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Reboot 7.5: Late Night Thoughts on Mahvash Sabet

I had a few things to say, six months ago, on reading the story of a little-known Iranian woman named Mahvash Sabet. She was the focus, on May 14, for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign that tried to train a spotlight on her imprisonment, and those of six of her fellow Iranian Baha’is. Iran ought to be ashamed of itself.

The world was briefly more aware of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for seven outrageous years, but as of right this minute it’s now seven and a HALF years. There is no sign of their imminent release from an incarceration that would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a serious injustice, such an outright loss to Iranian society. So if you missed it, here I was, trying to get to know Mahvash a little better.

Ms. Sabet was the first among the seven Baha’i leaders to be arrested, in March of 2008. These seven had taken on an ad hoc role of guiding and encouraging the oppressed Baha’i community of Iran, since its local and national institutions had been banned in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Over a year after her arrest, Ms. Sabet was charged with “espionage” and “spreading propaganda against the [government]” in a kangaroo court proceeding, more of a political harangue than anything we’d recognize as judicial. There she is, and here am I, wondering about her life as I read a brief biography.

Greyer, but what a kind, calm face.

Greyer, but what a kind, calm face.

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Vahid: Peerless Insight From Inside

Vahid is Vahid Tizfahm, yet another widely known and cherished community servant taken from among the Iranian Baha’is. He and his partners in “crime” are the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and here we go again. Danny and Pej asked their buddy, me, to contribute to the social media protests, and I’m hoping these personal essays are of some use in the necessary worldwide conversation. Vahid Tizfahm and his six colleagues are sacrificial lions, bravely enduring pariah status in a country that needs their kind more than it knows. Here is the last instalment of my series on the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for seven years, and counting…

Ever had an optometrist for a hero? I have, now. Vahid Tizfahm is a lion.

Ever had an optometrist for a hero? I have, now. Vahid Tizfahm is a lion.

At 42, Mr. Tizfahm is the same age as his father was when he was executed for being a Baha’i. Three bullets, no lawyer, no charge that we would recognize as remotely judicial. Vahid, the son who is now the similarly arrested father, is quite the youngest of the Yaran, the “friends”, the group of seven Baha’is that worked to guide and encourage the members of their persecuted community. As has become the disgusting norm in Iranian society, it goes without saying — so I’ll SAY it, again — that he did not go to university; as a member of “this detestable sect”, he wasn’t allowed to. He was able to train as an optometrist, and alongside this business he was a youth leader, taught children’s classes and was appointed to generally inspire, encourage, and promote learning among Baha’is. He studied under and supported the BIHE, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, an underground university that trains excluded Baha’i students in living rooms and by email. He did these things, of course, until he and the other Yaran were arrested, for “crimes” such as these, a little more than seven years ago.

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Vahid is the Persian form of an Arabic word that means “unique”, “peerless”. Vahid. One of the greatest figures of the violently visionary and just plain violent early years of the Baha’i movement, in 19th-century Persia, was given this lofty title. And now we have another singular man, quietly, hardily, heartily bearing societal rejection and punishment in the name of principle, in the pursuit of justice.

The Tizfahm family. Not sure whether this is a prison visit, or just prior to his arrest.

The Tizfahm family. Not sure whether this is a prison visit, or just prior to his arrest.

Vahid Tizfahm’s son was in grade 3 when they came for him, about the same age his daddy had been when his own father was taken. The family had just moved to Tehran, and my thinly educated guess is that they had done so in order for Mr. Tizfahm to more easily work together with his Baha’i leadership colleagues. (You know, relocation to pursue sacrificial voluntarism, that old story.) The lad is now a sophomore in high school. I have a son about that age, who probably gets more contact with his Dad than he’d like. But what about young Mr. Tizfahm?

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Who in the World is Afif Naeimi?

It’s Day 4 of 7. I’m thinking of this man, previously unknown to me, who is among the seven innocent Baha’is now entering their eighth year of imprisonment in two Iranian jails.  He — and his six partners in the most benevolent, world-minded sort of “crime” you could imagine — are the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and this is my attempt to honour Mr. Naeimi. This probably isn’t what Danny and Pej had in mind; the bulk of the campaign they asked me to contribute to involves social media, an area where I have only narrow and entry-level eptitude. These friends, among others that I’m close to, have only 1 or 2 degrees of separation from these sacrificial lions. The Seven are enemies of an insecure state simply because of their membership in an often-ostracized community, which has been subject to nearly two centuries of bigoted slander from the entrenched shiah orthodoxy in what was once Persia, now Iran. I learn more of this tragic, heroic and underreported story of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for a week of years. I call to remembrance people that I don’t know, because when I read their stories, they are no longer strangers.

Mr. Naeimi, circa 2005 or so.

Mr. Naeimi, circa 2005 or so.

When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. So did Afif Naeimi. I was undone, for most medical schools, by my underwhelming performance in university chem and biology labs. At the progressive school I came the closest to being selected for, my clumsy interview performance likely roasted my goose. Mr. Naeimi? Now that’s a different story. He’s 53 now, which means that when he graduated from high school, a superb student, the Islamic Republic of Iran was in place, and a member of the “detestable Baha’i sect” was automatically disqualified from university. This is still the case in 2015.

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Biography of a Criminal: Fariba Kamalabadi

How’s this for a life of crime? Dad’s a doctor who loses his job for practising medicine while Baha’i (that’s known as a ‘PMWB’ offence, which went from a misdemeanour to a felony after the Iranian Revolution in 1979). He was imprisoned and tortured, though it probably did nothing to straighten him out. (You know how these people are!) His daughter Fariba seemed to think that, just because she had outstanding high school marks, her brazen attempt to go to university was somehow her RIGHT. The ruling authorities of the Islamic Republic, fortunately, were able to nip that nefarious plan in the bud. Ms. Kamalabadi, however, was incorrigible, embarking in her 30s on an extended, clearly delusional attempt at higher education from an underground university, the notorious “Baha’i Institute for Higher Education” (BIHE). She had a lengthy criminal record with a wide range of what are euphemistically called “volunteer activities” and was imprisoned several times. Finally, when her propensity for repeated, remorseless involvement with a gang of six other reprobates continued – why, these people were helping that illegal Baha’i element to learn, marry and other of their supposed “human rights” – she was among the seven who were finally rounded up and removed, dangers as they clearly were to law-abiding Iranian citizens, from decent society…

*Coughs*. That’s enough of that. Irony is hard. Sarcasm kills…

Pre-incarceration photo, likely much changed now -- except for that resolute chin.

Pre-incarceration photo, likely much changed now — except for that resolute chin.

[This is the second of my stubborn efforts to get to know more of the seven innocent Baha’is in Iran, who are the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and so here’s a taste of the remarkable life of that “arch-criminal” Fariba Kamalabadi, 52. Again, thanks to intrepid Baha’i social networkers Danny and Pej, who have fed me with a steady diet of sad yet still ennobling information about this tragic, heroic and underreported story of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for a week of years. This won’t take long; be sure not to miss her own description of her “crime” below.]

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