Our last installment for the Baha’i stories – this one perhaps the most intense.
Meet Daniel Owji, a young Iranian Baha’i currently living in Australia.
He attended the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) and was nearly killed as a result.
Daniel remembers the secrecy with which he and his classmates had to study in order not to be discovered by the Iranian authorities. Classes were held in private homes only once a month, nothing was ever talked about over the phone, and most classes were conducted online through secure sites. He remembers the pressure and difficulty studying under such circumstances, but also remembers the atmosphere of love for education and studying.
However, in 2011 the Iranian government cracked down on the university and arrested 15 members of the university including Daniel. He was stopped outside his house one night by the police and beat, blindfolded, handcuffed and thrown into the trunk of a car. He remembers managing to call one of his friends to let him know what was happening before the police heard him and smashed his phone.
Daniel was starved, beaten and tortured while in prison to rat on his other friends for committing the “horrific crime” of studying in the Baha’i secret university. But he refused.
Seeing that he would not budge, the guards told him he should write his own will and last words for he was to be executed the next day. Daniel remembers writing to his parents and family telling them how much he loved them and was sorry that his death would cause them so much pain.
The next day the guards blindfolded him and took him to an undisclosed location. They threw him on the ground. He heard the gun cock and the guards scream Allah Akbar!! And then….
Then one of the guards started to laugh. He told him that he didn’t want to dirty the ground with Daniel’s blood and they would take him out to the desert to kill him. Daniel was handcuffed and blindfolded again and brought to the middle of the desert.
The same scenario was unfolding again, but this time Daniel was sure he was going to die. He was thrown into the sand, blindfolded, and made to kneel. He heard the guards getting ready to kill him, he heard the gun cock again, the cry of Allah Akbar and then…
Silence this time with no laughter.
Daniel sat there waiting to see what was going to happen. After what seemed like years, Daniel managed to pull down his blindfold. He turned around and saw that the guards had left, there was no one there. Strangely enough they left Daniel’s car, the same one he had been pulled out of when he was first arrested, in the middle of the desert with the keys inside.
What had saved him? Had it been the phone call to his friend? Was there pressure on the Iranian government to let him go? Or was it all a joke to begin with to instill fear in him and other Baha’i for ever thinking of committing the “crime” of achieving higher education.
He managed to drive with his hands cuffed in front of him back to his home where he was greeted by his parents. They had gone searching for him the last couple days and had been told by the Iranian authorities that they had no idea where Daniel was. He got out of jail bloodied and with broken ribs. He continued his university degree in BIHE in defiance of the Iranian government and only left Iran when he received a letter in the mail summoning him to an Iranian court for the crime of education.
Such is the fate of the Baha’I who dare try to study higher education in Iran.
His family escaped Iran and has resettled in Australia where he now resides. He is applying to a master’s program at a university there. Daniel cannot wait to study in a free and safe atmosphere with classrooms, libraries, and a campus – a privilege that is so open to everyone born in the West and has been denied to the Baha’i in Iran.