Iran’s war on my fam­ily

My 80-year-old un­cle is be­hind bars. The fam­ily farm has been razed to the ground. Why? We’re Baha’is

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS -

Iown and op­er­ate a busi­ness in Toronto. Since com­ing to Canada, I have been wel­comed by other Cana­di­ans, and feel very much a Cana­dian now, too. I work hard and con­trib­ute as best I can to the well-be­ing, pros­per­ity and peace of a coun­try that has given me a gen­uine home. Yet, af­ter many years, I still love Iran and long to re­turn some day, if only to visit but per­haps also with a dream of con­tribut­ing to the mu­tual in­ter­ests of my two homes, Iran and Canada. Both would ben­e­fit if there was greater com­mu­ni­ca­tion, travel and more eco­nomic part­ner­ships be­tween the two.

Sadly, that day seems still very far off.

Im­pris­on­ment of jour­nal­ists, re­form­ers, mem­bers of mi­nori­ties, stu­dents and ac­tivists con­tin­ues with­out let up. Sev­eral close rel­a­tives of mine in Iran are in prison and oth­ers face daily per­se­cu­tion. They are mem­bers of the Baha’i mi­nor­ity, Iran’s largest non-Mus­lim re­li­gion. They are like so many in Iran en­dur­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions that have wors­ened since the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, not im­proved.

My 80-year-old un­cle, Ja­malodinn Khan­jani, is serv­ing one of the long­est sen­tences given any pris­oner of con­science. The Khan­jani fam­ily farm east of Tehran has been de­stroyed by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, just as his brick man­u­fac­tur­ing plant was in the 1980s. In a coun­try that des­per­ately needs more eco­nomic pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, his farm­house, the large reser­voir that pro­vided wa­ter for crops, a large fruit or­chard and his live­stock, have all been de­stroyed.

Why? Be­cause of our fam­ily’s Baha’i re­li­gious be­liefs that in­clude the im­por­tance of the equal­ity of women and men, the ne­ces­sity of ed­u­ca­tion and study of science and the arts, and the fun­da­men­tal Baha’i belief in the one­ness of the hu­man fam­ily. Un­cle Ja­malodinn be­lieves that no prej­u­dice is ac­cept­able against any­one of what­ever coun­try or re­li­gious, racial or so­cial back­ground, but some­how those ideals are deeply up­set­ting to the Ira­nian regime.

Baha’is are tar­geted, deemed un­fit to at­tend univer­sity, hold public-sec­tor jobs, or teach school. In the past year, the gov­ern­ment media have mul­ti­plied their hate­ful and false pro­pa­ganda against Baha’is. Their in­ten­tion is clear, then to be able to blame the public for at­tacks on Baha’is which the gov­ern­ment it­self has in­cited.

In re­cent weeks a new strat­egy has been adopted. Baha’is have, over the past 30 years, turned to busi­ness as the pri­mary way of earn­ing a liveli- hood when higher ed­u­ca­tion is closed in their face and they can’t work in the public sec­tor. Op­er­at­ing small busi­nesses was one of the only op­tions, but now Baha’is are fac­ing the per­ma­nent clo­sure of their shops if they con­tinue to close on the few Baha’i Holy Days scat­tered through­out the year. That they’ve been do­ing this for years, with full gov­ern­ment knowl­edge, raises the ques­tion of why, now, of­fi­cials have come up with this new way of un­der­min­ing fur­ther the Baha’i com­mu­nity by strik­ing at its eco­nomic base.

In­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion dur­ing the 1980s did seem to mod­er­ate and even­tu­ally stop the ex­e­cu­tion of Baha’is, but the regime has, over the past two decades, adopted mea­sures against Baha’is that aim to “fly be­low the radar” of in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, while still do­ing as much as pos­si­ble to suf­fo­cate the life of the Baha’i com­mu­nity.

I, and my cousin, Nika Khan­jani, a film­maker liv­ing in Mon­treal, along with sev­eral thou­sand Ira­nian Baha’is, have been wel­comed to Canada as refugees and im­mi­grants since the 1979 Revo­lu­tion — wel­comed by sound gov­ern­ment pol­icy and prac­tices, and by the wel­com­ing smiles and as­sis­tance of Cana­di­ans gen­er­ally, not to men­tion the deep friend­ship and love of sev­eral thou­sand Cana­dian Baha’is and their com­mu­ni­ties across this coun­try.

De­spite our good for­tune in be­com­ing Cana­di­ans, we con­tinue to ask, “When will it end, this un­re­lent­ing and un­just per­se­cu­tion of our com­mu­nity that could con­trib­ute so much to Iran, help­ing to ad­vance the econ­omy, the ed­u­ca­tional life of the na­tion, and par­tic­i­pate in the ad­vance of Ira­nian so­ci­ety and cul­ture? When will this cruel and in­hu­man per­se­cu­tion stop?”

Ever since the early 1980s, Cana­dian gov­ern­ments, both Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive, have been among the world’s lead­ing coun­tries bring­ing the plight of Baha’is to the at­ten­tion of the United Na­tions hu­man rights sys­tem, the Gen­eral Assem­bly and the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, work­ing in part­ner­ship with other na­tions to spon­sor and vote for res­o­lu­tion af­ter res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Iran for its hu­man rights record. What more can be done?


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