Honoring Mahvash Sabet: Day One of the #7Bahais7years campaign

From the: Baha’i International Community –

United Nations Office

Posted: NEW YORK—14 May 2015

Today is the day the world will honor Mahvash Sabet, who has been wrongfully imprisoned soley for her religious beliefs since 2008, as part of the global “Seven Days in Remembrance of Seven Years in Prison for the Seven Baha’i Leaders” campaign.

Ms. Sabet, 62, was the first of the seven leaders to be arrested that year. She was apprehended while visiting Mashhad on 5 March 2008. Although she resides in Tehran, she had been summoned to Mashhad by the Ministry of Intelligence, ostensibly on the grounds that she was required to answer questions related to the burial of an individual in the Baha’i cemetery in that city.

A teacher and school principal who was dismissed from public education for being a Baha’i, Ms. Sabet had been director of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, prior to her arrest.

Since her arrest, and throughout her imprisonment, Ms. Sabet has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. In an interview, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was herself imprisoned for three weeks in the same cell as Ms. Sabet, described the conditions they faced in early 2009 – and the response of Ms. Sabet and her cell mate, Fariba Kamalabadi, another of the seven Baha’i leaders.

“Fariba and Mahvash were two of the women prisoners I met in Evin who inspired me the most,” said Ms. Saberi. “They showed me what it means to be selfless, to care more about one’s community and beliefs than about oneself.”

At that time, Ms. Saberi said the two Bahá’í women were confined in a small cell about four meters by five meters in size, with two little, metal-covered windows.

“They have no bed. They must sleep on blankets,” said Ms. Saberi. “They have no pillows, either. They roll up a blanket to use as a pillow. They use their chadors as a bed sheet.

“The floor is cement and covered with only a thin, brown carpet, and prisoners often get backaches and bruises from sleeping on it.”

Despite such conditions, Ms. Sabet has been able to summon the strength to write poems about her experiences in prison – poems that were composed on scraps of paper and sent out via friends and family. In 2013, they were published as a book, “Prison Poems.”

In one poem, she wrote, “My heart aches for you do not seem to know / The worth of that subtle inner star. / If only you could see the lovely one / Who lies prostrate in who you think you are.”

PEN International, the global writer’s group, has championed her cause, identifying Ms. Sabet as one of hundreds of imprisoned writers around the world.

“One of the remarkable things about Mahvash is the degree to which she has put her time in prison to good use, by writing poems and also serving other prisoners by counselling them and helping them to be strong in the face of adversity,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

Born Mahvash Shahriyari on 4 February 1953 in Ardestan, Ms. Sabet moved to Tehran when she was in the fifth grade. In university, she studied psychology, obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

She began her professional career as a teacher and also worked as a principal at several schools. In her professional role, she also collaborated with the National Literacy Committee of Iran. After the Islamic revolution, however, like thousands of other Iranian Baha’i educators, she was fired from her job and blocked from working in public education.

It was after this that she became director of the BIHE, where she also has taught psychology and management.

She married Siyvash Sabet on 21 May 1973. They have a son and a daughter.

Ms. Sabet was one of seven who formed the entire membership of the now-disbanded ad hoc group known as the “Yaran” or “Friends,” tending to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i community in the absence of formally elected Baha’i leadership, which was banned in 1983.

The names of the others are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm. The other six were arrested on 14 May 2008, which is why the campaign to commemorate all of them begins today.

In 2010, the seven were tried and wrongfully convicted on charges of “espionage” and “spreading propaganda against the regime,” among other false accusations. They were sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest terms of any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.

The campaign to remember them will run until 21 May 2015. Events are being planned around the world by Baha’i communities and others to call attention to the plight of the seven, along with the wrongful imprisonment of some 90 other Baha’is in Iran – as well as other prisoners of conscience there.
Each day in the next seven days, a different leader will be commemorated. Tomorrow, 15 May, the campaign will focus on the situation of Fariba Kalamabadi.

“Our hope is that people around the world will organize spirited actions, reach out to governments and society at large, and involve friends and family in an effort to draw attention to the situation of each member of the seven on the day designated for him or her,” said Ms. Dugal.

The campaign will make extensive use of social media to disseminate information about events as they happen, and to publicize the situation of the seven generally. To that end, a special hashtag has been designated for the campaign: #7Bahais7years

Facebook event pages in English (https://www.facebook.com/events/1638889016341780/permalink/1641771712720177/) and Persian have been set up as rallying points for the campaign.

A campaign website with background information about the seven Baha’i leaders and other prisoners of conscience in Iran has also been created at: www.bic.org/7Bahais7years

(NOTE: I did not write this post. I copied it directly from the Baha’i International Community – United Nations Office website: https://www.bic.org/news/Honoring-Mahvash-Sabet-Day-One-7Bahais7years-campaign. Please pass this information onto your network so these types of injustice can be stopped.)

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