Iranians in Outer Space–and Their Scientists in Prison?

Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the extraterrestrial experiences of Iranians, both actual and desired. Iranian-American NASA engineer (and heart throb) Bobak Ferdowsi, who gained fame for his distinctive hairdo as well as his skill in guiding the Mars Rover landing, was the First Lady’s guest at President Obama’s State of the Union address, thanks to his efforts to inspire kids to pursue their education in the STEM fields.

Meanwhile, Iran successfully sent a monkey into space and back, prompting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to declare that he would like to become the nation’s very first astronaut. While the prospect of Iran’s controversial president being launched into orbit in a space ship intrigued many both inside Iran and out, Iran’s ability to advance the frontiers of science is being undermined by its government’s practice of putting some of its brightest scientists in prison.


How Can Anyone Say Torture Can Lead to Justice? Just Look at Iran

Loghman and Zaniar Moradi

Loghman and Zaniar Moradi

If anyone doubts that torture is plain wrong and indefensible, I invite them to examine the cases of seven men in Iran who were severely tortured to force them to make “confessions” of their involvement in national security offenses. All have been sentenced to death by hanging and are at risk of imminent execution—that is, at any time.

Much has been written about the controversial depiction of torture in the film Zero Dark Thirty, and about the efficacy of the U.S. government’s shameful brutalizing of detainees in the so-called “war on terror”—including by my colleague, Zeke Johnson. While the debate is focused on the practices of the U.S., other governments around the world routinely use torture and also justify it on the grounds of “protecting national security,” yet these claims are always specious.


7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

president obama

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.

As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.


Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.


Join Hollywood and Amnesty International in Calling for the Release of Behrouz Ghobadi

By Nazanin Boniadi and Roxana Saberi
Nazanin Boniadi is an actress, activist and spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist, author and human rights advocate.

Behrouz with his newborn son, Harmang

Behrouz with his newborn son, Harmang.

The imprisonment of Iranian filmmaker Behrouz Ghobadi appears to be the latest attempt by Iran’s regime to silence the country’s artists. Hollywood has united with Amnesty International to call for his release; now others can join them by sending a message  of concern to Iran’s supreme leader.

Behrouz, a younger brother of exiled Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi, was arrested on November 4 in western Iran. Since then, he has had no contact with either his family or an attorney. His family has asked the Iranian authorities for information, but no one has told them why or where he is detained.


Rhino Season and Iran’s Historical Trauma

Rhino SeasonImagine you have spent nearly 30 years in prison just for writing poems—the only thing that keeps you going is the hope of someday being reunited with your wife and family. But then when the day of your release finally comes, you discover that your family has been told that you are dead and you are left to wander the earth like a ghost, caught between the horror of the past and a present where you don’t even really exist.

This is the tragic situation faced by the protagonist of a powerful new movie called Rhino Season (Fasle Kargadan) by the eminent Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi. It can also be interpreted as a metaphor for an entire society, haunted by the human rights violations that shattered so many lives, yet unable to move forward because of the Iranian government’s stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for the crimes they perpetrated. Thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and executed in Iran in the 1980s; there has never been a reckoning, there has been no accountability and it is impossible for any of those scarred by those years to find peace and closure.


Leading Iranian Trade Union Activist Spends May Day in Prison

May Day honors the contributions that hard-working men and women make to society everywhere around the world. In Iran, those who advocate peacefully on behalf of their fellow workers are likely to wind up spending May Day in prison.

Reza Shahabi is a trade unionist and the treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed).  He has been held in detention since his arrest on 12 June 2010. In April 2012, he was sentenced to six years in prison and a five-year ban on public activity. His sentence was handed down by Judge Abolghassem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court who is notorious for the harsh sentences he hands to peaceful civil society and political activists. Mr. Shahabi was convicted under charges of “propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding against  national security.”


Powerful Documentaries About the Persecution of Iran’s Baha’is Motivate Thousands to Activism

Bahai event Washington

Plight of Baha'i Leaders Publicized in Washington

When creativity and artistic vision unite with passionate commitment to fight injustice, the result can take the world by storm!

The Education Under Fire project, which Amnesty International is proud to support, includes a documentary film Education Under Fire that that has been screened at dozens of venues around the U.S. since its Amnesty International-cosponsored debuts in New York and Los Angeles this past fall.


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.


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: