Join The Virtual Protest In Iran's Azadi Square

Amnesty activists carry out Azadi Square action

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.


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.


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.

Iran Global Day of Action a Resounding Success

Protests in more than 80 countries, with numbers ranging from a couple hundred to several thousand, took to the streets on Saturday to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people against the government’s brutal crackdown this summer. Among the 1,000 people in Amsterdam was Iran’s Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi who led the crowd in chanting: “We want to live in peace. Long live peace”.

The event will hopefully force the Iranian authorities to display greater transparency regarding election results and provide those imprisoned with their human rights.

“Our message is very simple,” [Aaron Rhodes, an event organizer] said. “We’re supporting civil and human rights in Iran and we’re calling upon the government in Iran to cease their abuse of power, cease the imprisonment of innocent people and the torture of detainees and stop the violence against people who are simply trying to exercise their internationally protected human right to peacefully protest.”

Back in Tehran, opposition leaders Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Khatami urged the country’s clerics to intervene to help stop the spread of “oppression” by the authorities. They accused the government of “savagery” and that its “interrogation methods are a reminder of the dark era of the Shah”, who ruled until 1979.

Below are some videos from the various rallies across the world:

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

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.

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

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.

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

What's Happening in Tehran?

Iran went to the polls on Friday, June 12th, to vote in its highly anticipated and closely watched Presidential election. Within hours, and with 2/3 of the votes counted, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was declared the victor by state media– a declaration that sparked this weekend’s ongoing violent protests.

For more information on what exactly happened and is continuing to happen in Iran, take a look at the following articles and blogs for some excellent commentary:

  • Juan Cole has tackled allegations of election fraud on his blog, Informed Comment, as has Reza Aslan on the Daily Beast
  • Both the Huffington Post and the Guardian have been live-blogging the protest violence since election results came out on Friday
  • Robert Fisk also discusses the violence and what it means for the US in his Sunday op-ed for the Independent

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post