Shortly after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, authorities renamed a large public square in Tehran Meidan-e Azadi, or Azadi Square. This square was the site of large demonstrations in the wake of the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential elections; thousands of peaceful protesters were arrested, beaten and tortured for exercising their right to freedom of expression while dozens were killed by security forces.
And at the same time that the Iranian government publicly declared their support for the democracy activists in Egypt and Tunisia, they denied a permit for a peaceful solidarity demonstration in February, and have only intensified their brutal crackdown on civil society activists. The irony is not lost on most Iranians, who deplore the glaring disparity between the Iranian government’s high-flown rhetoric and its appalling treatment of its citizens.
Amnesty International’s new Azadi Square action will bring attention on the incongruity between the rhetoric and the reality, and to call upon the government to end their repression and fulfill the promise of freedom implied by the name of the most prominent public place in Iran’s capital.
The Azadi Square action, a joint effort with United4Iran, is part of Amnesty’s campaign on behalf of imprisoned student activist Majid Tavakkoli and the hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in Iran. Majid Tavakkoli was arrested shortly after making a speech to mark Students Day in December 2009. He was beaten in detention and held in solitary confinement. He was eventually convicted of “participating in an illegal gathering,” “propaganda against the system,” “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “insulting the president” after an unfair trial in a Revolutionary Court and sentenced to more than eight years in prison. He is currently serving his sentence in Raja’i Shahr Prison in Karaj, and is in poor health.
Several prominent prisoners of conscience, including Majid Tavakkoli, have held hunger strikes to protest the dangerously squalid conditions in the prison. While we are focusing on Mr. Tavakkoli, in solidarity and admiration for his enormous courage—and for the enormous price he is paying—we recognize that he is one of too many Iranians—including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, journalist Hengameh Shahidi, and Kurdish human rights defender Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand—who languish in Iran’s prisons.
Amnesty activists are urged to send a birthday greeting to Majid Tavakkoli who will turn 25 on May 22. Amnesty International and United4Iran are collecting video birthday greetings sent by activists for a birthday video. We want to let him know that people around the world are remembering him while he spends his birthday in prison.
We’re also asking you to participate in Amnesty’s virtual Azadi Square action. It’s very simple. It involves temporarily renaming a prominent place in your community or campus “Azadi Square.” Then one or more people can stand there holding a sign saying “Azadi Square,” “Where is our Azadi” or another slogan and have a picture taken and sent to Amnesty International. Of course, we encourage people to hold larger and more public actions if they can, but even one person with a sign can carry out this action!
We will collect all the images and juxtapose them with the original Azadi Square. This action is intended to send a message of support to all the courageous Iranians who would be taking an enormous risk if they congregated in the “real” Azadi Square to exercise their most basic human rights.