"Do Not Be Afraid" is One Word in Farsi

Of all the players in what has become Iran’s bloodiest uprising in 30 years, few have captured the world’s attention like the Iranian women have. It began with Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. An professor at Tehran University, she was the first candidate’s spouse to campaign publicly on behalf of her husband, and as a result, her rallies drew thousands decked out in green. Rahnavard was even nicknamed the Michelle Obama of the Middle East. Post-election, she is still campaigning fiercely against the current Iranian regime, only this time for the release of detainees and to allow legal protests to continue.

Since then, women of all ages have been turning up at the protests against the contested election results. One 19 year old girl told CNN that she was beaten by paramilitary forces and forced to give them her camera’s memory card—something she stealthily got around by giving them an empty card instead. “They were hitting everyone, and everywhere was fire because of the tear gas they throw at us,” she said. “There were a lot of other women there. We gave the boys the stones because we can’t throw them so far. We gave them the stones, and we said the slogans.”

In his press conference yesterday, President Obama acknowledged the role of women in the Iranian protests. “We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets,” Obama said.

Perhaps the most iconic woman of this struggle is now Neda Agha-Soltan, the non-political, 26 year old music student who was shot to death as she stepped out of her car to get some air. The graphic video of her death has already been viewed on YouTube over 200,000 times, in which onlookers tell her “do not be afraid”. She is now referred to as the new voice and symbol of the revolution.

Melody Moezzi, an Iranian American author, went on CNN and emotionally declared that Neda’s death has made an enemy out of all the Iranian people for the Supreme Leader and his leadership. “Natersid, natersid—do not be afraid—is one word in Farsi. That word has become so powerful. She’s a martyr; she’s going straight to heaven. God is on her side, we are on her side.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Iran: Release Soltani

Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested at his office in central Tehran, at around four in the afternoon, on 16 June by four plainclothes security officials. The officials, who did not have a search warrant, a summons or arrest warrant, carried out a search of his office. They confiscated his files, his briefcase, his computers and his mobile phone before taking him away.

Abdolfattah Soltani is a member of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights which Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi and many other leading human rights activists founded in 2002. It was forcibly closed in December 2008 shortly before the center was to hold an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The CHRD, whose members continue to work under the name of the center, has three stated roles: reporting violations of human rights in Iran; providing free legal representation to political prisoners; and supporting the families of political prisoners.

Abdolfattah Soltani was represented the cases of prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji, an investigative reporter who uncovered the still unpunished complicity of various governmentofficials in the murder of intellectuals and journalists in the 1990s, and the family of Zahra Kazemi,an Iranian-Canadian journalist who died in custody in Evin prison in July 2003. In Zahra Kazemi’s case, a Ministry of Intelligence official was tried and acquitted of her ‘semi-intentional’ murder. Hehad been considered a scapegoat for a senior judicial figure, and following the acquittal, Kazemi’s family, represented by Abdolfattah Soltani, appealed to the Supreme Court, to launch a newinvestigation into her death in custody.

Mr. Soltani was arrested in 2005 and spent 219 days in detention, of which 43 were in solitary confinement. In July 2006 he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court for “disclosing confidential documents,” for which he received a sentence of four years; and one year’s imprisonment for “propaganda against the system.” The evidential basis for the charges brought against Abdolfattah Soltani was reportedly not made clear in the charge sheet or by the prosecution during the trial. According to reports, the verdict was issued with neither Abdolfattah Soltani nor his lawyers being summoned to court to hear it, and they were not given a copy of the verdict. Of his trial and the verdict, he said, “Neither me nor my lawyers were called for the court session mentioned in the verdict. We were unable to defend my case because we never saw the main evidence listed in the indictment.”

Abdolfattah Soltani has stated “my crime is accepting political cases including cases of journalists, students, and two nuclear defendants, otherwise, I did not break the law. They are trying to treat me in a way so that no other lawyer would accept political cases.”

To take action on his case, click here

Iranian Protesters Stay One Step Ahead in the Cyber World

In the face of a tightening government grip on all things viral, Iranians have managed to circumvent the communication restrictions laid upon them to tell the world their story in ways previously thought to be reserved only for social networking. For anyone who has so much as glanced at the news during the past week, Twitter has been the name of the game for Iranian protesters.

With a limitation of 140 characters per post, only the most pertinent information is tweeted—rally locations, real-time updates, and details only those on the ground can see. While sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been blocked off before, Iranians have continued to gain access to them via proxies, servers that allow users to access another site through them. Proxy sites are continuously being updated in an effort to stay one step ahead of the Iranian government’s filtering apparatus.

The Iranian government’s strategy for blocking the flow of information appears to be two-fold. Foreign news services have all been asked to leave (just this morning, the BBC reporter Jon Leyne, one of the few reporters left, was given a similar request) and the internet speed has been slowed to a snail’s pace. According to the Wall Street Journal, limiting bandwidth in this manner is meant to discourage and frustrate users so much that they’ll give up.

This strategy is, for now, not working. Iranians have harnessed the internet in ingenious ways—from their Twitter posts to uploaded YouTube videos. All major news networks have caught on to the phenomenon, allowing the messages coming out of Iran to truly reach the entire world.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Protests and Crackdowns Spread Throughout Iran

There is a misconception that protests against Iran’s contested election results have been confined to Tehran. That is not the case. Although the largest protests have indeed been taking place in Tehran, Iranians in many other cities and towns have been taking to the streets. Unfortunately, the crackdown carried out by Iranian authorities has correspondingly extended to every corner of the country.

Mir Hossein Mousavi hails from Azerbaijan, in the northern part of Iran. The capital of Azerbaijan province, Tabriz, has seen some of the most severe crackdowns.  Seventeen political activists including those associated with the Nehzat-e Azadi (Freedom Movement) were detained on Monday night after they held a peaceful protest in Abresan Square in Tabriz. Security forces entered the dormitories at Tabriz University and detained ten students who had been involved in demonstrations. Student leader Amir Mardani and Dr. Ghaffari Farzadi, a leading member of the Nehzat-e Azadi and a lecturer at Tabriz University, were among those detained.

In the city of Oroumiye, local media reported on Tuesday that two people had been killed and hundreds more detained in a crackdown on about 3,000 people protesting in Imam Street.

In Shiraz, southern Iran, security forces used tear gas as they forced their way into a library at Shiraz University. Reports say that several students were beaten and around 100 were detained. Unconfirmed reports suggest that one person may have been killed. The chancellor of that university, Mohammadhadi Sadeghi, resigned on Tuesday in protest.

Meanwhile, in Mashhad, in the northeast, there were further reports of security forces attacking students and in Zahedan, in Iran’s southeast, two students are among at least three activists who have been detained.

In one particularly ominous piece of news, Reuters reported that Mohammad Reza Habibi, the public prosecutor in the central province of Esfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be charged with engaging in “Mohareb” or “Enmity with God”—a crime punishable by death according to Iranian law. It was not clear if his warning applied only to Esfahan, where there have been violent clashes, or the country as a whole.

Protests are expected to continue today as a large opposition rally has been called. Large crowds can also be expected to congregate for Friday prayers on the following day. Amnesty International has called for the Iranian authorities to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters and to release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Solidarity (and Suspension) on the Soccer Field

June 19 Update: Any soccer players that were seen wearing the green wristbands have been suspended for “government interference”.

The Iranian soccer team was seen clad with green wristbands during their World Cup qualifying match against South Korea.

Green is the signature color of the mass Iranian movement for former presidential candidate Mir Hussein Musavi. Daily protests against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, numbering in the tens of thousands, have become virtual seas of green–with participants sporting green-colored headbands, shirts, and posters.

While there is no confirmation that the soccer team wore the wristbands in support of Musavi, it is not customary for players to wear wristbands at all.

Soccer has long been the sport of choice in Iran by both men and women. There’s a fantastic Iranian film called “Offside” about a group of women who try to sneak into a soccer match (interestingly enough, a match that determines whether Iran will compete in the World Cup) dressed up as men. It is directed by Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most influential and acclaimed directors. NPR has a great review on their website here, and you can also see a trailer on YouTube. Check it out!

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

History in the Making in Iran

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator (c)AFP/Getty

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator (c)AFP/Getty

We are glued to news coming out of Iran, literally watching as history is unfolding. Commentators have been grasping for relevant comparisons; is this another Tiananmen Square? Another Prague Spring? Or is it even a Second Iranian Revolution? But no comparisons are appropriate for the phenomenal outpouring of people demanding that their rights be respected.

Why is this happening in Iran? We don’t see massive protests in other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt when there have been allegations of electoral impropriety.

Adjectives such as fearless, indomitable and awe-inspiring come to mind as we see Iranians continually defying bans on opposition protests to pour into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. They constantly find ingenious ways to confound the authorities’ attempts to block communications; now that foreign journalists have been prevented from covering rallies, we rely on the videos, photos and eyewitness accounts provided by Iranian citizens to YouTube and their friends and relatives for up-to-the-minute information.

Iranians express their defiance in a variety of other ways: women have been risking their safety and even their lives to walk up to Basij (paramilitaries) and riot police on motorcycles and armed with truncheons to remind them that “we are all Iranians” and asking them to refrain from violence. Even members of Iran’s soccer team playing in a World Cup qualifying match in Seoul wore green armbands, the color of the opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The yearning for freedom and human rights is a mighty force. Some have claimed that human rights is somehow a “western” concept, foisted on the rest of the world by paternalistic and arrogant Europeans and North Americans. Yet despite Iranian authorities’ attempts to portray the protests as being somehow the result of American “interference” it is clear that the impetus for the massive protests comes from the Iranian people themselves.

What will happen? Already the Supreme Leader has made an unprecedented announcement that there will be an investigation into the allegations of election fraud. Another massive rally by supporters of Mr. Mousavi has been called for tomorrow and there is no way to predict where events will lead.

The authorities have reacted to the unrest by use of force—sometimes lethal—as well as by mass arrests of opposition figures, journalists and human rights lawyers. We hope they will not unleash the full fury of the Revolutionary Guards against the demonstrators, which could result in unthinkable deaths and injuries. But we do know that there is no turning back. The Iranian authorities cannot count on the hope that things will just settle down and that the Iranian people will continue to accept the massive human rights violations perpetrated on them.

Act Now for Iran!

Iran has not seen a public demonstration of this size in 3 decades. After the results of Friday’s contested election, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in an act of defiance.

According to reports, as many as five students at Tehran University were shot dead over the weekend and another person was wounded when security agents opened fire on a demonstration. Motorcycle-mounted riot police have severely beaten large numbers of protesters with clubs and night sticks.

Authorities have done all they can to make sure this story doesn’t get out including blocking cell phones, text messaging, email and Web sites.

Let Iran know that the global community is monitoring their every move

Take action now!

Iranian Presidential Debate Heats Up

Last night turned into a fiery exchange of words during the second of several debates lined up ahead of next week’s presidential election. While there currently no English translations available on YouTube of the debates, CCTV has a couple of clips up here:


Former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi and incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traded barbs on issues ranging from the economy to nuclear power to Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory comments about the Holocaust.

Reuters, the New York Times, and Bloomberg all discuss the debate in more detail.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Lebanon Election to be held on June 7th

Electoral Map of Lebanon

Electoral Map of Lebanon

Lebanon is due to hold its national elections in about two weeks on June 7th. This is a unique opportunity for the country’s political leaders to commit themselves and their parties to introducing long-needed human rights reforms.

There are five key areas that the new government elected on June 7th should focus on for reform: creation of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon within the justice system, an end to arbitrary detention and torture, addressing the impunity of past human rights abuses, ending discrimination and violence against women and other marginalized groups, and abolition of the death penalty. You can find out more details on these key reform issues here.

To date, there have been several positive human rights advances in Lebanon, including the Parliament’s drafting of a Human Rights Action Plan. Candidates should embrace these developments and take advantage of this opportunity to implement a clear, comprehensive human rights agenda should they be elected into office.

To learn more about the candidates and the election, click here.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Crackdown After Disputed Elections?

Following disputed elections in Moldova, human rights defenders find themselves increasingly under threat. In addition to organizers of peaceful protests, several civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, are now being targeted in an intimidation campaign from the government.

These organizations have received letters from the Ministry of Justice, dated April 16, asking each to explain its position on the riots and any measures taken by them to prevent and stop the violence. Some of the organizations are claiming that this is a “call to statements of loyalty”. The majority of these organizations have also received subpoenas from their local tax inspectorates asking them to submit financial reports for 2008 and 2009, and identify their sources of income and expenditure.  Furthermore, on April 28, representatives from the local tax inspectorate visited the Amnesty International office in Moldova, requesting that the organization provide all consultants’ contracts for 2008 and 2009 as well as a copy of the list of paid members and all their passport details. This creates a grave concern for the protection of human rights and human rights defenders in Moldova, which should be guaranteed under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Nicola Duckworth, AI’s Europe and Central Asia program director, made the following statement:

The Moldovan authorities are failing in their duty to ensure that human rights activists are able to carry out their work unhindered and to protect them against any violations of their rights, as stated in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders