Bahai News - Baha’i details troubles in Iran
Baha’i details troubles in Iran
By BECKY SHAY
Of The Gazette Staff
Olya Roohizadegans story, like her religion, is one of love,
steadfastness, peace, unity and justice.
Raised in Iran, Roohizadegan was persecuted for her faith and
belief in the Bahai religion. She was eventually arrested for
being Bahai. While imprisoned for 11 months in the early 1980s she
survived interrogation and torture for refusing to recant her beliefs.
While in prison in Iran, Roohizadegan made a promise with other
incarcerated Bahai women that if any of them were freed they would
share their story. She was in Billings Thursday fulfilling that promise
during a talk at Parmly Billings Library.
In 1985 Roohizadegan published Olyas Story, a Surivivors
Dramatic Account of the Persecution of Bahais in Revolutionary
Iran a book about her story. Roohizadegan and her husband live in
Syndey, Australia, and she travels around the world telling of persecution
Iran is nearly 99 percent Muslim, and the government views Bahai as
heretical. The government continues to deny rights to members of the
Bahai faith. The persecution ranges from not releasing
Bahais pension funds to desecrating Bahai cemeteries.
Bahai is considered an independent religion, based on the belief that
its founder, Bahaullah who lived in Persia in the 1800s, is the
most recent in a line of messengers of God, similar to Moses, Christ and
Religion, like education, progresses, Roohizadegan said.
There is nothing wrong with any other religion.
Among Bahais tenants are: to give up prejudice, establish equality of
men and women, recognize the unity of religious truths, eliminate the
extremes of poverty and wealth, provide universal education, for each person
to independently search for truth, establish a global commonwealth of
nations, and that religion is in harmony with reason and pursuit of
But following that belief system was, and is, a crime in Iran, and
Bahais dont enjoy any basic rights.
You are free, you have rights, Roohizadegan said. You
That is why she tells her story and the story of the women who shared her
prison cell. Most of the women were tortured and hanged. Roohizadegan
travels with a thick photo album and during her talks holds up 8-by-11
photos of the friends and family who were hanged because they would not
recant their faith.
Roohizadegan started the story of her persecution by telling of regular day
at work as a personnel officer. After 22 years working at an oil company in
Iran, on May 18, 1982, officers came into her office and asked Roohizadegan
her faith. She answered Bahai.
This is your crime, they said, Roohizadegan recalled.
I said This is my belief, my faith.
Later she was arrested at gunpoint from her home and imprisoned. Her husband
was fired from the same oil company and his pension seized. Eventually, the
couples home was ransacked and their bank accounts confiscated.
At one point the prison guards brought Roohizadegan her 3-year-old son. As
she held him on her lap, the guard told Roohizadegan if she did not recant
her faith, she would be hanged. She would not recant.
You can kill my body, but you cannot kill my soul, she said.
A short time later Roohizadegan was released from prison,
partially because of United Nations, American and other pressures on
Iran and partially because the government hoped to follow her and learn
the identities of other Bahais. Shortly before she was to be
arrested again, a Muslim neighbor of the Roohizadegan family tipped her
to the arrest and the family fled to Pakistan.
Roohizadegan said she has forgiven her captors and torturers.
I feel no hate, she said.
As Roohizadegan talked about the loved ones who were whipped and
hanged, she does not appear remorseful. Rather, she smiled and was in
awe of their hope, steadfastness and faith in God.
I dont want to make you sad, Roohizadegan
said. This is a story of victory. They died, but they did not deny
Roohizadegan acknowledges that her trials have been difficult,
but her faith and trust in God have sustained her.
"I lost my home, my country, my language and my family," she said. "But
I am lucky. I did not lose my faith."
Becky Shay can be reached at 657-1231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: Fri Apr 20 16:50:37 CDT 2001 Central Time
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