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Iran's secret purges

Iran's secret purges

Author: Caroline Samandari
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 3, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/irans-secret-purges/418443/

Introduction: Thirty years on, the Islamic Republic still persecutes minorities

Two weeks have passed since I heard the alarming news: Aziz Samandari, my cousin in Tehran, was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by Iranian intelligence officials. To date, no formal charges have been framed, and he has been denied both access to a lawyer and visits by relatives.

As I read the email sent by his wife, I burst into tears. I cannot help thinking about my grandfather, Professor Manuchehr Hakim, a renowned medical doctor, shot dead in January 1981 in his practice in Tehran. I was two, at the time living in Switzerland, and still too young to grasp the scale of the tragedy unfolding.

I also think of my uncle, Bahman Samandari, the father of Aziz, executed by Iranian authorities in March 1992, a day after being summoned for questioning. I was thirteen, and was told the terrible news by my father in Paris.

Why are my family members targeted? What crime have they all committed?

The answer is simple: they are members of the Bahai community, Iran's largest religious minority, yet the most persecuted. The followers of this religion have been targets of systematic persecution in Iran since the inception of the Bahai Faith in the middle of the 19th century.

In 1979, with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the persecutions took a new direction, becoming official Government policy. Since then, more than 200 Bahais have been executed, hundreds imprisoned, and tens of thousands deprived of jobs, pensions and access to higher education. Holy places and cemeteries were confiscated, vandalised, or destroyed.

Bahais, who have great love for their country, are deeply committed to its development, and don't get involved in partisan politics, are persecuted solely because of religious hatred and their faith's progressive position on women's rights, education and independent investigation of truth.

There are 300,000 Bahais in Iran. Yet they have been deliberately omitted from the list of the three religious minorities recognised in the Constitution, and are classified as "unprotected infidels".

Time has passed, circumstances have changed. I am no longer a teenager. I now live in India. However, the brutal reality is still the same: my cousin is at great risk in the hands of the authorities of the Islamic Republic solely because of his belief in a religion - a religion whose main purpose is to promote world peace and harmony, and emphasises the underlying unity of the world's spiritual traditions!

As I try to internalise the news of the arrest of Aziz, I am surprised at my own feelings. I am worried and sad, but at the same time cannot find in my heart any trace of hatred or of willingness to seek revenge against those who have so systematically persecuted my family and all the other members of the Bahai community in Iran. I also refuse to blame Islam, even for a second, for what is being done supposedly in its name.

Why do I feel this way?

Maybe because I have been taught since my early childhood that "all the religions are one" and that "the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens".

Maybe because of the courage of Aziz's closest relatives who, instead of crying in despair, comfort us over the phone.

Maybe, even more, because of Aziz himself.

Aziz, who didn't leave Iran because he felt he had a responsibility towards those other members of the Bahai community who, unlike him, did not have relatives who could help them start a safe life abroad. Who felt a sense of responsibility towards his country, which he loved, and its people, whom he wanted to serve.

Aziz, who was supposed to spend the year-end holidays with us in New Delhi but whose passport was confiscated at the airport in Tehran and is now in jail in the sadly notorious Evin prison, where his father was hung 16 years ago.

Aziz, who shares the fate of four other Bahais, arrested in Tehran the same day, and, among others, seven administrators of the Iranian Bahai community, held in prison since May 2008.

Against all odds, I remain optimistic. I still believe that the voices of people around the world and the objections raised by the international community against Iran's systematic persecution of Bahais can change the course of history. I also strongly believe that voices from India can have a very powerful influence. I call on these voices to express themselves openly and forcefully.

- The writer works with a human rights NGO in Delhi.


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