A Year of Seismic Significance in Iran

December 18, 2009

As 2009 draws to a close we marvel at the extraordinary—and what is sure to be remembered as pivotal—year in Iran. Amnesty International marked International Human Rights Day on December 10 with the launch of its comprehensive report on the post-June 12 election crackdown.

While the litany of gruesome horrors visited upon the Iranian people by their own government’s agents detailed in the report is profoundly upsetting to us, what we come away with is the courage and determination shown by ordinary Iranians who doggedly refused to be bludgeoned into silence. The bravery shown by millions of Iranians: young and old, women and men, middle and working-class, residents of Tehran and many other cities, is truly astounding and a testament to the human spirit. They poured into the streets withstanding savage beatings, arrests and bullets, shouted from the rooftops, wrote slogans on walls and even on currency, painted their fingers green and reported it all to the world.

Even before the June 12 election, 2009 was proving to be a busy year for activists working to improve human rights in Iran. Amnesty International USA presented its first ever Nowruz action in March, asking activists to send Nowruz (Iranian New Year) greetings to directly to three brave human rights defenders: labor activist Mansour Ossanlu, women’s rights advocate Ronak Safarzadeh, and Kurdish journalist Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand. Large numbers of greetings were generated; one activist’s card to Ronak Safarzadeh was even featured on a Committee of Human Rights Reporters web site. Several Amnesty International local groups continued to work on long-term cases of prisoners of conscience: Mansour Ossanlu, Ronak Safarzadeh, writer Arzhang Davoodi, and cleric Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi.

In the spring, AIUSA campaigned vigorously for the release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, sentenced to eight years in prison for “espionage.” AIUSA activists stepped up to the plate, sending thousands of messages to the Iranian government. Thanks to their efforts, and those of many others, Ms Saberi was freed in May; we were honored to have her join us at a press conference in late June and at a July 25 Global Day of Action for Iran event in Chicago. Sadly, all our efforts on behalf of juvenile offender Delara Darabi were unsuccessful. Delara was executed on May 1, for a crime that occurred when she was only seventeen, and which she may very well not have committed. Since June 12 our efforts have been primarily focused on the vicious post-election crackdown.

We are grateful that we have been joined in our efforts by a large number of organizations and activists, campaigning tirelessly on behalf of human rights in Iran, and are proud that we partnered with many of them. Among the many a few can be cited: the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, working around the clock to put out timely and accurate reports on a practically daily basis; Iran Human Rights Voice , Physicians for Human Rights, with whom we issued—together with ICHRI—a joint open letter calling for a transparent investigation into the suspicious death of Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani who treated many victims of torture; United4Iran with whom we collaborated on the July 25 Global Day of Action on Iran and on a successful event in Los Angeles on December 12 featuring internationally respected human rights expert Hadi Ghaemi as a main speaker; The National Iranian American Council which issued a steady stream of sharp criticisms of the Iranian government’s human rights abuses; Reporters Without Borders working tirelessly on the cases of Ms Saberi and of detained Canadian-Iranian journalist and Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari; Human Rights Activists in Iran ; Mowjcamp which fearlessly battled Iranian government censors to report on violations. To these and many others, we wish to extend our profound thanks.

Looking to the future, our work is certainly cut out for us. Iran just executed the fifth known juvenile offender this year, Mosleh Zamani, on December 17. Iran has already surpassed the 346 recorded executions that it carried out last year, giving Iran the dubious distinction—yet again—of being the No.2 executioner in the world after China in 2009. Human rights defenders, journalists, scholars, politicians such as Kian Tajbakhsh, Abdollah Momeni, Saeed Leylaz and Ahmad Zeidabadi have been sentenced to long prison terms, after grossly unfair judicial proceedings, for their alleged role in “inciting” the post-election protests. Seven Baha’is continue to await trial on serious charges that could result in the death penalty, simply for peacefully practicing their religion. Meanwhile, Iranians are still waiting for justice and accountability for the crimes: murder, torture and rape, committed against them by government agents, crimes the authorities are trying—without much success—to cover up.

We don’t know what 2010 will bring, but we do know that we can’t accomplish anything without the support of the countless activists both in Amnesty International and outside—who have not forgotten the Iranians in their time of need. May the amazing spirit of the Iranian people continue to inspire us in the coming year.