Esha and the Anatomy of a Human Rights Movement

November 11, 2008

Isn’t it a little unrealistic to think writing a letter asking a world leader to free one prisoner will really make a difference?

Maybe. But it’s not just one letter–it’s thousands that arrive on an official’s desk. It’s experts speaking out to the press. It’s individuals supporting the family of those wrongly imprisoned.  It’s researchers knowing the facts that can lead to accountability. It’s lobbyists urging officials to use their influence with other leaders to promote justice. That’s Amnesty International. That’s the human rights movement.

Case in point: Amnesty International USA’s Iran Country Specialist Elise Auerbach filled in CNN today  about Iran’s recent release of American-born graduate student Esha Momeni, who found herself behind bars for conducting her Master’s thesis on women’s rights.  Of course, one human rights organization did not solely cause Esha’s release, but we sure did a lot to help.

After her initial detention, Amnesty officials like Elise supported Esha’s family. They updated journalists about Esha’s situation, including those at The Los Angeles Daily News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post . Her story was heard on every major TV network: Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC. Surely Iran heard too.

But it didn’t stop there. The memo (a.k.a. “Urgent Action”) also went out to human rights supporters worldwide, mobilizing them to write letters urging Iranian officials to release Esha.

Unfortunately, cases like Esha’s are the rule, not the exception in Iran. Dozens of activists involved, like Esha, with the women’s rights initiative Campaign for Equality have been detained. That’s why Amnesty international keep tabs on Iran’s treatment of activists, track down the facts, documents abuse and then brings the truth to power. The organization released this report on women’s rights defenders in Iran last February.

The work in Iran extends beyond just this one NGO. Last November, Amnesty International teamed up with six other human rights organizations  to publicly call on the highest levels of the Iranian government to end repression of women’s right defenders.

You see, it’s not just one measly letter; human rights is a movement. And yeah, it makes a real difference.

You want to be a part of it? Zeynab Bayzeydi, one of Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience, was also detained in July and charged in August to four years in prison for her participation in the initiative. Click here to write your own letter for Zeynab.

And keep your eyes peeled for more info on Esha Momeni. She isn’t completely in the clear–the Iranian government could reportedly charge her with propaganda and throw her back behind bars. She might need your help.