Celebrate Spring by Remembering Iran's Detained Human Rights Defenders

March 10, 2011

Hengameh Shahidi

As the human rights situation in Iran becomes even grimmer, as the government brazenly detains even the most senior politicians in the opposition movement, it is more important than ever to remember the courageous human rights defenders who continue to languish in Iran’s prisons.

As former prisoner of conscience Maziar Bahari said, “the prisoner’s worst nightmare is being forgotten.”

The Iranian authorities would certainly like the world to forget the hundreds of men and women who are unjustly imprisoned for exercising their right to engage in peaceful activism and advocacy, but we have a chance to deny them this satisfaction by taking part in Amnesty International’s Nowruz Action.

Nowruz is the Iranian new year, which falls on the first day of spring. It is an ancient holiday that celebrates renewal and new life. Our friends behind bars in Iran cannot celebrate this holiday with their families but they will certainly appreciate receiving Nowruz greetings from concerned activists from the U.S. and other countries, letting them know that they are not being forgotten.

In honor of the tradition of Haft Sin (seven S’s)—a table laid out with an elaborate display including seven items beginning with the Persian letter Sin (the equivalent of the English S)—the Nowruz action consists of seven cases of people who are paying an enormous price for working for a better life for other Iranians. They are currently serving long prison sentences and are suffering from serious health problems exacerbated by the scandalous and unsanitary conditions prevalent in Iran’s prisons.

The cases include:

  • Mansour Ossanlu, a labor rights activist and head of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Drivers Union, imprisoned for his advocacy of workers and trade unions’ right to organize and collective action;
  • Seven leaders of the Baha’i community who have done nothing but peacefully exercise their right to freedom of religion;
  • Noted author, death penalty opponent and Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender award recipient Emadeddin Baghi who was imprisoned for conducting a televised interview with a dissident cleric;
  • Student leader Majid Tavakkoli, arrested after making a speech to commemorate Students Day in December 2009;
  • Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer, persecuted for her commitment to representing her clients, including Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi;
  • Internationally recognized HIV/AIDS researchers Kamiar and Arash Alaei whose conviction was based on their attendance at an international scientific conference;
  • And journalist and women’s rights activist Hengameh Shahidi, who was reportedly subjected to a mock execution during her pre-trial detention.

Please take some time to send these courageous human rights defenders a card letting them know they are not forgotten.