Sorrow as jailed Baha'i leader is unable to attend wife's funeral

11 March 2011

— The Baha'i International Community has described as "desperately cruel" the fact that one of Iran's seven Baha'i leaders has been unable to attend the funeral of his own wife.

81 year old Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani – who was married to Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani for more than 50 years – died yesterday morning at the family home in Tehran. She had been unwell for many months.

Mr. Khanjani, 77, is serving a ten-year jail term at Iran's notorious Gohardasht prison, along with six other Baha'is who were all members of a national-level ad hoc group that attended to the needs of Iran's Baha'i community.

"This is a desperately cruel turn of events," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"For an innocent man to be denied the opportunity to be with his devoted wife as she passed away, and then to be unable to attend her funeral – this shows the depth of inhumanity to which the Iranian authorities have sunk," said Ms. Ala'i.

"Islamic compassion and justice are nowhere to be seen," she said.

It is understood that the funeral of Mrs. Khanjani, held early today in Tehran, attracted between 8,000 and 10,000 mourners from all walks of life. Ministry of Intelligence officers were also reportedly present, filming the proceedings.

Mrs. Khanjani had devoted her life to raising her four children as well as caring for others whose parents were unable to feed and clothe them.

"She was looking after up to 40 or 50 children at any one time, without any regard for their religious background," said Ms. Alai. "This is the kind of person she was – kind and generous, and a beacon of hope dedicated to maintaining the unity of their family in the face of harsh religious persecution."

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  • The funeral of Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani, held in Tehran on Friday 11 March 2011. Between 8,000 and 10,000 mourners from throughout Iran were reportedly in attendance.

  • Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani, who has passed away at the age of 81, pictured with her husband, Jamaloddin, during happier times.

  • The seven Baha'i leaders – currently serving 10-year jail terms in Iran's notorious Gohardasht prison – pictured before their arrest in 2008, with their… »

Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, Mr. Khanjani was a successful factory owner. His brick-making factory – the first automated such facility in Iran – employed several hundred people before he was forced to shut it down and abandon it, because of the persecution he faced as a Baha'i. The factory was later confiscated by the government.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Khanjani served as a member of the soon to be disbanded National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Iran, a group that in 1984 saw four of its nine members executed.

Later, Mr. Khanjani was able to establish a mechanized farm. But the authorities made it difficult for him to operate. Their restrictions extended to his children and relatives and included refusing loans, closing their facilities, limiting business dealings, and banning travel outside Iran.

Mr. Khanjani was arrested and imprisoned at least three times before his latest incarceration in May 2008.

"Life over the past three years since this most recent arrest has been particularly hard on his wife and family," said Ms. Ala'i.

"After Mr. Khanjani was transferred to Gohardasht last August, travelling some 100 kilometers there and back every fortnight for the women has been an extra burden to bear."

To add to their ordeal, Mr. and Mrs. Khanjani's immediate family has been particularly targeted by the Iranian government, with a number of them experiencing arrest and imprisonment.

"At least today, at this very difficult time, Mr. Khanjani and his family can take comfort in the fact that the thoughts and prayers of governments, organizations and people of goodwill throughout the world are with them," said Ms. Ala'i.

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