Event highlights human rights in Iran

Shivam Purohit

NPR Reporter Roxana Saberi said she never thought much about life in prison until four men came to her Tehran apartment in January 2009 and arrested her on spying charges.

Saberi spoke about her three-month imprisonment by Iranian authorities on charges of espionage as part of a conference Saturday on human rights in Iran. She was researching a book when arrested, but said politically motivated arrests are the norm in Iran.

The Baha’i Faith communities of Central Texas organized the event at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center to support seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran.

Saberi was not accused of a violent crime, but she said she was blindfolded and taken to an interrogation room in one of the country’s harshest jails.

“The wall was made of foam, which I later learned was so that when your head is pushed into it, it hurts but it doesn’t do irreversible damage,” Saberi said. “The door was made of leather, but it was not sound proof ­— I could hear other prisoners screaming.”

Her captors denied her legal representation and outside communication, an experience similar to those of dozens of prisoners who were arrested recently for charges of espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic or attempting to overthrow the government, she said.

Members of the Baha’i Faith have been the focus of systematic government persecution in Iran since the 1979 revolution, according to the website of the Baha’i International Community.

Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy and research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said his agency has pushed the administration to pressure the Iranian government on human rights issues. He said the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran in September specifically for human rights violations.

“With any totalitarian government, the citizens are the victims,” Bashir said.

Finance senior Tebyan Rabbani, president of the UT Baha’i Association, said the event helped bring awareness to the persecution of minorities. He said he hopes people will be encouraged to write to their representatives to ask for their support against these violations.