Baha'i marchers celebrate freedom

FREEDOM FIGHTER: Organiser Maxine Chan has been walking daily in preparation for the Baha’i Freedom walk on Saturday.
Vanita Prasad
FREEDOM FIGHTER: Organiser Maxine Chan has been walking daily in preparation for the Baha’i Freedom walk on Saturday.

In New Zealand Iranians of the Baha'i faith can live with dignity and freedom. But they can't always in their homeland.

This Saturday hundreds of people will celebrate that by walking from Henderson to One Tree Hill.

Avondale resident Maxine Chan and her Iranian-born husband Del have organised the freedom walk to support the persecuted Baha'i people freedom.

Ms Chan says despite its peaceful philosophy Baha'i people in Iran, who number around 300,000, have been increasingly persecuted since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

"It's not recognised as a religion there and they don't have civil or human rights because the Islamic leaders see it as a challenge against their religious institutions."

She says Baha'i people are not allowed to go to university and young men are usually sent to the front line of combat when performing their compulsory military service.

"They use these men who don't believe in combat as gun fodder," she says."They don't even make the effort to return their bodies to their families because they're not recognised as humans – it's one of the ways they are trying to get rid of them," Ms Chan says.

It was these conditions that forced Ms Chan's husband Del to escape to Pakistan on foot with his mother and sister.

He spent two years there before coming to New Zealand as a refugee.

Del did not wish to publish his full name because his mother is still an Iranian citizen who could be penalised by the Iranian government if it were discovered he had spoken out.

The couple, who met in New Zealand, say the support they have received for the 23km walk has exceeded their expectations.

"Our aim was to get 206 people walking to represent the number of Baha'is killed in Iran since 1979," she says.

"We've got people coming from Whangarei and Hamilton to join us and there will be a walk mirroring us in Raglan."

Starting from the Baha'i national office in Henderson, the walk has been divided into seven parts to represent the seven Iranians recently imprisoned for 10 years for conspiring against the government.

Ms Chan says this is a common accusation.

There are approximately 4000 people of the Baha'i Faith living in New Zealand.

Visit www.bahaifreedomwalk.org for more information.

Western Leader