Posts Tagged ‘iri’

Heshmat Tabarzadi

Heshmat Tabarzadi sits in a cell tonight. I imagine the circumstances of the prison in which he sleeps. There is likely a single light bulb above his head that burns 24 hours a day. His days of interrogation are probably sporadic now. They may not occur daily as they would have in the beginning, but it is the not knowing when he may be called in, forced to write page after page of the same answers to the same questions, only to be tortured between sessions, that will hang over him as a bitter, unpredictable possibility. What is worse, I imagine, is that Tabarzadi as a family man, must spend many hours alone, wondering about his wife and children, how they are and when and if he will see their faces again.

This morning I woke to read the news that my friend and fellow activist, Heshmat Tabarzadi, had been sentenced to nine years in prison and 74 lashes by the Revolutionary Court of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On December 17, 2009, Tabarzadi wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, entitled “What I see on the Frontline in Iran…Regime change is now our movement’s rallying cry.” He wrote the article after the Student Day protests of December 7, and it was this article that likely prompted the Islamic Regime to drag him from his home on December 28, his family watching as government agents took him to prison. Not knowing where he had been taken or for what crime he was being charged, the family waited.

The situation is far from decided at this point. His latest attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested last month. Yet jail for Tabarzadi isn’t new. He spent eight years of his life in Evin Prison as a political prisoner—two of which were in solitary confinement.

I have often referred to Tabarzadi as a lion in the way he approaches his belief in freedom. He believes in secular democracy, and he is unapologetic. He stands up for what is right and he is unafraid in his protest. Yet, he is also a human being, with human flesh and blood. He is the father of six children, and I recently learned that he is also a grandfather. He is loved by his wife and children—so much so that they have lived out their lives under constant threat by their government that at any time the head of the family, the lion, could be taken away again to face torture and imprisonment for months or years, and that he may not ever come back home to them. This is the truest sacrifice for a belief.

Tabarzadi and I go back to the years before 18 Tir—the student uprising of 1999 in response to the attacks by the government on Tehran University dormitories–when we were both working on building our student organizations. I remember walking into his office in early 1996, and how we clicked right away. Our friendship was very easy and natural. He comes from a perspective of having great love for his country and his people, and I have always respected his opinion.

I try to call Tabarzadi’s family every few weeks. There is so little that can be done outside of Iran to help his case. However, what I have realized through this last imprisonment, is that very little is known about him in the English-speaking media. In Iran he has a large following. He is known for his work before and after 18 Tir. This morning when I spoke with his son, Hossein, I asked him what we could do, and he said, let people outside of Iran know about my father.

So once again I am left with that feeling I often have when fellow freedom fighters are imprisoned. I’m left wondering if I should be there in prison with my friend. I wonder if the work we do here, outside of Iran, can make a difference. Then I hear the words of my friend, Heshmat Tabarzadi, when he wrote, “If the government continues to opt for violence, there very well may be another revolution in Iran. One side has to step down. And that side is the government—not the people.” These words remind me that it doesn’t matter from which continent we fight, so long as we never step down.

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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Political Prisoners of the Islamic Regime as of September 30, 2010This week  Ahmadinejad made his annual trip to New York to appear before the United Nations. The seats where the U.N. General Assembly members should have been, quickly emptied in protest again this year when the fraudulent president took to the stage. Yet, this alone isn’t enough of a message of support for human rights for Iran. Later Ahmadinejad met with Larry King as he has in years past. I waited, just as I have each time Western media has interviewed Ahmadinejad, to hear the real questions: “What is Iran doing about human rights?” “How can you justify the torture and murder by your government of your own people?” Again, Ahmadinejad didn’t have to answer these questions.

This continues to work in Ahmadinejad’s favor. Prior to becoming president Ahmadinejad was largely unknown, but after his first trip to the U.N. he became famous for his outbursts. In truth, Western media has helped Ahmadinejad to become a familiar face to the entire world. He loves the attention he’s gotten by his ignorant tirades. He uses the attention he gets from Western media to keep the opposition to the Islamic Regime under control. He’s become something of a diversion that keeps the world talking about his outlandish claims instead of focusing on the real issues. He brings an entourage of some 200 people with him to the U.S. every September—each of them receiving visas to travel to the U.S. while thousands of political Iranian refuges are in holding camps outside of Iran waiting months and sometimes years for a visa to a country where they won’t be imprisoned.

News about what is going on internally in the Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t often make it to mainstream Western media, and so the faces of political prisoners wasting away in prisons in Iran today rarely become noticeable to the global community. For those of us who have faced the tyranny of the Islamic regime that has controlled our country for the last 31 years, however, the faces of those currently imprisoned haunt us every day. We find it difficult to participate in activities that normal citizens enjoy without a certain feeling of guilt that innocent members of our country are being tortured day in and day out without notice from the outside world.

Human rights is all too often avoided when we speak of Iran from the Western perspective. Nuclear arms takes center stage, and there is good reason for concern on this issue. I believe that any country that can torture its citizens, that uses methods of punishment like lashings, amputation of body parts including eyes and tongues, and practices capital punishments as inhumane as stoning and suspension hanging where the prisoner is lifted via a crane, extending the time it takes to expire, should rightly so be kept from acquiring nuclear weapons.

What disturbs me, however, is that in the discussion of nuclear arms in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the opposition movements within the country are often forgotten. Members of any one of these groups, including members of the student movement, women’s movement, or labor activists, if captured, suffer the worst abuses against human rights. In the Islamic Regime, being suspected of disagreeing with the government can land a person in solitary confinement between hours of brutal interrogation and torture for days and months and even years.  Those who speak out, like student leader Majid Tavakoli, face cruelty that is unimaginable. Tavakoli gave a speech at Students Day in December of 2009, and ended up with an eight year sentence, convicted of intent to act against national security, insulting the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the government-selected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Human right activists like Shiva Nazar-ahari are sentenced to six years in prison and 76 lashes. Long-time activist for secular democracy, Heshmat Tabarzadi, faces being imprisoned for as long as the government chooses to hold him. Young activists like Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi continue to languish in Islamic Republic jails.

The list goes on and on, yet finding information in English about what has happened to these political prisoners is difficult at best. The fact that two nights ago again the cries of “death to dictatorship” were heard throughout the city of Tehran as citizens continued to protest the current regime, is no longer making headlines in Western news.

My point in all of this is that human rights cannot take a backseat when we talk about how to deal with the Islamic Republic. When we discuss the possibility of war with Iran being “back on the table” there is little mention of these abuses against humanity. Yes, the potential for nuclear holocaust must be dealt with, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the current situation in Iran. The accounts of torture are horrific. The extortion by the government in the cases of political prisoners whose families are forced to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars for the release of their loved ones, is a lucrative model that the Islamic Republic isn’t going to give up easily.

All too often we focus on the past when looking to the future. In the case of the Islamic Republic, we must focus on the present. We have to bring the images of the faces of those who have disappeared without a trace to the attention of the world, and we must not forget that basic human rights are non-existent in the Islamic Republic of Iran.