Baha'is in Iran, Our Story is One

#OurStoryIsOne: Akhtar Sabet, 25 years old

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Akhtar Sabet, daughter of Hossein and Havva, was born in the town of Sarvestan in the south of Fars Province.  She was a happy, intelligent, selfless, devoted, disciplined, and committed person who lived a simple life. She was a woman with a strong personality and a rich social education, and the latest entry in my #OurStoryIsOne project (for the rest of the post, click here).

On 18 November 1978, a group attacked Bahá’í businesses and set them on fire, provoked by several clerics in the city. Akhtar’s family and many other Bahá’ís traveled to Shiraz at night, but Akhtar did not join her family. The attacks intensified, with groups of people attacking Baha’i homes and pillaging and destroying their belongings. Akhtar had no choice but to join her family in Shiraz.

Akhtar went to school in Sarvestan until 9th grade but completed subsequently moved to Shiraz where she obtained her high school diploma. She spent her childhood in poverty; she also worked in the last two years of high school in order to make money and help out in the family’s expenses. In high school and college, she would spend time to make sure her fellow students were making progress in their academic studies. She also taught Bahá’í children’s classes.

She had an associate degree from Shiraz’ Nursing Education Center and worked as a nurse at the children’s wing of Sa’di Hospital, as a replacement for colleagues on leave. She liked the nursing profession but unfortunately, after the 1980 Cultural Revolution, was expelled from the university along with other Bahá’í students, with the University refusing to give her a post-graduate degree.

Akhtar was arrested at her family’s home in Shiraz on the night of 22 October 1982 and was detained at the Revolutionary Guards’ Sepah detention center. She was transferred to Adelabad Prison after more about a month where she was cellmates with two other Baha’i women until the time of her execution.

Akhtar endured severe physical and psychological torture during her detention. She and her cellmates were considered “unclean” because they were Bahá’í and were treated in a demeaning manner. For instance, she and 25 of her ward mates were given only a single small wash tub to wash their clothes in. The section of the prison where they lived was humid and moldy.

Akhtar had a good voice and would recite prayers every morning, she also prepared the necessities for her ward mates’ breakfast. In addition to providing medical treatment to them, she helped them in washing their clothes or performing their daily tasks while in prison. Starting in early April until her execution, she visited weekly with certain members of her family. Prison officials had set restrictions on her visiting with all the members of her family.

Following Akhtar’s arrest, the hospital administration, loathe to lose her services, entreated the government to release her, but the government refused to do so unless she agreed to give up her Faith. She would not.

According to reports, the authorities gave Akhtar numerous opportunities to reject her religion and convert to Islam. According to one of her ward mates, the Judge and the Revolutionary prosecutor both gave Akhtar an ultimatum that she would be executed if she did not “repent”. Akhtar had told her ward mates that one of the interrogators who had been deeply affected after reading the account of her life had told her: “Why don’t you just say you’re not a Baha’i and get it over with and free yourself?” To which she had replied: “How can I reject the righteousness of [the Baha’i] faith?”

Akhtar was not represented by an attorney at her trial. She was charged with “being a Bahá’í”, “membership in the Bahá’í organization”, and “being single” (which is not a crime in Iranian law).  In mid-February 1983, the Shiraz Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced her to death. The authorities did not inform her family of the Court’s decision.  Referring to her own death sentence, Akhtar assured her compatriots, “Never mind, I am not worried. Whatever happens, I am content with the will of God.”

On 18 June 1983, Akhtar, along with the other nine Bahá’í women, was transferred to Chogan Square and forced to witness the hanging of other women. When it was her turn, she was given one last chance to reject her religion. She refused, and she too was hanged. She was 25 years old. The guards let her family see her body, but they refused to let them take the body for burial. Instead, authorities buried her and the other women in graves prepared at Shiraz’ Golestan-e Javid Cemetery without observing any of the customary Bahá’í burial rites. The cemetery was in the possession of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps at the time, and the families of those executed were not able to enter the Cemetery even if only to see their loved ones’ graves and say a prayer. Her place of burial remains unknown.

Find my entire #OurStoryisOne project here.  For more information, visit the official #OurStoryisOne website, here, or follow on Instagram.

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