[Newspaper:] The Star

[Date:]  Saturday, 2 July 1983


Baha'i women martyred

Colin Smith reports from Haifa


Before the Revolutionary Guards bound their hands and led them to the gallows at Shiraz prison, Shirin Dalvand and Zarin Muqimi, two women in their early twenties, prayed for the last time.

As they prayed, they faced west towards their faith's holiest shrine, a place most Iranian Bahais have seen only in coloured photographs.

A short distance away from the old Crusader citadel of Acre, a large, circular garden called Bahai [Bahji] surrounds the last home and mausoleum of Mírza Hussain Ali, a 19th century Persian nobleman known to his followers as Baha' U' Ullah [Baha'u'llah] (the Glory of God).

He spent most of his life in exile and much of it in prison as the prophet of the world's newest monotheistic religion.

Bahai [Bahji] means delight. With its velvet lawns, aromatic jacaranda, Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, flame trees, and little borders of grey-green thyme around flower beds shaped in nine-pointed stars, it expresses the Persian love of intricate gardens.

It is a pretty place for two young women to try to conjure up while the hangman prepares them for the gallows.

They were among a group of 10 Bahai women, including two teenagers, to be hanged recently in Shiraz. Eleven of their menfolk were executed the previous month in the same jail. An appeal by the 100,000-member Bahai community in the United States persuaded President Ronald Reagan to make a personal plea for mercy, but this seemed only to harden Ayatollah Khomeini's resolve. "We wonder since when Reagan cares so much for human beings," Tehran Radio quoted him as saying.

Although accused of being Zionist agents, all the condemned are reported to have been given four chances to save themselves by recanting. All refused.

Since the clergy came to power in Iran four years ago, at least 170 Bahais have been among the 5,000 or so Iranians known to have been executed, according to Amnesty International. It is uncertain how many more of the community, estimated to be about 300,000 strong, have been murdered by rural vigilantes whose zeal is often tinged by desire for Bahai property.

A peasant woman, burned alive on the same night as her husband, lived long enough to identify her attackers as her neighbours. Some corpses of executed Bahais are alleged to have shown signs of torture, including broken limbs, crushed fingers, disembowelment, branding and electrode burns.

Since Bahai marriage is not recognized in Iran, married women are sometimes treated as prostitutes, itself a capital offence. Virgins have been forced to marry Muslim men.

Once a member of a Bahai family has come to the attention of the Revolutionary Guards, there is seldom any respite. There is at least one recorded instance of the guards demanding payment for bullets they used to kill the head of a household.

The Bahai faith, which claims two million members in 173 countries, is based on the preaching of a Persian merchant known as the Bab (Gate). They have no clergy, and say Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, the Bab and the Baha 'U' Ullah [Baha'u'llah] were "divine educators" in humanity's route to enlightenment.

In some ways the Bahais are utopian, with a liking for fine architecture and gardens. Like Khomeini, they have puritanical views on alcohol, chastity and the sanctity of family life. Unlike Khomeini's, their religion forbids participation in politics, and they believe in female emancipation and monogamy.

Almost since the inception of their religion, the Bahais have been persecuted in Persia. It happened in the early part of the Shah's reign, when he wanted to appease the Muslim clergy. Later the Bahais gained some influence at court, and they have been paying for this ever since.

The Bab was executed in Tabriz in 1850 by a regiment-strong firing squad whose bullets are said to have mangled his body – and that of a disciple who chose to die with him – but left his face intact.

In the same period, about 20,000 of his followers are estimated to have died. Contemporary prints show some having stakes driven through them and others sawn to death, limb by limb, by carpenters.

The Bab's bones are buried in the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab on the green slopes of Mount Carmel above Haifa, the port directly across a broad sweep of bay from Acre. They were put there in 1909 after the Young Turks' revolution gave freedom to all religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire.

The shrine and the nearby Universal Hall of Justice, which was completed this year at a cost of R25 million, has 58 fluted Corinthian columns of hand-carved Greek marble, each 10m tall. Bahais believe the Hall of Justice will house the United Nations when mankind comes to its senses.

At least 271 Bahais are in jail in Iran. Of these, 58 are in Shiraz prison. According to the secretariat, 22 of the Shiraz prisoners were originally sentenced to death, but none was told until the last moment who was to die. Now 21 have been executed. Any of the survivors could be the next to go, so all must suffer the agony of the condemned.







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