Only three degrees of separation –
We’ve all heard of “six degrees of separation” – the theory that any person in the world can be connected to any other person within just six relationships. Well, the world is shrinking. Grave injustices that often seem distant from the freedom and opportunities afforded to us here in the US are much closer than you think – in this case, only three degrees. I am a lifelong Columbia, SC, resident, and my oldest daughter graduated from Dreher High School in 1993. The following excerpt is from a letter written by her husband, my son-in-law, who escaped from Iran when he was only 17 years old. His sister Fariba, who is currently imprisoned in Tehran for providing university education to Baha’i youth, is scheduled to go to trial along with six other Iranian Baha’i leaders on October 18, 2009. They are being held in horrible conditions, and they likely face execution, though their only “crime” is holding true to the beliefs and practices of their religion. Please help increase awareness of this terrible violation of human rights by circulating this e-mail and by contacting members of your state delegation and the US State Department to request attention to this urgent matter. The injustice may be in your backyard next.
Thank you for your help.
US Department of State
Main Switchboard – 202-647-4000
You may be aware that in spring of 2008, seven leaders of the Baha’i community were arrested in Iran and have been held since without bail under terrible conditions in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. After months of cramped solitary conﬁnement and more than a year of severe malnutrition, illness, and mistreatment by guards, charges such as “insulting religious sanctities” and “propaganda against the Islamic republic” were ﬁnally brought against them. Though the accusations are completely baseless, the seven prisoners may face the death penalty at their trial, which is scheduled for October 18, 2009. Despite this pretense of judicial due process, not only have the authorities systematically denied them access to “evidence”, but also their lead defense lawyer was imprisoned while Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has had to flee to Europe after threats to her life and raids on her office because of her involvement in this case.
Sadly, I am all too familiar with their desperate situation since one of the seven prisoners, Fariba Kamalabadi, is my sister.
The Iranian authorities have a long history of persecuting the more than 300,000 Baha’is in Iran by denying them basic rights – such as access to employment and education – that are aﬀorded to other religious minorities such as Christians and Jews. My sister Fariba has devoted her life to supporting the Iranian Baha’i community, speciﬁcally by administering a Baha’i institution for higher education in deﬁance of the ban on higher education for Baha’is. Although her brave and principled leadership has led to numerous raids, arrests, and harassment over the years, the recent actions by the Iranian authorities against her and the other six leaders of the Baha’i community are nonetheless unprecedented in scope and tragic in their potential consequences.
I share my sister’s deep commitment to the education of young people and her unwavering belief in tolerance and freedom. Unlike my sister, however, I was fortunate enough to escape Iran in 1984 and come to the United States as a refugee, ultimately gaining naturalized citizenship in 1991. I am profoundly grateful for the vast opportunities that this great country has oﬀered me, and I have strived to become the exemplary citizen that such circumstances warrant. I take pride in having achieved the status of professor at the ﬂagship institution of our state’s (Illinois) higher educational system in a department ranked second in the nation. My personal accomplishments are nonetheless bittersweet when I reﬂect on the unrelenting oppression my sister has faced for eﬀorts similar to mine, and it saddens me that while I ﬂourish in a society conducive to such success, she instead suﬀers unjust and inhumane treatment and awaits possible execution.
I believe that public awareness played a signiﬁcant role in the recent release of the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi,who was arrested by the Iranian authorities in January, 2009, and in fact shared a cell with my sister during her imprisonment. While I applaud the eﬀorts of Rep. Mark Kirk in introducing a bipartisan resolution condemning Iran’s persecution of Baha’is, I feel that further action is needed to magnify the voices of concerned Americans on this issue before the trial takes place on October 18. I appeal to all who appreciate their freedom and their right to access higher education to pay special attention to this serious and urgent matter. It could truly be a matter of life or death.
With great appreciation for your time and eﬀorts, and greater hope for a more just and peaceful world –“
Dr. Farzad Kamalabadi
Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Illinois