Posts Tagged ‘mohajerinejad’

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.

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.

Join us for a night of classical Persian music, light h’ordeuvres,  book signing and reading.

Live Generation Book Release Party

Live Generation Book Release Party

Bacheeso, Oakland
248 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610-4724
7:00 to 10:00, Pacific
Monday, September 20, 2010

Live Generation, the book I wrote last year about the student movement of 1999 in Iran, is finally out and available for purchase. The book details the events of 18 Tir, and provides historical background about the political landscape of the last 31 years of rule by the current Islamic regime and the student movement dating back to 1953. In writing about that movement, I have described the relation of our student movement to the current day situation in Iran—particularly the response to last year’s fraudulent elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran and how our protests a decade earlier were foundational to the response by protesters in 2009 and 2010.

The following is an excerpt from Live Generation.

I was only a boy in 1979, but the events that occurred during the overthrow of the Shah would shape how I was educated and would change all our lives almost overnight. When you ask those who lived through the Revolution what it was like, they often will tell you that one day the country was under the Shah’s rule, and the next day we lived under Islamic rule. All bets were off and it was a completely new game. I am often asked by people who are not from the Middle East how the Islamic regime could have taken power, and how they have stayed in power.

The answer isn’t a simple one, but one that has many factors involved. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had ruled Iran for twenty-five years following the coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeqh. In 1979, the Shah’s rule was considered a dictatorship. Ayatollah Khomeini had lived in exile for many years, and from Iraq and France he had voiced his extreme defiance against the Shah of Iran.

In those early days he never stated that he was going to turn Iran into an Islamic theocracy. He said he was against dictatorship and imperialism, and was very supportive of the poor in Iran. The other part of the equation was that Khomeini extended a hand of cooperation to other opponents of the Shah. Among them, the communists and other leftist groups, the National Front, and the Mujahadeen all had the common desire to overthrow the monarchy. What they didn’t have was a religious infrastructure to ensure that the changes they wanted for the country would stick. What Khomeini could bank on was the institution of the mosque. Then, just as it is today, every village throughout the country had a local mosque. As the mullahs blessed Khomeini’s campaign throughout the country, this would help later on when the model for a theocracy was presented. Once the Revolution happened, the Islamic clergy fought with the nationalists, the Mujahadeen, and the communists, and later completely turned on them. This is the time when Islamic enthusiasm proved not to be enough to sustain the movement. The ideology alone wasn’t reason enough for people to follow the strict rules set by Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic began its march toward violence as a means to control the masses. Thousands of those believed to be in opposition to the government were imprisoned and killed, and what was left was a theocracy that ruled with an iron fist. In November 1979, with the hostage-taking of fifty-three American diplomats, the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who were at that time new and fairly small in numbers, became visible all over the world. Still, they needed more control of the universities within the country because the secular movement was more powerful and popular among students. The students’ secular movement of that time was also better organized. The Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line would become what is now the Daftar-e Takim-e Vahdat and part of the Reformist movement of students who supported former Islamic regime President Mohammad Khatami.

In 1980, Iran began what the Islamic Republic called The Cultural Revolution—a term borrowed from Mao’s People’s Republic of China. As part of this movement, in April of that year the government closed all universities for what would end up being two years. This was an effort to cleanse the institutions of Western ideology and non-Islamic influences, and part of that cleansing included the expulsion of many students and professors who were believed to be leftist or Western-leaning. Students and lecturers who tried to protest the closures faced imprisonment or worse. The fallout of Iran’s Cultural Revolution was that many intellectuals left the country following the closure of the universities. Upon the reopening of the universities, only students who could prove that they had no affiliation with any “un-Islamic” organization were allowed to return to school. The Dafter-e Takim-e Vahdat grew during this time, establishing offices at universities throughout Iran and growing in numbers.

Later, the Basiji also had a presence within universities for the first time. A secular education was all but forgotten, and the universities were taught by members of the regime since they had been purged of any professors who had Western leanings prior to the Revolution. September 1980 marked the beginning of Iran’s war with Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Although the war that lasted eight long years came with heavy casualties for Iran, with some estimates as high as one million Iranian lives, the war secured Ayatollah Khomeini’s position and the new theocracy that he had started. Just as any other country would, when attacked from an outside force, citizens rallied around the ruling government. Those who may not have supported the Islamic Republic prior to the Iran-Iraq War quickly got behind Ayatollah Khomeini after the war began. As the war continued, and as the casualties became higher, Iranians grew weary of the war with Iraq. The promises broken by the Khomeini regime came to light in time, and the youth in particular, who had been impacted by the new government’s rule, started to voice their questions. The exiled Ayatollah who was opposed to dictatorships had come home to create one of the finest.