Recognizing Critics, Empowering Dissidents: A Statement of Solidarity with Advocates for Human Rights in Iran

December 9, 2010

By Nazanin Boniadi and Roxana Saberi

Journalist Roxana Saberi and actress Nazanin Boniadi
Journalist Roxana Saberi and actress Nazanin Boniadi

In June 2009, hundreds of thousands of courageous men and women took to the streets in Iran, demanding their inalienable rights amid the turmoil of the country’s disputed presidential election. News of the deaths of innocent people such as Neda Agha-Soltan and Sohrab Arabi, raids on the dormitory of the University of Tehran, mass show trials, and reports of the torture and rape of political prisoners made the world take notice.

Sadly, the international community has since largely averted its gaze, despite the fact that Iran continues to violate its international obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

Prisoners of conscience are still languishing in jail, and execution by stoning is still allowed, as is the execution of juvenile offenders. The authorities continue to suppress the freedoms of expression, opinion, assembly and religion, while many students are being denied their right to higher education based on a discriminatory system that penalizes them for their political and religious beliefs.

It seems that Iranian authorities are systematically targeting current and future community leaders in what appears to be a relentless crackdown on student and human rights activists.

Amnesty International has included one such case, that of student leader and prisoner of conscience, Majid Tavakkoli, as an urgent action in its global Write-a-thon campaign.

Majid Tavakkoli was arrested after criticizing the government in a peaceful student protest at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran on National Student Day, December 7, 2009.

Prominent human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh was arbitrarily arrested on September 4, 2010, on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime and “acting against national security” solely for her peaceful work representing her clients. She is currently being held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, reportedly in solitary confinement.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay has stressed, this case seems to be “part of a much broader crackdown,” and she expressed concern “that the situation of human rights in Iran is growing more and more difficult.”

The government’s attack on the freedom of expression continued most recently on December 7, 2010, when security forces raided the office of the reformist Shargh Newspaper and four journalists, Ali Khodabakhsh, Ahmad Gholami, Farzaneh Roustaei, and Keyvan Mehregan were arbitrarily arrested.

It has become painfully clear that by targeting human rights defenders and future leaders, the Iranian government is hoping to keep its flawed and unjust legal system in effect in an effort to remove any opposition, criticism, or dissent. It is time for the international community to stop turning a blind eye and to demand that the Iranian government abide by its human rights obligations.

On this Human Rights Day, 2010, we should recognize and support the tireless efforts and the unparalleled bravado of all those in Iran who are working to ensure justice and freedom for all, despite the great adversities and dangers they face.

You are not forgotten.

Nazanin Boniadi is a British-Iranian actress, activist and a Spokesperson for Amnesty International USA.

Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist, former prisoner of conscience, and author of Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran.