Prominent Canadian Senator Urges Action Regarding Baha’is of Iran

Fire Tablet of Baha'u'llah

 

“The suffering heaped on our Baha’i friends is neither isolated nor peripheral. It is systematic and brutal, especially when the Baha’i are known as a peaceful faith that embraces the sanctity of all religions. The official Iranian oppression of Baha’i is more than the canary in the mineshaft. It is a clarion call to humanity and to free peoples and democracies everywhere to look directly at the harsh colours of the Iranian reality and not look away until the challenge is faced head on.”

The above is the closing of a very powerful, most alarming and straight forward talk on October 5, 2011 by Senator Urges of Canada and published on The CANADIAN BAHA’I NEWS SERVICE

Senator Urges warns “about what evil and malevolent intent guides the present leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He asks for “specific actions to be taken by the Canadian government to  to contain this vile and sadistic administration. ”

Our duty, as allies of various partners in the region, including Sunni Arab states or our Turkish NATO allies, including the people of Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, who seek the freedom to make their own decisions about their own countries and futures, is to be clear and outspoken about what evil and malevolent intent guides the present leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To ensure that in every way at all levels, with our allies and with respect to our geopolitical interests, we are preparing for and planning all that may be necessary to contain this vile and sadistic administration. This aggressive and inhumane administration, if unchecked and unpunished for every excess and inhumanity, will be the cause of a third world war as sure as we serve together in this upper chamber this afternoon.

What is necessary here is not just the reactive contact group’s continuing best efforts on some measure of nuclear restraint and international inspection. Canada’s new office of religious freedom should join with other similar units around the world to promote a collective course of action on behalf of the Baha’i faith community in Iran and erect a series of serious challenges in different bodies around the world for the Iranian government to face. This should be known as the Baha’i sanctions so that our Iranian friends understand precisely our collective humanitarian and principled intent. Religious oppression is always the first and most consistent instrument of the tyrant; failing to engage it directly only feeds the beast.

It goes without saying that Canada’s military, intelligence, diplomatic and other networks at home and abroad should be focusing on the granular threats posed by various Iranian forces around the world. These include places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. We must work with friendly military, diplomatic and intelligence forces amongst our partners in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, who have diverse relationships with the Iranians, in order to achieve a coherent and concerted effort to frustrate the wilful domination of the region and a world that depends on that region by the Republic of Iran’s leadership. I leave the specific measures, dynamics and aspects of that joint initiative and plan for defence and engagement to the experts in uniform and the various military, diplomatic and clandestine services around the world. I say simply that we must all prepare now, and we must all do our part.

In an earlier talk given by Hon. Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer called “Baha’i People in Iran” and published on Liberal Senate Forum web site on June 21, 2011, the attention of the Canadian citizens and the people of good will everywhere, is drawn on a very dangerous and critical cancer progressing in the vitals of the global body politics the like of which humanity has painfully witnessed in the past at the hands of Hitler and Stalin. Hon. Senator Jaffer says:

“The human rights situation in Iran continues to worsen day by day…

Some groups have been particularly affected, including women, journalists, human rights activists, ethnic minorities and religious minorities. Arbitrary arrest, lack of due process and torture are experienced all too frequently by Iranian citizens. A Canadian, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, still sits on death row because of spurious charges.

The Baha’is in Iran: Who are they and what is their history?

Despite the persecution of the Baha’i community in the country of its birth, Iranian Baha’is were on the forefront of the efforts to bring progressive change to the country. They were involved in the pro-democracy and social reform movements at the turn of the century. They founded the first schools for girls and eradicated illiteracy among Baha’i young women in the 1970s. The community in Tehran founded a hospital that brought modern medicine to excluded religious minorities.

Around the world, Baha’is today are engaged in working for social progress. In their grassroots activity, they are dedicated to helping the social development of villages and neighbourhoods. Baha’is join with others to promote the spiritual and material advancement of their communities. Their approach to social change focuses on transforming communities rather than political agitation.

This is a principle that is important to understand with respect to the ongoing persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. This is a community that believes in the power of non-violence and positive action as a response to oppression. While claiming their rights through legal means in the court of public opinion, they have never resorted to force. Baha’is believe that the most reliable pathway to liberation is to openly serve their country side by side with other Iranians.

Honourable senators, I turn now to the persecution of Baha’is in Iran. The persecution faced by Baha’is in Iran today has few parallels in human history. This is a community of more than 300,000 people that for more than 30 years has been subject to an often explicit state policy focused on its destruction. The intensity of pressure felt by this religious minority is almost impossible for us, as Canadians, to imagine, yet it is our duty as senators, indeed as fellow human beings, to raise our voices in solidarity with their cause.

Baha’is face prosecution in Iran because a hardline clerical elite views their religion as illegitimate, and they are therefore considered to be apostates or opponents of Islam. This attitude toward Baha’is is spread by lies and misinformation channelled through state-controlled media. Baha’is are often falsely accused of being foreign agents working secretly against the nation. The result of such disinformation campaigns is widespread ignorance that perpetuates a culture of prejudice.

Honourable senators, I have been a refugee lawyer for over 30 years, and never in my experience have I known our country not to accept refugees who claim to be Baha’is, as we have done. As a refugee lawyer, all I had to show was that an Iranian was a practising Baha’i and my client received immediate acceptance to settle in Canada. This was as a result of well-documented evidence that the Baha’is are persecuted in Iran.

The global outcry against this brutality appeared to have an effect as the sensational forms of persecution gradually declined in the late 1980s, only to be replaced by a new phase of persecution in the form of social and economic pressure.

A 1991 confidential memorandum approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stated clearly the position of the Islamic Republic toward the Baha’i community. The memorandum specifies that the Baha’is should be treated in such a way “that their progress and development are blocked.” It specifies that the Baha’is should be denied access to higher education, prevented from holding government jobs, and that their children should be sent to schools “with a strong religious ideology.”

In this environment of intensifying pressure, the Baha’i community has been compelled to develop innovative ways to meet basic needs. Among these responses is the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, an educational initiative launched in 1987 to provide for the education of Baha’i young people who are deprived of access to higher education by official government policy. The New York Times called it “an elaborate act of self-preservation.”

Today, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education operates through a blend of online instruction and small seminars and labs, with an affiliate global faculty that stretches around the world, including here in Canada. It offers 17 university-level programs across three faculties, and continues to develop and offer academic programs in sciences, social sciences and the arts.

I am proud to say that seven Canadian universities have recognized the quality of education provided by the Baha’i education institute and they have accepted dozens of graduates for advanced study here in Canada. Most of them took their master’s degrees and Ph.D.s back to Iran, where they joined the institute’s faculty and have continued to teach others.

Honourable senators, on May 21, Iranian authorities launched yet another attack on the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, this time raiding more than 30 homes and arresting 16 people. Among those arrested were two graduates of Canadian universities. These are attacks not only on the students and the faculty of the Baha’i education institute, but on the cherished idea that education is the birthright of all.

This latest incident underlines the intention of the Iranian government to carry out its policy to block the well-being of the Baha’i community, because when they deny a people the means to educate their youth, they deny them a way of earning a livelihood and deny them a good life.

This attack follows a worrying trend over the past several years of increasing pressure. In 2004, there were four Baha’is in prison, whereas today there are 93 in jail, for no reason aside from their religion. Arbitrary arrests are used in an attempt to keep the community in a condition of uncertainty and fear.

In 2008, the authorities also jailed the ad hoc Baha’i leadership in Iran, seven individuals who formed a body called the Yaran. I have spoken to you before about these men and women, who have now been held in prison for more than three years. They face a sentence of 20 years imprisonment. Their lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, a well-known Nobel laureate, has insisted that there is not a shred of evidence to support the charges against them, which include the type of false accusations that Iran has used to vilify Baha’is for decades.

Notwithstanding repeated requests, neither the prisoners nor their attorneys have ever received official copies of the verdict or the ruling on appeal.

While these seven individuals languish in prison, the Baha’i community remains deprived of its leadership.

Honourable senators, I have conveyed to you a situation of clear injustice and oppression, perpetrated against a peaceful people for no reason other than their religious beliefs. The Baha’i community conducts its affairs with transparency and honesty; it keeps no secret about its beliefs and intentions, with members who want nothing more than to practise their religion and serve their country.

We Canadians are privileged to live in a country where diversity is valued and where we enjoy freedom of religion and belief. I believe that we should all speak out where these same freedoms are denied elsewhere, giving hope to our brothers and sisters who live under constant state pressure, in the name of humanity.

Honourable senators, all my life I have worked with Baha’is. Today I stand before you and I ask you to also stand up for the rights of Baha’is.

Honourable senators, Canada’s support for the Baha’is in Iran has been an example of how supporting freedom of religion and beliefs can play a role in our foreign policy. In view of our new emphasis on promoting religious freedom abroad, let us take new steps to call Iran to account for its unacceptable treatment of the Baha’is. Let us stand for the religious rights of Baha’is in Iran.

Canada has played a special part in bringing the human rights violations of the Islamic Republic Regime into the global focus.Articles such as the one on September 22, 2011 on NAITONAL POST is one of many that confirms a global alarm:

“Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has intensified its persecution and prosecution of religious minorities, especially the Baha’i – its largest religious minority – whose members are subject to harassment, repression, torture, imprisonment and execution. As for Christians, whose persecution has also accelerated, even praying together is a criminal act. These assaults on the religious rights of his own people, combined with the many other repressive acts carried out by his regime, are crimes against humanity.”

When you see how powerful is the light in removing darkness, pick up your light and shine it, share it, talk it until there is no darkness of violations of human rights.

Keyvan

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