Friday, February 12, 2010

Archived 22 Bahman post

I just reread my 2007 blog post on 22 Bahman. I urge you to read it in case you were impressed by the government's turnout yesterday.

Here's the link 22 Bahman and Another Day Off:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Azadi, Freedom, and 22 Bahman

In Tehran, taxi drivers call out destinations: Vanak, Vanak, Vanak. Tehran Pars, Tajrish, Arjentine, Resalat, Pol-e Hemat... If you are traveling to any of these places, you hop in and wait for the car to fill up. Everytime a taxi driver shouted out Azadi, which means freedom in Persian, I wanted to laugh. Sometimes I would shout out, No Azadi in return.

During the time I was in Iran, four 22 Bahmans came and went. The first was spent in the center of Iran, where I heard the rooftop calls of Allah-o Akbar for the first time. A handful of families were out on their roofs shouting back and forth. The men would call out Allah-o Akbar and the women would respond in kind. Kamran explained to me that they were remembering the revolution when street protests were forbidden and people took to the roofs to chant. "Forbidding the street protests really backfired," he told me. "Everyone went on to the roofs. It was safer and easier than going into the streets. If you did not go, your neighbors would wonder about you and why you weren't on your roof."
(youTube video: Inja Kojast, Where is this place:

When we stayed in Tehran, we heard no chants at all on 22 Bahman. It was just another day off: one of many. When people in Iran started using the chants to signal their dissent after the contested June presidential elections, I had never heard anything like it. For four years I had only heard handfuls of people chanting and never with the passion I heard when listening to the recordings posted all over the Internet. In those voices, mainly of women, I heard desperation, anger, and a fierce longing for change.

Living in Iran meant many things for me: I learned to wear hejab and do so fashionably despite my unfashionable nature. I learned to shut up and keep my opinions to myself. I learned to speak cautiously. I learned to make jokes that allowed me to express myself. I learned to read small gestures. I learned to dance whenever there was music, sing despite my off-key voice, and really live inside every crack in the system.

I fell in love with Iran in a way that I have never fallen in love with any place before. This made me worry about my sanity.

When people in Iran took to the streets, en masse, to protest in June, I knew that they were risking their lives, their livelihoods, their futures. I heard protesters call for the rights of the Bahai and other minorities. I heard their demands for equal rights for women. I heard them call for peaceful confrontation. There was nothing left for me but to support those calls and to do everything I could, however small, to amplify them. Supporting those calls costs me so little and costs those in Iran so much.

Today, when I join other protesters at a demonstration in Amsterdam to support the demands for civil and human rights, no one will shoot at me, tear gas won't be used, my life won't be in jeopardy, my work won't be stolen, and my computer won't be confiscated.

Join me. Join them.

Read other posts written for Amnesty's Unite! Blog! Human Rights for Iran!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

It's not easy being Green: from election campaign to civil rights campaign

Before the 2009 Election

During Iran’s presidential campaign last spring, when I felt a growing optimism about the future of Iran, friends and acquaintances contacted me to inform me of Mousavi’s dark past. He was, after all, prime minister during the mass executions of the 80s.

It was clear to me from the beginning, however, that the support for Mousavi had less to do with who he was and his past, than with who Iranians were and their future. Ahmadinejad and the forces around him had never made their disdain for democracy a secret. The first round of the 2005 elections were already in question by most in Iran, who did not believe that Ahmadinejad had really come out ahead. Karoubi mounted protests at that time that went pretty much ignored by most. In 2005, the Iranians I met were cynical and apathetic about the results. “No one votes.” “The ballots are always rigged.” “What difference does it make anyway?”

The biggest pre-election boost to the Green movement unwittingly came from the regime itself when they disrupted rallies and denied permits, forcing supporters to become creative. This creativity culminated in the huge rallies of the last week, notably the Green Chain organized via sms and word of mouth that had supporters of Mousavi’s campaign line the sides of the road from the bottom of Tehran’s Vali Asr Street to the top (more than 12 miles!)

Well, for me it was a very unique feeling, and I had never such an experiment before. I was a part of a crowd that all were singing the same song, and I had the feeling that I can do EVERYTHING.

Also for the first time in my life, I could feel and understand our previous generation who went out to the streets 30 year ago and did the revolution. I couldn’t stop myself comparing my current activities with them. I don’t know what happens on Saturday night, when the result of the election becomes clear, but maybe 30 years from now, our children will ask “Why the hell did you do these stupid things at June 2009?!” like what we’re always asking from our own parents!

But I’m happy of what I did. I’ll vote on Friday, and I’ll vote for Mousavi. Not because he is the best, but because he is the better choice in our current conditions. Reform do not happen in one night, like what our parents did 30 year ago, what they called it “revolution”. Reform in Iran will take a very long time, in a road with many little steps.
- Payam Moin Afshari

People I know in Iran told me it was a sea change. They looked around and saw that what they wished for secretly was what so many wished for: reform, more personal freedoms, slow changes.

Read what women’s rights activist Maryam Hosseinkhah wrote before the elections:

But I will vote for small change.

I will vote because I want to freely read a newspaper every morning.

I will vote because I want to buy my favorite book.

I will vote because I want to watch my favorite movie in the cinema.

I will vote because I don’t want to afraid of being arrested in the street when my clothes are a bit short.

I vote for these small wishes.

After the June elections and the subsequent protests, my dear friend told me, "I always thought I was in the minority and that I would just have to learn to live with this society. Now I realize that I am in the majority, and I am asking myself, 'What do I need to do now? What are my responsibilities?'"

From Election Campaign to Rights Campaign

The Green movement is now a civil rights movement.
It’s important to realize that it will take time to grow and develop, and it will take nurturing to do so. Those of us who feel that a tolerant, more democratic, and open society is inevitable may wish that it were as simple to achieve as turning on a light in a dark room. The truth is, that the Green movement is a long-term movement that is going to require our support for a long, long time to come. We are always going to have to struggle for civil and human rights and once they are attained, we are going to have to struggle to maintain them.

In an interview with Moussavi published on Kalameh, he questions the success of the revolution against the Shah: "In the early years of the revolution, the majority of our people had been convinced that the revolution had erased all structures of dictatorship and autocracy, and I was one of these people," he said. "But today, I don't believe so." (via LA Times blog) Mousavi continues:

He doesn't care about rumors of illegally forced confessions. Nor does he care about the fact that the death-row suspects have nothing to do with the election riots. The important thing for him is to be an executive for intimidation. He is unaware of the power of the blood of the innocent and he has forgotten the fact that the flood of martyrs' blood led to the overthrow of the shah regime.

Even today, I see the resistance and firm determination of people in favor of their rights ... as the continuation of the struggles of the days and months leading to the 1979 revolution.

How do We Become the Society We Should Be?

If as Dr. Frans de Waal and other neuroscientists posit, we are by nature empathic, then how do we go about promoting the empathic norm that is Us and limiting the upheaval and oppression done to our societies by the small number who are willing to use violence and terror to achieve their ends? How do we respond peacefully and non-violently to that group? And how do we prevail? I hope that you, dear reader, will respond to these questions in the comments.

It is easy to be in opposition. It is far easier to remain outside and critical than to take on the enormous risk of supporting a movement that may not always be everything we dream of. The future of oppression in Iran depends on passivity. It depends on the assumption that we will sacrifice those among us who unknown yet outspoken and brave who have made themselves vulnerable through their actions to protect others and to move society forward, in return for stability and predictability.

We all have to be brave and patient and work hard to achieve civil, compassionate, and open societies. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

Cross-posted at United4Iran

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Call for Diplomatic Action to End Executions in Iran

TAKE ACTIONToday, we sent this letter to the Dutch Foreign Minister, Maxime Verhagen. Feel free to add your voice to the letter by printing it out and mailing it or by tweeting this link: to @maximeverhagen. Sample tweet: Pls RT @maximeverhagen Oproepen Iraanse Diplomaten #united4iran

There is an English template of the letter available at United4Iran and the Dutch version is on

February 2, 2010

Dear Minister Verhagen:

This letter presents a request to summon Iranian diplomats in order to register a strong complaint concerning gross violations of human rights. The government of Iran, which has the second highest number of executions in the world, has stepped up capital punishment for non-capital crimes. The International Campaign for Human Rights reports that the charge of Mohareb (“enemy of God”) is being used to intimidate dissidents, protesters, and opposition. This is particularly urgent at this moment, as the people of Iran prepare to mark the 31st anniversary of the revolution against the Shah on February 11. There is widespread concern that more executions will occur in the coming days as a warning to protesters not to assemble or express their desire for civil and human rights.

Since the contested election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, defendants have been executed without recourse to a fair trial or meetings with lawyers. These executions are, in fact, murders. The judiciary in Iran is making up the rules and the charges as they go along. Those charges violate basic human rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Iran is a signatory. (The specific articles violated are 10, 18, 19, and 20.)

Danger of Mass Executions

For many inside and outside Iran, the mass executions of the late 1980s are a fresh memory. Thousands of people were executed for trumped up charges, some of them after nearly completing prison terms for non-capital offenses. There is a clear danger that history will repeat itself. The difference this time, is that the world is watching. It is imperative that the government of the Netherlands register its disapproval in a strong way.

On 29 January, one day after two political prisoners (Arash Rahmani Pour and Mohammad Ali Zamani) were hanged, the hardline cleric and member of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati welcomed these executions. Given his prominent position amongst the ruling elite’s “hardliner” faction, his statement is interpreted as a green light for further political executions. He explicitly stated that if widespread executions had taken place following the post- election unrest, the protests would not have been prolonged. Addressing the head of the Judiciary, Jannati said at Friday prayers in Tehran: “For God’s sake, just as you expedited these two executions, continue on like a man and bravo for these actions.”

Summon Iranian Diplomats

We urge the Dutch Foreign Ministry to summon Iranian diplomats and to register a strong protest against the actions of the Iranian judiciary and government. We ask for calls for the Iranian government to respect the internationally recognized rights of the Iranian people to freedom of assembly, expression, and press. Let the government of Iran know that we want to see an immediate halt to the trials of protesters that are underway and the release of all political prisoners.

Political Prisoners Facing Execution

The number of political prisoners and dissidents sentenced to death is growing daily. During the past month alone four political prisoners were executed: Ehsan Fattahian, Fasih Yasmian, Arash Rahmani Pour, and Mohammad Ali Zamani. At least nine post-election protestors are sentenced to death according to the Iranian Judiciary, although their names have not been announced.

Four members of the student association Daftar-e Tahkim (Office to Foster Unity) and seven members of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, as well as many ordinary detained protestors, are facing the charge of Mohareb, or enemy of God, which carries the death sentence. None of these detainees has access to lawyers, and according to brief calls they have made to their families, they are under intense pressure to make false confessions.

At least twenty Kurdish political prisoners are also at risk of imminent execution: Shirin Alam Holi, Zeinab Jalilian, Farzad Kamangar, Habibollah Latifi, Shirkoo Moarefi, Farhad Vakili, Ali Heidarian, Hussein Khazri, Rostam Arkia, Mostafa Salimi, Anvar Rostami, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Agooshi, Ahmad Pooladkhani, Seyed Sami Husseini, Seyed Jamal Mohammadi, Hasan Talei, Iraj Mohammadi, Mohammad Amin Abollahi and Ghader Mohammadzadeh.

We urge you to take strong action and to encourage your colleagues to do so as well.