Photograph, John Owens.
I lived in Teheran, the capital city of Iran where, in 1979, there was a revolution. I am Baha’i, not Moslem, and many Baha’i people suffered a lot during and after the revolution.
Before 1979 I was working with the Government but during the revolution I was sacked and sent away empty handed, after 30 years of employment. Many other Baha’is in Teheran had their shops closed, students and teachers were imprisoned and Baha’i children were prevented from going to school and university. Education is very important for Baha’i people and we never stop studying, even if it is just at home.
After I was sacked, I started working for the Baha’i community. During the revolution, active members of the Baha’i National Assembly and local assemblies were taken away and imprisoned and many were tortured and executed. Again and again and again it happened.
One night, six guards came to our house and took my belongings. My children were at home and saw the guards hit me in the face. With my head bleeding, they took me to Evin Prison, the place for political prisoners.
For two years I remained in prison. I was tortured because they wanted me to denounce other Baha’is and publicly reject the faith. One torture they did was to lay me on my stomach, tie my hands and feet and then slash the soles of my feet with an electric cable. When they had finished the torture, they interrogated me and then started the torture again. If I screamed, they stuffed dirty blankets in my mouth or hit my head with a sword until it bled. They slapped me so hard on the face that I couldn’t see and my ears rang. After this torture I couldn’t walk but dragged myself around on my bottom.
I received torture for nine days, then intermittently during the next ten months. They also used emotional torture, telling me, falsely, that my daughter was in jail and that I must co-operate or they would torture her as well.
But God gave me power and while they tortured my body, my spirit grew stronger every day.
Finally they transferred me to another prison and after seven months they allowed my family to visit me for just ten minutes. I had lost weight and couldn’t see or hear. Nobody recognised me. My parents were crying and banging the window saying ‘this isn’t my daughter’. I heard many months later that after they left the prison my father had a heart attack and died. I never saw him again.
You can’t really image the scene in the public section of the prison. One room - 24 metres wide - housed 52 people. We couldn’t move at all and could only lie down like sardines. There were six toilets, two for sick people and four for well people. Many children and pregnant women were also in the prison, not just Baha’i but Moslem women too. Whenever we were taken for torture the other people would hug and kiss us because they thought we may never come back.
I thought that once I went to court they would see that my whole body was injured and they would understand what had happened to me. But when I was called into court I heard the voice of my torturer and I knew it wasn’t a proper court. They demanded that I deny the Baha’i faith and when I would not they sentenced me to be executed.
Many times they blindfolded me and led me to execution, only to bring me back to the prison again.
One night I dreamt that my execution had been cancelled and that the son of the prophet Bahá'u'lláh told me that I would become a messenger in a far off place. When I woke I was very happy. I thought my dream meant I would travel to remote parts of Iran. I never imagined it meant Australia.
A few days after this dream I was told that my execution had been cancelled. All the other sentenced people were executed but I was not.
After two years in prison I was released and my family from all over the country came to see me. I went to a doctor and he asked what had happened to me because I couldn’t control my left hand or eye. I didn’t tell him anything.
While I was in prison the Baha’i counsellor told my daughters that they were not safe and that they must leave the country. My son was already living in Australia so they came here to live with him. When I was released, my children asked me to come to see them in Australia but the authorities in Iran would not give me a passport so I knew I had to escape. My mother was very upset but I had to go.
My family gave somebody a large amount of money to help me escape to Pakistan. I left Teheran empty-handed and travelled by camel and in the back of a truck. Finally I walked through the mountains to the Pakistan border. The journey took me 29 hours. We passed many checkpoints and ten other people were arrested but I was not. At the Pakistan border I told the guard what had happened and he opened the gate and said “Welcome”.
I arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1985. My whole body was sick: the bottom of my feet, my eyes and my ears. It took four years to fix my body.
I found people in Australian very polite and friendly. When I went to the shopping centre and the automatic doors opened for me I thought that even the doors in Australia were polite!
I am 66 years old now and a citizen of this country. I go to English classes in Clayton and hope that one day I will be able to speak English. I would love to be able to read English. The Housing Commission have given me this unit where I am very comfortable and happy and I pray to God to let me keep my house because I love it so much. I now work for the Baha’i community, travelling around Australia and overseas telling people about the Baha’i faith and my experiences.
Nationality does not matter much to me because our prophet Bahá'u'lláh says that all the people of the world are one family and we must accept different countries, cultures and education. I don’t miss Iran. I would like to visit my family again one day but only God knows what will happen tomorrow.
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