[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN]
[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]
[Personal information has been redacted.]
[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]
[Adapted from website:] Gooya News
[Date:] 23 Shahrivar 1387 [13 September 2008]
Representative of the Baha’i Community at the United Nations: It is a Lie That Shirin Ebadi is a Baha’i, Shahrgon
Dian Ala’i in a conversation with the Shahrgon:
They want no one to dare to defend the Baha’is
Khosrow Shemirani [Kh. Sh.]
About four months ago, in the morning of Wednesday, 14 May 2008, the seven members [of the] Board of Trustees of the Baha’i Community of Iran were arrested and imprisoned.
As usual in the Iranian judiciary, the detainees were soon charged with acting for foreign services and, in this case, involvement in an illegal organization affiliated with Israel. Shortly after the arrest, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer and founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, took on the responsibility of defending the accused Baha’is. This action had its own consequences. Among them was the plan by some publications in Iran [to portray] Shirin Ebadi and her daughter as being Baha’is. Shirin Ebadi denied the allegations and at the same time stressed that she would not give up defending the detained Baha’is.
Shirin Ebadi’s insistence on continuing to defend imprisoned Baha’is triggered further provocations against her. These provocations have led many to worry about Shirin Ebadi’s life.
Shahrgon spoke with Ms. Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i representative to the United Nations in Geneva, about the charges against imprisoned Baha’is, the current situation of Baha’is in Iran, and the claim that Shirin Ebadi and her daughter were Baha’is.
Ms. Diane Ala’i, what is your latest news about the seven Baha’i prisoners?
“The fact is that the arrest of the seven-member Board of Trustees of the Baha’i Community of Iran, known as the ‘Yaran-e Iran’ [Friends of Iran], has heightened our concerns. The process of repression, which has intensified over the past three years, is entering a new phase every day. Earlier, dependent media outlets reported that seven Baha’is had ‘confessed’ to being members of an Israeli-affiliated organization. We deny this gross distortion of facts. Our latest news about the situation of the members of the ‘seven-member delegation’ is that they have been transferred from solitary confinement to a public ward and have been able to have a brief visit with their families.”
What about Mrs. Ebadi, their lawyer?
“No, they have not yet been allowed to meet with their lawyer, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi.”
You said that the pressure on the Baha’i community had entered a new phase. What do you mean?
“The point is that violence is on the rise. In the past month or two, their homes and properties have been deliberately set on fire. The Baha’i community is increasingly exposed to unwarranted arrests, detentions, interrogations, house searches, business deprivation, being barred from entering universities, and humiliation and insults in classrooms and schools. In addition, what is most worrying is that the propaganda that began three years ago to discredit the Baha’is continues in the media, and this in itself raises the incitement of the atmosphere of society against us. With this propaganda, they widen the distance between us and our compatriots and cause them to distrust us. Many Iranian officials constantly fabricate false accusations against the Baha’is and then by repeating them in the media they legitimize their fabrications and create an atmosphere of distrust and hatred towards us, but some officials repeatedly say that they are unable to keep Baha’is safe in the event of violence. They seem to be worried about the Baha’is, but this is not the case. The fact is that whenever there is a problem for the Baha’is and they turn to the authorities, they do not get any legal protection. So, if there is a word, there is no action to follow it.”
How do you see the discussions about Mrs. Shirin Ebadi and the pressures that are apparently being put on her?
“First, as a human being, I thank her. Secondly, I am very sorry that Mrs. Ebadi and her family have been put under pressure like this. On the one hand, our detained co-religionists are accused of overthrowing [the regime], and then Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and ombudsman of many human rights cases, is accused. In our opinion, this is another plan to deprive these people of the right to a lawyer, which is their natural right.”
Although Mrs. Ebadi and her daughter have denied joining the Baha’i Faith, I would like to ask you, as the representative of the Baha’i community at the United Nations, have Mrs. Shirin Ebadi or her daughter become Baha’i?
“The fact is that such discussions only began when Mrs. Shirin Ebadi and her colleagues were prepared to represent these Baha’i prisoners. The initiator of these statements was the same media outlet that had previously made false allegations about ‘the Baha’i community’s expressing its gratitude to Mrs. Ebadi and her colleagues.’ Immediately after these false stories, the press also published articles about Mrs. Ebadi’s daughter’s being a Baha’i. The point is that we do not hide our beliefs, and if Mrs. Ebadi’s daughter were a Baha’i, she would personally have said so; but both she and Mrs. Ebadi have strongly denied this, and the Baha’i International Community also acknowledges that she is not a member of the Baha’i community in any country. We issued a statement immediately after this allegation, which is still available on the Internet.” ((1))
What do you think is the reason for the allegation that Shirin Ebadi is a Baha’i?
“In my opinion, they want to incite fear and prejudice in society. But these methods are already well known. All along, any individual or group that has defended the rights of Baha’is has been immediately exposed to false accusations or threatened or intimidated. We are pleased that more and more individuals and groups are bravely beginning to stand up to these practices, and we see this as beneficial and necessary for the implementation of human rights in Iran.”
Recently, the issue of Baha’is’ being Zionists has been raised again. We know that the Baha’i centre is located in Israel. People ask, if you are not dependent on the Israeli government and the ideology of Zionism, how is it that you are given ample opportunities there and you can operate freely?
“Iranian officials are well aware that the establishment of the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa took place more than 130 years ago, and this was 75 years before the founding of the State of Israel. The fact is that in the nineteenth century, Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, was exiled by order of the Iranian and Ottoman authorities to a land that was not yet Israel. It is known that Israel was founded after World War II, and by that time the Baha’i World Centre had already been established in Haifa for many years.”
Iranian officials emphasize that the seven-member delegation has been in contact with Israel. Has there been such a connection?
“No. There has not been any contact with the Israeli government or any other Israeli organization. The case is that on 2 October 2007, the Defenders of Human Rights Center, chaired by Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, held a conference to raise awareness about all those deprived of their right to education. The Baha’is were just one of the groups whose status was raised at the conference. In a several-minute report, the Baha’i representative described the barriers to students’ education and continuing their university education. The media inside and outside the country covered the conference currents. The seven-member delegation in charge of the affairs of the Baha’is in Iran was also so pleased with this exemplary positive step that it informed the Universal House of Justice at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. This was quite a normal act. Then, on 21 November 2007, the Universal House of Justice responded and advised them to look for ways to connect with others who sympathize with the problems of the Baha’is and to continue to find legal ways to defend the rights of Baha’i students. Of course, it was also said that the Baha’i community in Iran should thank the Defenders of Human Rights Center.”
Has the whole affair with Israel been a correspondence between the Baha’is and their religious leaders in Haifa?
“Yes. The Iranian government uses every means to discredit the Baha’is. It creates a muddy atmosphere and catches fish for itself. At the same time, we know that Mrs. Ebadi is not the first person to be treated like this, and we are sure that she will not be the last person, either.”
Ms. Diane Ala’i, we thank you.
This interview took place on 11 September 2008
((1)) Read the text of the statement at the following address:
Link to this conversation in Shahrgon: