Yesterday, U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bipartisan resolution that calls attention to the situation of the Baha’is in Iran. Senate Resolution 75 (click to find a list of co-sponsors and other information) condemns the Iranian regime’s continued persecution of this religious minority and “calls on the President and Secretary of State, in cooperation with responsible nations, to immediately condemn the Government of Iran’s continued violation of human rights and demand the immediate release of prisoners held solely on account of their religion.” A similar resolution was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday by Representatives Michael Grimm (R-NY) and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL). House Resolution 109 (click to find a list of co-sponsors and other information) “condemns the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.”
To mark the introduction of these resolutions and the fifth year anniversary of the incarceration of Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, one of the seven members of the former ad hoc leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran, a delegation from the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs met with Senator Kirk to thank him for the work he and his office have done on behalf of the Iranian Baha’i community. The delegation included Ms. Niknaz Aftahi, Mr. Iraj Kamalabadi, Ms. Monir Khanjani, Mrs. Azadeh Rohanian Perry and Mr. Hessam Rahimian, all of whom have family members or friends currently imprisoned.
This delegation also met with Dr. Katrina Lantos-Swett, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and officials from the State Department, where they shared personal stories about family members and friends who are currently in prison. These meetings focused on the recent intensified persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community as well as the need to continue to publicize Iran’s egregious human rights violations and pressure the government to release these innocent religious prisoners.
Today, the delegation participated in a press conference, held in conjunction with Freedom House, highlighting yesterday’s meetings as well as featuring accounts from relatives of the seven imprisoned members of the ad hoc leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran and instructors from the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE), the Iranian Bahá’í community’s informal system of higher education. The press conference also publicized the just-released report from the Baha’i International Community entitled “Violence with Impunity: Acts of aggression against Iran’s Baha’i community.” This report details the escalation of attacks on the Baha’is in Iran and the absence of prosecution for the perpetrators of these attacks.
Dr. Chloe Schwenke, Vice President for Global Programs at Freedom House, opened the press conference with a brief introduction to the abysmal status of human rights in Iran, calling the situation of the Bahá’ís an “invitation to moral outrage.” The panelists then shared personal stories of persecution in Iran. Mr. Iraj Kamalabadi, brother of Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, a member of the former ad hoc leadership group in Iran,
spoke about his sister’s imprisonment since the spring of 2008, including details, such as the fact that she was held in solitary confinement and subjected to physical abuse for the first four months of her incarceration. Mrs. Kamalabadi is currently finishing the fifth year of a 20 year sentence.
Mrs. Azadeh Perry, sister in-law to Mr. Saeid Rezaie, another member of the former ad hoc leadership group in Iran, spoke about Mr. Rezaie’s deteriorating health situation while in prison. He has been hospitalized twice for two different surgeries due to poor sanitary conditions. Mrs. Perry also spoke about the stress and pain that has been inflicted on her sister and her sister’s family. Speaking about the members of the ad hoc
leadership group, Mrs. Perry stated that all seven of them are innocent and do not deserve to be in prison for even one day.
Ms. Monir Khanjani, niece of Jamaloddin Khanjani, the oldest of the seven member former ad-hoc leadership group, spoke about how grateful she was to get to freely practice her religion here in the United States, but
that her family back in Iran has not been so lucky. In addition to her uncle, three of Ms. Khanjani’s cousins, Leva, Foad, and Navid Khanjani, are currently in prison in Tehran and two others, Arfasiyab and Behfar Khanjani, have had their businesses closed down by the government.
Sharing a picture of his family, Mr. Hessam Rahimian spoke about his uncle Rahim Rahimian’s imprisonment, torture, and execution during the 1980s. The disturbing details of his uncle’s torture included being beaten, whipped with electrical cords, and having his feet drilled by an electric drill. In the last two years, Hessam’s cousins, Kayvan and Kamran Rahimian, along with Kamran’s wife, Faran Hesami, were imprisoned for being instructors for the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), leaving Kamran and Faran’s 3 year old son and Kayvan’s 12 year old daughter to be cared for by their aging grandmother. Worse, Kayvan lost his wife to cancer just months before his imprisonment. Three generations of the Rahimian family have now been directly affected by the persecution.
Ms. Niknaz Aftahi, the first graduate of the BIHE’s architecture program, spoke about her experience as a BIHE student, highlighting how she and her classmates were always careful to never attract attention because there was always a fear that the school would be raided and shut down. Due to the nature of the BIHE and the danger inherent in educating Baha’is, there are no regular classrooms, with the classes often taking place in the homes of volunteers. Under these conditions, and with no guarantee of employment afterwards, the stress these young people endure is unimaginable, and yet they persist. After a series of raids on BIHE occurred in May 2011, it has become more dangerous for students and professors. Ten of the BIHE educators that helped Ms. Aftahi get her education are currently behind bars.