A cry for dignity, humanity and justice for Bahá'í captives

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I first met Firita around 2000 in Hong Kong. We were among a number of Bah' friends who met during Chinese Spring Festival in the month of February.

She is a physical therapist living in Beijing and I was teaching English at a law university in Wuhan. Lots of native English speakers would meet in Hong Kong or Macau to hang out at Festival time.

During the 12 years I lived in China I would see Firita from time to time. I hadn't thought of her since my return to the United States a few years ago, when sinister events in the spring of 2008 occurred in her homeland of Iran.

In March, Mahvash Sabet - a schoolteacher- was arrested. She was a Bah'. On May 14 six other Iranian Bah's were arrested in early morning raids at their homes.

The seven were held for 20 months without being charged. On 12 January 2010 their trial began. The seven were then charged with spying for Israel, propaganda against the Islamic republic, and the establishment of an illegal administration.

I was recently told by friends of mine, that Firita's father, Jamaloddin Khanjani, was among the seven imprisoned.

It turns out that this is the third time he has been imprisoned for no other reason than being a Bah'. He is in poor health and there is very real concern for his life.

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel laureate and defense for the Yaran Seven has called the charges "baseless and politically motivated." She has further said: "There is not a shred of evidence for the charges leveled against them. "

Subsequently the seven Bah's now known as the "Yaran-i-Iran" - or "Friends in Iran" were incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

So who are the Yaran Seven? They were chosen from their community to carry out administrative duties for the Bah's of Iran.

Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, became the location for the Bah' world center in the 1800s.

Bah's throughout the world are in frequent contact with that administrative body.

One can only surmise that the Iranian leadership decided to link the contacts in Haifa to a secret spy mission for Israel. Such an indictment would be roughly equivalent to the Catholics in America contacting the pope in Rome to overthrow the government of Italy.

All seven were given 10-year sentences. The men are held at Gohardasht Prison.

Recently, the two female prisoners were moved to a warehouse currently used to retain female prisoners.

The warehouse was formerly used to house chickens and other livestock. It reportedly has only two toilets. Sleeping bags are sparsely provided.

The government of Iran has frequently interfered with the lives of Bah's. Since the mid-1800s Iranian Bah's have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the state.

Time and again, Bah's have been offered their freedom if they recant their beliefs and convert to Islam.

A reception was held in Washington, D.C., on May 14 marking the three-year anniversary of the incarceration of the Yaran Seven.

Both the Senate and the House have introduced resolutions condemning the religious persecution of the Bah's in Iran.

In response to a message from the national governing council of the Bah's of the U.S., one young woman turned to Facebook to help support the effort.

Before a week had passed, more than 10,000 Facebook users had been tapped via viral invitations to join Carmel Imani's event titled "Make the urgent phone call to your senators and representatives."

Of those 10,000 , already more than 1,000 individuals had clicked "I'm attending."

The Youtube site "Angels of Iran" displays content regarding people involved in this story.

It is significant to understand that these seven Bah's represent numbers of other groups and individuals imprisoned for their religious beliefs under governments that use fundamentalist beliefs to influence their populations. Coptic Christians and Muslim Sufis are among those listed as harassed and imprisoned.

The lastest news of Fariba Kamalabadi, one of the female prisoners held in the warehouse, is that she a victim of prolonged dehydration.

It's difficult to predict how this story will end, but the cry for dignity, humanity, and justice rings throughout this ordeal.

Todd Oleson is a member of the Bah's in Walla Walla.

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