The Holiday Nowruz is a Special Time to Brighten the Lives of Prisoners of Conscience in Iran

March 5, 2012

Behareh Hedayat © Amnesty International

When brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei were finally granted a brief medical furlough, they rejoiced at the prospect of spending a little time with their families as a reprieve from their grim and unjust imprisonment in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

Internationally renowned experts on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the two physicians were targeted by the Iranian government for having participated in international conferences and workshops in the United States.  In the authorities’ twisted way of thinking, they were a  part of a U.S. plot to undermine the Iranian government.

When the two brothers arrived at their family home, they received an additional and very delightful surprise—they were greeted with hundreds of Nowruz (Iranian New Year) cards sent by Amnesty International Activists around the world in response to AIUSA’s now-annual Nowruz Action.

Kamiar and Arash have recounted how enormously moved they were to receive such an expression of support and to know that people around the world remembered them and were thinking of them. They said, “When we got the message about your campaign… it was like getting new blood that warmed our hearts and gave us energy to be strong, to tolerate the situation, and not to become broken.”

The Nowruz cards sent by activists not only boost the morale of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience languishing in prison in Iran at a time when they should be out celebrating the Iranian New Year (which starts on the first day of Spring) with their families, they also send an important message to the authorities who note the outpouring of support. They know the world is watching them.

One indication of the success of the Nowruz action: four of the seven cases highlighted in the 2011 Action came to happy resolutions in the past year. The Alaei brothers are not free, as is human rights defender Emadeddin Baghi who was released after serving only the shorter of his two prison sentences (the longer one was set aside). Labor activist Mansour Ossanlu was finally granted a much-needed medical furlough after spending years in prison in poor health. Journalist Hengameh Shahidi was also granted a furlough; neither of them have been required to report back to prison.

The Iranian government clearly pays attention to the opinions of people of conscience around the world. In fact, the more public and vocal we are in protesting injustice, the more likely the government of Iran is to listen. Journalist Maziar Bahari recently underscored the importance of public and vocal campaigning; he should know—he was himself released from prison in 2009 after a sustained campaign on his behalf carried out by human rights and journalist organizations. Happily, he was released in time to be with his wife for the birth of their daughter.

So sending Nowruz cards is doubly effective. It will brighten the dark days for our brave Iranian friends in prison and will also send a clear message to the Iranian authorities. This year we remember the seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community; student activists Majid Tavakkoli, Behareh Hedayat and Zia Nabavi; Kurdish rights activist Zeynab Jalalian; human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh; and ethnic Azeri rights activist Saeed Metinour. Please take the time to send them a Nowruz card today. You will be making such a difference in their lives! Thank you.