Now that spring is in the air, most of us (at least those in the northern hemisphere) eagerly look forward to the end of dreary winter and the new life and beauty that nature will soon bring forth. For Iranians, the first day of spring is especially important; it is the occasion of Nowruz or “new day”, the most joyous holiday of the year. Nowruz is thought to be a very ancient tradition; some scholars believe that the 2,500-year-old monumental reliefs at Takht-e Jamshid (Persepolis) depict vassals bearing Nowruz gifts for the Achaemenid king Darius. Nowruz is now celebrated by all ethnic groups in Iran, by Kurds in several countries, and by many others in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and elsewhere. Iranians typically take several days off and celebrate by visiting with family and friends, and with the tradition of the Haft Sin or seven S’s—a table laid out with an elaborate display including seven items beginning with the Persian letter Sin (the equivalent of the English s) that represent spring.
Sadly, many Iranians will not be able to celebrate Nowruz with their loved ones because they are languishing in prison. Even before the disputed June 12 presidential elections, Iran’s detention facilities were packed with prisoners of conscience, but since then the prisons are overflowing; many of Iran’s leading opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, student leaders and women’s rights activists—if they have not fled the country—are now behind bars.
So at this time of renewal and hope, we want to remember our friends who are imprisoned in Iran. That is why Amnesty International is urging people to take part in its special Nowruz action. Last year, we selected three recipients of our Nowruz action. Sadly, all three are still in prison. This year, we have expanded the action to seven cases, in honor of the tradition of the Haft Sin. We are urging activists to send Nowruz greetings to: imprisoned labor rights activist and head of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Drivers Union Mansour Ossanlu; seven leaders of the Baha’i community who face serious charges that could carry the death penalty; journalist and human rights activist Shiva Nazar Ahari; noted author, death penalty opponent and Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender award recipient Emadeddin Baghi; women’s and Kurdish rights activist Ronak Safarzadeh; internationally recognized HIV/AIDS researchers Kamiar and Arash Alaei; and Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh. Please take some time to send these courageous human rights defenders a card letting them know they are not forgotten.