Monday, May 18, 2015

Murder With Impunity

Murder With Impunity

7 years ago, May 14th 2008 I woke up from a dream. I dreamt I held in my hand 3 documents that appeared to be blank until you looked at the bottom of each page. Strangely, the blank white sheets only contained the 7 signatures of the Yaran, the seven Baha’i Leaders in Iran who tended to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i Community. What stood out about those blank documents was that it didn’t contain all the 7 signatures at once. At the bottom of the first page, there were 3 signatures. At the bottom of the second page there were 2 more. And the remaining 2 signatures filled the bottom of the 3rd page.

I woke up that morning not knowing what to make of that dream nor was I aware of the news that awaited me at work (I worked in the media department of the Baha’i National Centre in the US). That day, all of us at the BNC received a message that the Secretary General had an important announcement to make within the hour. As we sat at that meeting, we learned the night before (which was early morning in Iran), 6 of the 7 members of the Yaran were arrested in their homes during early morning raids. What was foreboding about these raids and arrests is how it paralleled the abductions and executions of numerous Baha’i leaders during the 1980’s. The 7th member was arrested 2 months earlier on a road trip.

They remained incarcerated for a period of 20 months without any formal charges, during which they endured appalling torture, both of a physical and psychological nature. A court date had finally been granted to them but by the time of their trial, they were given less than one hour’s access to their legal counsel. They were ultimately charged with espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic, the establishment of an illegal administration and spreading corruption on earth, charges which were adamantly denied by all the defendants. Although these charges were brought against them as a matter of formality, the basis of their arrest stemmed on their religious belief. Their only crime was being a Baha’i, the largest religious community in Iran that has been the target of government and mob pogroms since the inception of the religion 171 years ago. For many Bahai’s in Iran, membership within the community has resulted in imprisonment, execution, termination of employment, desecration and destruction of their holy places, cemeteries and most recently, the boycott of all Baha’i businesses and the prevention of all Baha’i students to a university education.

7 years have passed and these same 7, ordinary men and women: a farmer, an engineer, a psychologist, an industrialist, a social worker, an optometrist, and a school principal; fathers and mothers, ranging in age from 41 to 81, who for decades now have been stripped of their professional contributions to society, continue to remain in prison for their religious beliefs. Their crime is the same crime that you and I commit everyday, the ability to choose a personal and sacred belief system for ourselves.
I still don’t know what to make of this dream. I don’t know the meaning or symbolism behind the 3 page blank documents containing the 7 signatures of these prisoners, nor can I be dismissive of its connection to this event. I can say that from day one, I’ve always felt connected to this story and have always held these 7 individuals whom I’ve never met, close to my heart.

In an effort to shine a spotlight on the darkness that has taken over what was once my homeland, I made this video. It was made 7 years ago while the 7 Yaran were still awaiting a trial date and I share it with you again today, hoping you would do the same. Although I was extremely limited on photographs and media footage concerning their situation (all I had access to was one photograph), I decided to use archival footage and photographs from the early 1980’s, a time when the focus of a systematic, government sponsored persecution of all Baha’is in Iran was at it’s zenith in a most brutal and heinous way. I chose to parallel the stories of the many who lost their lives on account of their beliefs and contrast it with current events relating to the Yaran.

If this story has nestled its place within the close confines of your heart, I ask that you please join me during this global online campaign for human rights and consider your role in the freedom of these 7. Please share their story and get involved by clicking the link below to learn of their story: