When speaking with a leader of the Baha’i community in Australia recently, our conversation inevitably turned to events in Iran.
In May 2008, seven leaders of this community were seized from their families, imprisoned and faced allegations of grave seriousness.
For 15 months, there have been regular indications that trials will occur and that people whose only real offence seems to be their religious beliefs will have the chance to mount legal defences.
But the Iranian regime is not only authoritarian and brutal, but almost unspeakably cruel.
Iranian prisons are renowned for their brutality, but the families and friends of these prisoners are undergoing the psychological torture of raised expectations, hints of judicial reason and prospects of an end to the unsavoury affair – only to have these dashed, over and over again.
Some apologists for Iran argue that this is simply the clerical fascists who run the country trying to “protect” the state religion.
However, as Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi noted, the Baha’is “have been willing to cooperate with Iran’s Shi’ite Islamic regime, but they refuse to surrender to pressure to abandon their beliefs, knowing the decisions they make could have far-reaching implications for the estimated 350,000 Baha’is and other religious minorities in Iran”.
Saberi spent four months in the prison where the Baha’i leaders are being held, also on spurious charges, and knows of the deprivation and terrors to which they are being subjected.
The Baha’i leaders, who have been denied access to legal counsel, face the death penalty if found guilty of the ludicrous charge of espionage.
It is not just religious minorities or dual nationals who are treated callously and cruelly by the self-appointed guardians of the version of Islam promoted by Iranian theocrats
In a recent interview, a member of the Iranian Basiji militia gave horrendous details of one of his jobs in furthering the moral code of the Ayatollahs.
As it is illegal in the Islamic Republic to execute a female virgin, the twisted and cruel rulers concocted a scenario of almost unspeakable horror.
If a virgin is due for execution, she is “married”, against her will, to a prison guard, who then rapes her so that she loses her immunity to judicial murder.
The Basiji interviewee stressed that he had not acted “illegally”, but felt some regret as young girls, often drugged to reduce their ability to defend themselves, “were more afraid of their ‘wedding night’ than their execution”.
In Sudan, journalist Lubna Ahmad Hussein is one of a number of women who faces fines and whipping, on the offence of “disgraceful behaviour”.
The “crime” the women committed was to wear modest, loose-fitting trousers as part of garments which completely covered their body.
As she wrote on her Facebook page, in most cases the effect of being charged under Clause 152 of Sudan’s criminal law is a “death sentence against the girl’s family”.
Hussein is fighting the injustice of the law by drawing media attention to her case – something denied the victims of Iran’s rule of terror.
In Bangladesh, a different group of self-righteous men acting to further another variety of an Islamist agenda have shown their cruelty in the treatment of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who was in court, again, in July, as part of his six year torment due to alleged “sedition”. A journalist, he has been repeatedly harassed, assaulted and hauled to court.
The “sedition” for which Choudhury faces the death penalty is based on his advocacy of tolerance of religious minorities, and promotion of better Muslim-Christian and Muslim-Jewish relations.
Choudhury’s case has been taken up by human rights groups and parliaments, including the US Congress and the Australian Senate, but the judges (who are also the prosecutors) have so far resisted all appeals to reason or justice.
The above are just a selection of some of the terrible cases of suffering inflicted by power-wielding fanatics who claim to be religiously righteous.
Their own actions condemn them, and demand condemnation and action from all genuine supporters of human rights.