Archive for July, 2011

5 Years without You…for Akbar Mohammadi

Posted: July 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

The following was originally published by Iranian.com in 2009. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Akbar Mohammadi.

by Reza Mohajerinejad
29-Jul-2009

Tomorrow will mark the three year anniversary of the death of my friend and fellow student movement activist, Akbar Mohammadi. He died in Evin Prison.

For several days now I have tried to think about how to write these words. Some pain is just too hard to write, so I will start with facts, and perhaps the words will come. Akbar Mohammadi was part of the July 1999 student movement in Iran. He believed passionately in freedom for the people of Iran. He had a love of country that was remarkable. At the protests our group organized both before and after 18 Tir, Akbar was never far from me, and was outspoken in his passion for the movement. During one of the protests following the dormitory attacks a member of Ansar-e Hesbollah lunged at me with a knife. I was completely blindsided, and it was Akbar who pulled me out of reach and in all likelihood saved my life that day.

When Akbar believed in an idea he followed it to the ends of the earth. During the Iran/Iraq war at the young age of 13 years old Akbar was so disturbed by the Iraqi attacks on our country that he tried to enlist in the army. At that time he was denied entry into the war because of his age, but he persisted until a year or so later, when they finally let him in.Akbar survived the war and went on to be one of our most active members. The simple truth about him is that he wasn’t particularly interested in making strategic decisions. But once a decision was made, he was someone who executed on plans. He was our best foot soldier in the student movement. He was there to implement what we decided, and he was extremely loyal.

Akbar’s strength was what set him apart from most anyone I’ve ever known. He was fiercely strong against the Islamic Republic, and it was that strength that they would ultimately be put to the test in his final days in Evin Prison.

On the day that I was captured after the protests of 18 Tir, Akbar was also arrested at Tehran University. At that time there was a secret jail reserved specifically for political prisoners that we later learned was called Tohid. It was later closed, and became a museum signifying what the Islamic Republic would have people believe was the remnants of the Shah’s rule, however, the regime took it to new heights of cruelty before closing its doors.Tohid prison was the darkest place imaginable. It was the place they took us upon our arrest, and it was where they tried to break us. At times they would bring Akbar in to watch my torture sessions, or those of his brother. They did the same for me during Akbar’s sessions, though I have tried over the years to put these memories away. What I will say is that Akbar could not be broken.

I also saw Akbar when we finally were given a court hearing and they put us in the back seat of a car, blindfolded and lying on our sides, our feet and legs touching. When we both realized we rode together, there was great joy for an instant.

After months of torture in Tohid prison, we got the word that they were moving us to Evin Prison. For us, this was very good news. Akbar and I believed we were going to the same area within the prison, that the hard times were over for both of us, and that we would be sent to the student section of Evin to wait out the remainder of our sentences. We shook hands in the car on the way over, locking our fingers together for a short embrace before we reached our destination. We were happy at that moment, and in his usual way, he reassured me that everything was going to be okay. When we reached Evin Prison, the unexpected happened. The guards separated us. They took Akbar to Section 209 of the prison.

While the extreme torture of Tohid had ended for me, Akbar’s would continue at Evin Prison. Eventually he was moved with the other student prisoners, but the toll his body had taken was simply too high. He suffered more than any of us for his beliefs. Akbar’s legacy in the student movement was that he came to signify torture by the Islamic Republic.

On July 30, 2006, Akbar Mohammadi died in Evin Prison. Subjected to years of torture that went far beyond what I endured, his physical health was already fragile, and after more than a week of a hunger strike, his body gave out. Whether his death was of natural causes as the Islamic Republic would have us think, or whether the torturers themselves stopped his heart from beating, at the end of the day Akbar died at the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran. What there is to say about Akbar is that there has never been a better fighter for any cause. He was strength personified. His courage in the face of such tyranny is beyond what most of us mere mortals can conceive of. By the time he died, his body was no longer that of a thirty-seven year old man. He suffered from a loss of hearing in one of his ears, and he had major kidney problems, and internal bleeding.

Before his last days at Evin Prison he had a couple of years outside of prison walls. He was released because of his physical ailments so he could seek medical attention. During that time a book was published in the U.S. in Akbar’s name. Not long after that the Islamic authorities picked Akbar up and took him back to Evin Prison. I have often wondered why he didn’t leave Iran during one of his temporary visits home. I believe Akbar must have thought he could endure for the movement.

The circumstances of Akbar’s death have always been questionable. He was taken to the infirmary shortly before he died. He was continually beaten, even during the fast he was undertaking to protest his return to prison. It is believed that he was injected with a substance while in the infirmary, and shortly after that he died.

The events that followed were no less heartbreaking than the last several years of Akbar’s life had been. The government wouldn’t allow his family to bury him in Tehran, and neither would they agree to bury him in his home town of Amol in the Mazandaran Province. He was later buried in a small village cemetery in Changemian. His body was badly beaten, and he was almost unrecognizable according to those who witnessed his remains before he was buried.

And so to my friend, Akbar Mohammadi, I say, this year and every year, I will remember how you fought. I will remember your bravery, and just as we promised one another all those years ago, I will continue to fight in your name, and in the names of all those who have suffered at the hands of the oppressors of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I will not give up, just as you never gave up.

18 Tir: The Passing of Another Year

Posted: July 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 Student of July 1999 - 18 TirIn July of every year I take pause and remember three events with anniversaries in this month.

The first is, of course, Independence Day in the country in which I have lived for more than a decade. As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July every year, I think of a day when Iranians will celebrate the anniversary of the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I imagine our joy at living in our own country without fear that a mere thought could land us in jail, tortured at the hands of government agents who love nothing more than drawing blood from its citizens.

Toward the end of the month, I remember the anniversary of the death of my dear friend and freedom fighter, Akbar Mohammadi. This year marks the fifth anniversary of his murder inside Evin Prison. He was brave to the very end, and every year I miss him more. I miss his courage, his spirit, and his undying loyalty to our student movement.

And last, I remember 18 Tir.

To stand up to a vicious government, one that does not subscribe to the idea of human rights, takes immense courage. What we have seen in the last seven months of protests from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen and Syria, shows bravery and determination that is familiar to Persians. We have faced an ugly regime, and though we haven’t yet succeeded in ousting them, we are no less present, when we see other countries use what we have learned, to challenge their own dictatorships.

What I mean by this is that, as we remember the event that happened twelve years ago this week, what we refer to by the Persian calendar as 18 Tir, we remember a moment in time that started cracking the door to freedom open for the very first time. I was there. It happened. The student protests of 1999 started with the closing of a reformist newspaper, grew into more than 50,000 young people coming out into the streets of Tehran, and countless others who protested in cities all over the country. The protests ended with the imprisonment of thousands of those of us who participated. Back then, we were for the first time vocal in our questioning of our government. Before 18 Tir, people in our country wouldn’t dare come out in protest with slogans like “down with the dictator” or “down with Khameini.” We were the first, and the cost was great.

This happened during a Reformist President’s rule. The Reformist students under Khatami called us anarchists. We were not anarchists, but we wanted basic human rights and a government that not only had a constitution that was voted upon but the citizens of Iran, but that was also followed. We wanted democracy. We wanted freedom.

Today, those outside of Iran wait. Two years ago following the elections of 2009 in Iran, we saw the formation of what would be called The Green Movement. It started as another Reformist movement, but escalated over the next few months to represent more than reform. There is little doubt that the movement of 2009 got its start in 1999. Similarly, the movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain, to name a few, used the 2009 demonstrations as a model for their own protests. The opposition in Iran in 2009 saw some 4 million people come out in Tehran alone, to protest the regime. They Tweeted, posted on Facebook and You Tube, and got the news out to the world so that their voices were heard. Now, in what is being lauded The Arab Spring, demonstrators demand freedom and the world is watching. I believe Iranians inside the country are watching too, yet there has remained silence from within the opposition movement in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For all of us outside our country, we scratch our heads, wondering how our Arab neighbors are finding their voice while our opposition hasn’t yet joined in. Mousavi and Karroubi remain under house arrest, yet the streets seem to go on with business as usual. In my mind, there are several reasons that the movement hasn’t rebounded.

First of all, as I have said repeatedly, I believe that we as Iranians need to unify. We are so splintered, from Monarchists to Mujahedin to Leftists, that we sabotage one another with looking more at our differences than the single most unifying concept that we share, which is removing the Islamic regime.

Next, in my opinion, the idea of reform instead of a complete overhaul of the current regime is the most counterproductive concept we could possibly pursue. I think we are kidding ourselves if we believe that reform would be enough, that a democratic Islamic government is possible. In Syria, Asad proposed reform, and the opposition flatly refused. The time for reform in Iran is past.

In 1997 Mohammad Khatami won the presidency in Iran. This was an important win in Iran for many reasons, but mostly because Khatami was proposing a government that was less run by conservative ideology and more open to true democracy. Khatami promised a change from the hardliner conservative approach that has been the order of the day for the Islamic Republic’s government since the 1979 Revolution.

At the end of the day, Khatami didn’t deliver.

The reasons that reform will not work in Iran are many, and the current Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran is at the top of the list. It is rife with contradictions and inconsistencies. All branches of government ultimately point to the divine power of the Supreme Leader who has god-like jurisdiction over an entire country—and beyond, if you believe the government there.

So we are left to wait. We come out from Los Angeles to London to show our support. There are reformists today who also believe that a secular government is a better choice for our country. When we unite with a singular voice for Iran, we will be unstoppable against the criminals who have been in power for more than 30 years. It isn’t a simple task, and in reality, it is a very complex challenge if we are ever to celebrate our own Independence Day.

AUTHOR
Reza Mohajerinejad is an activist for the student movement in Iran, and was one of the organizers of the Iranian student uprisings in July of 1999 (18 Tir). His book, Live Generation, is about the events of 18 Tir and how the student movement back then was foundational to the current day protests in Iran.