Dec 30th, 2008
We beseech God — exalted be His glory — to grant awareness and insight to the men of wisdom as well as to those who hold in their grasp the reins of power in Persia, that they may be able to distinguish the right way from the crooked and devious path and may clearly discern the well-wisher from the ill-wisher with a true and genuine sense of discrimination. Baha’i writings
Earlier this month the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Iran’s atrocious human rights record. Shortly afterwards the Iranian authorities closed down the offices of the 2003 Nobel Laureate human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi. She and her colleagues at the `Defenders of Human Rights Centre’ have been defending the seven Baha’i leaders who have been imprisoned in Iran since last spring – without any success – they have not even been able to see their clients. The Baha’is are currently being held without charge in Evin prison in Tehran.
The Baha’i International Community has expressed `grave concern’ over the closure, characterizing it `a blow to human rights for the whole of Iran’ and calling for its reopening. Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, commented that `the fact that the Iranian government would shut down the office of its most famous human rights defender, who is Iran’s only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the first Muslim woman so recognized, can only be perceived by the world at large as further evidence that the government has no regard for rights and freedoms’.
Ebadi was recently in London, speaking at an event at the British Museum sponsored by `Magic of Persia’, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am not a conspiracy theorist but it does seem more than a coincidence that within days of her talk about human rights, her office is closed down.
My husband went to the event, which was well attended. He reports that Shirin Ebadi lecture was introduced by Tahirih Danesh, herself a human rights researcher and documenter, whose own introductory talk was excellent.
Yesterday I had a chance to hear Ms Danesh speak myself, at the Conference of Persian Arts and Letters in London. She spoke eloquently about the situation of the Baha’is in Iran, pointing out that the current persecution is more nuanced than it was at the beginning of the Islamic revolution in 1979 and in the early 1980s. It is now very much focused on strangling the whole community by such methods as denying young people access to higher education, arbitrary arrests and ignoring `popular’ attacks on Baha’is, as well as the continued detainment of the Baha’is leadership.
Ms Danesh is also the co-author a new publication from the UK’s Foreign Policy Centre, `A Revolution Without Rights? Women, Kurds and Baha’is Searching for Equality in Iran’. Earlier this month I attended the Justice Conference in the Netherlands at which Ms Danesh’s co-author Geoff Cameron gave a compelling lecture about the terrible human rights abuses of these three distinct groups – I won’t go into detail – just consider that women are stoned to death there.
The irony of such human rights abuses in Iran is that Cyrus the Great, Persian emperor from 559 to 529 BCE, is credited with producing what is considered the first known `human rights charter’.
The Cyrus Cylinder, a large stone document, decrees the equality of minority religions, languages and races.
Most countries are proud of their heritage and do everything to protect it. Too bad Iran isn’t one of them.
Ironic too that `Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, predicted so positive a future for the country that has persecuted its Baha’i citizens for 160 years: `The government of the native land of the Blessed Perfection [Baha’u’llah] will become the most respected government of this world . . . and Iran will become the most prosperous of all lands.’
It’s not too late to start the process by extending human rights to all its people – and reopening the Defenders of Human Rights Centre – and perhaps reading the Cyrus Cylinder.