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An Open Letter to Everyone!

An Open Letter to Everyone!

My name is Rosa and as a Baha’i refugee from Iran I have lived in Australia for the last 11 years. I am urgently trying to bring to the world’s attention the increasingly desperate plight of Baha’is in Iran. Members of the Baha’i Faith have been systematically persecuted for more than the last three decades.  There is mounting evidence that the authorities have begun gradually, yet systematically, to imprison Baha'is who had been arrested in previous years for terms ranging from one to ten years. Most notably there are the seven individuals who formed the national leadership of the Baha’i community, known as the Friends in Iran. After two years in prison they were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and on appeal, their sentences were reduced, but still remain for 10 years. Another case in point is the summoning over the past few months of seven of nine Baha'is who had been arrested in Mashhad in 2005 and who had been released on bail. They must now begin serving out their sentences, most ranging from terms of two to five years.  One of them is my sister.  That such action is not being taken all at once, but rather spread out over a period of months, may be a deliberate effort to avoid drawing international attention to the widespread imprisonment of Baha'is throughout the country.  Their only crime is their Faith!  

Rozita Vasseghi in prison since March 15, 2010 in IranRozita Vasseghi in prison since March 15, 2010 in IranWhen the revolution happened in Iran and the new government took power in 1979, most people lost their freedom. Baha’i people in particular were persecuted – many were tortured and imprisoned; some two hundred lost their lives. Our right to work, study, worship and live normal human lives as Iranian citizens was taken from us. Our only crime was to be a Baha’i.  

The experiences endured by my family and me over the years may serve to reflect the experiences of the whole Baha’i community in Iran. Before the revolution my father worked in the courts. After the revolution he had to retire. And the new government sent a letter to him stating that he had worked with honesty and encouragement.  Then when he had retired, the government stopped his retirement benefits and demanded repayment of salaries paid by the previous and current government.  My mother’s shop was seized along with her inheritance. They didn’t allow my sisters or me to continue our study at university. We were all forced to leave our home which was confiscated for a long time.

“Fear is not strange to us but to be brave is a part of us. While ignorance and blind law have power over the world there can be no true friendship, peace and hope for a better life.”

Rozita VasseghiRozita VasseghiThe new government took from me and others everything we had built for our future. They took our freedom and the best time of our lives which we longed to enjoy like all other young people in the world.  They turned people against Baha’i people.  I still remember when, as a young girl, my classmates beat me in the street. Most importantly they took from us the right to have a normal life with our families and took our country from us. Some people, like me, have had to live in exile with a broken heart and profound sadness because we are exiled so far from our family and those whom we love. 

But personally, even after all that has been done to me, my family and others, I cannot hate the persecutors. But I abhor the madness of their actions.

I left my country Iran and went overseas to try to escape the horrific memories of life in prison which still haunt me every day of my life. I was very unhappy in a strange new country and longed to go back.  But the Iranian Authorities not only persecuted me in Iran, they also drove me out of my country and slammed the door behind me – I was never allowed to return and I became homeless in strange countries. It took me a long time to find myself, to overcome my anger about people in authority and to look around to see what I could do. Life was not easy in this foreign country, without knowing the language and without resources. And I could not rid my mind of what those people had done to me.

Rozita VasseghiRozita VasseghiI remember it was 1986. One day I was in a public taxi when one of the passengers started talking about different religions and criticising them. Everyone agreed with him and I only said: “I am a Baha’i and as a Baha’is we must love all people and respect everyone.”

Suddenly the taxi stopped and the driver demanded that the other passengers leave his taxi and I was to stay with him. Then he took his wireless phone (usually used by the police) from his coat pocket and said something that I really didn’t understand. Within a few minutes, our taxi was blockaded by several patrol cars, and a number of women, their faces covered, leapt from the cars and ran towards me. Before I could say anything, they covered my eyes with a black cloth and dragged me into one of the patrol cars which moved off. After some time the car stopped and I heard the heart-rending sound of an iron roller door being raised and the car moved forward. It sounded like the car was moving through a long tunnel, when a few minutes later it stopped. The female who was sitting on my right side took hold of my hand with a piece of cloth (refusing to have contact with me because of my Faith) and tried to pull me out of the car. Suddenly another woman on my left pushed me with all her power and I was catapulted from the car. Pain spread throughout my body. I brought my knees to my head and covered them with my arms and hands. I asked: “Why are you doing this to me?”  They told me: “Shut up. You are an infidel. You are unclean.”

Then they took both my hands and dragged me along the ground to some stairs. My body bumped up and down the stairs until we arrived in a room.  I heard the sound of a door closing and I thought that they had left me alone and nobody was there. I hoped I could open my eyes. I began to move my arms, when suddenly I was struck by their hands and they kicked me. I pleaded with them: “Please don’t beat me, please.”  Again they said: “Shut up, infidel. We must root out all Baha’is from the earth. You are an infidel and your blood is impure and doing anything with infidels is Halal.”

Rosa VasseghiRosa VasseghiSuddenly, I could not see anything.  The world went black and I became unconscious.... When I opened my eyes I was in a small, dark cell. Alone I was. I felt pain in every part of my body and I smelled of blood. I was very hungry and thirsty. My voice was suffocated in my throat; I was unable to utter a sound, not even to cry. I heard other voices of women and girls who screamed out and asked for help... there was not any hope..... It was the worst experience of my life.   Until today I cannot understand why these people attacked me, my family and other Baha’is, and destroyed our lives. I know that people are different from one another physically and emotionally and have different talents and capacities, but we are all human beings. I have tried to find answers to my questions: “Could having a Faith be a crime? And why is that? Why is the recognition of the oneness of humanity, loving people and looking for the world peace a crime? What are our rights as humans?”

In 2005 they arrested my sister, Rozita Vasseghi, who was imprisoned for nearly one month (27 days); her only crime was to be a Baha’i. The authorities asked for her bail, 50,000,000 Iranian money (equal to around USD 52,000), and we awaited her court hearing. My mother put her house up for bail and Rozita was released from prison.  Authorities went many times to their house and confiscated many things belonging to my sister. My mother is in her seventies and had to witness this persecution.

Rozita and Rosa VasseghiRozita and Rosa VasseghiThen in January 2010 in Mashhad, they summonsed Rozita and eight other Baha’is and read to them their court decision, refusing to allow them to have copies.  My sister and her friends all received 5 year jail sentences and are forbidden to leave Iran for 10 years. They gave them 21 days to appeal to the court. My sister and the others were charged with “teaching against the regime, taking action against national security, and teaching the Baha’i Faith, and insulting religious sanctities”. My sister and her Baha’i friends appealed their sentences. Their lawyers were not allowed to visit them when they were held in solitary confinement in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre nor attend court with them when they were called for questioning.

Suddenly on March 15th 2010, when Rozita’s cases was still under appeal, the authorities went to my mother’s house again, confiscated more of Rozita’s belongings and took her into custody. Even though my mother had just had an operation, she went to many places searching for her daughter, asking why she had been arrested. But the authorities never provided any convincing answers to my mother.  Almost two months after Rozita was arrested, on May 9th 2010, my mother found Rozita’s name listed in the normal prison system, whereas in reality she was still detained, in solitary confinement, in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Mashhad. The authorities informed my mother that the appeal by my sister and four of her friends to reduce their initial sentences was unsuccessful.

Rozita was held in detention for more than six months and my mother has been able to see her on only four brief occasions. During that time Rozita’s health was seriously deteriorating. My mother was shocked during one visit to see the physical condition of her daughter, although Rozita, with a smile, tried to hide her pain. Rozita was shivering all over even though it was very hot.

Rozita VasseghiRozita VasseghiTowards the end of September Rozita was moved from solitary confinement to the normal prison, where she has been with other women Baha’i prisoners. This means that my mother should be allowed to visit her regularly. We have learned, however, that four Baha’i women in prison in Mashhad are being treated very differently by the authorities. These women, including Rozita, have visits with family restricted; more limited phone contact with family; are held in their cells longer with fewer opportunities to go out of their cells during the day; do not receive the items, like warm clothes, which family bring to them; and they are being mistreated by the authorities.   When I learned that Rozita and another Baha’i woman were taken to court again recently, shackled by chains around their ankles, with new accusations about which we do not know, I wept with pain. Why are they being treated as though they are criminals, or murderers, when their only “crime” is to be a Baha’i?  Where is the justice? “I don't think that many of us can relate to their sad situation and yet it could be you, it could be me. I am a Baha'i so that could be me...indeed, one day they came to get me in my home and threw me in prison... that was me; it could be you.” We need to help and support each other otherwise one day maybe this will happen to you, regardless of what you believe or where you live.

At the moment we have many Baha’is in prison and many families, like my family, live in darkness. We all are exhausted and live with broken hearts and sadness.  We try to be strong, we hide our tears, but we know that we must ask you for your help.

Rosa VasseghiRosa VasseghiNow I need you to walk with me, to talk and write with me, to those who have created great cruelty to innocent human beings and who have caused great suffering to those whose only “crime” is their faith. You need to ask the authorities for their freedom. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Ask the authorities to allow Baha’i people to have normal lives like other people. Ask the authorities why they raid the homes of innocent Baha’is, searching their houses, taking personal property, taking members of the family away to prison. Ask the authorities why they allow teachers and classmates to harass innocent children while they are learning, only because they are born into Baha’i families. Ask the authorities why they have prevented Baha’i people from going to university. Ask the authorities why they are monitoring Baha’i people’s bank accounts and their phone calls and letters and close their businesses. Ask the authorities why they confiscate people’s property, destroy their holy places, destroy their cemeteries, and destroy their houses with bulldozers. And why they don’t allow the Baha’i people to practice their own religion like other people.  As most people know: The purpose of the Baha’i Faith is to unite all the races and peoples in the world. The Baha’i Faith is about world peace, the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, education for all, the elimination of prejudice … and it can’t have any involvement with partisan political issues.

As I have been imprisoned by Iranian authorities and have first-hand experience of the capabilities of these people and the conditions in prison, I am desperately concerned for the welfare of all Baha’is who are now in prison in Iran, including my sister. I seek your urgent assistance to expose to the world what is happening in Iran by raising the matter in your Parliament, in the media, in your organizations, expressing concern to the Iranian Ambassador in your country, or speaking out publicly and asking the government of Iran to repeal the prison sentence of all those who have been falsely imprisoned, including my sister, and to allow them to be free.

With many thanks
Rosa Vasseghi

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