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What could a 19th Century Persian Prophet and the world’s best-known human rights organization possibly have in common? Quite a bit, actually.
On May 28th and in the early morning of May 29th two related observances take place around the world – Amnesty International Day and the anniversary of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, the passing of the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith. These two seemingly disparate days relate directly to each other, not only because of Baha’u’llah’s lifelong commitment to justice and human rights, but because Amnesty International has recently increased its pressure on the Iranian government to free the Baha’i prisoners of conscience from their unjust confinement and restore the human rights of Iran’s largest religious minority.
Baha’u’llah, repeatedly persecuted, exiled, jailed and tortured for his progressive teachings, died in 1892. Forced out of Persia by its government and successively banished to Baghdad in 1852; then from Baghdad to Constantinople in 1863; then to Adrianople (now Istanbul) in 1867; and finally to the prison-city of Acre (Akka) in Palestine (now Israel) later in 1867; Baha’u’llah ultimately spent forty years as a prisoner of conscience. The Persian and Ottoman governments subjected Baha’u’llah to four decades of cruel and unusual punishment — not for any crime, but for promulgating the peaceful principles of a new Faith, which boldly challenged the orthodoxy and the power structure of the existing corrupt governmental and religious order.
The Baha’i teachings specifically say that Baha’u’llah underwent this terrible treatment, like all the Manifestations of God have undergone persecution, as a sacrifice for all humanity. Abdu’l-Baha said that Baha’u’llah:
…bore all these ordeals and calamities in order that our hearts might become enkindled and radiant, our spirits be glorified, our faults become virtues, our ignorance be transformed into knowledge; in order that we might attain the real fruits of humanity and acquire heavenly graces; in order that, although pilgrims upon earth, we should travel the road of the heavenly Kingdom, and, although needy and poor, we might receive the treasures of eternal life. For this has He borne these difficulties and sorrows. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 28.
Tragically, the dynamic of persecution, imprisonment and execution still obtains for the Baha’is in Iran. More than a hundred Baha’is, including infants and the elderly, are currently being held in Iranian prisons — for the sole crime of being Baha’is.
Baha’u’llah’s teachings emphasize the sanctity of the human rights of all people. Baha’is believe in the independent investigation of truth and the absolute freedom of everyone to worship as they wish. And because Baha’u’llah suffered so much and for so long in prison and exile, Baha’is call for fairness and justice for all innocent victims of unjust treatment and prisoners of conscience everywhere.
Adding their respected voice to the global outcry, Amnesty International has recently ratcheted up international pressure on the government of Iran’s persecutions of the Baha’is by supporting the Education Under Fire project and the documentary film of the same name. The film, as reported on the Amnesty International website, “made with the participation of Amnesty International, highlights one of the many injustices facing Iran’s Baha’i community – their systematic exclusion from the right to pursue higher education. The film recounts how, in the face of these prohibitions, the Baha’i community established an underground university called the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) to provide an alternative form of education…”
Screenings of this important Amnesty-supported documentary have already taken place at events around the world, and those events will continue in thousands of other communities as the campaign grows. If you would like to see the film, join the human rights campaign and assist in protecting the Baha’is and other religious minorities and prisoners of conscience in Iran, please contact your local Baha’i community for more information.
“The best-beloved of all things in my sight is justice….”
Baha’is and their friends will remember that powerful injunction when they gather to commemorate Baha’u’llah’s passing tonight; and Baha’is everywhere urge all humanity to advocate for those who suffer injustice.
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