|Human Rights - Iran|
May 23, 2012 - The following is a speech that I recently made in the House of Commons during a Take-Note Debate on the Human Rights situation in Iran:
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and privilege to stand here and talk about human rights in Iran. Although I welcome any time and any opportunity to warn the world about Iran's president, the ruling mullahs, the revolutionary guard, the viscous Basij and other operatives of this regime, I choose to focus the majority of my time on the people they are presently persecuting and imprisoning, namely, the seven Baha'i leaders who have been imprisoned since 2008.
One of the witnesses before our subcommittee, Professor Payam Akhavan, said he thought it important that we not reduce the issue to abstractions and statistics in order to understand the horrible brutality with which the Iranian government has confronted what is essentially a peaceful non-violent movement to call for basic human rights and democracy. He was speaking about the green movement, but I do not think his comments were any less poignant in regard to the Baha'i community.
Therefore, I want to introduce the seven leaders who have been incarcerated in Iran since 2008. The first is Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, arrested May 14, 2008, in her home in Tehran. This developmental psychologist and mother of three was denied the chance to study at a public university as a youth because of her Baha'i beliefs. Because of her volunteer work for the Baha'i community, she was arrested twice in recent years and held for periods of one and two months before her arrest and imprisonment in May 2008.
Mrs. Kamalabadi was born in Tehran on September 12, 1962. An excellent student, she graduated from high school with honours, but was nevertheless barred from attending university. Instead, in her mid-30s she embarked on an eight-year period of informal study and ultimately received an advanced degree in developmental psychology from the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, an alternative institution established by the Baha'I community of Iran to provide higher education for its young people.
Mrs. Kamalabadi is married, with three children. Varqa, now about 28, received a doctorate in political science and international relations in the United Kingdom and is currently continuing his research in China. Alhan, now 27, is studying psychology and Taraneh, 14 at the time of her mother's arrest, was a junior high school student in Tehran.
Mrs. Kamalabadi's experience with persecution extends beyond her immediate situation. Her father was fired from his job as a physician in the government health service in the 1980s because he was a Baha'i, and he was later imprisoned and tortured.
The next is Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, arrested May 14, 2008, at his home in Tehran. He was once a successful factory owner but lost his business after the 1979 Islamic revolution because of his belief in the Baha'i faith and then spent most of the 1980s on the run under the threat of death from the Iranian authorities.
Born July 27, 1933, in the city of Sangsar, Mr. Khanjani grew up on a dairy farm. In his professional career he has worked as an employee of the Pepsi-Cola company in Iran, where he was a purchasing supervisor. He later started a charcoal production business. Later he established a brick-making factory, which was the first automated such factory in Iran, ultimately employing several hundred people. In the early 1980s he was forced to shut that factory and abandon it, putting most of his employees out of work, because of the persecution he faced as a Baha'i. The factory was later confiscated by the government.
In his career of voluntary service to his religious community, Mr. Khanjani was, in the early 1980s, a member of the so-called “third” National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Iran, a group that in 1984 saw four of its members executed by the government.
Mrs. Khanjani became ill sometime after her husband's latest imprisonment and passed away. Iranian authorities denied him the right to visit his wife's bedside or her graveside. Mr. and Mrs. Khanjani have four children and six grandchildren.
The next is Mr. Afif Naeimi, arrested May 14, 2008, at his home in Tehran. He is an industrialist who was unable to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor because, as a Baha'i, he was denied access to a university education. Instead, he diverted his attention to business, one of the few avenues of work open to Baha'is, taking over his father-in-law's blanket and textile factory.
Mr. Naeimi's father died when he was three and he was raised in part by his uncles. While still in elementary school, he was sent to live with his relatives in Jordan, and although he started with no knowledge of Arabic, he soon rose to the top of his class.
He has long been active in the volunteer Baha'i service. He has taught Baha'i children's classes, conducted classes for adults, taught at the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education and been a member of the auxiliary board, an appointed position that serves principally to inspire, encourage and promote learning among Baha'is.
The next is Mr. Saeid Rezaie, arrested May 14, 2008, at his home in Tehran. He is an agricultural engineer who ran a successful farming equipment business. Born in Abadan on September 27, 1957, Mr. Rezaie spent his childhood in Shiraz, where he completed high school with distinction. He then obtained a degree in agricultural engineering from Pahlavi University in Shiraz, attending with the help of a scholarship funded from outside the country. He is married with two daughters and a son. Martha, now 28, has studied library science. Ma'man, now 25, studied architecture. Payvand, 12 at the time of his father's arrest, was in his second year of middle school. Mr. Rezaie has actively served the Baha'i community since he was a young man. He taught Baha'i children's classes for many years and served at the Baha'i Education and Baha'i Life Institutes. He is a scholar and an author, and he has served as an academic adviser to Baha'i students. In 1985 he opened an agricultural equipment company with a Baha'i friend in Fars province. That company prospered and won wide respect among farmers in the region. He has experienced various forms of persecution for his Baha'i beliefs, including an arrest and detention in 2006 that led to 40 days in solitary confinement. His two daughters were among 54 Baha'i youth who were arrested in Shiraz in May 2006 while engaged in a humanitarian project aimed at helping underprivileged young people.
Mrs. Mahvash Sabet was arrested in Mashad on March 5, 2008. She is a teacher and school principal who was dismissed from public education for being a Baha'i. For 15 years up until her arrest she was director of the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education. Born on February 4, 1953, in Ardestan, Mrs. Sabet moved to Tehran when she was in the fifth grade. In university she studied psychology, obtaining a bachelor's degree. In her professional role, she also collaborated with the National Literacy Committee of Iran. After the Islamic revolution, however, like thousands of other Iranian Baha'i educators, she was fired from her job and blocked from working in public education. It was after this that she became director of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, where she also has taught psychology and management. She is married and has a son, Foroud, now 37, and a daughter, Negar, now 28.
Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, arrested May 14, 2008, at his home in Tehran, is a former social worker who lost his government job in the early 1980s because of his Baha'i beliefs. Prior to his current imprisonment, he has also experienced intermittent detainment and harassment. Mr. Tavakkoli studied psychology in university and then completed two years of service in the army, where he was a lieutenant. He later took additional training and then specialized in the care of the physically and mentally handicapped, working in a government position until his firing in 1981. Mr. Tavakkoli is married with two sons, Naeim and Nabil. Naeim, now 35, is living in Canada with his wife, who is taking graduate studies. Nabil, now 28, is currently studying architecture at the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education. Mr. Tavakkoli was elected to the local Baha'i governing council in Mashhad while a student at the university there, and he later served on another local Baha'i council in Sari before such institutions were banned in the early 1980s. To support himself and his family after he was fired from his government position, Mr. Tavakkoli established a small millwork carpentry shop in the city of Gonbad. There he also established a series of classes in Baha'i studies for adults and young people.
Mr. Vahid Tizfahm was arrested May 14, 2008, at his home in Tehran. He is an optometrist and was owner of an optical shop in Tabriz, where he lived until early 2008 when he moved to Tehran. He was born May 16, 1973, in the city of Urumiyyih. He spent his childhood and youth there and, after receiving his high school diploma in mathematics, he went to Tabriz at the age of 18 to study to become an optician. He later also studied sociology at the Advanced Baha'i Studies Institute. He is married and has a son, Samim, who was nine years old at the time of his father's arrest and in the fourth grade.
Since his youth, Mr. Tizfahm has served the Baha'i community in a variety of capacities. At one time he was a member of the Baha'i National Youth Committee and later he was appointed to the auxiliary board and advisory group that serves to uplift and inspire Baha'i communities at the regional level. He has also taught local Baha'i children's classes. These seven Baha'i leaders continue to be imprisoned in Iran.