Lives of service: Profiles of seven imprisoned Baha’is
GENEVA — The following are a series of short biographical profiles of the seven Baha'i leaders currently being held in Evin prison in Iran. Six were arrested in their homes in Tehran on 14 May 2008. A seventh had been arrested earlier, on 5 March 2008, while visiting Mashhad.
As the profiles will show, all have served Iranian society and also the Baha'i community extensively. As well, like most Iranian Baha'is, they have all experienced varying degrees of persecution since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979.
Their current imprisonment is particularly alarming because of their leadership position as members of a national-level coordinating group known as the “Friends in Iran.” All Baha’i elected and appointed institutions were banned by the government some 30 years ago, following the Islamic revolution. In the absence of a national governing council (“National Spiritual Assembly”), the “Friends in Iran” was then formed with the full knowledge of the government and since then has served as an ad hoc coordinating body for the 300,000 Baha’is in that country. The various governments in power in Iran since then have always been aware of the Friends in Iran; in fact, over the years the government has routinely had dealings with the members of the Friends, albeit often informally.
The seven people arrested last spring constitute the entire current membership of the Friends, which is one reason their sweeping arrests are so alarming. All have been held without official charges, although a report this week from the semi-official ISNA news agency said the cases would be sent to the revolutionary courts with accusations of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic republic.”
In these profiles, there are a number of references to the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). The BIHE was established by Baha'is in the late 1980s as an alternative institution of higher education after Baha'i youth were banned from public and private universities in Iran in the early 1980s. Accordingly, many of the Friends or their family members received education from the BIHE or its adjunct, the Advanced Baha'i Studies Institute (ABSI), or they have contributed to its work as lecturers or instructors.
In recounting the voluntary service these individuals rendered to the Baha'i community, there are also references to various institutions, such as national or local governing councils, known as Spiritual Assemblies, various committees, or the Auxiliary Board, which comprises a group of individuals appointed to inspire, encourage, and promote learning. Most of these institutions have since been banned or dissolved in Iran because of government persecution.