Persecution of the Baha'is in Iran

Woman describes Iranian persecution for religious beliefs

Anne Flippin, The Morning News

A Rogers woman knows firsthand what it’s like to be persecuted by authorities because of her religious beliefs, and she knows that her religion can carry a high price.

Her cousin, Ruholla Rowhani, was killed a few months ago in Iran because he, like her, is a Bahá'í.

Toba Talebi and her family came to the United States in 1986 as refugees. She left in Iran several family members, including her cousin, Ruholla, a medical-supplies sales man.

On July 21, authorities in Mashhad, Iran, executed Rowhani.

According to Talebi, Rowhani had been held in prison since 1997, accused of converting a woman to the Bahá’í faith. Talebi said the woman told authorities repeatedly that she had been a Bahá'í before she knew Rowhani, but Iranian authorities chose not to listen to her.

Talebi has good memories of her cousin, she said, and the family was very close-knit in Iran. “We were born in the same town. He used to come visit me a lot & Her eyes water when she recalls her cousin's kindness and innocence, but the tears come when she thinks about the four children Rowhani left behind.

According to her, Rowhani's wife and children were invited to the prison to visit him the day before he was executed. She said they didn't know he only had a few more hours to live. It was the first time they had seen him in a year. During that time, Talebi said, no one in the family could be sure that he was still alive because authorities wouldn’t tell them one way or another.

The next day, Talebi said, Rowhani's family was called to the prison to collect the body. Talebi said Rowhani had been hanged.

After many phone calls to Iran, Talebi said she talked to her cousin's wife to make sure she and her children were all right. When she finally got through, Talebi said the operator stayed on the phone line and listened to the entire conversation, monitoring everything the two women said to each other.

Talebi said her cousin had no cause to be imprisoned, no legal representation, and no trial.

Kit Cosby, who represents the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly, the administrative body for the Bahá'í faith in this country, agreed, saying that Bahá'ís not only have no rights but also that it is common practice to persecute those who practice the faith.

“There’s no law in the books in Iran that being a Bahá’í is a crime, it’s just dealt (with) that way, ” Cosby said. She believes that Rowhani was tried and found guilty in legal proceedings — not actual trials. The courtrooms are closed, and there is no legal representation to defend the accused.

The Bahá'í religion is a gentle faith emphasizing the unity of all religious teachings that share the same spiritual truths, and it promotes universal education, equality between the sexes, world peace and world government.

Cosby said Bahá'ís are considered to be “unprotected infidels” by the Iranian government, propelled by the Islamic religion. The basic contention of Islamic religion, said Cosby, is that Mohammed was the true prophet, and any who do not follow him are heretics. Therefore, the Bahá’í are to be driven out of existence.

The Bahá’í faith is not recognized as a legitimate religion in Iran and those who openly admit that they follow its tenets have no rights, said Talebi. “If you are Bahá’í and you have a money deal with a Muslim and he says "I don't want to pay," he does not have to because you are a Bahá'í and you have no law for you,” she said.

“I think the method is to impoverish the Bahá'ís so that they will eventually be eliminated,” Cosby said. “The hope is that eventually the Bahá’ís will just die.”

Talebi said that the Bahá'í faith is tolerated, as long as one does not openly admit that one is a Bahá'í. According to the National Spiritual Assembly, Bahá'ís are not allowed to elect leaders, organize schools or hold religious activities. The government has confiscated property and destroyed many Bahá'í cemeteries and shrines. Cosby said Bahá’ís are consistently denied jobs and pensions, and students have been thrown out of schools.

Cosby said that the Bahá'í faith is Iran's largest religious minority with more than 300,000 members. More than 200 Bahá'ís have been executed by the Islamic regime since 1979, according to Cosby.

Rowhani was the first Bahá’í executed in Iran since 1992, Cosby said, but 15 others are currently being held on charges stemming from their religious beliefs.

The United States formally condemned Rowhani's execution. According to a statement by James P. Rubin, spokesman for the Department of State, the United States has called for the release of other Bahá'ís serving sentences and urges the Iranian government to ease restrictions on those who practice the faith.

“The president and Secretary (of State Madeleine) Albright have made it clear that the issue of freedom of conscience and belief is a central component of our human-rights policy in Iran and around the world. Our concerns about restrictions on the practice of religion will play an important role in any future dialogue with the government of Iran,” Rubin said.

©Copyright 1998 The Morning News Online.

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