Event Reports, Free Political Prisoners, Human Rights, Not One More Execution, Solidarity with Women

World Human Rights Day 2014: Focus on Iran, Iraq and Syria

WHD 2014 - 11On 7 December 2014, in recognition of World Human Rights Day, Washington DC activists demonstrated against widespread human rights violations in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and against the refusal of Western governments to support peoples’ demands for freedom, equality, and dignity.

Demands included immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, a halt to execution, an end to social and political aggression against women, and the downfall of all anti-human regimes.
The organizers, which included Mission Free Iran, Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran, and Radio Pishgam, warmly welcomed salsa dancing club Azucar, who came out to support the call for human rights around the world, and reminded us all of what it means to celebrate a free life.


WHD 2014 - 08Agenda:
Introduction to the event
Execution (Iran, Iraq, Syria)
Invited speaker: Rami David, Iraq
Political prisoners (Iran, Iraq, Syria)
Anti-woman policies (Iran, Iraq, Syria)
Closing statement
Dance: Azucar salsa dancing club

Greetings, friends here in Washington DC. We are here with you today on the occasion of World Human Rights Day.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed the 10th December as Human Rights Day in 1950. The purpose was to bring the world’s attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

Yet, after 64 years, we look around our world and see little evidence that our human rights are recognized. In fact, they are violated daily, with impunity, from here in the US, where police routinely kill unarmed black boys and men, but never face justice, to Syria, where the death toll approaches a quarter of a million men, women and children, with no end to the killing in sight.
This year on World Human Rights Day, we want to share with you our focus on the human rights situation in Iran, Iraq and Syria.

What these three countries have in common is the government’s unfettered use of tools of repression – execution, political imprisonment, and repression of women – to stifle the peoples’ demands for freedom, equality and dignity.

They also share another characteristic: the willingness of the governments of Western countries to look the other way on government-supported violations of citizens’ human rights, out of political expediency, and regardless of the heinous nature of the crimes committed against the people of these countries.

Today we will share with you what is happening in these countries, and we will ask you to join us and millions of other people around the world in taking action to support human rights in Iran, Iraq, and Syria – and worldwide.

Execution by the state is nothing less and nothing more than premeditated murder, whether it is committed with lethal injections under sanitized conditions in the United States, or whether it is done with ropes for mass executions in places like Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has used execution as a tool to repress Iranian people since it came to power in 1979. For years, the regime in Iran has been notorious for executing more people per capita than any other country in the world. Under the new president Rouhani, the number of executions has increased even more, with at least 662 people executed so far this year, many for the “crime” of having an opinion.

While in the United States, freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment, there are no such protections in Iran. And so on the day that the rest of the world celebrates World Human Rights Day, December 10th, a 30-year-old photographer and father in Iran named Soheil Arabi is to be executed based on the accusation that he insulted a religious figure in a Facebook post.

In Iraq, executions by the state have surged in recent years, with 68 state-sponsored executions in 2011, 129 executions in 2012, 169 executions in 2013, and more than 1500 people currently under sentence of execution. These figures do not include the Islamic State’s widespread executions of Iraqi citizens this year, reported by the UN to be at least 8,500 people killed.

Syria is one of the last 5 countries in the world to formally execute people publicly. Since Syrian people began their demands for freedom, equality and dignity in March of 2011, the Assad regime has killed nearly a quarter of a million people with various methods ranging from torture to barrel bombs. The Assad regime has also supported the Islamic State in Syria, which has executed hundreds of people, including stoning people to death, and is currently holding the city of Kobane under siege.

Execution by the state is not, and can never be, justice. It is a tool used to terrorize the population in whichever country it is practiced. We say no to execution, and we urge you to say no to execution too.

Regretfully, we were not able to connect with Rami by phone during the event. We hope to post his prepared remarks here once we receive them.

Establishment of anti-woman policies is a tactic employed by all three of these regimes in an effort to divide and conquer the society, and maintain a grip on power. Yet in Iran, Iraq and Syria, women continue their long struggle for equality and freedom.

Whether they are standing fearlessly on the front lines in the streets, gathered in solidarity in Laleh Park, confined to prison cells, or stationed behind computer screens keeping communication lines open with the outside world, Iranian women are leaders in the struggle against the gender-apartheidist regime of the Islamic Republic, against international political Islam and against shari’a law, as they have been for the past 35 years.

Theirs is a struggle against a government that legalizes rape of the girl child by setting the legal age of marriage at 9 years. That provides 74 strokes of the lash for not wearing hijab in public. That sets the value of a woman’s life according to shari’a penal code as worth as half that of a man. That ensures intergenerational economic subordination to men by stipulating that a woman’s inheritance can be no more than half that of a man. It is a struggle against a vicious government that rapes female prisoners to the point of destroying their reproductive organs. That will kill by burying her chest-deep in the earth to be stoned to death, or by suspending her by her neck from a construction crane. And, most recently, that has organized a campaign of acid-throwing terror against women in Iran who dare to leave the confines of their homes.

But once again, in opposition to this Islamic regime, the very existence of which is dependent upon the subordination and repression first and foremost of women, Iranian women have stood up in defiance, hand in hand with Iranian men, to protest and force back the hand of acid-throwing regime thugs.
Iraqi women have a long and distinguished history of demanding equality between women and men, and winning equal rights under the law. Yet today in Iraq, women are under siege.

women's equality now - iraqHuman Rights Watch reports that Iraqi authorities are illegally detaining thousands of Iraqi women, and subjecting many to torture and abuse. Iraq’s weak and corrupt judiciary frequently bases convictions on coerced confessions, and trial proceedings are a farce. Many women are detained for months or years without charge.

At the same time, the Iraqi authorities have increasingly targeted women and girls with shari’a law as a method of enforcing political power relations in the country. In March of this year, a draft law was put before Iraq’s parliament that would legalize the marriage of girls as young as nine, would legalize marital rape, and restricts women’s rights in matters of parenting, divorce and inheritance. This disastrous law was approved by Iraq’s council of ministers.

But Iraqi women do not stay silent. Women’s groups and activists took to the streets demanding the withdrawal of the draft shari’a law, and they continue their struggle for equality even as the Islamic State too attempts to enforce shari’a across vast areas of Iraq.

Syrian women organized and led protests against Assad’s brutal dictatorship from the very first moments of the Syrian Revolution. They served as community organizers, demonstrators, media activists, paramedics, and in many other roles. And in the struggle against Assad, women have been the target of government-sponsored crimes against humanity: political imprisonment, killing, torture, and systematic rape.

With the rise of the Islamic State in Syria, with the support of Assad’s regime, the situation for women has become even more dire. The Islamic State has imposed shari’a law on women in areas under its control: there, women are required to cover completely, and may not leave their homes without a male relative. Like Assad’s regime, the Islamic State has engaged in the systematic rape of women and girls. It publicly promotes the kidnapping and selling of women and girls as slaves.

women's equality now - syriaBut Syrian women again have come to the front lines in the fight against barbarity in Syria, most recently embodied by the world-inspiring female peshmerga fighters of the YPG. And in the face of the threat of shari’a law being imposed on Syrian women, semi-autonomous Kurdish regions of Syria are fighting back by declaring women equal under the law and in society: the new law in the Jazira district calls for equal pay and equal inheritance rights for women and men. It declares the testimony of a woman in court equally valuable as that of a man, and mandates that no woman be married without her own consent, and never under the age of 18. Jazira district has established maternity leave for women.

Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian women continue to press their demands for equality and emancipation under some of the worst conditions for women on earth. And they should not be left to struggle alone against the barbarity of shari’a and gender-based oppression that is leveraged against them. On World Human Rights Day, we yearn for these courageous women to know that we stand in solidarity with them, that we know our fate is intertwined with theirs. We ask each one of you to speak up in support of women’s equality, here in the United States, in Iran, Iraq and Syria, and worldwide. It is one struggle, and we all have a stake in it.

Dictatorships by their very nature cannot maintain their grip on power in the face of democratic demands from people; therefore, they silence any person who makes even a semblance of a demand for freedom, or a whisper of opposition to the regime.

Thus, many of Iran’s political prisoners are journalists or bloggers; defenders of human rights – including workers’ rights, childrens’ rights, and women’s rights activists; political activists; or minority or religious activists.

free political prisoners - iranMany are everyday people who went to the streets in 2009 in protest against sham presidential elections. Some are like Ghoncheh Ghavami, a law school student who went to a volleyball game, which is illegal for women to do in Iran; she is now being held in solitary confinement. Others are like Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, two young cousins who have been tortured and are awaiting execution because they belong to a political family. They include people like Hassan Tafah, an 85-year-old lawyer with leukemia who is dying in prison… and many, many more.

In Iraq, security forces illegally arrest women, detain them without charge, and threaten, beat, torture and rape them. Israa Salah is just one case among many: she was abducted and subjected to nine days of beatings and electric shocks. She was hung upside down while her feet were beaten. This left her permanently disabled. Despite court rulings that dismissed the charges against her, she was subsequently executed. Men in Iraq are also subjected to the same illegal imprisonment and abuses; however, female political prisoners face a double burden, since the ones who survive prisons to return home are often stigmatized by their family or tribe, who perceive them to have been dishonored.

The ranks of political prisoners in Syria, both men and women, swelled with the revolutionary uprising that began in 2011. The Syrian government is unlawfully holding tens of thousands of political detainees for exercising their rights to free expression and assembly, or for providing medical care to people injured at protests, or providing shelter and blankets to people displaced by conflict. At least 11,000 cases have been photographically documented of Syrian political prisoners who have been starved and tortured to death in detention. We eagerly await the release of political prisoners like Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir, and Hani Zaitani; Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil, and Nazem Hammadi; and all of the other known and unknown human beings held by the brutal Assad regime.

free political prisoners - syriaYou are not forgotten.

We demand immediate and unconditional freedom of all political prisoners in Iran, Iraq, Syria and worldwide.

We stand here together to commemorate World Human Rights Day, and put a special focus this year on the situation in Iran, Iraq and Syria – a region where it is possible to see that the conditions that prevail in one country affect the situation of people in all three countries, and in fact, they affect people around the world.

In each country, we see increases in execution, political imprisonment, and anti-woman policies and practices as part and parcel of political power struggles.

It is our human duty to stand hand in hand with our brothers and sisters in Iran, Iraq and Syria, and support them as they struggle to turn the tide of inhumanity in their countries, just as we must stand hand-in-hand with each other here in America to demand an end to the injustice and inhumanity we see all around us.

Because the fact of the matter is, whether you stand up and raise your voice against the de facto execution of black boys and men in the streets of America, or if you stand up and raise your voice against executions in the prisons and streets of Iran, Iraq, and Syria – we’re all in the same struggle together, the same fight for freedom, equality and humanity.

And so we condemn the refusal of Western governments to support peoples’ demands for freedom, equality, and dignity.

And together, we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

We demand an immediate end to all executions.

We demand equality for women under the law and in society.

We say long live revolution – down with all anti-human regimes!

We make these demands knowing that they will have their effects. For example, in the case of Iran, the actions of everyday people standing up against the barbarity of stoning was able to stop the stoning execution of Sakineh Ashtiani. She was not stoned to death, and she is at home now, released from prison.

And more recently, on Friday the 5th of December, Javad Larijani, the Iranian regime’s minister for human rights, declared that the regime in Iran is working to change the laws in order to reduce the number of executions on drug-related charges by 80 percent. These outcomes demonstrate that what we do matters. Even for the regime to say that they will reduce executions is a retreat. While we need to keep working until human rights are achieved for all, we must be glad that we have done what we have done against executions.

WHD 2014 - 06And so today, in addition to decrying the heart-rending violations of the human rights of people in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and around the world, we will also celebrate the achievements and successes of all who struggle for human rights as we strive for more success in making this a world fit for human beings – a world where everyone, everywhere, is free to go where they like, free to be who they are, and is free to dance…


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