Archive for January, 2011

Alireza, We Hardly Knew You

Posted: January 18, 2011 in Uncategorized
Alireza Pahlavi

Alireza Pahlavi

What is there left to say about Alireza Pahlavi? The pundits have weighed in, and opinions have been flying from Iranian ex-patriots to American journalists and heads of state from all over the world. The sad news that the man who was once the youngest prince of the Pahlavi family, took his own life on January 4, 2011, touched those of us outside of our homeland deeply. We could not help but react with sadness.

Sadness is nothing new to Iranians. When we see our youths being jailed for their beliefs, lawyers being tortured for the clients they accept, and far too many hunger strikes by prisoners who have no other voice outside the walls of places like Evin, Rajai Shahr, and 59 Sepa, how can we not feel sadness?

Then we hear about the Shah’s youngest son’s suicide. To understand the reaction many of us had to Alireza’s death, you need only look as far back as our history over the last century. I am not a monarchist. I am also not religious. I was still a child when the Shah of Iran packed his bags and left, replaced by the Islamic regime that has been in power since the revolution in 1979. Had I been an adult at that time, I believe I would have been in support of opposition to the throne, but only in so much as to support secular democracy in my country.

The Pahlavi family represents a past that is bittersweet at best. For those of us who have spent our lives battling the oppression of the Islamic Republic of Iran the last three decades, a certain nostalgia for the monarchy might be tempting. However, as hard as we might try, we cannot change history.

What is perhaps unique and without a doubt necessary in understanding Iranian people, is that for us, our culture runs deep. Alireza Pahlavi lived the biggest part of his 44 years of adult life outside of Iran, yet what I’ve read about him is that he was deeply rooted in its history and culture and disturbed by its current political climate. This isn’t uncommon for Iranian people. For those of us who left our homeland, our ancient Persian past runs deep, and we tend to live half our consciousness wherever our escape took us, and the other half in Tehran, Mashad, Shiraz, Esfahan, Tabriz, Sanandaj, Zahedan, Rasht, Abadan, or wherever else we may have grown up, in our beloved Iran.

When we think of Alireza Pahlavi, we remember him as the youngest son of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. There are photos all over the Internet of Alireza as a child in Iran, later as an awkward teen in the U.S., and more recently looking, as his American neighbor referred to him in one article I read, “dapper.” What the world really knows about him is very little. We know that he was well-educated. He completed his undergraduate work at Princeton and he went on to Columbia where he studied ancient Iranian studies and earned a Masters degree. At the time he died he was working on his PhD at Harvard. We know that he mourned the suicide of his younger sister, Leila, who took her own live in 2001. We also know that he lived in Boston, that he appeared to be physically fit and from the outside seemed to have every reason to live.

As a people, Iranian ex-patriots don’t necessarily mourn Alireza Pahlavi, the man. How could we? We barely knew him. The closest comparison I can think of would be the way Americans felt when John F. Kennedy, Jr., fell from the skies in a plane crash in 1999. Americans remember the “John John” of 1963, just over three years old, saluting his father’s casket. Yet even this isn’t the right comparison because there was far more to know about John F. Kennedy, Jr., as he grew into manhood, even if it was cut short too soon.

But similarly, maybe we prefer to remember Alireza Pahlavi, the child, standing next to his parents and sisters and brother. How could that boy have come to the end that he did. Was it a sense of helplessness? Did he look at the current situation in Iran, at the executions of political prisoners and the human rights violations that are eating away at the citizens of our country and feel, as many of us do, that he could never do enough? Was he lonely? Did he feel inadequate? Perhaps he succumbed to the enormous pressure of being a Pahlavi. He was born a prince—a fate one might not necessarily choose.

In the end, we’ll never know what prompted Alireza to end his life. For me, I look at how much work there is left for us to do if we are to free our country from the clutches of the Islamic government that abuses its power and rapes and pillages our country. From where I sit, I can only hope to do some good for those still inside the country. That is why I go out in protest. It is why I read news sources about political prisoners in Iran every day. It is why I write. Yet, I can’t help thinking that Alireza might have done something more than all this with his name, his family connection, his history. I wonder if he ever thought of what he might have done. I wonder if he felt his hands were tied. I’m sorry that he didn’t live to tell us.

AUTHOR
Reza Mohajerinejad
is one of the student activists and organizers of the 1999 Student Movement in Iran known as 18 Tir. His book, Live Generation, is available on Amazon.com.

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Reza Mohajerinejad Gives Speech on Political Prisoners at Amnesty Int'l

Amnesty International Speech in Novemenber 2011

On November 6, 2010, I was a panelist and gave a speech at Amnesty International’s 2010 Western Regional Conference in San Francisco. I was asked to focus on the plight of the political prisoner, with a special focus on Majid Tavakoli. I was touched to hear so many make mention of Majid even before I began my talk.

Before I begin, I’d like to dedicate this speech to political prisoners all over the world, and I’d like to remember, especially, Majid Tavakoli, one of Amnesty International’s Special Focus Cases, as he sits in an Iranian jail at this moment.

Anyone who has ever lived in a dictatorship knows what happens if you question the leader. If you question the leader of a dictatorship, whether it is by taking some action or simply having a thought that contradicts the leader’s doctrine, and if they capture you, you will face treatment that is unimaginable. If you question the leader of a dictatorship, you will be imprisoned. If you question the leader of a dictatorship, you will become a political prisoner.

As a political prisoner, you will likely face day after day of interrogation and torture. You will spend many hours in solitary confinement—so much so that you will lose all track of time and your mind will begin to play tricks on you. As a political prisoner, you will have whatever rights you believed you had, taken from you. As a political prisoner, you may find your only forms of protest are hunger strikes and whatever word you are able to get outside the prison walls to let the world know you are there. And as a political prisoner, you may spend many years behind prison walls…simply because of your belief.

According to Amnesty International’s 2009 report on the world’s Human Rights, at least 55 countries are holding political prisoners. There are at least 111 countries that practice some form of physical or psychological torture. I was born in one such country, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In 1999 I spent 137 days in Tohid, what was then a secret prison reserved for anyone who was suspected of questioning the Supreme Leader. Tohid was a violent place that practiced the worst kinds of torture. I was one of the organizers to the 1999 student uprisings in response to the attacks on the dorms of Tehran University. Once captured, I became a political prisoner.

Later, when I was released from Evin Prison, I escaped Iran and came to the U.S.

Now, if you will, fast forward 9 years to the Islamic Regime’s presidential elections of 2009.

When a second term was handed over to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, activists came out in numbers never before seen in the last 31 years of theocratic rule in my country. Unlike 1999, this time we saw not just students coming out in protest, but we saw young, old, men, women, laborers, students, bazarris, and business people.

The government’s response has been very harsh. In the weeks following the elections, Islamic Republic of Iran’s prisons were filled with protesters—so much so that government offices and schools became filled with political prisoners as well. Technology allowed protesters to send images and video via cell phones across the Internet. These images came into our homes in the West within hours, sometimes within minutes. We saw students being beaten in the streets, and a young woman named Neda being shot in cold blood as those around her helplessly tried to save her life.

The student movement in Iran has evolved over the past decade. There is a new generation, what I like to refer to as The Live Generation. These are the students who have shown unbelievable bravery. They are the youth of Iran who night after night shouted chants from the rooftops. They sent Tweets, posted video clips, wrote blogs, and posted on Facebook to bring awareness to the world about what was happening to them. Their courage got the attention of the Western media, and for a moment in time in 2009, the world saw a side of Iran they had never quite seen before.

Tavakoli is a student leader in Iran who has become one of Amnesty International’s Special Focus Cases. He is a student of Tehran’s Amirkabir University of Technology, and he is truly one of the voices of the Live Generation of Iran’s student movement. When he was captured last December, after a speech in remembrance of Student Day in Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran attempted to marginalize Majid by posting photos of him in women’s compulsory Islamic dress, or hijab. The government’s attempt at humiliation, however, backfired. Male supporters of Majid all over the world began posting photos of themselves wearing the Islamic scarf in protest to the treatment of Tavakoli by the government of the Islamic regime. This sparked a movement of solidarity with not only Tavakoli, but with the women of Iran—sending a message that, “until Iranian women are free, Iran will not be free.”

Tavakoli is 24 years old, and he is serving an 8 ½ year sentence in Iran as a political prisoner. From Tavakoli’s writing and from his it is obvious that he believes in freedom for Iran, and that he believes in secular democracy.

A few weeks ago I telephoned Majid’s mother to let her know that we would be talking about her son at an Amnesty International conference in San Francisco. I wanted to ask her if there was anything she wanted to let the world know about her son. I wanted to give his mother a voice at this conference. I heard Tavakoli’s mother’s voice tremble when she tried to speak to me about her son, and I cut the call short. While it may have helped her to know that we were supporting Majid from California, I wished I could instead tell her that her son was free.

Majid is only one of many political prisoners in Iran and all over the world. In the Islamic Republic of Iran prisoners like Heshmat Tabarzadi and his attorney Nasrin Satoudeh continue the fight for justice and human rights from behind prison walls. Bahareh Hedayat, another student activist is serving a nine year sentence, and Shiva Nazar Ahari has been sentenced to six years.

Today I ask you to remember these prisoners and many others in Burma, Sri Lanka, China, Tunisia, Thailand, and at least 50 other countries in the world. We can only dream of a day when there will be no need to speak about political prisoners. We can dream of a world where countries don’t imprison based on belief and opposition to a government. Until that day, I ask you to join me in remembering and giving voice to political prisoners all over the world.