Friday, December 24, 2010

URGENT ACTION: Protest the Upcoming Execution of Habibollah Latifi

Wouldn't it be nice to be writing a message of good cheer right now to get us all through the holiday season and to make us feel warm and fuzzy? That is what I would like to be doing. Instead I am going to urge those of you who still read this blog despite our erratic postings to send a letter to protest the upcoming election of Habibollah Latifi. After a year spent campaigning for prisoners of conscience, many of us feel that we know them personally. Habibollah Latifi is an Iranian-Kurd who has always denied the trumped up charges against him. The regime continues to ratchet up the charges so that they can justify his execution.

You can be his voice by sending an e-letter and by encouraging others to do so. Thanks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hope, Votes & Bullets

Hope, Votes & Bullets

We have been working our asses off in a book that features the work of bloggers, writers, and others whose lives were effected by what happened in Iran in 2009. Today, the book was delivered. Here is an internet preview. We'll let you know when it goes on sale. For those of you who facebook, be sure to "like" us over on Facebook.

HVB_Final Cover 730mm_Printer file

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Young Man to be Executed for a Crime Committed as a Juvenile

Seriously Islamic Republic of Iran? You want to stone a woman for adultery even though no one accused her of it besides some deranged judges? And execute a young man whose co-defendants exonerated him of a murder that was committed when he was 15? Seriously?

Some countries just can't catch a break...

Please protest both the planned stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and the execution of Mohammad Reza Haddadi

Here is what the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says about the case of Ashtiani:

The terms of the sentence under Iranian law call for Ashtiani to be killed with medium –sized stones, so she will die slowly, in great pain.  She has already been punished with 99 lashes for having an “illicit relationship,” and later again charged, for the same crime, with adultery, which carries the death penalty in Iran.  According to her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, no evidence exists in her file to justify an adultery conviction, and as a member of the Azerbaijani minority, her inability to understand the language of the court prevented a fair trial.

United4Iran has a letter that you can send to halt the imminent execution of Haddadi.

There is a petition to end stoning at Amnesty International and another petition to stop the execution by stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani at Go Petition. Please do what you can.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Halt the Execution of Zeynab Jalalian

Unfortunately, it is time to call for a halt to another execution in Iran. Members of Iran's Kurdish minority are being targeted for harsh sentences. Many are receiving execution sentences after 3-minute trials. Is there anyone anywhere who believes that this is remotely fair? I urge all of the readers of this blog to send a letter calling for a halt to Zeynab Jalalian's execution. United4Iran has made it easy to do. You can click here to send the letter to 30 different embassies and individuals.

Zeinab Jalalian is a 27-year-old Kurdish woman who is facing execution. Her lawyers have been prevented from engaging in any defense. Her trial lasted just a few minutes and resulted in a sentence of execution.

People close to her state that there is absolutely no evidence that she ever took up arms against the state. In fact, her activities took place at a time when many Kurdish groups operated freely and openly within Iran.

Two prominent human rights lawyers have attempted to represent Zeinab, but the authorities have prevented them from taking up her case. The IRI’s Intelligence Ministry and Judiciary have continued to use intimidation tactics to prevent public disclosure of prisoners’ information in order to carry out the death sentences in secret and evade any accountability.

Zeinab’s treatment, along with the treatment of other minorities in Iran's prisons, breaks Iran's own laws and makes a mockery of the nation's judiciary system.

We urge you to do what is right: to call a halt to her execution and an end to her mistreatment and that of others in the IRI’s prisons. We call on you to restore faith in the judicial system by allowing lawyers to defend their clients and by allowing fair trials.

Most importantly, we call on you to halt the sentences of execution handed out to so many representatives of Iran's Kurdish minority, including Zeinab Jalalian.

We call on you to show the world that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not turned its back on its own laws and constitution. Using every mechanism at your disposal to save the life Zeinab and others like her who are in prison because of their beliefs rather than their actions, would be a courageous and immensely welcome gesture.

Please help us make sure that all prisoners of conscience are released safely and guaranteed fair treatment. With your help, Iran can become the nation its people deserve.

Thank you for addressing these concerns, ensuring that international human rights standards are adhered to, and for urging the IRI authorities to immediately halt the execution of Zeinab Jalalian and of all the IRI’s prisoners of conscience

Your Sincerely,

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Just because we have not been blogging much, does not mean that we have not been writing and thinking and immersed in issues related to Iran. A report that Kamran and I have been working on with Sohrab Razzaghi on the attack on civil society in Iran is now available for download at It is the result of a lot of hard work and research. Here is the press release:


Report from Arseh Sevom [Third Sphere]

Available online at

In mid-June 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest a deeply flawed election. In the days and weeks that followed, reports of suppression, deaths in prison, torture, and rape, shocked people all over the world. According to a report by Arseh Sevom, these crackdowns were predictable given the anti-democratic nature of the Ahmadinejad administration.

“Despite the increasingly liberal and pragmatic character of Iranian society, this current administration is highly ideological and hostile to democracy,” Tori Egherman, one of the authors of the report states.

Arseh Sevom's [Third Sphere] report, The Attack on Civil Society in Iran, shows how the post-election crackdowns fit into a larger pattern of restricting the development of civil society. While the abuses happen to individuals, they are designed to undermine the democratic development of Iran as a nation. Dr. Sohrab Razzaghi, another author of the report states, “They have chosen to read Iran's ambiguous constitution as fundamentally undemocratic.”

From worker's rights to women's rights, the Ahmadinejad administration has sought to undermine them all. Reporters, activists, students, and others are systematically harassed as a warning to others who would take their places.

Arseh Sevom (Third Sphere, which refers to the role of civil society) is a non-governmental organization established/registered in 2010 in Amsterdam, (by Sohrab Razzaghi, Kamran Ashtary, Tori Egherman), aiming to promote peace, democracy, and human rights. The organization’s objective is to help build the capacity of organizations in Persian-speaking communities and encourage the development of a vigorous third sphere of civil activities. Arseh Sevom is non-partisan and independent and focuses on peace, democracy, and human rights.


Authors: Tori Egherman lived and worked in Iran from 2003-2007 and has published a number of articles on Iran and other topics.

Sohrab Razzaghi, PhD is the former executived director of the Iran Civil Society Organization Training and Research Center, which was shut down by the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2007.

Kamran Ashtary is the former Director of Communications at Radio Zamaneh and co-author of the book Iran: View from Here. He has lectured on media in closed societies.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day Executions in Iran

Together with a number of volunteers, we have been preparing a campaign to mark one year of crackdowns on dissent in Iran. That campaign focuses on prisoners of conscience in Iran and those political prisoners in danger of execution. This morning, when we got up and turned on my email, the first message was from a dear colleague who linked to the AP article on the early morning execution of 5 of the people we had come to know through our work. "I can't stop crying," she wrote. "I do not know what to do." (She subsequently wrote an elegant post at
Shirin Alam-Holi

We can mark their lives.

Shirin Alam Holi was a young Kurdish woman who was accused of planting a bomb. In her own words, she tells us of her arrest: “The interrogators were male, and I was tied to a bed with handcuffs. They used their fists, feet, electric batons, and cables to beat my head, face, body, and soles of my feet. At that time I could not even understand and speak Persian. When their questions remained unanswered, they beat me again till I passed out.”
In a letter written just seven days ago, she wrote:

When I entered this prison my hair was black, now after three (3) years of imprisonment, my hair has started to turn white. I know you have done this not only to me but to all Kurds including Zeynab Jalaliyan and Ronak Safarzadeh… The eyes of Kurdish mothers are full of tears, waiting to see their children. They are in a state of constant worry, in fear that each phone call may bring the news of the execution of their children.

Today is May 2, 2010 and once again they took me to Section 209 of the Evin prison for interrogation. They asked me to cooperate with them in order for me to be pardoned and not executed. I don’t understand what they mean by cooperation, when I don’t have anything more to say than what I have already said

Mehdi Eslamian was executed a little more than a year after the execution of his brother for allegedly participating in a bombing in Shiraz. He was tortured for 14 days and denied medical care.

Ali HeidarianAli Heidarian was a Kurdish rights activist accused of participating in armed conflict as was Farhad Vakili.

Farzad Kamangar
was a teacher whose cause has become international. Human rights organizations, Iran's teachers' union, and international education groups all joined together to protest his incarceration and sentence of execution. Kamangar wrote recently:
Farzad Kamangar
Is it possible to carry the heavy burden of being a teacher and be responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge and still be silent? Is it possible to see the lumps in the throats of the students and witness their thin and malnourished faces and keep quiet?

Is it possible to be in the year of no justice and fairness and fail to teach the H for Hope and E for Equality, even if such teachings land you in Evin prison or result in your death?

Others are in danger of execution:

Abdolreza Ghanbari, a school teacher who participated in the December demonstrations on the Shia holiday of Ashura.

Ahmad Danseshpour is alleged to have sent videos and pictures to the MKO and whose mother and father Motahareh Bahrami and Mohsen Daneshpour Moghaddam have also been sentenced to death.

Ali Saremi , member of the MKO, was arrested last year when he attended a memorial for the 1988 mass killings of political prisoners. (It's worth noting here that many members of the Ahmadinejad administration were directly responsible for the killings.)

Ali Massouni is another protester. Ali Omid Mehrnia has relatives at Camp Ashraf (MKO camp in Iraq), as does Alireza Nabavi.

Amir Reza Arefi is accused of having ties with a monarchist group. His sentence is being appealed.

Aziz Mohammadzadeh is another Kurdish rights activist sentenced to death.

Read what others are saying:

They EXECUTED Her: Shirin Alam Hooli

: Bios of the 5 Executed Prisoners of Conscience
Enduring America: Iran: Farzad Kamangar’s Last Letter “Is It Possible to Teach and Be Silent?”
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: About Farhad Kamangar

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Unfurling a flag of freedom at the Iranian Embassy in the Hague

There has been a lot of criticism and conspiracy construction around the group of Dutch (-Iranian) people who hopped the fence of the Iranian embassy in The Hague and unfurled a banner calling for freedom in Iran.

(on Youtube:

Whatever opinion you have about the action, it was not done by a bunch of attention seekers or the mujaheddin. I can say this with great confidence since I know some of the people involved. I know that they were sincerely moved by the situation in Iran to take this action. Having grown up in the safety and comfort of the Netherlands, they felt compelled to take a risk to bring attention not to themselves, but to the cause of those in Iran who risk much more to gain their freedoms.

I sincerely wish that someone would have counseled them on the charges they would face for trespassing on embassy property, or that they may (or may not) bring danger to employees of the Dutch embassy. I also wish they really had been attention seekers. They could have had more coverage for the event had they been.

Passion. Freedom. Can you really blame them?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

UPDATED: Letter to halt executions: In support of Mohammad Amin Valian

UPDATE: United4Iran has launched a letter writing campaign and has translated this letter into several languages.

This is the letter I wrote to send to Iranian diplomats to protest the harsh penalties against protesters. I used Greenmail to send it. Please use it if you want:

Since the contested election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, defendants have been executed without recourse to a fair trial or meetings with lawyers. They have been charged with crimes such as Mohareb (“enemy of God”) to justify extreme penalties. These executions are, in fact, murders. The judiciary and the revolutionary courts in Iran are reinterpreting rules and applying severe punishments for activities that are not even considered crimes under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Iran is a signatory. (The specific articles violated are 10, 18, 19, and 20.)

There is widespread concern that more executions will occur in the coming months as a warning to protesters not to assemble or express their desire for civil and human rights. On March 3, we heard that the courts have upheld a death penalty for the student, Mohammad Amin Valian. This young man could be your son, brother, nephew, cousin, or friend. He comes from a deeply religious family and was active in the university’s Islamic Student Association. He is being punished for participating in demonstrations. His only crime is imagining that he could express himself openly and honestly. Even if you believe he was mistaken in his expressions, you cannot believe that he deserves to die or be imprisoned.

We urge you to take the words of the poet Saadi to heart:

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a human.

Bani aadam aazaye yek digarand
ke dar aafarinesh ze yek gooharand

cho ozvi be dard aavarad roozegaar
degar ozvhaa raa namaanad gharaar

to kaz mehnate digaraan bi ghami
nashaayad ke naamat nahand aadami

Lodge a protest. Remember that the whole world feels the pain of this young man and his family. In your heart, you must as well. Make yourself heard. Help us stop this execution. Help us make sure that all prisoners of conscience are released safely. With your help, Iran can become the nation its people deserve.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


My friend in Iran asked why no one cares about Mohamad Amin Valian, whose RIDICULOUS death sentence was upheld today. Can you imagine being convicted to death for throwing a stone during a demonstration? One that did not hit or target anyone or anything? This is the regime's recipe for squelching dissent:

12-20 protesters
1 cleric to significantly alter the definition of Mohareb (enemy of God)
1 judge with no humanity


1. Take the young people who have gone out in the streets
2. Make sure that they have no famous relatives
3. Charge them with the crime of "Mohareb" (enemy of God)
4. Sentence them to slow and painful suffocation until they die
5. Execute enough of them so that parents lock their youth in their rooms until they turn 40


Aaron Rhodes of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran states, “It's an attempt to intimidate other students, other young people like him, who just want to exercise their basic human rights and their political rights," Rhodes says. "Any number of others could be similarly accused, convicted, and face being hung.”

Mohammad Amin Valian was an active member of his University’s Islamic student association. He campaigned for Mir Hossein Mousavi and was targeted by his university’s Basiji-run newspaper according to the Green Voice of Freedom.

What can we do to stop this execution? Here is what the Green Voice of Freedom is advocating:
Save Mohammad Amin Valian from execution1) Temporarily change your profile pictures on social networking websites such as facebook and twitter, in order to raise awareness about Mohammad Valian’s death sentence.

2) If you have a weblog, website or other means for spreading the news about Mohammad Amin’s ordeal, we would like to urge you to help in spreading the news about this ridiculous court ruling in the shortest time possible. Remember, the life of a fellow human being is at stake.

3) We would also like to ask any person, organisation or figure that has access to Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in any way, to inform him of the death sentence and how his statements are being misused by judicial authorities and to cause him to intervene in the matter, in order to prevent further disgrace and shame to the clerical rule in Iran. This is his website:

4) Further, if you are in any way able to contact any official or representative in the Islamic Republic or the Iranian Judicial system, we would like to ask you to do your best in echoing the concerns and voices of the Valian family who can at any moment lose their loved one to a corrupt and dysfunctional judiciary system. This link allows us to write to Iranian embassies and diplomatic missions around the world, and to plead the case of Mohammad Amin Alavian:

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.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Debunking the Leverret's and their dated view of Iran

There may be more than one way to stop Iran, but is there any way to stop the folly on NYT's op-ed page?

OK, there is so much wrong with the Leverett's op-ed piece in the New York Times that I didn't even know where to start. So I went through the article expressing my dismay at its content almost paragraph by paragraph. Forgive my ranting and grammatical errors.

THE Islamic Republic of Iran is not about to implode. Nevertheless, the misguided idea that it may do so is becoming enshrined as conventional wisdom in Washington.

The Islamic Republic is imploding. It’s been imploding for years. The system is cracking apart under the great force of a population that wants simple things: the freedom to kiss in public; the freedom to make fun of their president and their religious figures; the freedom to surf the Internet. These may seem like trivialities, but when you live in a society like Iran’s where all are restricted and where offenders can be harshly punished, they gain importance.

For President Obama, this misconception provides a bit of cover; it helps obscure his failure to follow up on his campaign promises about engaging Iran with any serious, strategically grounded proposals. Meanwhile, those who have never supported diplomatic engagement with Iran are now pushing the idea that the Tehran government might collapse to support their arguments for military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets and adopting “regime change” as the ultimate goal of America’s Iran policy.

I have been for engagement for years. But there is no more room for engagement. We needed a president willing to engage with Iran ten years ago. This regime does not want to be engaged, they want to be isolated. The regime will never negotiate in good faith. They have proven this time and time again. Any negotiation with the US will be a charade at best.

We now know that there really is a huge population willing to be talk with us. While the regime may not fall today or tomorrow, it will fall. And when it does, I hope that my government has chosen to be on the right side of history.

When 3 million people in Tehran dared to take to the streets on June 15th , we entered another phase of history. Any one of us who has spent time in Iran knew what a watershed moment that was. And when I write dared, I mean dared. There is no one in Iran who is naïve enough not to know what kind of personal risks demonstrating creates. Those risks have become even greater since the initial demonstrations. State sanctioned rape, torture, and the threat of execution are very real.

Let’s start with the most recent events. On Dec. 27, large crowds poured into the streets of cities across Iran to commemorate the Shiite holy day of Ashura; this coincided with mourning observances for a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had died a week earlier. Protesters used the occasion to gather in Tehran and elsewhere, setting off clashes with security forces.

Important events, no doubt. But assertions that the Islamic Republic is now imploding in the fashion of the shah’s regime in 1979 do not hold up to even the most minimal scrutiny. Antigovernment Iranian Web sites claim there were “tens of thousands” of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000. Whichever estimate is more accurate, one thing we do know is that much of Iranian society was upset by the protesters using a sacred day to make a political statement.
The writers show how little they know about Iranians and about the situation. There was an incredible amount of security on the streets of cities all over Iran. Shots were fired into the crowd early in the day. I invite them to play a thought game: how many people would have turned out had there been a minimal security presence. I also invite the authors to remember that there was no call for organized opposition either at the funeral of Montazeri or on Ashura.

Vastly more Iranians took to the streets on Dec. 30, in demonstrations organized by the government to show support for the Islamic Republic (one Web site that opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June estimated the crowds at one million people). Photographs and video clips lend considerable plausibility to this estimate — meaning this was possibly the largest crowd in the streets of Tehran since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s funeral in 1989. In its wake, even President Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger in last June’s presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, felt compelled to acknowledge the “unacceptable radicalism” of some Ashura protesters.

Pulease. There is no way a pro-government demonstration can ever be valid when the right to opposition demonstration does not exist. I invite the authors to remember that no one claims that there are no pro-government factions in Iran. Of course there are. There are millions of people dependent on the government for aid and work. The fact is, many of the demonstrators were paid up to 200,000 tumans each. (OK, this is hearsay from a friend who knows people who got paid). It was a day off, for God’s sake. Children and civil servants were bused in as were dependent families.

The focus in the West on the antigovernment demonstrations has blinded many to an inconvenient but inescapable truth: the Iranians who used Ashura to make a political protest do not represent anything close to a majority. Those who talk so confidently about an “opposition” in Iran as the vanguard for a new revolution should be made to answer three tough questions: First, what does this opposition want? Second, who leads it? Third, through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?

In the case of the 1979 revolutionaries, the answers to these questions were clear. They wanted to oust the American-backed regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and to replace it with an Islamic republic. Everyone knew who led the revolution: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who despite living in exile in Paris could mobilize huge crowds in Iran simply by sending cassette tapes into the country. While supporters disagreed about the revolution’s long-term agenda, Khomeini’s ideas were well known from his writings and public statements. After the shah’s departure, Khomeini returned to Iran with a draft constitution for the new political order in hand. As a result, the basic structure of the Islamic Republic was set up remarkably quickly.

Wow. What a simplistic view. I am not an expert on the revolution, but even I know that this is wrong. Many in Iran were fighting for a communist state, others for a socialist state, others for a Marxist state. They decided to unite behind Khomeini and were indeed shocked by his later policies. In fact, there were two years of relative freedom before the Islamic state cracked down and showed its true colors.

Beyond expressing inchoate discontent, what does the current “opposition” want? It is no longer championing Mr. Mousavi’s presidential candidacy; Mr. Mousavi himself has now redefined his agenda as “national reconciliation.” Some protesters seem to want expanded personal freedoms and interaction with the rest of the world, but have no comprehensive agenda. Others — who have received considerable Western press coverage — have taken to calling for the Islamic Republic’s replacement with an (ostensibly secular) “Iranian Republic.” But University of Maryland polling after the election and popular reaction to the Ashura protests suggest that most Iranians are unmoved, if not repelled, by calls for the Islamic Republic’s abolition With Mr. Mousavi increasingly marginalized, who else might lead this supposed revolution? Surely not Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who became a leading figure in the protests after last summer’s election. Yes, he is an accomplished political actor, is considered a “founding father” of the state and heads the Assembly of Experts, a body that can replace the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader. But Mr. Rafsanjani lost his 2005 bid to regain the presidency in a landslide to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and has shown no inclination to spur the masses to bring down the system he helped create.

Iranians do not want to go back to the beginning that is what scares them about revolution. They want reform of their system. Evolution, not revolution. Unfortunately, this regime has shown that it will not allow that.

Nor will Mohammad Khatami, the reformist elected president in 1997, lead the charge; in 1999, at the height of his popularity, he publicly disowned widespread student demonstrations protesting the closing of a newspaper that had supported his administration.

Many of the Westerners who see the opposition displacing the Islamic Republic emphasize the potential for unrest during Shiite mourning rituals, which take place at three-, seven- and 40-day intervals after a person’s death. During the final months of the shah’s rule, his opponents used mourning rituals held for demonstrators killed by security forces to catalyze further protests. But does this mean that a steady stream of mourning rituals for fallen protesters today will set off a similarly escalating spiral of protests, eventually sweeping away Iran’s political order?

That is highly unlikely. First, Ayatollah Montazeri had unique standing in the Islamic Republic’s history; it is not surprising that the coincidence of his seven-day observance with the Ashura observation would have drawn crowds. His 40-day observance — which will fall on Jan. 29 — and the early February commemoration of the 1979 revolution might also encourage public activism. But there is nothing in the Islamic Republic’s history to support projections that future mourning rituals for those killed in the Ashura protests will elicit similar attention.

For example, in late 1998 four prominent intellectuals were assassinated, allegedly by state intelligence officers, prompting considerable public outrage. Yet the mourning rituals for the victims did not prompt large-scale protests. In 1999, nationwide student protests were violently suppressed, with at least five people killed and 1,200 detained. Once again, though, the mourning dates for those who died did not generate significant new demonstrations. Likewise, after the presidential election in June, none of the deaths associated with security force action — even that of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose murder became a cause célèbre of the YouTube age — resulted in further unrest.

Once again, I ask, have the writers been paying attention? It’s 2010, not 1998. The regime knows the mourning ritual protest well and has been cracking down on funerals and public mourning. This opposition cannot use the same playbook that the first Islamic revolution used. They have to be more creative. They are using different actions to show dissent. It’s more clever and subtle than a few mourning demonstrations.

In keeping with this pattern, the seven-day mourning observances for those killed in the Ashura protests generated no significant demonstrations in Iran. Clearly, comparisons of the Ashura protests to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, projecting a cascade of monumental consequences to follow, are fanciful. The Islamic Republic will continue to be Iran’s government. And, even if there were changes in some top leadership positions — such as the replacement of Mr. Ahmadinejad as president by Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Parliament, as some Westerners speculate — this would not fundamentally change Iran’s approach on regional politics, its nuclear program and other matters of concern.

The Obama administration’s half-hearted efforts at diplomacy with Tehran have given engagement a bad name. As a result, support for more coercive options is building across the American political spectrum. The president will do a real disservice to American interests if he waits in vain for Iranian political dynamics to “solve” the problems with his Iran policy.

Then he should not wait in vain, he should show support for the grassroots civil rights movement in Iran.

As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon’s opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict — whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang — divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran.

Iran is not China and never will be China. China is home to one-quarter of the world’s population and owns much of the US debt. Face it, we have no leverage in China. Three million people in Iran took to the streets on June 15th. More than 1% of Iran’s total population demonstrated together, took risks together. This movement is far from dead. Just because the authors do not know the names of its future leaders does not mean that they do not exist.

UPDATED with some links:

Reza Akhlaghiwrites about why this movement does not have obvious leaders:
Traumatized by their exposure to the unmasked face of their rulers and subsequently emboldened by the above grand detachment, Iranians feel reinvigorated and confident of their ability to confront Iran’s weakened theocracy and its multilayered security forces. Organizationally, the struggle in Iran has a completely flat structure with no central figurehead. With a traumatized mind but reinvigorated determination, Iranians appear to be on a path to chart a new role for them in the 21st century. And they appear unyielding in charting this new role based on recognition of and respect for human dignity without dependence on heroic figures.