About Elise Auerbach

Elise Auerbach is the Iran and Jordan country specialist for Amnesty International USA.
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Jon Stewart’s New Film Rosewater and Ongoing Persecution of Journalists in Iran

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 6: FILE, The Washington Post's Jason

Jason Rezaian at The Washington Post via Getty Images in Washington, DC on November 6, 2013. (Photo by Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

When CBS’ 60 Minutes aired its 8 Days in Tehran program in May 2014, featuring seemingly unfettered access to Iranian officials and frank interviews with ordinary citizens, observers may have been justified in assuming that a new day was dawning for freedom of information in Iran. After all, correspondent Steve Kroft and his crew were able to wander around Tehran freely, without minders, to talk to people in the Bazaar and elsewhere.


Imprisoned For Refusing to Work on Military Projects “Harmful to Humanity”

Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee

It was the end of January 2011. Young Iranian physics whiz Omid Kokabee had just had a pleasant winter break visiting with his family in Iran and was eagerly anticipating returning to Austin to continue his doctoral studies in the Physics Department at the University of Texas. He was at the airport in Tehran when security agents approached him; instead of boarding his flight as planned, his life suddenly turned into a nightmare from which he has yet to awaken.

It is now three years later and Omid Kokabee sits in Evin Prison in Tehran, serving a ten-year prison sentence after being convicted in a Revolutionary Court of unsubstantiated charges of “communicating with a hostile government” (presumably the U.S.) and “accepting illegal funds” (apparently a reference to the stipend that graduate students at his department typically receive).

While in detention, he was held in solitary confinement, subjected to prolonged interrogations, and pressured to make a confession. His interrogators reportedly threatened that he would be tortured and that professors at Iranian universities with whom he had worked would be arrested. During questioning, he was reportedly made to write down details of individuals he had seen in embassies or at conferences, and was told by those questioning him that some of the people he had met were CIA operatives.

Amnesty International has declared him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran. AI calls for his immediate and unconditional release from prison.


A Quick Way to Take Action for Political Prisoners in Iran

Blogger and prisoner of conscience  Hossein Ronaghi Maleki.

Blogger and prisoner of conscience
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was a 24-year-old computer whiz and blogger when he was arrested in Iran in December 2009. After spending most of the last four years behind bars as a prisoner of conscience, he is now in a deplorable condition, in dire need of medical attention that he is not receiving.

After having one kidney removed because of a kidney disorder contracted in the filthy prison where he was kept, he now has a serious infection in his remaining kidney.

Incredibly, when he was re-arrested in August 2012 after spending a short period of time out of prison to get an operation, he was brutally beaten in the kidney area, causing his surgical wound to bleed.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki has gone on hunger strikes to protest his mistreatment, but to no avail. He still has not been granted the medical furlough to which he is entitled.


Will This Man Be Executed Twice?

Addicted to deathAn Iranian man, identified by state media only as “Alireza M.,” was hanged and presumed dead, but discovered to be alive in a morgue by his family. Now, the authorities intend to reattempt the execution once his health “improves.”

Iran has been basking in the dubious distinction of being number two in the number of citizens it executes. It can’t quite compare to the perennial executions “champion” China, but Iran does likely have the highest per capita rate of executions of any country in the world.

This is not exactly an achievement to brag about.

We can’t be sure how many people Iran executes each year, but the latest reliable estimates are that as of this week, at least 508 people were executed in Iran so far this year. If the trend continues, Iran is well on the path to exceed in 2013 the minimum of 544 people it is believed to have executed last year.


2 Historical Traumas That Continue to Cast a Long Shadow Over Iran

Khavaran Cemetery (Photo Credit: Iranian.com).

Khavaran Cemetery (Photo Credit: Iranian.com).

One of my favorite writers, William Faulkner, famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I’ve been thinking about how societies wrestle with the profound historical trauma resulting from human rights violations on a massive scale since I saw the powerful new film “The Act of Killing.” It takes on the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of supposed “Communists” in Indonesia after an attempted coup in 1965, but not by using typical documentary devices of archival footage and talking heads.

Instead, the director Joshua Oppenheimer opted for a unique and unsettling approach – asking some of the perpetrators of the killings, who have never been held accountable for their abuses, to recreate their crimes, often in staged genre settings inspired by their favorite classic gangster films and fluffy musicals.