Photo taken April 20, 2010, nearby the British Embassy on Embassy Row. We protested for Bita all the way back to the car, where we remembered that we forgot to get photos of the event. So I got to hold one sign and the bushes held a few too. :)
On April 20, 2010, it felt like the whole world came together to fight injustice, to support the struggle of one woman caught between a cold and calculating Western power and the tyranny of a weak and crumbling yet vicious theocratic dictatorship.
Literally the whole world fought for Bita: people from around the globe stood by her side, and it was the earth itself who struck the final blow against injustice that day, when Iceland’s volcano belched forth a fresh cloud of hot ash, grounding Bita’s deportation flight to Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran.
The world fought for Bita, and the world fought for the larger things that Bita represents: justice, gender equality, safe haven, human rights, and a demand that our governments recognize and comply with our human rights instead of violating them at their convenience. Our governments seem to need the occasional reminder that THEY serve at OUR will, and not the other way around; they would do well to remember that.
This is a summary of the day’s activities from the perspective of Mission Free Iran, and the story starts from a few days before.
On Friday April 16, 2010, we got word from England via @khoshkeledoc that England decided to go forward with Bita’s deportation. Seven officers from the UK Border Agency implemented a dawn raid on Bita’s home, treating Bita and her partner as if they were violent criminals, and arrested and detained her.
The British government left almost no daylight between the time that they chose to announce her deportation and the time that they had booked and ticketed her flight, April 20, 2010 and 7:00pm out of Heathrow. Despite this short time frame, concerned people from around the world understood what was at stake in Bita’s case, and threw all of their efforts into raising awareness about Bita’s imminent deportation, lobbying the British government on Bita’s behalf, and preparing to implement protests should Bita’s final appeal on April 19 fail.
Raising awareness about Bita’s case was our first challenge. As with the Jamal Saberi case, the mainstream mass media has studiously refused to cover Bita’s situation, and neither Human Rights Watch nor Amnesty International have posted anything about Bita’s situation on their websites or Facebook pages at the time of this writing. I understand that HRW was very responsive in the field regarding Bita’s case, and that is excellent but it is not enough. When HRW and Amnesty market themselves and have come to be seen as the top human rights organizations in the world, their failure to cover cases like Bita’s results in people questioning the legitimacy of her case. I strongly critique Amnesty and HRW for this, and hope that they manage to rectify this situation; until then, they do more harm than good for the Bita Ghaedis and Jamal Saberis of the world.
We spent several days working hard with social media like blogs, facebook and twitter to spread the word about Bita and encourage concerned citizens to make demands of the British government on behalf of Bita and in the name of justice and human rights. In the process we made several new friends, including Prerna Lal, an immigrant rights activist who had heretofore not been working on Iran-related issues but nevertheless threw her considerable energies whole-heartedly behind Bita’s cause. We also found new allies among our Facebook networks who also proved willing to work tirelessly on behalf of Bita, including Trisha Klawe of the British Columbia Society for Trauma Survivors in Canada, as well as many other friends too numerous to name. After all of our efforts, we held our breath on Monday, hopeful, waiting to learn the outcome of her final hearing.
On Monday evening, we got word from @khoshkeledoc that the court had unbelievably denied Bita’s final appeal, and that everyone was needed to pull out all the stops and protest. Those in London were asked to go to Heathrow outside Terminal 3 at 5pm in anticipation of her 7pm flight to Tehran. Mission Free Iran agreed to hold a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Washington DC.
Although we knew it was unlikely that we would be able to get many to take the day off of work, we put out the announcement that we would be holding a protest at the British Embassy (3100 Massachusetts Ave NW). We also asked our members and friends in other locations to try to visit British consulates to press for justice for Bita and to demand that the British government adhere to international human rights standards and UN agreements on refugee rights to which it is signatory, specifically the principle of non-refoulement: “no refugee should be returned in any manner whatsoever to any country where he or she would be at risk of persecution.”
I am very proud to say that MFI and our friends made a strong showing on behalf of Bita Ghaedi on April 20:
1) To guide understanding of the situation, we immediately posted an important piece by MFI’s Ahmad Fatemi (“Hands Off Bita Ghaedi!“) that addresses Bita’s case and analyzes the responses of national leadership to her situation and that of Jamal Saberi – responses that are difficult to understand in an era where people demand the primacy of human rights principles, but governments still think it is acceptable to cut deals with dictators with human lives hanging in the balance.
2) Russ Bennett made the trip to the British Consulate in San Francisco to discuss Bita’s case with them, and to hand-deliver his letter of support, in an effort to stop the deportation and certain death of Bita. He has shared a beautiful pictorial representation of his trip to the British consulate in San Francisco for Bita, set to music.
Russ’s text-based report is as follows:
I discussed with the staff in proper British Fashion my participation in the green Movement, my task mission statement, and the techniques I prefer (MLK’s six principles of non-violence and the techniques of Ghandi). Catching my faux pas, I apologized for the loss of their rather sizable empire due to Ghandi (it is said of the nationalization of the Iranian Oil Industry of the Brits “Never has so much been lost by so few”). Then we discussed Bita’s fate upon her return to Iran and my theories of the use of industrial cranes by the IRI for public executions. It is amazing how terribly proper (in true British spirit) I attempted to make the horrific acts sound. The young lady I talked to explained that they will forward the information to the immigration or border agency. She agreed to pass on the urgency of this task due to the imminent deportation.
On a more humorous side note, my arrival and negotiation with the professional and young lady at the building’s security desk and impeccably dressed and terribly British sounding guards went very well. While I was in San Francisco, I was doing my “Mr. Rogers does San Francisco” routine with my fuzzy Mr. Roger’s sweater. When I first arrived at the front desk, I was told I would have to come back at 2:00 pm. I explained that I had an appointment that I needed to make up north in the afternoon (some people will do anything to get out of dental work). We agreed that she would contact the Consulate, and I would wait. I explained I had to use the restroom, but they said I couldn’t use theirs and to try the nearby Starbucks. Without thinking, I said “I’ll Be Back.” Now all that is left to do is to find the Mr. Rogers version of this video.
3) Our Washington DC contingent demonstrated outside of the British Embassy, with summary report by Maria Rohaly:
We enjoyed the beautiful, bright clear spring day in Washington DC – even the weather told us it was an appropriate day to stand for freedom. For today’s protest, we brought signs we had made for Jamal’s campaign that read “DEPORTATION IS EXECUTION.” We had signs with Bita’s sad, sad face on them. We brought a double-sided sign that said “DEPORTATION TO IRAN IS EXECUTION BY ENGLAND” on one side, and on the other it said “UK MUST NOT SEND BITA GHAEDI to DEATH in IRAN.”
Once again, I declared Embassy Row as the best place in Washington DC to hold a demonstration: all traffic always slows to read EVERY WORD on protest signs. We saw this while protesting for Jamal at the Japanese Embassy, and the phenomenon held true a bit further down the road. Many passing cars tapped on their horns to show support for our protest.
We were perched on a red light corner in front of the Embassy, so stopped traffic had nothing better to do than read our signs; also, the red light was at the entrance to the embassy, which meant that staff traffic passed by us going in and out of the complex. Traffic was especially heavy at lunchtime, and everyone was very curious about why we were there and clearly were interested in reading our signs.
Unfortunately, I had found out too late the night before that we would need to hold a protest; there was no time to file notification of protest with the DC Metropolitan Police prior to going out there. It’s not required to notify, but they appreciate if you do. Anyway, seems the staff at the British Embassy let the police know we were there: a young secret service guy on a mountain bike showed up to see what we were up to. He was very nice when he asked what the cause of protest was & showed appropriate concern when he heard about Bita’s story.
We also had a chance to tell others about Bita’s case in more detail – passersby asked about her story and once they heard, they asked what they could do. I gave them a paper cherry blossom (courtesy of the Saberi Solidarity Cherry Tree from the Jamal protests) with our website written on it and asked them to follow up and find the letter-writing information there.
We were out for about 2 hours, and overall it was a good day, especially when we learned that Bita’s plane had been grounded with the aid of mother Earth. Now that is what I call women’s solidarity.
There is a lot more work to do; we need to maintain pressure on the British government until July, which is the date of Bita’s next hearing. As some of our friends have already begun doing, we need to compel the mass media to cover these stories of what is happening to Iranians seeking asylum. When it was good for their ratings, the mass media – which could not cover the situation in Iran for itself – took images and video coming from Iran from social media outlets and broadcast that to the world. Nothing has changed, and those who stand against the Islamic regime like Bita Ghaedi and Jamal Saberi are still being targeted for elimination by this regime and its sympathizers such as the British and Japanese governments. Humane and honorable people around the world should find this base and offensive. We all must stand against these injustices. We can do this, and we will do this, together.