Going to watch a volleyball game shouldn’t mean having to make a major political statement. It certainly shouldn’t mean arrest and indefinite detention in solitary confinement. But that is exactly what happened to dual British-Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami, a 25-year-old woman who went to Tehran’s Azadi Stadium in June to watch a match during the International Federation of Volleyball World League games. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
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.
Which of the following is true about executions in Iran?:
The first day of spring is the beginning of a special time for Iranians and for other Persian and Kurdish speakers throughout the world as they celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. This is the time when families gather to share in ancient Iranian traditions.
But many Iranians will not be able to celebrate this important holiday with their loved ones as they are locked up in crowded and disease-ridden Iranian prisons. They are not locked up because they have committed any crime. They are locked up because of their religious faith, because of their activism to create a better world, or because they have expressed opinions the authorities don’t want others to hear.
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.
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.
How many human rights activists does it take to achieve human rights victories in Iran?
The answer is a lot and they have to be persistent over a long period of time. But in the end, all the hard work does pay off as we have seen over the past several weeks.
On September 18, Iran released prominent human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, who had been in prison for three years just for representing her clients – many of them young people sentenced to death and human rights defenders such as Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
There are also indications that a man known as “Alireza M” – who had been subjected to a botched execution, had been declared dead and who was then discovered to be alive in the morgue the next day - will not have to face the horrific prospect of a reattempt of his execution.
Other positive signs include an announcement from Iran’s Minister of Culture Ali Jannati that censorship of books will be eased and a call from President Hasan Rouhani for the lifting of restrictions on academic freedom and for allowing Iranian scholars more opportunity to take part in international conferences.
An 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.
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.
Dear President-Elect Rouhani:
I am writing to you to ask you to stop the astounding brutalization heaped upon a young man who has had to pay a horrible price for his mere participation in peaceful political activism.
I welcome your recent statements that indicate your desire to usher in reforms that would lead to greater freedoms and rights for the Iranian people. That is why I hope that you will be able to bring Arash Sadeghi’s years-long ordeal to an end.
Arash Sadeghi is just 26-years-old. He had been studying philosophy at Allameh Tabatabai University until he was banned from continuing his education because of his political activism. A supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi who was running as a reformist candidate in the 2009 presidential elections, he had been arrested a number of times for participating in demonstrations protesting the outcome of the 2009 election.