people understand the serious nature of this ‘war against culture’.

“The killing of people and the killing of books and buildings are intimately and inextricably related”, states Slade. Referring to Raphael Lemkin, the man who helped to create the UN Convention Against Genocide, Slade observes, “Lemkin saw that it can be difficult to wipe out an entire people, but a group can be annihilated if their identity and culture has been erased.” Continue reading

“No-one can ban me from learning”

Photo montage of 7 imprisoned Baha'i educators in Iran

Imprisoned in Iran for working at the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education.

Imagine that you, and all those who are like you, are forbidden by the government to undertake further education after finishing school.  Perhaps you did well at school, but once your identity became known to your teachers they told you that it was a shame – why don’t you change?  You see your friends go onto university – some with school results that were not as good as yours.  They commence a new life, talking about what they would do in the future.  Gradually their lives become very separate from yours.

What do you do in these circumstances?  The government have jailed your community’s leaders on spurious charges that human rights organisations and parliaments around the world have condemned.  Many other members of your community have been arrested on dubious charges, released on payment of exorbitant bail, and live with the knowledge that any time, anywhere, they may be re-arrested. Your community’s members are banned from government employment, essential business licences are hard to come by.  Your community’s children are harassed by teachers at school, cemeteries used by your community are desecrated, the media is filled with messages of hate towards your community.  This has been occurring for over 30 years.

You have left school, are banned from further education and are a member of a persecuted community.  What do you do?

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