Late last month, my uncle and five other Baha’is were taken from the town of Gorgan in Iran to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where their fate remains a mystery. This latest round of persecution began the month before. I became aware of it on October 17, when I received a late night phone call informing me that my uncle, Kamal Kashani, was arrested along with a number of other Baha’is in Gorgan for being members of the Baha’i Faith, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran.
The reports that followed in the next couple of days out of Iran were heart wrenching. They portrayed a picture of innocent Baha’is as young as 18 years of age being kidnapped, taken to unknown locations, and tortured to recant their Faith; of homes being plundered by the authorities; and government officials being unjustly harsh to the families of the captives. After 35 days of brutal treatment, my uncle and the five other Baha’is were transferred to Evin where their fate could be even worse.
The last time that I saw my uncle was 28 years ago. We were standing in a court yard surrounded by armed guards in an Iranian prison. At that time, he was 25 years old, sentenced to a six year prison term for being a member of the Baha'i Faith. I was only 10 years old, crying my heart out while giving him one last hug. Scenes like this had become my reality since 1983, when both my father and uncle were incarcerated due to their belief in the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, which promotes the oneness of the human race, unity among all religions, the equality of women and men, and the importance of education for all.
A few months before this visit I was expelled from elementary school along with other Baha’i children because the Iranian government had decided that Baha’i children should not have the right to education. I have never forgotten the day when the principal of my elementary school walked into my 5th grade classroom and said: “Who are the Baha’is in this room?” Two of us raised our hands. With tears in her eyes she informed us that, although we were two of the best students in her school, she had no choice but to follow the order of the government and expel us from school.
Sometime after this incident, we went to Evin prison for our monthly 10 minute visit with my father. God knows how much I cherished those short visits despite the fact that we were separated by a glass window and our conversations were closely monitored by the authorities. After hours of the usual waiting outside the prison yard, we were abruptly informed in the harshest way possible that my father, along with some other Baha’is, had already been executed after 19 months of imprisonment. All we were given was a grave number, the address of where he was buried, and a small box containing a few of his personal items, which included two torn shirts, which still showed evidence of torture, his shoes and a picture of my sister and me. As I sat in the back of our small car driving towards the cemetery with my mother trying to navigate the busy Tehran traffic, I could not let go of my father’s shoes and buried my tears in them all the way to his final resting place.
A few months after my father’s execution, my mother, sister and I left Iran in a difficult journey on camel-back to Pakistan, where we lived under the protection of the United Nations as refugees. Next, we moved to Germany and later to the United States. Since then, I have been able to pursue my education, become a teacher, and gather freely with fellow Baha’is for prayers and acts of service. However, my uncle, his children, and hundreds of thousands of Baha’is in Iran are still deprived of these basic human rights. As I sit in my comfortable home in Murray, Kentucky, I cannot believe that my uncle, now 53 years of age, is once again in prison, charged with the crime of being a Baha’i.
My friends here often ask me if they can help the Baha’is in Iran. In fact, there is much that can be done. Congress is currently reviewing House Resolution 134, which condemns the Iranian government for their state-sponsored persecution of Baha’is and their continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights. Please ask your representatives to support Resolution 134. In addition, please visit the site: www.educationunderfire.com to lend your support to thousand of Baha’i students in Iran, who are deprived of attending any university in their country.