Health workers are the front line in our defense against the coronavirus pandemic – including hundreds of Iranian Baha’i doctors and nurses. But they are not in Iran; instead, they live in countries around the world, treating their patients, where they are admired and praised by the people and governments of the countries where they live. The one country where they cannot do their work is Iran.
Many of these doctors and nurses – who studied and served in Iran – lost their jobs after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They were expelled from the universities and their public sector jobs, barred from practicing medicine, jailed and tortured, and a considerable number of them perished on the gallows or in front of firing squads.
The crime of these Baha’i doctors, nurses and other health workers was their faith in a religion that the rulers of the Islamic Republic believe is a “deviant” faith.
In a new series of articles, called “For the Love of Their Country,” IranWire tells the stories of some of these Iranian Baha’i doctors and nurses. In this installment you will read the story of Dr. Firouz Naeimi, a prominent doctor in Hamedan who helped eradicated malaria before being arrested, tortured and executed after the Islamic Revolution.
If you know a Baha’i health worker and have a first-hand story of his or her life, let IranWire know.
Dr. Firouz Naeimi, a popular physician in Hamedan, never imagined that one day he would be tortured and executed by his fellow Iranians for being a Baha’i. During his career he served in the provincial health center for Hamedan, at a time when malaria was common; it was brought under control and eliminated during his tenure. Dr. Naimi served the people of Hamedan as a doctor for 19 years, without any financial expectations; at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he did not even have a house in his own name in Hamedan, to be taken over by the Revolutionary Court after his execution.
Childhood and education
Firouz Naimi was born on October 3, 1935 in the city of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. His mother, Zivar Khanum, was the daughter of an old Baha'i family living in Ashgabat, and his father, Ustad Alireza Bana, moved from Yazd to Ashgabat when he was 22 years old. Ustad Alireza Bana was not initially a Baha'i; but after a while, one of his relatives in Ashgabat became acquainted with the Baha'i faith and converted to the religion.
Since the late 1800s, a number of Baha'is in Iran had left their homes and migrated to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, due to religious persecution. Turkmenistan was still under Iranian influence at the time though it was later annexed by Tsarist Russia.
Firouz's birth coincided with the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and the formation of the Soviet Union. The new government did not allow the existence of any ideas or groups different from the ideology of the ruling party and began to suppress them – especially religious groups.
The Iranian Baha’is of Ashgabat were also persecuted as part of this crackdown. Ashgabat's Mashreq al-Azkar, the world's first Baha'i religious temple, and the most prominent building in Ashgabat, was confiscated and soon demolished.
The Baha'is of Ashgabat did not accept Soviet citizenship. When they left the country, the government confiscated all their property.
Zivar Khanum and Firouz, who was then two years old, were expelled from the Soviet Union; some time later, his father and brother were expelled and joined the family back in Iran. The Iranian government had sent a number of Baha'is, including the Naeimis, to Fariman, a small village near Mashhad.
The Baha’is who had been expelled from the Soviet Union now came under the strict control of the Iranian government. Every now and then, one of them was arrested and released after interrogation. This continued for a long time – and was accompanied by an atmosphere of suspicion around the Baha’is. Most Iranians people did not initially have good relations with the Baha'is deported from Russia. They had arrived from a country with a different culture. The clothing of their women was different. The majority of the Baha'is also happened to be musicians, and played musical instruments, which was unacceptable to the Shia Muslim religious community in Iran at the time.
In Fariman, Firouz’s father, Ustad Alireza Bana, contracted malaria and was disabled for the rest of his life due to poor treatment by a doctor. From then on, Zivar Khanum carried the burden of the family alone. She supported the family with the income she earned from sewing and embroidery. Firouz, though still just a small child, joined his mother and embroidered and sewed for the family income.
The Naeimis’ life was difficult. But it did not stop Firouz from studying. He was a serious person in all matters and hardworking.
After living in Fariman for two years, the Naeimis were deported to Yazd. Firouz went to elementary school and high school in this city.
In 1955, Firouz was admitted to Mashhad University to study medicine and, after about six years, he graduated from the university with a doctorate in medicine.
After graduation, he attended compulsory himself for military service. Dr. Firouz Naeimi underwent six months of military training in Tehran and was sent to continue his service in Hamedan – where he arrived in 1962. His residence in Hamedan marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life – a period of nineteen years which ended when his life was prematurely ended by the Revolution.
Marriage, family life and medicine
In Hamedan, Firouz Naeimi married a Baha'i lady named Akhtar Kowsari.
After his military service, Firouz found a job with the Malaria Eradication Organization in Hamedan. His fidelity and skill at work enabled him to quickly move up the career ladder. He was first appointed as the head of the organization and, after a few years, he was elected as the Director-General of the Malaria Eradication Department of Hamedan province. Dr. Firouz Naeimi was fired from this same position as part of a wave of dismissals of Baha'is from government jobs in 1979 during the Revolution.
During his service at the Malaria Eradication Department, Firouz Naeimi traveled to other countries, including the Philippines, to take short training courses in the fight against malaria and endemic diseases. He also trained his staff at the Malaria Eradication Department in Hamedan. Malaria in Hamedan was eradicated during Dr. Naeimi’s tenure.
With the establishment of Bu Ali Sina University in Hamedan, in 1976, Dr. Naeimi was one of the first professors to be invited to teach at the university. He gave several hours of lectures each week.
In the last few years of his life, as the work of the Malaria Eradication Department wound down, Dr. Naeimi opened his own clinic.
Dr. Naeimi was always looking for the right time to continue his education and to become a specialist. He traveled to the United States to prepare for his studies. But his journey coincided with the Islamic Revolution. In the United States, he was informed that the Hojjatieh association in Hamedan, an anti-Baha’i group, had taken advantage of the Revolution and was plotting against the Baha'is. They spread rumors saying that Dr. Naeimi had traveled abroad to get new “orders” (i.e. from foreign powers) and that it was necessary to kill him.
Dr. Naeimi's relatives in the United States asked him not to risk his life by returning to Iran. But Dr. Naeimi believed that, during these years, he did nothing but serve the people of Hamedan and would not be in danger.
Arrest and execution
Dr. Naeimi returned to Hamedan. On August 9, 1980, Dr. Firouz Naeimi was arrested at his workplace. On the same day, five other Baha'is were arrested in Hamedan. The detained Baha'is were transferred to the Revolutionary Court and preliminary interrogations began. On the same day, the religious leader of Hamedan, Abolhassan Alami, was on a trip. The detained Baha'is requested leave from the prosecutor's office until his return. On Monday, August 11, all six Baha'is arrested were released but re-arrested a day later, marking the end of their freedom for the rest of their lives.
The detained Baha'is were taken to the police prison. After shaving their heads, they were taken to the prison's addiction ward. All six were placed in a room measuring 2 metres by 3.5 meters. Three months later, another Baha'i joined them. The space was so small that some had to sleep on their sides and some on their backs, respectively. About four hundred addicts were detained in this ward. The air was smoky, dark and suffocating. The ward had only four toilets, and from early morning, a long queue of prisoners stood in front of the toilets.
The interrogator tried to harass the Baha'is by holding them in this cell in order to force them to recant their beliefs. But the plan backfired, and the Baha'is in prison became popular among the prisoners. Dr. Naeimi and another imprisoned Baha’i, Dr. Nasser Vafaei, were not allowed to practice medicine in prison, but prisoners came to them anyway, and the doctors treated them. Prescriptions were written for sick prisoners, and in many cases, the prescriptions were filled for the jailed doctors by their spouses.
For four months, Dr. Naeimi and his friends were barred from having visitors. During this period, they were interrogated and pressured to convert to Islam. All seven, especially Dr. Naeimi and Dr. Vafaei, were prominent figures in Hamedan, and their conversion to Islam would be a victory for the city's judicial and security officials. The interrogator was a well-known member of the Hojjatieh association in Hamedan, Ebrahim Derafshi.
Dr. Naeimi and his friends were transferred to a ward for political prisoners. Most of the prisoners in this ward were army officers and officials of the previous government. One of the ward rooms was given to the seven detained Baha'is. The trial of the Baha’is then began. Initially, a public trial was held in the presence of the seven imprisoned Baha'is; but then the court hearings for Dr. Firouz Naeimi were held separately.
During Dr. Naeimi's seven-session closed trial, which lasted 20 days, he was held in solitary confinement and denied access to his lawyers. The court hearings were accompanied by constant insults from the judge against Dr. Naeimi's beliefs. Whenever Dr. Naeimi wanted to respond to the charges against him, a number of guards sitting in the gallery did not allow him to speak, instead shouting Islamic prayers. During court breaks and at night, the guards did not allow Dr. Naeimi to rest by making noise and playing loud religious tapes in the cell, forcing him to attend his next session while exhausted. The pressure was so intense that, after twenty days, Dr. Firouz Naeimi had lost 12 kilograms in weight.
The Revolutionary Court announced on Radio Hamedan that anyone who had complaints about these seven Baha’is should come forward. Few responded to the call. There were also those who testified in favor of the accused. Non-Baha'is also went to court to testify about the plaintiffs' incompetence but none of these testimonies were accepted.
On March 14, 1981, the Baha'i prisoners were summoned to the office of Ayatollah Aalami, President of the Revolutionary Court of Hamedan. Alami promised them freedom because no evidence of guilt had been found. But the condition of freedom was to turn away from their Baha'i faith – even without explicitly becoming a Muslim. The Baha’is declined.
On June 10, 1981, the Revolutionary Guards visited the homes of the Baha'i prisoners and confiscated their property. Between June 10-13, agents took the prisoners every night to carry out the death sentence passed against them, but after a few minutes of suspense, they returned them to their cell saying they had "changed their minds.”
But at 10 pm on Saturday, June 13, several Revolutionary Guards came for the imprisoned Baha'is and removed them from their cells. From the moment these seven people left until the morning of June 14, 1981, when seven bodies were thrown by three masked guards before the All that was left of those four hours were their farewell letters and final wills.
The bodies of the seven executed Baha'is showed that they had been severely tortured prior to execution. None of the Baha'is had received a “coup de grace” and instead had died through multiple gunshots to the body and limbs. None of the dead were blindfolded. In addition to the bullets that hit Dr. Naeimi's body, there were three burn marks on his ankle. His penis and testicles had also been torn.
All of Dr. Firouz Naeimi's assets, including his personal office and car, were confiscated. His bank accounts were frozen and appropriated by the Revolutionary Court.
Read other articles in this series: