10 Years On, 10 Reasons Guantanamo Must Be Closed

guantanamo protest france

(Pierre-Yves Brunaud)

Ten years ago today the first twenty prisoners arrived at the US military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. As we mark this dismal anniversary, it is instructive to take a moment to reflect on the damage Guantanamo continues to do to the global cause of human rights.

Guantanamo is much more than simply the sum of its parts, and outlined below are 10 powerful anti-human rights messages that the continued existence of the detention facility sends out to the world:


Iranian Guards Compare Evin Prison to Guantanamo

The release of detained American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer by the Iranian government last Wednesday was a rare bit of good news. They have now arrived back in the United States and on Sunday gave their first press conference on US soil.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal at press conference in New York, September 25 (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Josh and Shane were detained by the Iranian authorities, along with their friend Sarah Shourd, while hiking along the Iraq- Iran border in 2009.

They were held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison on espionage charges for more than two years. They had little contact with the outside world and communication with their families was almost impossible.


Recognizing Critics, Empowering Dissidents: A Statement of Solidarity with Advocates for Human Rights in Iran

By Nazanin Boniadi and Roxana Saberi

Journalist Roxana Saberi and actress Nazanin Boniadi

Journalist Roxana Saberi and actress Nazanin Boniadi

In June 2009, hundreds of thousands of courageous men and women took to the streets in Iran, demanding their inalienable rights amid the turmoil of the country’s disputed presidential election. News of the deaths of innocent people such as Neda Agha-Soltan and Sohrab Arabi, raids on the dormitory of the University of Tehran, mass show trials, and reports of the torture and rape of political prisoners made the world take notice.

Sadly, the international community has since largely averted its gaze, despite the fact that Iran continues to violate its international obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

Prisoners of conscience are still languishing in jail, and execution by stoning is still allowed, as is the execution of juvenile offenders. The authorities continue to suppress the freedoms of expression, opinion, assembly and religion, while many students are being denied their right to higher education based on a discriminatory system that penalizes them for their political and religious beliefs.

It seems that Iranian authorities are systematically targeting current and future community leaders in what appears to be a relentless crackdown on student and human rights activists.

Amnesty International has included one such case, that of student leader and prisoner of conscience, Majid Tavakkoli, as an urgent action in its global Write-a-thon campaign.


Iran's Humanitarian Release of U.S. Hiker is Welcomed

Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Michael Bauer

Amnesty International and other organizations have harshly—and rightly—criticized Iran’s egregious human rights violations. However it is truly a cause for celebration when the Iranian authorities decide to take the high road on human rights, and these actions must be recognized and welcomed. In fact we are doubly grateful that in the past couple of days the Iranian government has released on bail both American hiker Sarah Shourd as well as prominent human rights attorney Shiva Nazar Ahari. These humanitarian gestures were performed at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, to mark the Muslim holiday ‘Eid al Fitr, a time when acts of clemency and mercy are traditionally performed.  Iranian Authorities have also cited Ms Shourd’s health problems as grounds for the decision to grant her release.

Sarah Shourd had been arrested along with her friends Shane Michael Bauer and Joshua Fattal while they were hiking in the Iraq-Iran border area on 31 July 2009 and they had been detained since then in Evin Prison in Tehran. Iranian officials have alleged that the three U.S. citizens planned to carry out espionage. Amnesty International recognizes that all nations have a right to secure their borders and to ensure that foreign nationals with hostile intent do not threaten their citizens or perform criminal acts in their territory. However, the three U.S. hikers were held without charge or trial for over one year and not one shred of evidence has ever been produced against them. At the time Amnesty International released its 30 July 2010 statement calling for their release if they were not to be charged with a recognizable criminal offense, one entire year had gone by—more than enough time for the Iranian government to present any evidence it may have held against them.

In calling for their release after one year of detention without charge or trial, Amnesty International was holding the Iranian authorities to the exact same standards that it holds other governments. Amnesty International has consistently and vigorously condemned the U.S. government for its detention without charge of “terror” suspects at Guantanamo Bay, as well as the Egyptian government for detaining suspects indefinitely on national security grounds, and the Israeli government for its unwarranted use of “administrative detention” to hold Palestinians for periods of up to several years without charge or trial.


A Birthday in Evin Prison – an opportunity to remember Iran's prisoners

By Ann Harrison, East Gulf researcher for Amnesty International
(As posted to livewire)

Shiva Nazar Ahari

To coincide with the 12 June anniversary of the disputed election last year in Iran, Amnesty International has prepared a campaign to highlight the situation of political prisoners, many of whom are prisoners of conscience, who are still held in Iran.

The year-long campaign was launched on Wednesday by a report which detailed the journey from protest to prison of ever-increasing numbers of Iranians.

For the campaign, we are highlighting the cases of several individuals whose experience epitomizes the injustices – arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trial and even the death penalty – suffered by hundreds of others.

One of these is Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights defender, detained since December 2009, her second arrest since the election.

She is celebrating her 26th birthday in Evin Prison today – a name synonymous with the system of injustice that prevails in Iran. Colleagues and I will be remembering Shiva on her special day with a cake and birthday wishes.


Powerful New Book Describes Iranian-American's Ordeal in Iran

Roxana SOn January 31, 2009 Roxana Saberi suddenly found herself  in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, unable to contact her family and friends and accused of espionage and threatening Iran’s national security. Ms Saberi, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen (and holding an Iranian passport because her father was born in Iran), had been living in Iran for six years, working as a journalist and writing a book about modern Iran based on interviews with a broad cross-section of society, when her nightmare began.  The international outcry that ensued may well have contributed to her release that May, just weeks before the contested June 12 presidential election. Her four-month ordeal is vividly described in her powerful new book, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran.

Even though we know the ultimate happy outcome, Between Two Worlds is suspenseful and riveting throughout. The author masterfully conveys the fear, confusion and uncertainty experienced by an innocent person trapped in a repressive system where human rights norms have no meaning. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is Ms Saberi’s account of her frequent interactions with her main interrogator, a young man whose name she never learns and whom she has dubbed “Javan” because he affected the clothing and coiffure of the youth of affluent North Tehran; he is maddeningly focused on extracting a confession that Ms Saberi was a spy for the U.S. government and the interrogation sessions become a battle of wills. At the core of the dilemma she faced were the impossibly difficult calculations and decisions she had to make about whether to provide her interrogators with the information they appeared to be seeking, which would have entailed falsely confessing to espionage. She had to make these difficult decisions in a complete vacuum, not knowing whether a false confession would guarantee her release, as her interrogators promised her, or whether stubbornly insisting on the truth could result in a long prison sentence, or something even worse.

Thankfully, Ms Saberi was not tortured or physically abused, but she had no way of knowing whether, at any moment, the verbal and psychological abuse would escalate into violence or sexual assault.  The well-known fate of Zahra Kazemi was never far from her mind. Ms Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian journalist, was arrested in 2003 while taking photographs outside of Evin Prison. She was raped, brutally tortured, and died of blunt trauma to the head while in custody. Ms Saberi was naturally afraid that she could be subjected to similar treatment, especially since she was being held incommunicado with her family and friends unaware of her location.


Update: Iran Releases 140 Prisoners

The Iranian authorities have announced they have released 140 prisoners from Evin Prison in northern Tehran, reports Reuters. Parliament official Kazem Jalali says that 150 prisoners, arrested during the uprising after the June 12th Presidential election, still remain behind bars.

Ayatollah Khamenei has also ordered the closure of a detainment center in Kahrizak after it failed to “preserve the rights of detainees”. Whether the prisoners in that prison were released or transferred elsewhere remains to be seen.

Iranian Lawyer and Human Rights Activist Shadi Sadr Detained in Evin Prison

Lawyer and human rights activist Shadi Sadr has been arrested and detained by Iranian authorities. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Sadr was walking with friends to Friday Jummah prayers when she was violently confronted by a group of unidentified plain-clothed men. She was beaten with batons after attempting to escape, losing her headscarf in the process. Sadr was then pushed into an unmarked car and was subsequently driven off.

She confirmed in a phone call to her husband that she had been arrested and was detained in ward 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison. Ms. Sadr has long served as a defender of human rights issues in Iran and is a member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. A lawyer and journalist, she was the director of Raahi, a legal advice center for women until it was closed down. She founded Zanan-e Iran (Women of Iran), the first website dedicated to the work of Iranian women’s rights activists and has written extensively about Iranian women and their legal rights. She has represented activists and journalists, several women sentenced to execution, whose convictions were subsequently overturned.

Amnesty International has called for the unconditional and immediate release of Ms. Sadr. “This was an illegal, arbitrary and violent arrest in which no attempt was made by the authorities to show identification or provide any explanation for their action,” said Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Free on Bail, Still At Risk

After spending one week at in Evin prison in Tehran, Mohammad Mostafaei — the attorney famous for defending juvenile offenders in death penalty cases in Iran — was released on July 1 on a one billion rial bail (more than $100,000).  Mostafaei was arrested the previous week for his human rights activism during the Iranian protests, which erupted in the wake of the announcement of Iran’s election results in mid-June.  The accusations against him include charges of conspiracy and propaganda, as well as an alleged intention to harm “state security,” even though his activities have been entirely peaceful and guided by his dedication to human rights in the country. 

After his release, Mostafaei publicly thanked his supporters and fellow activists across the world and said that this experience has strengthened his resolve to fight against injustice.  However, Mostafaei is still in direct danger of prosecution, imprisonment and even torture for defending and publicly expressing his beliefs.   A potential conviction and incarceration would be a huge blow to human rights in Iran.  It will also be a major setback in the fight against the execution of juvenile offenders in the country, which Mostafaei has led for so long.

Ibrahim Yazdi Detained in Tehran

Ibrahim Yazdi, the Secretary General of the Freedom Movement of Iran political party, was just arrested at 3 PM today by the Iranian Security Forces at the Pars Hospital, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.  He has since been transferred to the Evin Prison in northwest Tehran.

Yazdi was Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs for the interim Iranian government in 1979 directly after the Islamic Revolution. He also served as Foreign Minister and was elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly parliament, serving for 4 years.

As recently as Saturday, the day after Iranians went to the polls, Yazdi was speaking out against what he saw as a rigged election.  Such discourse may have contributed to his arrest.

100 others have allegedly been detained alongside Yazdi.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post