The Holiday Nowruz is a Special Time to Brighten the Lives of Prisoners of Conscience in Iran

Behareh Hedayat © Amnesty International

When brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei were finally granted a brief medical furlough, they rejoiced at the prospect of spending a little time with their families as a reprieve from their grim and unjust imprisonment in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

Internationally renowned experts on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the two physicians were targeted by the Iranian government for having participated in international conferences and workshops in the United States.  In the authorities’ twisted way of thinking, they were a  part of a U.S. plot to undermine the Iranian government.

When the two brothers arrived at their family home, they received an additional and very delightful surprise—they were greeted with hundreds of Nowruz (Iranian New Year) cards sent by Amnesty International Activists around the world in response to AIUSA’s now-annual Nowruz Action.

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Iran Determined to Impose Total Information Blackout to Stifle Dissent

Saeed Malekpour

Saeed Malekpour

Noted blogger Mehdi Khazali knew he was in trouble with the Iranian government. He had already been arrested in the summer of 2009 and again in October 2010, and was facing pending charges from those arrests.

Nevertheless, he decided to openly express his opinion, urging a boycott of Iran’s upcoming March 2, 2012 parliamentary elections as a gesture of protest.

For that, Mehdi Khazali suffered the full brunt of the Iranian authorities’ fury. On January 9, 2012 security forces came to arrest him. They brutally beat him, breaking his arm.

He has been detained since then, apparently not receiving proper medical attention for his injuries. He has reportedly spent most of that time in detention on a hunger strike, and his family says he is poor condition. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Your Questions Answered: Middle East & North Africa

Update: Read a transcript of this chat here

bahrain protesters

©AFP/Getty Images

Join us Thursday, February 9th from 1:00 – 2:00 PM EST for a live online chat on Facebook with Amnesty International on the crisis in the Middle East and North Africa.

2011 was an unprecedented year in the region — a year in which millions of people flooded the streets to demand change. While change has come to some countries, in others repressive governments continue to clamp down on dissent with deadly force and censor their citizens:
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Here We Go Again: Iran Condemns Yet Another "Spy"

Amir Hekmati iran prisoner

Amir Hekmati

By now I can write the script in my sleep: Foreign citizen (but usually Iranian in origin) picked up and slapped into detention; family told to be quiet about it and things will “go well”; implausible televised confession to acts of espionage or involvement in plot to undermine the Iranian government made by weary-looking defendant is aired on Iranian television; unfair trial in Revolutionary Court; harsh sentence handed down; media fire-storm ensues.

Yes, I have been ticking off each item on my check list again. The only “surprise” in the case of Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati is the severity of the sentence.  The death sentence imposed on him is the first time that a U.S. citizen has been condemned to be executed in Iran since the Iranian Revolution took place 33 years ago.

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Student Activist Zia Nabavi Marks Another Birthday in Prison

Zia Nabavi

Zia Nabavi

Students would ordinarily celebrate if they found out that they received a star, and be even more delighted if they got three stars. But in Iran receiving stars is cause for distress and consternation. Being assigned three stars from Iranian authorities means that students are permanently barred from pursuing their university education in Iran.

Such is the fate of hundreds of Iranian students who have done nothing more than peacefully work on behalf of candidates for public office, join student associations, write for student publications and blogs, or participate in peaceful demonstrations.  This is in addition to harsh prison sentences served in deplorable conditions in filthy and unsafe prisons often handed down to activists.

Sayed Ziaoddin (Zia) Nabavi is one of the many courageous Iranian student activists who we remember as he spends his 28th birthday behind bars on December 21.

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Turkey: A Repressive Model for the Middle East?

One of the frustrations of talking about the Turkish Republic right now is that so much is going on, in so many different directions, that it can be hard to decide what issues to address.  In particular, the tremendous gap between its increasingly important role in the world seems inconsistent with increased repression at home and has made it tough for journalists to address both simultaneously.

Much of the talk is about Turkey’s new “soft power.”  Turkish culture is becoming more influential, with a booming economy and a dynamic film and television industry that has found a tremendous following among its neighbors in both the Balkans and the Middle East.  In the past few years it has become an important regional player and is widely seen as a potential model for democratic movements in the wider Middle East.

The Turkish government was a vocal critic of repression in Libya and Egypt and has been at the forefront of efforts to curb the on-going repression in Syria.  While its voice has been selective (Turkey supported Ahmadinejad during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and has been notably reticent in its criticism of Bahrain this past year), it deserves credit for the support it has given to democratic forces this past year.

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Iran Resorts to Mass Executions to Deal with Its Drug Crisis

Arrest of drug offenders in Iran

Arrest of drug offenders in Iran.

Iran faces a drug abuse crisis of enormous proportions. It has an estimated 2 million or more addicts and users, remains the world’s largest market for opium, as well as other illegal drugs, and is a major conduit for drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan. Further compounding the problem is the high incidence of HIV/AIDS infections among intravenous drug users in Iran.

The Iranian government’s solution to the problem is predictably heavy-handed, as well as ineffectual: large-scale executions of those convicted of drug related offenses.

In recent years, Iran has enjoyed the dubious status of being the world’s “Number Two”—it executes the second highest number of people after China. But this year’s total of at least 600 executions and counting will vastly exceed even the numbers from the previous several years. And an astonishing 81% of those executed were convicted of drug offenses.

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After all that Misplaced Effort — Iran Batting Zero at the UN

Balloon Delivery to Iran Mission

Amnesty members deliver balloons to the Iran Mission to the UN to draw attention to its human rights abuses.

Poor Mohammad Javad Larijani has been putting so much effort into painting a happy face over Iran’s dismal human rights record, and yet the Iranian government has not succeeded in fooling the international community about its “commitment” to human rights.

Mr. Larijani, the secretary-general of Iran’s “High Council for Human Rights” had spent a good deal of time recently holding press conferences and interviews, apparently hoping that no one would notice that his honey-coated words bore no relationship to the ugly reality. However, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly vote on Monday to adopt a resolution soundly condemning Iran’s human rights record is the fourth slap in Iran’s face by UN entities in two months.

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Top Ten Reasons to Write for Rights

Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.

In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.

Those are some pretty amazing reasons to participate, but in case you need more, here are my top ten reasons to Write for Rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

New Film on Persecution of Baha'is to be Released Just as Iran Slaps Harsh Sentences on Baha'i Educators

Riaz Sobhani

BIHE teacher Riaz Sobhani

Say what you want about the Iranian government, but you just can’t fault their flawless timing.

One would think that a country that at this very moment is having its human rights record scrutinized by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva would be on its best behavior. But in just the past few days Iranian courts have not only confirmed the outrageous sentence against renowned film director Jafar Panahi and handed women’s rights activist Fereshteh Shirazi a prison sentence of three years, but also sentenced seven educators with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) to a total of thirty years in prison. One might almost think Iran even coordinated the handing down of the sentence with the release of a new documentary that addresses the very issue of the persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community and their systematic exclusion from higher education.

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