Vigil held for political prisoners

April 9, 2009

By Jim Feehan

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Bahai members hold out hope for Iranians charged with treason

Mojdeh Azizi, of Newcastle, with a photograph of her father and uncles, who were executed by the Iranian government for being members of the Baha’i faith. By Jim Feehan
Mojdeh Azizi, of Newcastle, with a photograph of her father and uncles, who were executed by the Iranian government for being members of the Baha’i faith. By Jim Feehan


Forming a solemn circle at the picnic shelter at Lake Boren Park, about a dozen members of the Baha’i faith from Newcastle sent their prayers east. 

Last month’s vigil was meant to draw attention to seven Baha’is held on charges of espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic.

The plight of the imprisoned seven is personal to two Newcastle residents whose family members were executed by the Iranian government because of their faith.

Mojdeh Azizi’s father and two uncles were arrested, imprisoned and later executed in 1982 by a firing squad for practicing their religion.

“They even asked my mother for money for the bullets they used to execute my father and uncle,” Azizi said.

While imprisoned, her father and uncle were forced to donate blood for Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war, she said.

With their property confiscated, assets frozen, children ostracized and beaten, many Baha’is fled under cover of darkness to neighboring Pakistan. The trek included hiking through the desert and mountains, sometimes hiding in the hillsides, Azizi said.

Three years earlier, Azizi came to the U.S. to attend college, because women were barred from college under the Iranian government led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Azizi works as an office manager at a medical clinic in Bellevue.

Baha’i faith, a religion founded by Baha’u’llah in Iran in the 1860s, advocates recognition of its messenger and a united world society. Its Universal House of Justice is based in Haifa, Israel. 

Baha’is believe that the religion’s founder, Bahá’u’lláh, is the most recent in a line of prophets that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus Christ and Muhammad. They see all humanity as one people. 

But the belief that Bahá’u’lláh is a prophet following Muhammad contradicts Muslim teaching that Muhammad is the final prophet. It’s a source of tension and, in Muslim-dominated Iran, motivation for prejudice that dates back to the religion’s founding. 

But after the 1979 Iranian revolution, which led to the creation of the current theocracy, Baha’i persecution became systematic, Azizi said.

In 1980, all nine of the elected members of the National Assembly of Baha’is of Iran were executed by the regime. In 1983, 10 Baha’i women were executed for teaching schoolchildren to read. That same year, a majority of the newly elected National Assembly was also executed. 

Home ownership was forbidden and residences seized. Baha’i historical sites and cemeteries were destroyed, teachers and civil servants were fired and forced to repay earned salaries, children were forbidden education and businesses were confiscated. 

There are about 6 million followers worldwide with about two-dozen here, said Dave Walker, Newcastle chair of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i faith.

“We hope to draw attention in a nonpolitical way, because Baha’i don’t participate in partisan politics,” Walker said.

Vahid Vafael, of Newcastle, left Iran in 1977 to study electrical engineering at San Francisco State University. At the end of 1981 and beginning of 1982, the Iranian government executed Vahid’s father, an uncle and a cousin. 

“The mullahs are really after power and money, and they want to solidify their base,” Vafael said. “The Baha’is are used as a scapegoat.”

Baha’is were the first to have school for girls in Iran, said Simin Rhumany, of Newcastle. The Islamic Revolution did not want girls to have an education or have the right to vote, she said.

“The persecution of Baha’is in Iran is nothing short of a modern day Holocaust,” she said.

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