Persian2English – Mahshid Nirumand’s sister, tells Rooz that her sister was executed after spending six months and 20 days in prison. She says: “The reason for my sister’s execution was her belief in the Baha’ì faith. Their excuse, however, was that she provided children with religious teachings. My sister had studied Physics in university but was not granted a degree because she was a Baha’ì. She used to teach ethics and prayer to Baha’ì children. That was the pretext for her arrest. They came to our home and they were confused which of the three sisters to arrest. They left, came back and said, ‘the one who had studied Physics should come with us.’ They took my sister.”
She continues: “Before the execution, [the Iranian authorities] had asked my sister and other [Baha’ì detainees] to give up their religious belief. They had explicitly told them that they [could convert to Islam and be released]. On Saturday, the day before the execution, we went to visit my sister. We weren’t aware they were planning to execute [them] the next day. Still, the ambience of that visit was one of farewell. My sister told us that they had asked her to convert to Islam. Her response had been, ‘I believe in my own religion.’ They asked her to repeat her belief four times, and she did. That’s why they executed her.”
[Fereshteh Ghazi] asks Mehrnoush Nirumand how her family was informed of the execution and what happened to her sister’s body. She replies: “The day after our visit they had executed them. We learned of it incidentally. My father went to retrieve my sister’s body but they weren’t returning the bodies to the families. [The response of the Iranian authorities was]: ‘We will bury their bodies the same way we sent them to hell.’ They had buried them with the same clothes they had on at the time of execution. They did not perform any ceremony and did did not tell us where they had buried them. However, the location of our [Baha’ì] cemetery was evident. There was an area with the dirt dug out of the ground with a bulldozer. They had buried the five mothers and seven daughters in a mass grave in that area.”
Mehrnoush Nirumand adds that there was no trial held for her sister and the others who were executed along with her. She says: “There was no official trial. They had asked them to convert to Islam. My sister had replied: ‘Based on our religious beliefs, we accept all divine religions. We believe in Islam and Prophet Muhammad.’ However, they insisted that she reject her religion. They said that if [she and the others] became Muslim they would be released. They were true to their words. Whoever had converted were released. When my sister was in prison we had gone to see all legal authorities and voiced our grievances. Most of them told us that it is not their place to get involved. They were aware that my sister and the others had no political activities. Based on our religious beliefs, we do not take part in political activities. They were executed solely for their religious beliefs.”
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad’s sister, Mona Mahmudnizhad, and their father were executed within three months of each other.
Fereshteh Ghazi: Could you tell us why Mona was executed? Was she involved in any particular activities?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: Mona was only 16 years old when she was executed. She was a high school student, and her writing skills were strong. She had been writing very interesting essays. She was having some problems with her [Islamic] religious studies and Islamic Nurturing* (an official in an Iranian school who is responsible to ensure students are educated according to the ideology of the Islamic Republic) teachers. The [teachers had told] Mona: ‘You are discussing your own beliefs.’ Mona would reply: ‘This is my belief. Why shouldn’t I be able to talk about it?’ One day, they had to write an essay on the topic of “Islam is a tree and its fruit is freedom.” In her essay, Mona wrote: ‘Allow me to use this fruit of freedom and talk about my beliefs.’ Her teacher was not pleased with this essay. When the school ended for the day the [school officials] kept her and asked our parents to go to the school. The school officials told Mona: ‘You should change your beliefs. Your beliefs are wrong.’ She had replied: ‘Do not insult [my beliefs]. Give reasons for your arguments.’ We brought Mona home from school that day. However, in the matter of a few days, on October 21, 1982, they came and arrested her at home. My mother noticed a piece of paper with Mona’s name and several other Baha’is on it in the hand of one of the Revolutionary Guard members. They had been spying on Mona before arresting her. She was under surveillance anywhere she went. Mona used to say: ‘I haven’t done anything. They can follow me around; it doesn’t bother me.’”
Fereshteh Ghazi: What was Mona’s charge or accusation? What was the reason they gave for her arrest?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: In those days they wouldn’t announce the charges. The circumstances were different. The ambience during the 1980s was very particular.
Fereshteh Ghazi: How old were you back then? Were you aware of what was going on?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: I was 22 years old, married, and had a child less than a year old. My child began to walk for the first time in the prison visitation hall. They had arrested Mona and my father together, so my mother and I were following up with both of their cases.
Fereshteh Ghazi: What did you do after Mona and your father were arrested? Did your follow ups succeed?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: We visited the office of the Shiraz Friday Prayer Imam. We had written a letter of grievance and requested from the [Iranian officials] to let us know why they were arrested. I went to the Parliament in Tehran and requested to meet with the Shiraz deputy (MP), but he refused to see me. We went to Beheshti’s [The head of the Supreme Judicial Council]. We went to the office of Ayatollah Montazeri in Qom. We went anywhere we could think of, and we acted. The only response we received was: ‘[The detainees] should just say they are Muslim and they will be released.’ We explained that they accept Islam. They replied ‘It is not acceptable this way. They should convert to Islam.’ When my mother was released she said that the Shiraz Prosecutor had come and told [the Baha’i prisoners] that they had four chances in four different stages of investigation to convert to Islam. They had to either [convert to Islam] or face the gallows. We heard the same thing everywhere we went.”
Fereshteh Ghazi: You referred to your mother’s release. Can you explain why your mother was detained?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: My mother was arrested on January 4th, 1982. In the interrogations they would ask the arrested who they were cooperating with. I should mention that [the Baha’i community] takes care of their own administrative work, like for marriages and group burials. Our kids were not engaged in any political activity. They had nothing to hide. They were involved in day-to-day affairs. That is why when they were asked about who they were working with in the marriage group they provided the names. They had asked my dad the same question, and he had said his wife’s name. When my mother went to follow up with the case of my father and Mona, the interrogator told her: ‘Stay here. I have a few questions for you.’ My mother replied that she was not a prisoner and did not have to stay. The interrogator replied: Wait here and I will go write up the arrest warrant right now.’ To my mother’s disbelief they issued the arrest and detention warrant right there and then. It was a Thursday. My mother had told them: ‘My family does not know what happened here. Let me go home.’ They did her the favour and let her go home. My mother presented herself to the prison the following Saturday. She spent more than five months in prison. She was released five days before Mona’s execution. In fact, my mother’s sentence, according to the Sharia Judge, was: ‘We will kill your daughter and husband and keep you alive so that you live the rest of your life mourning them.’
Fereshteh Ghazi: You said that your father was arrested along with Mona. What was the charge and accusation against him?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: My father was a Muslim who had converted to the Baha’I faith. In the eyes of the authorities and according to Islamic rules, his sentence was death [for converting his religion]. Additionally, they were claiming that he was preaching Baha’i beliefs. My father was a member of the “Mahfel” (Assembly); this is the reason for the accusation. I have to mention that, every year, we elected, through a voting process, nine people to take care of our community affairs. My father was one of the nine people who had been elected. Unfortunately, because the authorities had no knowledge of our community’s issues, they had problem with the term “Mahfel”. They believed it was an organization involved in political activities.
Fereshteh Ghazi: Based on what has been published in the news, your father and sister were executed within two days of one another?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: My father was executed on March 12, 1983 along with two other Baha’i prisoners, Tooba Gharreh Ghuzlu and Rahmatollah Vafayi. My sister was executed on June 18, 1983 along with nine other girls and women.
Fereshteh Ghazi: How did you learn about their executions?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: As for my father, we visited him one day before his execution. We had no idea [that they were planning to execute him]. We heard the next day that his body had been seen in the morgue. We went to the morgue along with my husband and uncle and confirmed that the news was correct. We visited my father on Saturday, one day before the execution, even though Wednesdays were the visitation days for male prisoners. They had not told us this would be the last visit. We had no idea they were planning to execute them. We found the climate very ominous, and we were worried bad events were about to take place. [As for my sister], when my mother went to inquire about her case, they told her: ‘We waited until the last person [before executing her] but this stubborn hard-headed girl did not convert to Islam.’
Fereshteh Ghazi: Did they give you the bodies?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: No, they did not. As for the men, we have no idea where their bodies are. We do not know whether they buried my father’s body or not. Some said that they might have given the bodies to the University of Shiraz [Medical School] for dissection, but we don’t really know. As for Mona and the other girls and women, they took their bodies to our cemetery which we called Golestan-e Javid (Eternal Garden). There is a piece of land where they have buried them in their clothes. However, we do not know the exact location of their burial.
Fereshteh Ghazi: I am sorry in advance for this question, but it is said that during the 1980’s, virgin girls were raped before execution. They would be made into a “Siqheh” or concubine and then *executed. Do you have any information on this issue?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: I am very sorry for all those dear girls who went through this experience. The Baha’I girls, however, were not subjected to this act because their belief in the [Baha’I faith] made them impure and untouchable. Consequently, their virginity did not matter to the officials. In the view of the officials, the Baha’I girls and women would go to hell anyway. Someone in the coroner’s office also confirmed back then that the girls were virgins following their execution.
Fereshteh Ghazi: What happened after the executions? Were you able to follow up with the cases and seek justice?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: No, it was the authorities that would do the follow ups! They kept asking us about the amount of property we owned and the location of these properties. We just had a small house; nothing else. We told them that we have nothing that they could confiscate and expropriate. They had executed [our loved ones] yet they would not let go. After they investigated and discovered that we had nothing, they left us alone. The climate and circumstances were not such that we could follow up. There was no rule of law to allow us to exercise our legal rights. My sister and father were executed, and we are waiting for the day that the authorities admit to their mistake.
Fereshteh Ghazi: Is there anything unsaid that you wish to add?
Taraneh Mahmudnizhad: Our children perished because of their belief in peace and universal and humane unity. They could have just said that they were Muslim and they would have stayed alive, but they chose to not give up their belief. They had not done anything. They were not political, nor were there any drugs or weapons found in our home. I hope the authorities, who I know are aware that they made a mistake, have the courage to admit their error. They know very well that, if allowed, the Baha’i community would serve the country without expecting anything in return. Our desire is the progress and prosperity of our country. I hope our compatriots do not alienate us. We did not fall from the sky or surface from the middle of the Earth. We are their compatriots. Our joy, sorrows, and pain are the same. Our concern is the progress and prosperity of our country. We just want to live in our own country comfortably. We are not asking for much.
* During the 1980s, and based on what seems to be a Fatwa (religious decree) from Ayatollah Khomeini, Muslim girls who were virgin were raped before their execution. The religious pretext for this act seemed to be the belief that girls who died a virgin would go to heaven. Thus, by raping them (the officials claimed these girls were their concubines and temporary wives through recital of a religious text; survivors claim there was no consent), they would prevent them from going to heaven. For an example, refer to this New York Times article.
Research for this report conducted by Teni Kenerakis