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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mania Masoudi: "Safe in the arms of God."

Living in the oppressed culture of Iran, Mania had no hope and no future as a woman. Then one day, God brought a special person into her life that would take her on an incredible journey to a living hope in Christ. Mania's incredible story will be featured in my book, "Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran."

               Growing up in Tehran, Mania’s childhood memories were not filled with the laughter and innocence of a normal girl as typical of so many, but rather they were filled with the painful memories of a culture that was oppressive to women. Her family was not religious, but Muslim in name only, and from the very beginning Mania had no interest in reading the Quran or practicing Islam. She was offended by the way her culture treated women. Men and women were not equal but segregated. The husband treated his wife as a possession and she had no other alternative but to obey. He had the freedom to marry up to four wives, but she must remain submissive and obedient to his every sexual desire. The wife could not travel alone and had to have the husband’s permission for everything she did. She was forced to wear a hijab when going out publicly and was constantly under the scrutiny and control of her husband.

                When Mania observed on a daily basis how dominating and controlling Islam was, especially to women, she decided that if this is who God really is, then she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. She was saddened by the way women were treated like birds in a cage, with no choice and no freedom. For Mania, Islam was a religion of fear that gave men total control over a woman. She felt trapped in a culture of oppression and discrimination with no way out and no future for her as a woman.

            Hearing the tragic news of her brother suffering a stroke while serving in the Iranian army brought more misery and sadness into Mania’s already troubled world. Now she had the difficult task of helping her mother be a caretaker for Milad who was partially paralyzed. Each day she had to help him shower and dress. Overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness, Milad tried twice to commit suicide, but fortunately was unsuccessful. Watching her brother emotionally deteriorate everyday caused Mania to sink deeper into her own darkness of depression.

            Learning to play the piano became a serious passion for Mania as she tried to cope with the sadness and depression that dominated her life. Her parents hired a personal piano teacher to give her daily lessons. When Mania was introduced to Rambod, she was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle spirit. Unlike Mania, Rambod was a religious man, and he loved to talk about his faith. He was a Christian that belonged to the Armenian Church, a church that had been shut down by the government. Rambod eagerly shared his faith in Christ with Mania. Even though Mania had completely given up on God and religion, she found herself being drawn to what Rambod said and was curious in learning more.

            Rambod invited Mania to church and she was shocked to discover that instead of meeting in a huge cathedral building, that instead his group met in a small house. Rambod was part of the house church movement in Iran which was constantly under the surveillance of the government. Christianity was not a welcome religion in Iran. It was against the law for Muslims to convert to Christ and if caught they would be arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases put to death.

            While attending one of the house church meetings, Mania confided in Rambod about her brother’s paralysis and together they prayed for him to be healed. Two days later, Mania’s world was transformed forever! Milad had been miraculously healed and could now dress himself and take showers. He was no longer paralyzed! Mania was astonished by what appeared to be a miraculous answer to prayer and this amazing event compelled her to become a Christian.

            Mania’s life had radically changed! She had discovered a God who gave her hope and a future. He was not a God of fear or violence, but rather a God she could talk directly to and feel his love. Most importantly she discovered that the God of Christianity treated women with respect and compassion. However, the good times did not last very long. One evening, government agents burst through the doors and began arresting the Christians during their worship service. Panic-stricken, Mania quickly escaped through a back door and fled down the street toward her home. It would be the last time that she ever saw her dear friend Rambod.
            The very next day at
 her photography studio, Mania received a frantic phone call from her mother. The Police had been at their home looking for her. Her mother instructed her to immediately leave Tehran and go to a friend’s house where she would be safe until the heat died down. After staying at her friend’s home in the countryside, once again her mother called. This time the news was even worse! Her father had been arrested. It was no longer safe for her to remain in Iran. Arrangements had been made by her mother for her to meet a man who would take her to the airport and smuggle her out of Iran.

            Frantic with the fear of being arrested and put in prison, Mania followed her mother’s instructions, and rode with the strange man to the airport. Within a few hours they were airborne and enroute to London. Mania was amazed of how smoothly everything was going. She had not been stopped by the police for questioning, but instead had made a miraculous exit from a country that was looking for her because she was now a Christian!
            After landing at Heathrow Airport in London, the man that had accompanied her mysteriously vanished! She was now all alone, in a strange country, exhausted, and shaking with fear. Unsure of what do next, Mania introduced herself to the airport staff and explained that she had escaped from Iran because the government was going to arrest her. Mania was now a refugee, an illegal alien knocking at the back door of the UK pleading for asylum.

            The Airport staff transported her to at Detention Center Zone temporarily until she could be properly processed. The detention zone was a frightening place filled with strange men and Mania quickly discovered that she was the only woman there! The overnight stay was one of the most frightening experiences of her life. She couldn’t sleep, shaking with fear, that at any second, she would be raped by one of the strange men. It felt almost like being back in Iran!

            Three days later, after being ill from the horrible food and the fear of being raped, Mania was finally transferred to Stockport City in Manchester. Stockport City quickly became like heaven on earth to her. It was a huge hotel with much better sleeping conditions and much better food. During her hotel stay, an extensive background check was done on Mania and she successfully passed. Now she qualified for the next step in the process. She was transferred to Liverpool and applied for a formal application as an asylum seeker.

            Since 2015, Mania has been living in Glasgow, Scotland in a government furnished flat with two rooms and a lovely roommate from Nigeria. In January 2017, she was officially baptized and became a member of the Easter House Baptist Church. Reflecting back on the incredible events that have transformed her life in the past three years, Mania summarizes everything with one word, “Grateful."

            Mania is grateful to God for her new life, because now she has hope. When she lived in Iran, she was bitter, depressed, and without hope. She had no future, but Christ has given her hope and a future. Her heart is filled with gratitude that her life was miraculously spared. Instead of being tortured in a dirty prison in Iran, she is instead studying for the future at a university in the Scotland. Mania was attracted to Christianity by its love. The God of Christianity filled her heart with love instead of fear and gave her hope and forgiveness instead of depression and despair. Mania describes her present situation as, “safe in the arms of God.”

Monday, December 3, 2018

Fatemeh: A fearless warrior for Christ.

Being a Christian in Iran is very dangerous, but Fatemeh is not cowering in fear, instead she fearlessly stands up to the government who is persecuting her. My new blog story will be featured in the new book, "Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."

She is only 19 years old, but Fatemeh is a courageous and fearless young Iranian girl who is determined to send a message to the government about her new-found faith. Recently she walked away from Islam and converted to Christianity. In Iran, that is a very dangerous thing to do. Iran is governed by Shiite Mullahs and the Hadith proclaims, “whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him!”  (Volume 9:57, Al Bukhari)

            Fatemeh understands the danger, but that doesn’t frighten her. She has found hope in Christ and experienced a peace and a joy that she never found in Islam. This makes her bolder and after spending six months in Evin Prison for her faith, she now stands in front of a video camera and publicly protests her treatment after her release.

            Holding up a sign, she looks intently into the camera and declares,
            “I am a Persian speaking Christian in Iran. This message is for all Christians. Please support us and stand with us so that the violence against Christians in Iran will be stopped. The Church is the right of all Christians.”

            The camera zooms in for a close up on the sign that reads, #Not Violence against Christians in Iran and church is the right of Christians. 
             Fatemeh published the video in her Instagram account and invited Christians from all over the world to support her. She has started a campaign for Christians to meet together in a main church in Iran instead of worshiping secretly in house churches for fear of being arrested by the government.

            Thirteen years earlier, in 2005, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged in a speech to an audience of Mullahs, “I will stop Christianity in Iran."
            Ahmadinejad made it his personal crusade to persecute and arrest all former Muslims who had converted to Christianity and put an end to the underground house church movement. However, more than a decade later, thousands of young Iranians have ignored his threat and instead found their hope and freedom in Christ. One of those young Iranians, Fatemeh, was arrested in November 2017, and transferred to Evin Prison for “being a member of a proselytizing group,” and “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime.”

            Translation? Fatemeh left Islam and became a Christian, which is against the law since Iran became an Islamic State Republic in 1979. The government interprets this as an act of treason that can be punishable by a life sentence in prison or death by hanging. During her imprisonment she was tortured both mentally and spiritually to repent and forsake her Christian faith, but Fatemeh refused to deny her new-found love in Christ.

            Her interrogators used psychological and abusive techniques to humiliate her by inferring that she was a prostitute and a sleezy girl that slept around with many men.

            “They attempted to force me to falsely confess to illicit sexual relations with men,” Fatemeh explained. “Their entire objective was to make this accusation stick and force me to make up a story about sexual relations for them to read and enjoy, which had nothing to do with my case!”

            This type of immoral interrogation and abusive techniques is frequently used by interrogators to force political prisoners, under severe duress, to confess to a crime that they never committed. It is also widely known that male guards engage in sexual abuse and rape against female prisoners on a regular basis. In this particular situation, the interrogators decided to instead subject Fatemeh to mental and spiritual torment.

            Once Fatemeh was released six months later on May 14, 2018, the abuse didn’t stop. The interrogators continued their mental assault on Fatemeh by calling her home several times and making the same accusations to her parents. They ended the conversation with a stern warning to the parents declaring, “It is best that you stop your daughter from her activities as the path she is on leads to corruption!”

            Fatemeh fought back by sending a letter to the court judges, complaining about the immoral techniques used against her because she was a woman, revealing they had shouted at her and kicked the legs of the chair that she was sitting on to force her to confess and put into writing that she had sexual relations with other men.

            Determined to get the attention of the proper authorities, Fatemeh staged a “sit-in protest” across from Evin Prison until somebody listened and processed her complaint. When that didn’t produce the desired result, she then made a video holding up a sign calling on Christians around the world to join her in calling on Iran to stop the violence against Christians.
            Instead of cowering in fear to the abuse by the prison interrogators and denying her Christian faith, Fatemeh has instead boldly stood up to her accusers calling on them to be held accountable for their immoral methods of persecution against her. Where does Fatemeh get such boldness to stand up in such a dangerous place to be a Christian? She gets her boldness from the teachings of God’s word which proclaims, “The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” (Proverbs 28:1)

            Fatemeh can fearlessly confront the evil in Iran because Jesus has given her his boldness and strength, telling her not to be afraid, because he will never leave or forsake her. Two thousand years ago Jesus looked intently into the eyes of Peter who had just declared that he was the Christ and made a powerful promise that based on his confession of faith, “That he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18)

            Jesus has empowered his church with supernatural power and protection against Satan and all of the forces of evil. Ahmadinejad boasted he would rid Iran of Christianity and 13 years later, Iran is instead overflowing with fearless warriors who have believed the promise of Christ that hell itself will never stop the powerful, life changing message of the gospel!


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Maria Rashidi: Beauty from the ashes

Maria is a true survivor. She endured the humiliating scars of an acid attack and rose up from the ashes of her suffering. Her powerful story will be featured in my new book, "Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran."

Part One – Day of the accident:

             I CLIMBED out of my ex-husband’s car, gave my daughter a quick hug, and then began walking home.

            Suddenly I was seized with an ominous feeling. I stopped walking and turned around. I sensed someone was following me! And I was right! Gripped with fear, I began to walk faster…and I could hear the footsteps closing in behind me! My heart pounding in my chest, I quickly glanced down at my watch. It was 9:45 pm.

            In what seemed like the flash of a moment, the twinkling of an eye, suddenly the skin of my face felt like it was on fire and pierced with a thousand needles all at once. The pain was unbearable!
            I screamed and began running. My whole face was on fire! I screamed louder!
            In the distance, I could hear my daughter running toward me and shouting,

            “Mum! Mum! What happened?”

            Seconds later, I could feel someone frantically dragging me into a car. The last thing I remember seeing, gazing out from my burning eyes, was the sight of my daughter’s panic-stricken face, astonished by the horrible burns covering my face. She couldn’t control her emotions, but screamed in horror.

            I was in the hospital for three or four days, being treated for an acid attack that covered my face with ugly burns. I could hardly see out of my eyes. My world had been devastated and changed forever by the evil schemes of a madman!


            On September 19, 1997, I was invited to a friend’s house for a party. My conversation was interrupted by the annoying ringing of my mobile phone. When I answered, I recognized the voice on the other end as my ex-husband’s.
            “Maria. I’d love to see you,” He said with an excited tone in his voice. “Let’s meet for at least a half hour. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
            “I’m afraid I can’t make it,” I replied, anxious to end the conversation. “Don’t you remember, you wanted to kidnap me and take me back to Iran three weeks ago by making me take sleeping drugs and I was unconscious for 15 hours? Have you suddenly forgotten what you did to me?” I don’t want to ever see you again or hear your sickening voice!”
            I immediately hung up in anger. Leaning back in my chair, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. A few seconds later, my mobile phone rang again. I grabbed it in anger, enraged that my ex would try to call me again. However, this time it was my older daughter.
            “Mum, please come,” she said with a pleading voice, “Dad says you have to come or I won’t get to see you anymore. I promise this time I will leave with you.”
            I took a frustrating deep breath. I couldn’t say no to my daughter.
            A few minutes later, I reluctantly got inside my ex-husband’s car and we headed toward the restaurant. Turning his head toward me, he looked deep into my eyes with that innocent look of manipulation.
            “Dear Maria. I really want you back. I can’t live without you anymore. Please give me a second chance! Come back to us and we’ll go together on a trip to Spain and just forget about the past.”
            I stared intently into his eyes and realized how cruel he really was to me. He had already taken my children from me. Now my son had turned his back on me. Whenever he saw me on the street, he quickly looked the other way. This kind of shunning was very painful for me to bear. When I looked intently into his eyes, I saw nothing but deception and hatred.
            “Why the hell can’t you understand?” I shouted back at him, “I hate you. How on earth can I live with you again?”
            Suddenly that innocent, pleading look on his face melted into an expression of rage.
            “Is this you last word?”
            “Yes!” I firmly replied.
            He took an angry deep breath and then sharply looked back into my eyes.
            “You will have to pay the price!”
            “What do you mean?” I snapped back, interrupting him, “You want to kill me? Well, come on,” I challenged him, leaning forward in my chair, “I’m not afraid of you!”
            He stood up unexpectedly and walked furiously out of the restaurant. A few minutes later, he returned.
            “Let’s go!” he motioned toward me, grabbing his jacket from off the back of the chair.
            All the way home, there was an eerie silence in the car. When we finally arrived home at my place, he flung open my door, anxious for me to get out. I embraced my daughter and then looked back at my ex. His eyes were bulging in anger.
            “Just Go! Goodbye!”


            Part Two…… The Past

      I was eight years old when the Air Force provided us with a newly built state house in the city of Khouzestan. My father was an avid gardener and planted beautiful trees and flowers in our little garden. I have such sweet memories of those days and how happy our life was together. My mother graciously accepted her role as a housewife. She was a very supportive woman and a huge emotional support for our family. However, my father was the complete opposite. We referred to him as, “Daddy dictator!” He treated us all like soldiers in the military. We weren’t allowed to sleep past 5 am and our day began with our assigned tasks. He paid painstaking attention to order and discipline. My childhood memories of my father were filled with fear of not measuring up to his standards.

            It seemed like after my childhood, that all I can remember about my adult years was one tragedy after another. Before I graduated from high school, my father was in an accident and my mother had to go each day to the hospital to assist in his recovery. Exhausted from being a housewife and now a nurse, my mother grew very ill. She contracted a virus with a high fever and within five days she was no longer with us. We were devastated. I couldn’t believe that my mother was dead. She had been so healthy and now she was dead!

            After my mother’s death, my father sank into a deep, dark depression and tried to commit suicide several times. A young boy who lived near our house took pity on our situation and would come to visit me and my father. As time went on, we became close and one day he proposed to me. My relatives, concerned about my father’s future, helped him remarry and ironically, just a week after my father remarried, I got married!

            At the time of my marriage, Iran and Iraq were still at war with each other. Early on in my marriage, I realized that my husband was a nervous, hot-tempered man who when he became angry would throw things at people. I began to notice that he would follow me wherever I went and keep me under surveillance. He always made sure that I was an obedient Muslim and was wearing my hijab correctly. He inspected my clothes and would chastise me if they were not according to Islamic standards. He would yell at me and say, “Your clothes are not ok, go get changed!”

            I vividly remember, just eleven days before I gave birth to our first child, we were having a family cookout in the garden. Suddenly he got mad at me and threw one of the skews he was making kebab on, and hit me directly in the knee. I suffered a deep cut and was in tremendous pain. That incident was our first real physical conflict. After the birth of my child, his anger and physical abuse continued every day. The Iran/Iraq war was getting worse and many of the surrounding villages were being destroyed by enemy bombardment. I contacted my relatives in Sweden and through a series of complex circumstances, I took my newborn

 child and immigrated to Sweden. It was agreed upon that once my residency was approved, that I would contact my husband and he would join us.


Part Three…
From Immigration to life in Sweden and divorce.

      When I finally arrived in Sweden and had the opportunity to evaluate their culture and society, I had hope for the first time in my wife. I saw men and women sitting together. In Iran, the government segregated the sexes and forced women to comply with the Islamic dress code by wearing the hijab. However, it was the complete opposite in Sweden. Women were given complete freedom and independence and were allowed to take control of their own lives by pursuing the jobs and careers of their own choices. Women were given the freedom to choose! I could not believe my eyes! I was used to a misogynistic system where men were in complete control of the destinies of women, but here in Sweden for the first time in my life, I could breathe the fresh air of Sweden and it smelt so wonderful!

            Within a few months, I had successfully passed my Swedish language course and was ready to pursue my studies, when suddenly everything drastically changed! My life had been wonderful until December 18, 1988, when my husband finally arrived. When I met him at the airport, he was shocked to see me wearing a short skirt. I also was shocked by his appearance. He had a thick, heavy black beard, wearing a suit without a tie and had the offensive odor of a perfume that I hated so much. It reminded me of the smell of what Mullahs would wear, and suddenly I felt catapulted back to Iran! I instantly knew that this was the beginning of a hellish life once again. Misery was on its way again!

            At first, however, my husband seemed to be filled with great sadness and remorse. He would go to our bedroom and sleep most of the day, as if he were suffering from depression. The more that I would brag about my new life in Sweden, the angrier he got. He would constantly complain about the cold weather and was outraged that here women were allowed to make their own decisions for themselves. When he witnessed me taking classes, having a bank account registered in my own name, he was devastated! He had lost all control of my life and his masculinity and pride were crushed! I explained to him that in Iran I was oppressed and lived under a male-dominated society of laws that made women inferior, second class citizens.

            Within a few weeks, my husband could no longer tolerate my new-found freedom! He began to take control again by trying to choose my friends. He warned me to not associate with divorced women because they would poison my thinking with false ideas about men. He began arguing and throwing stuff again. In a rage he would pick up the tv remote and throw at me and one time he hit my leg with the wand of a vacuum cleaner. I was in so much pain and my leg became swollen. I demanded a divorce. I wanted nothing more to do with him. I had a new life now and I was determined to never again let any man control me! When I threatened him, he would immediately begin manipulating me with false apologies and then his friends would try to convince me to continue our relationship.

            Instead of giving into his shallow pleas, I filed for a divorce and asked the social center to assist me. Finally, he went back to Iran for awhile and when he returned, he was shocked to see that I had rented a new condominium. In our custody battle, I gave him back all of my furniture and then packed up my younger daughter’s clothes and escaped from my dwelling. I refused to allow any more “hell on earth behavior” from him to ruin my new life.

Part Three: The present time.
Life after the acid attack for Maria.

      I kept asking myself, “Why? Why would any man do such a horrible thing by throwing acid in my face? Why? I had never done anything cruel to any man!”

            After 99 different surgeries to attempt to repair my disfigured face, the one surgery that I’ve needed the most was the surgery to heal the deep scars and wounds inside of my soul. As I lay on my hospital bed trying to forget this nightmare past, it is still beyond belief to me that my controlling, weak husband would stoop so low as to hire a man to throw acid in my face! My new life of happiness and freedom disturbed him so much that he could no longer bear the thought that I was in control of my own life.
            I made a decision that I had to be a voice for women, especially those that have suffered so deeply at the hands of evil men. I took some time to think deeply and reflect on my life and published my story in a book entitled, “Burned Freedom.” I began a speaking tour with the women’s rights movement revealing the painful facts of what life was like in Iran, that it was a misogynistic culture that oppressed women.
            After a thorough investigation, the police had to let my husband go, because they had only circumstantial evidence and not enough proof. I will never forget the day when I leaned that my husband was killed in a car accident after suffering a heart attack, that day in 2009, was the first day that I felt finally free from his evil schemes and suffocating control!
            At 62 years of age, I feel like a true survivor! I’m very proud of myself! It is the passion of my life to be a voice for suffering women in the Middle East. I want to live the rest of my life encouraging women and standing up for their rights and freedom.


            *Editor’s note.

               Writing Maria’s story has been such a privilege and honor for me. I have spent the last several years of my life, writing the painful stories of oppressed women in Iran. My heart breaks for the suffering that Maria has had to endure for so many years. But I am so impressed by her courage and survival skills. She is a very tough lady and has learned to take control of her life and teach other women that they can do it too!
            When I think about the physical and spiritual trauma that survivors of acid attacks endure, I am reminded by the precious promise of God in the book of Psalms.
            “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. He saves the crushed in spirit.”
                                                                                                                            (Psalm 34:18)

            God promises to be a very present help in our time of trouble. He can bring healing and restoration to the wounded and crushed in spirit. Acid attack survivors are not only humiliated by the disfigurement of their faces, but they suffer daily with the deep wounds and scars that no one else can see. Yet God promises to bring beauty out of the ashes of their suffering. He can emotionally heal and restore these precious women. He desires to save their crushed spirits and restore the dignity and beauty that was stolen by the evil act of a controlling man. It is my sincere prayer that the Lord would heal Maria and all other victims and bring beauty and dignity back into their lives.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Shole Pakravan: A powerful voice for humanity.

Shole Pakravan is a powerful human rights activist who will forever be a strong voice for her late daughter, Reyhaneh Jabbari,who was unjustly executed on October 25, 2014, for defending herself against a government rapist. Her story will be featured in my new book, "Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."

                Shole Pakravan is a well-educated, open minded woman, and a real fighter! She fights for righteousness, humanity, freedom and most importantly, fights against capital punishment in Iran. Capital punishment is the satanic adversary that shadowed and oppressed her life and her family’s life for 7 long agonizing years until it fastened its noose around her beautiful daughter’s neck in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj. When Reyhaneh Jabbari was unjustly executed, Shole was determined to become a strong voice and a fierce opponent of the death penalty that has claimed the lives of thousands of young people in the Islamic Republic.

            Since her daughter’s execution Shole has become a dedicated anti-death penalty activist, standing up and supporting the mothers who have lost their children in the unjust and fake courts that are controlled by cruel Mullahs! Shole is also a dramatic actress, director, and a loyal mother and wife.

            One sultry hot summer day in July 2007, Reyhaneh was assaulted by a former intelligence agent who had lured her under false pretenses to an empty and abandoned house. Terrified of being raped, when Morteza Sarbandi physically attacked her, Reyhaneh defended herself by stabbing him in the shoulder with a knife, and then managed to escape.  Sarbandi bled out and died from his stab wounds. Unfortunately, Reyhaneh was completely unaware that the Islamic authorities are always prepared to victimize one innocent figure in order to conceal their own devilish deeds. Iran is a very man-centered society and the reputation of a member of the intelligence ministry is far more important than the accusation of a “so-called” rape victim. Reyhaneh refused to change her story from rape to consensual sex and that sealed her fate. She was arrested at 19 and at the age of 26, she said goodbye to her life and her family in the early morning hours of October 25, 2014 after a seven-year imprisonment. She proudly and courageously faced the noose on the gallows and her spirit flew away to rest in peace.

            By executing Reyhaneh, The Iranian regime intended to scare all girls to let them know that they cannot resist the sexual harassments of government agents. A powerful message was sent that women would be severely punished and executed for yelling rape!

            They killed Reyhaneh, the beautiful and kind girl who was described by many prisoners and even jailors, as the one with a bright sign of hope and taught many solitary women prisoners the ways of mutual respect. They murdered her in order to put hope, generosity, and kindness to death. However, they did not realize that Reyhaneh was actually a seed planted throughout Iran’s soil. They only killed one Reyhaneh, whereas thousands of “Reyhanehs” have grown and multiplied like seeds that have blossomed into lovely flowers.

            In 2016, Shole was summoned before the Ministry of Intelligence and warned by the authorities that there would be grave consequences for her other daughters if she continued to speak out against executions. Shole had been busy posting pictures one her Facebook page showing her standing in support of other mothers who had lost their children to executions. Realizing the danger that her activism was causing her family, Shole and her daughter Shahrzad secretly fled into Turkey and applied for asylum. After several months, through the hard work and connections of other human rights activists, they were accepted by the German Immigration board and were able to leave Turkey. Today, both Shole and Shahrzad are busy studying the German language and assimilating as refugees in their new home. They are hoping that soon the rest of their family can join them in Germany.

            In remembrance of her courageous daughter, Shole has written a powerful and moving tribute describing her commitment to never stop being a voice for Reyhaneh:

            “Inspite of all of the agony that I have gone through, I am well prepared to fight for your honor. I’ll never stop being your voice since you opened my eyes! As I promised you, now my hands are your hands, my feet are your feet, and my voice is your voice.

                You have already forgiven the judges and tormentors and murderers, but I can never forgive the one who suppressed you, invented false allegations, and signed your execution order, prepared the gallows, and tightened the noose that stopped you from breathing. I want them to punished in this world and be sentenced for their crimes, so that no other mother will ever have to see their child being executed before their own eyes.

                Now your soul has been integrated into my whole body and I’ve dedicated my life to reclaiming your honor.  Even after a thousand years, every single particle and dust of my essence will continue to cry out your name. I will live to see your victory over this dictatorship government.

                At dawn, on the 25th of October, 2014, you were standing in the middle of execution field atf Rajaar Shahr prison with your hands tied, staring at your murderers with your beautiful brown eyes, and you shouted, “You may take my life, but you can never pollute it with the shame of surrender!”

                Although you are gone, now is the time to proudly announce that the “Reyhan Foundation” in Europe is formally registered on the internet. The Reyhan Foundation supports all of those sentenced to death, and the families of rape victims. This foundation will be a strong voice for the families of the executed and also those who have been the victims of rape. It is my duty and commitment to you to fight as long as it takes to put an end to the horrible executions in Iran.”

           *Editor’s note:

                                 To read the complete story of Reyhaneh’s tragic life and execution, you can purchase the book, written by Randy L. Noble on Amazon. Com. It is entitled, “Reyhaneh: A beautiful fragrance.”

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Remembering Ramin Hossein Panahi

Ramin was the member of an opposition party that held different political beliefs, but in Iran, being different is a crime! Discrimination and racism is at the heart of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This new blog will appear in my upcoming book, "Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."

Ramin Hossein Panahi lived a very short time on this earth. He died by hanging at the age of 24. Life didn’t give him the opportunity to make his dreams and wishes come true. Ramin had many dreams. He had hope for his nation, his family, and worked tirelessly for the freedom of his people. His friends remember him as a humble person of great character. He had a sense of humor and remained clam in adversity. He rarely got angry or mad at his friends. He honored women, children, and stood up against the injustices against the Kurdish people, because he was one of them!

            Ramin didn’t have the privilege of knowing his elder brother Anwer for a very long time. Anwer meet his fate after being arrested by the Iranian regime and then sentenced to death. At the time of his brother’s execution, he was studying hard in high school. Unfortunately, his hard work didn’t pay off. Ramin wasn’t able to enroll in college because of his family’s involvement in politics and also because his brothers we Peshmerga. Peshmerga literally means, “those who face death.” Ramin’s brothers were members of the military forces of the federal region of Iraqi Kurdistan, and opposed by the Iranian regime.

            At the tender age of just 16, Ramin was arrested by the Iranian government and held in solitary confinement by the intelligence service for 45 days. Although beaten and tortured while in prison, Ramin learned at an early age how to survive and resist the cruelty of the regime. With both of his brothers suffering together in prison, the responsibility for managing the home fell on the shoulders of Ramin at such a young age. Both of his parents and his other two sisters were very ill, so Ramin had to grow up very quickly. While being the head of the house, Ramin continued his counter-political activities against the Islamic Republic. He spoke out against the death penalty and because of his human rights activities he was arrested jailed, and tortured many times by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp.)

            Following in the footsteps of his brothers, Ramin crossed the border, coming into Southern Kurdistan and became a Komala Peshmerga, an armed communist ethnic party, exiled in Northern Iraq. This group had been heavily involved in guerilla warfare against the Iranian government. By joining this party Ramin had once and for all sealed his fate in his struggle for freedom against the Islamic Republic.

            In June 2016, The IRGC opened fire on Ramin and his three friends as they were riding in his car. Ramin was seriously wounded in the thigh, his left arm and in the back. All three of his friends were killed. In a mockery and miscarriage of justice, Ramin was sentenced to death in a “kangaroo”14-minute trial for simply belonging to an opposition party. He was falsely charged with being armed with both a rifle and a grenade.  During the investigation period, Ramin was denied access to his lawyer and his family, as well as any details of the evidence against him. Intelligence officials repeatedly pressured him to make a televised confession on Iranian TV, apologizing for his beliefs, and speaking out against the Kurdish people and his family. Ramin vehemently refused and instead began a deadly hunger strike protesting the charges against him. Amnesty International took up his case and began a powerful campaign protesting against his execution. Thousands of Iranians took to Twitter in a tweet storm calling for the government to stop his unjust execution. The Twitter storm proved to be a powerful tool that was successful in postponing the execution, but unfortunately on September 8, 2018, after months of brutal torture, Ramin was finally hanged in Raja’I Shahr prison, in Karaj, Iran.

            The Iranian government had once again succeeded in silencing another human being, simply because his political and religious beliefs were different from theirs! In Iran, if you are a Christian, or a member of the Bahai’ Faith, or a member of the Komala Party, then according to the regime, you are an enemy of God, or one who is acting against national security.

            The discrimination and racism is so deep and so embedded in the twisted hearts and minds of the Iranian regime. They cannot and will not accept a person who believes differently or contrary to the official Islamic religion. There is no freedom or tolerance in their perverted minds.

            Whenever there is talk about humanity, Rami’s name will come to mind. Whenever there is talk of courage and steadfastness, Ramin will be remembered. He will never be forgotten. He was a mighty symbol of resistance against the government. One day when the Islamic Republic finally collapses and a democratic regime replaces it, there will a bronze statue of Ramin in its town square. He will forever be a courageous symbol of the Kurdish nation. He stood strong and majestic as a mountain until the very end, refusing to be political pawn in the devious hands of the evil Iranian government.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mehdi Rajabian: "Music is a crime in Iran."

Mehdi Rajabian is a dedicated musician using his powerful music to be a voice for human rights and freedom. His courageous story will be in my new book, "Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."

I remember as a young kid sitting in front of my TV set anxiously waiting for the next episode of the sci-fi classic, “The Outer Limits,” to begin!

            Suddenly, the ominous voice of the announcer came on the screen and explained to the audience, “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission….For the next hour, sit quietly, and we will control what you see and hear.”

            More than seventy years ago, British novelist, George Orwell, authored a novel entitled, “1984” which since then has become a cult classic in literature. The basic plot of 1984 is about Oceania, a society that is ruled by a dictatorial government that treats individuality and reason as thought crimes. The society is constantly subjected to fear, oppression, surveillance, and mind control. The fearful theme and reminder of the novel to its citizens is, “Big Brother is watching you!”
            The novel is hauntingly similar to the situation in Iran. The government has suppressed individuality and every God-given human right. They have especially attacked the arts by suppressing freedom of expression and censoring every style of creativity because it violates the principles of Islamic Law. Music, dancing, filmmaking, is “haram,” forbidden and those who publicly engage in these practices are subject to harsh penalties by the government.

            In 2014, a group of young filmmakers assembled together on an apartment roof in Tehran and created a video of themselves dancing to the popular song, “Happy” by Will Pharrell. Within a few hours, the participants were arrested and charged with making an illegal music video with female dancers without wearing proper hijabs. They were forced to confess on Iranian state tv that they were wrong in producing the video because it violated the principles of Islamic law.

            Mehdi Rajabian is an accomplished musician who loves playing the Setar. The Setar is an ancient four-stringed Persian musical instrument similar to the acoustic guitar that is played with the index finger of the right hand. At 29 years of age, Mehdi is committed to bringing a message of peace through his musical compositions and was busily involved in a creative musical project entitled, “The history of Iran by Setar.” He was also the founder of the BARG Music record company that supported prohibited singers in Iran, especially female vocalists who are not allowed to perform publicly because of the strict guidelines of Islamic law.

            In 2013, Mehdi was arrested for illegally publishing music, offending religious sanctity, and inciting opposition to the Islamic Republic. The police raided his record company, seized his personal possessions and shut down his website taking both him and his brother Hoessein, a filmmaker, into custody for breaching the censorship laws and failing to obtain a government license for their music.

            Mehdi spent three grueling months in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, enduring harsh interrogations and inhumane torture. He was placed in the same cell along with Somalian pirates, Japanese and Tanzanian drug dealers, and HIV infected prisoners. During his imprisonment, he began a hunger strike in protest of the charges against him and became critically ill, losing more than 33 pounds and 40% of his vision.  Yet inspite of the hardships, Mehdi made a commitment to the universal language of music and what it meant to him.
            For me, creating a piece of art is more important than any consequences that might follow,” Mehdi declared.   

            It was while he was in prison, that one of his greatest achievements was conceived, the idea for a collaboration project with a message of hope for the Middle East. After much suffering, Mehdi was released on temporary bail, but in 2014 was summoned back to court to face charges once again and was forced back to prison for two more grueling years until his release in 2017.
            Since he has been out on bail, Mehdi has been hard at work producing his dream project that he conceived during his imprisonment. He contacted 12 independent musicians and together they agreed to compose a peace album with a unified message of tolerance and human rights in the Middle East.

            “As a composer, I felt that it’s time to protest against the human rights violations in the Middle East with music. In my opinion, the Middle East people are tired of human rights violations, and the only way I could bring all voices of all Middle Eastern countries in a single common shouting was music,” Mehdi explained.

            The Album is entitled, “Middle East,” and features various songs, one written by an artist during air strikes in Syria. Another one of the musicians composed his song while he was traveling on a refugee boat. Mehdi’s dream is to take the universal language of music and to be a voice for suffering minorities, refugees, and the people of his homeland who are struggling for freedom. He is busy using his temporary bail time to be a strong voice for other musicians who are still suffering in prison.

            I can relate to Mehdi’s experience. I too am a musician with a gift from God to play guitar and write songs. While researching this story, I was once again reminded of the precious freedom that I have to play my instrument publicly without fear of censorship and imprisonment. I am truly inspired by Mehdi’s courage to stand up to a dictatorship government and use his God-given talents to speak out against the evil done to humanity in the name of religion and politics. I hope one day to met Mehdi in person. It would be an incredible honor to sit in with him and play a few songs together. I am sure the night air would be filled with the powerful melodies of freedom and human rights.