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Death in the name of religion (The Herald Glasgow - 9/4/1995)

          The Herald (Glasgow), September 4, 1995
          Copyright 1995 Caledonian Newspapers Ltd.
          The Herald (Glasgow)
          September 4, 1995
          SECTION: Pg. 8
          LENGTH: 897 words
          HEADLINE: Death in the name of religion. In the early eighties fundamentalists
          attempted to wipe out Iran's largest religious minority. Stephen McGinty describes
          one woman's fight for her faith
          BYLINE: Stephen Mcginty
          LI1TLE Mona kissed the rope that hanged her. The 17-year-old student had asked to
          be the last of 10 Iranian women sentenced to death because of their belief in Baha'i.
          Her wish was granted and as Aktar, Izzat, Mahshid, Nusrat, Tuba, and Roya, Tahirih,
          Simm, and Shirin walked to their death she prayed to Baha'ullah, the founder of the
          The arrival of the red blindfold and the quick walk to the gallows Wa sthe end of
          short life and long interrogation for Mona, whose only crime had been theY teaching of
          B aha'i child en's classes For two months she had been tortured and interrogated
          with 100 other; women at the Sepah Prison in Tehran in a bid to break their belief
          The bid failed.
          The trap-door dropped. The 10 women died. All on June 18, 1983.
          In a time of anniversaries including yE-Day, the liberation of Belsen, the end of the
          Vietnam War, Sunday will pass unnoticed. Only the few hundred Scots who follow
          the Baha'i faith will remember the women in their prayers. And remeber too that
          religious intolerance continues worldwide.
          Recently the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Edinburgh welcomed Olya
          Roohizadegan to speak. Mrs Roohizadegan survived the interrogation and escaped to
          write the story of the women and Iran's persecution of the Baha'is in her book,
          Olya's Story. Hollywood is still tinkering with it.
          In the early eighties Iranian fundamentalists attempted to wipe out Iran's largest
          religious minority. The Baha'i faith, which preached religious unity, oneness of
          humanity and equality between the sexes, was branded subversive by Iran's clergy.
          Homes were torched, beatings administered, and hundreds of Baha'is were executed
          or killed by mobs.
          All followers were refused employment and education Educated women re
          targeted to be tortured until they recanted “All we had to do was recant our faith,”
          said Olya Roohizadegan, “But how could you deny what is true, what you knowlr
          your heart?” BP000262
          It was a question met with silence from a crowded room. In the chaplaincy centre of
          Edinburgh University members of Scotland's Baha'i community -- had joined with
          interested students to hear the story of one remarkable woman and through her, the
          story of the hanged 10.
          Olya escaped to Britain in 1985, testified before the European Commission for
          Human Rights, and published her book in 1993. Today she works as a freelance
          beautician and hairdresser, while travelling the world giving talks in sincere but
          slightly broken English. It is, she said, her duty to her lost friends (she carries their
          Olya is always at pains to stress the ordinariness of her friends. How each had a wish
          to eat ice cream, visit relatives, even dine at a restaurant if they were released. Yet
          none of them would utter the simple words which the uneducated Islamic guards
          wished, despite being beaten by electric cables.
          Mrs Nosrat Yaldai saw her son, an economics graduate, hanged and was herself
          beaten with cables 250 times and spent 55 days in solitary confinement. Just one
          women broke down when her young child was shown to her for the last time, her
          captors claimed. She recanted.
          The interrogators attempted the same tactics with Olya. Her three-year-old son
          Payam was brought before her and the judge, who asked that she take pity on her
          child. “I love him very much, but I will never recant my faith.” The judge wrote on
          her file in red ink. “Sentenced to death. To be Hanged.”
          “In prison I saw light in darkness. In prison there was no material life just spiritual
          life, it made me more strong because I was so close to God, it completely changed
          me. It is why I wrote this book. I'm not against the Iranian Government, I forgive
          them, I pray for them.”
          Olya's tenuous release was secured only when her husband put up their house as a
          security bond. But it was a plot to trap other Baha'is using Olya as bait. Instead
          husband, wife, and young son fled over the mountains to Pakistan and begged
          refugee status at the United Nations office in Karachi. Their flight had taken six days
          and nights. But the worst was over.
          “Leaving my friends was terrible. I thought: Oh my God! How can I leave them? But
          one thing had a purpose to me, make me leave. Come out and tell the world, then
          they were all happy, believe me . . . And still their faces are clear in my mind, ‘Go
          Olya, go, give the message to humanity'.
          “I believe my God looked after me. But I felt bad when they came to release me. We
          go through same pain, same food, same cell, we share everything together. I wished
          we were all released . . . How can I leave them because they loved their lives. But
          they loved God more.”
          It was only upon reaching Karachi and the United Nations office that she learned the
          fate of her friends. “Eleven months later, we were granted asylum in Britain as our
          two older children were studying here.” It was her eldest son, Fuzlullah, now an
          engineer, who helped translate his mother's book. Though free in Britain, a noose
          hangs over her head in Iran, where her parents still live.
          During her talk Olya asked one young Scottish Baha'i to read a letter which Sharin, a
          graduate with perfect English, had written. She was imprisoned with both her
          parents, and described the prison as where “souls mightier than the walls lie
          Around the world the chains are still fastened.
          GRAPHIC: Olya Roohizadegan: “How could you deny what is true, what you know in
          your heart?” Picture: MIKE WILKINSON
          LOAD-DATE: September 7, 1995
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Tagged as:

Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience, Discrimination