Faith leaders, MPs, relatives attend national forum for jailed Baha’i leaders

Faith leaders, MPs, relatives attend national forum for jailed Baha’i leaders

Australian relatives of imprisoned Baha'i leaders in Iran holding messages next to images of the leaders.

Representatives of the major religions in Australia made a dramatic contribution to a national forum in Sydney on 7 May which called for the release of seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran.


Each representative solemnly walked over to one of seven empty chairs on a stage in the NSW Parliament House and placed upon it a red rose in the name of one of the seven leaders. They then bowed their heads in respect.

The Baha’i leaders are now five years into a 20 year jail term. Their conviction and sentence has attracted worldwide condemnation including from the UN General Assembly, the Federal Parliament of Australia and counterparts worldwide, Amnesty International, and Nobel laureates.

The forum was preceded on 6 May by a call from Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, for the immediate release of the seven, a message that was read out to the gathering.

Before the leaders placed the roses on the chairs, each of them offered prayers or readings from their religious tradition.

The Muslim representative, the Imam of the Zetland mosque, Dr Amin Hady, chanted from the Quran.

The Senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, said : “We pray that Iran’s religious leaders will conduct themselves fittingly with morality, humanity and honesty."

The chairman of the Hindu Council of Australia, Professor Nihal Agar, said that the whole Hindu community of Australia is in support of the leaders. Professor Agar then read a prayer from the Hindu scriptures.

The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia, Reverend Tara Curlewis, prayed: “Holy God, our concern for the seven Baha’i leaders…has never faded… We pray for their families and the whole Baha’i community that you will keep them strong in their faith in the face of persecution and adversity.”

The secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia offered a prayer from the Baha’i writings calling on God to “strengthen and succour His servants”. 

Roses were also placed by Professor Abd Malak on behalf of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations, and by Mrs Josie Lacey representing Religions for Peace NSW. 

Global campaign

Master of Ceremonies, Ali Noroozi, explained that events with a similar purpose were being held in such diverse places as Canada, Brazil, Germany, India and the United States.

The forum was part of the international “Five Years Too Many” campaign, said Mr Noroozi, Australia’s Inspector-General of Taxation, who was attending in his private capacity as a member of the Baha’i community. 

In addition to faith representatives, the participants included Australian relatives of the imprisoned leaders, MPs, journalists, Baha’is and the general public.

In his welcome to the gathering, the Parliamentary host Pittwater MP Rob Stokes said the event was one where the participants would “pray, hope and weep together” over this “terrible travesty of justice”.

“When any of us are persecuted for our religious beliefs, we are all persecuted,” Mr Stokes said.

Representing NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, Mr Stokes welcomed the MPs from all political parties who attended the event. He then read a special message from the Premier which said in part: “We are lucky to have such a strong Baha'i community in NSW and I wish everyone involved in the national forum the very best.”

Relatives

Members of the audience were visibly moved during presentations by Australian relatives of the seven leaders.

Adelaide businessman Amin Tavakoli said his brother, Behrouz, was a psychologist specialising in helping children with mental and physical disabilities.

“The hands that once healed children and those hands that gave them hope now only grasp the cold metal bars of a prison cell….Maybe he will never walk out of prison alive … but if by any chance I was to see him alive I would hug him and hold him and whisper in his ear, 'Well done, my beloved brother, well done!' "

Melbourne pharmacist Roya Kamalabadi said of her sister Fariba, an educational psychologist: “I think of my sister Fariba every day.  She is in my heart and my mind. I am so proud of her.

“May we soon witness a universal outcry for the immediate and permanent release of those seven selfless innocent Baha’i leaders and other prisoners of conscience,” Mrs Kamalabadi said.

She also expressed her gratitude to the Australian Government, Parliament, people and media for efforts on behalf of the seven.

Ghodsieh Samimi said her niece, Mahvash Sabet, a school principal, has suffered serious health problems due to her imprisonment in harsh conditions.

“I hope one day everyone in the world can freely express their belief," she said.

Mehrzad Mumtahan, a Sydney filmmaker, said his uncle, Saeid Rezaie, had an agricultural engineering firm, which employed many people and gave expert advice to farmers. After his arrest, the authorities closed it down.

“I remember his respect and consideration for others, his love for classical music and for reading,”  Mr Mumtahan said.

“He was always fun to be around and was a source of knowledge,” said Mr Mumtahan. 

He then recited a poem by his uncle that had been composed in prison. Among the verses:

“When I saw you stride high, boundless like the wind,

I challenged my own limitations and doubts

And embraced the pain that was my lot

And I stood fast on the ground

Undeterred by the harshness of thorns and stones.”

Breach

The keynote speaker from the Australian Baha’i Community, Dr Natalie Mobini, outlined how the imprisonment of the seven was in breach of both Iranian and international law. 

“Iranian Baha’is seek no special privileges but ask only for the protection to which they are entitled under Iranian law and under the International Bill of Human Rights, a covenant to which Iran is party,” Dr Mobini said.

“Events like the one we are attending today and its counterparts overseas send the message that the world cares about what is happening to the Baha’is in Iran, and that it will hold the perpetrators to account.”

The event concluded with attendees being photographed next to life-sized images of the seven, an expression of solidarity that was soon sent around the world on social media.

View photos from the national forum

Watch the video from the Australian national forum, "Five Years Too Many".

Listen to SBS World News radio interview on the forum

Visit the official campaign site, "Five Years Too Many"






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