[Newspaper:] The Bulletin

[Date:] 26 May 1981


Baha'is victims of the Ayatollah's drive

By Greg Sheridan


Bizhan Vahdat is a softly spoken, 44-year-old, Iranian-born computer expert who has lived in Australia since 1967. He carries with him a great sadness, for in April this year his father was executed in Shiraz in Iran, charged only with the crime of membership of the pacifist Baha'i faith.

Bizhan's 79-year-old mother has been in an Iranian jail in Shiraz for 12 months. In that time she has suffered two strokes and her weight has gone from about 82.5 kilos to 44.5 kilos. Bizhan sends money to Iran so that food may be bought for his mother. Otherwise, he is sure, she would not have survived even until now. Bizhan's mother's only offence is, similarly, membership of the Baha'i faith.

Among the many perfidies of the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime in Iran perhaps the greatest has been the systematic persecution of religious minorities.

Christians and Jews could hardly be said to have had an easy time of things in Iran under the Ayatollah, but the group which has suffered the most has certainly been the Baha'is. The Baha'i faith broke away from Islam in the mid-19th century. Its home is Iran, and there are more than 200,000 Baha'is there. Because they broke away from Islam they are viewed by fanatical Moslems in a worse light even than Christians or Jews.

There is an active Baha'i community in Australia, numbering several thousands and spread throughout 350 different centres, with the headquarters located at their one Australian house of worship – a large, concrete, mosque-like temple in the northern Sydney suburb of Ingleside.

Australian Baha'is have been successful in getting the Australian Government to protest internationally against the treatment of their co-religionists in Iran. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Andrew Peacock met several Baha'i delegations, and instructed his department to call in the Iranian charge d'affaires to protest against the systematic persecution of Iranian Baha'is. The present minister, Tony Street, has also met a delegation of Baha'is.

On March 9 the Australian delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Right protested strongly against Iranian violations of human rights, and referred specifically to the Baha'is. On March 26 the Australian Senate unanimously passed a resolution deploring "the continued persecution of religious minorities in Iran, particularly the large community of Baha'is…"

Bizhan Vahdat's 28-year-old sister, a pathologist who is not allowed to work at her profession in Shiraz, obtained an interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini's brother-in-law, a prominent member of the Iranian Government, in Tehran, and was given a sympathetic hearing and a letter saying that Moslems should be tolerant of religious minorities including the Baha'is. When she presented this to the local authorities who were holding her father in Shiraz, they were outraged that a woman should have been so bold as to meddle in these affairs and she herself was jailed. She was not released until several days after her father had been executed.

This episode is indicative of the breakdown of authority within Iran. Bizhan stresses that the Baha'is have no political opposition to the government in Iran, but only want to obtain the freedom to practise their faith. There are more than 100 Iranian Baha'is in Australia, and all are desperately worried about the plight of their friends and families in Iran. Because of this fear, the Australian Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly had until recently forbidden them to speak to the Press. They now believe the situation to be so desperate that they must try to gain maximum publicity for their cause.

Bizhan Vahdat hopes that his mother will be released from jail, and that she and his sister will join him in Australia. It was his father's last wish.



































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