Faezeh Hashemi, 54, a daughter of the former
president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
visit by a daughter of a prominent ayatollah to a female leader of the
persecuted Bahá’í religious minority touched off a debate this week in Iran
about the harsh treatment of a group deemed pagans and impure by the country’s
was raised last week when the Iranian news media reported that Faezeh Hashemi,
54, a daughter of the former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,
had sat down for tea with Fariba Kamalabadi, 52, a Bahá’í leader.
Kamalabadi, was on temporary leave from a 20-year prison sentence imposed on
her and six other Bahá’í leaders for spying for Israel. The United States State
Department has condemned their imprisonment and called for their release along
with other “prisoners of conscience.”
with Iran’s conservative judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, called the
meeting “obscene and despicable,” and told reporters on Wednesday that he was
planning to take Ms. Hashemi to court.
and Ms. Kamalabadi became acquainted in 2013, when they shared a prison cell
after Ms. Hashemi was given a six-month sentence for “spreading propaganda
against the system.”
then, “I had no information about these people,” Ms. Hashemi said of the Bahais.
“But with the Islamic Republic imprisoning me, I became familiar with them, and
this opened another window in my life.”
Hashemi, one of Iran’s most prominent activists, is often shielded from
punishment by her powerful family connections. Once an outspoken lawmaker, she
started Iran’s first newspaper for women in 2000 and was the first female
member of the establishment to publicly ride a bicycle, long deemed religiously
unfit for women.
member of the Bahá’í faith, however, was one provocation too many. Even her
father criticized her for having tea with a member of the Bahais, whom he
called “heretics,” the semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Monday. “She
has committed a wrong deed and should be ashamed of herself,” he said.
were outraged, saying that meeting with Ms. Kamalabadi, a psychologist, was
“criminal.” One expert in religious ethics, Mahdi Tabataei, demanded an
“apology to the nation” from Ms. Hashemi.
The head of
Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, said that Ms. Hashemi faced
prosecution on national security grounds. “Socializing with them, especially
relatives of senior clerics and high-ranking officials, is damaging the norms,”
he said on Tuesday, the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency reported.
Hashemi told Euronews that she was “not sorry at all.” Discrimination in name
of religion and the oppression of the Bahais are wrong, she said. “We are
oppressive in Iran not only toward these but toward many,” she said to the
agency. “We should correct our behavior.”
people, even among the clergy, have risen to her defence. “They met in prison,
of course they can be friends,” said Fazel Meybodi, a reformist cleric from the
Shiite holy city of Qum. Noting that not all Islamic scholars agree that the
Bahais are spiritually impure, he added: “These are just two humans meeting.
What is the problem?”
to Iranian Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, tolerated minorities who even
have representatives in Parliament; the Bahais have been persecuted in Iran
ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Their belief in another prophet after
Muhammad is anathema to Shiite Muslim clerics, who consider Muhammad the final
messenger of God.
about 300,000 Bahais worldwide. Their headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, another
reason Iranians distrust them. “The leader of their cult is Zionism,” the head
of Iran’s paramilitary Basij organization, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi,
said on Monday. “Supporting them means being a lackey of the Zionists.”
they are considered impure, Bahais are not allowed to pursue higher education
or to become civil servants. However, with the rising influence of the urban
middle class, dogmatic religious edicts of the sort used to marginalize the
Bahais have come under pressure.
“It is not
clear why Bahais in Iran do not have the right to work or an education, and
should be imprisoned,” Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran University professor and
outspoken activist told a news website on Tuesday. “Did Prophet Muhammad order to
imprison anyone who is not a Muslim yet or a nonbeliever?”