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.

Mr. Naeimi was a bitter brand of pioneer. Unable to pursue higher education, unable to or unwilling to leave his homeland, he took on the leadership of his father-in-law’s business. (Even fanatical theocracies like the economy to prosper.) He raised a family. He taught children’s moral education classes, encouraged youth like him who were deprived of education, and generally sought to inspire and teach his beleaguered community. Generations of young Baha’is have now, like him, had to chart alternate courses after high school. What a blow for them, but also what a loss for their country! Self-inflicted wounds…

And Twitter tells me another thing I did not know. Frank Z isn’t my closest buddy — I suspect he has little time for basketball — but we are well acquainted. As I was about to finish my stranger’s appreciation, Frank tweeted this: Remembering my dear friend Afif Naeimi…7 years in prison…”

One degree of separation, from comfy Ottawa to hellish Gohardasht.


Comment (1)

  1. Paul Desailly

    Brilliant, James. You have a real talent for reaching out to young and old.

    [I’m thinking]…that I should not [publicly] refer to my safe and sound trip to Iran to attend the historic 1st National Congress of Esperanto…People might get the mistaken impression that if it’s OK and safe for Baha’is to fly in and out of Iran and to attend congresses there, then things aren’t too bad for Baha’is in Iran. I just want to stress here that things are so bad for Iranian Baha’is in Iran that I made absolutely no attempt to contact them there, nor did I leave the Congress center hotel other than on group excursions with Esperantists from abroad.

    I thought I had better set the record straight here and now about how scared I felt there….Let’s remember too that my first trip to Iran was strictly as an Esperantist, not as a Baha’i. I made no speeches as part of the Congress program and I traveled on an Australian passport. I look nothing like an Iranian as I have pinky skin, green eyes and generally Franco-Irish heritage.

    …[Also worthwhile] to mention that Australia, unlike the USA, maintains in Tehran a fully functioning embassy which gave me some added peace of mind while I was in Tehran…This is not the first campaign to assist the Yaran [“Friends”] incarcerated unjustly in Iran; unfortunately to date there is no sign that the regime will relent…


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