On 25 June 2016, activists in Washington DC gathered in Lafayette Park, Washington DC in recognition of 20 June, the international day in support of political prisoners in Iran.
Latifeh opened the event with a beautiful Iranian song for the freedom of political prisoners: “Zendani eo oje feriaad.”
Maria then introduced the reason for the gathering to interested passers-by:
We’re here today to mark the International Day in Support of Political Prisoners in Iran. This is a day when we remember those who cannot be with their families because they are being detained, under torture, as political prisoners. They are jailed because of something they said; something they wrote on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog; because they tried to organize their co-workers into a union; because they were female and tried to attend a sporting event.
Their own voices cannot be heard from wherever they are being held – in Evin prison, in Rajaei Shahr, in Ghezelhesar, and in prisons that don’t even have a name – so we come out to be their voices, to tell you what is happening in Iran, and to ask for your awareness and your support.
It is important to understand that in 1979, people from across Iranian society rose up against the dictator at that time, the Shah, and demanded their freedom. They toppled the Shah, but this peoples’ revolution was countered by the Islamists among them, with Khomeini at their head. Since that time, terror, torture, rape and execution have been daily occurrences in Iran. They are and always have been the only tools this brutal regime has to maintain its grip on power.
Despite all of this, freedom-loving people in Iran have never stopped fighting for their rights and their freedom. But as a consequence, many thousands of people have been executed, while thousands more have been detained, under torture, as political prisoners.
(MONIR) In recent weeks, mine workers who held a sit-in to protest against 350 people being laid off from their jobs were subjected to a brutal punishment of lashing – just for demanding their right to work. Every day, somewhere in Iran, workers – from teachers to laborers to nurses – are on strike in protest against lack of payment of fair wages or benefits. Labor leaders like Jafar Azimzadeh, Esmail Abdi, Saeed Shirzad, Amir Amirgholi, and Behnam Ebrahimzadeh are all currently political prisoners suffering under torturous conditions at the hands of the Islamic regime in Iran, which recently killed another jailed labor leader, Shahrokh Zamani. Despite all of this, working people in Iran continue to stand up and protest against unfair labor conditions that are starving the people. They don’t have any other choice.
(ASGHAR, FARAMARZ) In Iran, when you are a journalist, or if you write an opinion in a public forum, or draw a political cartoon, you run the risk of being banned from your profession and thrown in jail by the regime. Afarin Chitsaz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Saman Safarzai, Davud Asadi, and Issa Saharkhiz are among the most recently arrested journalists currently held as political prisoners in Iran, under worse conditions than even those faced by Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was finally released after 544 days of illegal political detention. Reporters without Borders ranks Iran in the bottom 10% of all countries in its World Press Freedom Index.
Afarin Chitsaz, a female journalist and political prisoner, was arrested by the regime in November for no known reason, and held incommunicado in solitary confinement in a 6’x6’ cell. She was allowed fresh air only twice a day for half an hour in a walled courtyard. For six months she was forced to wear the same clothes in which she was arrested. She is still detained as a political prisoner in Iran, and is suffering from psychological shock, kidney pain and severe heart palpitations, for which she receives no medical care. Hers is just one story among many stories of journalists, bloggers, and cartoonists in Iran.
The fact of the matter is that in Iran, everyone with an opinion is at risk of being detained as a political prisoner by the Islamic regime, from people in minority religions, to ethnic minorities, to political and human rights activists.
From Zeinab Jalalian, a Kurdish activist detained under torture since 2008, to Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a civic activist routinely and brutally beaten and tortured in prison after being arrested for organizing aid for earthquake victims, to Mohammad Saber Malek Raisi. A member of the Baluch ethnic minority and one of the youngest political prisoners in Iran, just 15 years old when the regime arrested him in 2009 to put pressure on his activist brother, to hundreds if not thousands of others jailed, tortured, and sometimes killed to terrorize and silence the people, so that this brutal regime can stay in power.
We hope that today you have learned a bit more about what the government in Iran is doing to people, and that you will also add your voice to the millions of voices calling for the freedom of political prisoners in Iran – and wherever else in the world they exist. You can also pick up a flyer or postcard that will provide you with information on how you can take action to support political prisoners in Iran.
We stand here today on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Political Prisoners in Iran to bring attention to and re-instate our commitment to their freedom.
This time, we stand here after three years of the Rouhani’s presidency; out of political expediency, governments and their media outlets around the world have chosen to relate to Rouhani as though he were a political moderate and a legitimately-elected representative of the Iranian people. They have been silent on his record of execution and abuse of political prisoners as well as the abuse of the Iranian society as a whole.
We would like you to know that Rouhani is not a moderate at all, and nothing about the Islamist regime in Iran has changed since they took power 37 years ago. While Rouhani has presented a friendly face to the world, the truth of the matter can be heard in the tortured screams that echo through the dark, damp prison cells in Evin and Rajaei Shahr. The truth is murmured in the early mornings in the yards of Ghezalhesar and Oroumieh Prisons as people are executed in groups of 10 and 15 at a time. The dark and ugly truth eats a hole in the bright light of day in public squares around Iran, as the bodies of the executed swing from cranes, held high for all to see. Rouhani has been responsible for the execution of more than 2000 people since he came to power.
But despite all of the repression against the society, the threat of political imprisonment and torture, and the ever-present threat of execution, people inside Iran have not been silent in the face of intensified repression in Iran. The families and friends of political prisoners still gather outside the gates of prisons in every city, waiting for the chance to see their loved ones. Every day, in every city, people are pushing in one way or another to reclaim their fundamental human rights and freedoms. People in Iran do not stay silent, and neither should we.
Our role as activists outside of Iran is to support the struggle inside the prisons, and in the society as a whole, and we will continue to do so until the walls of Evin are torn down and there are no political prisoners anymore. Our demands today are as follows:
- We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran.
- We demand a halt to all current execution sentences, and a halt to issuing further such sentences by the Islamic judiciary system in Iran.
- We demand that the Islamic regime of Iran be isolated politically and diplomatically on an international level.
We call honorable people worldwide to join us in raising a global demand for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners in Iran!
Zendani-ye siasi azad bayad gardad!
Jomhuri-ye eslami nabood bayad gardad!
Mission Free Iran
25 June 2016
Naghmeh Shahi Savandi’s story:
Here is one story from a former political prisoner, Naghmeh Shahi Savandi, a citizen journalist from Kerman: It was January 27, 2015, when Naghmeh arrived home from a day of shopping to be confronted by security agents. With her mom, aunt and children present, the agents violently raided her home and confiscated her computer, hard drives and CDs; they also confiscated her husband’s personal belongings. They had an arrest warrant for Naghmeh. She was handcuffed and blindfolded and led out to a vehicle. In the car they instructed her to keep her head down as she was driven to a detention center where they held her for one night. The following day, Naghmeh was taken to a court for her charges to be issued. The judge accused her of attempting to infiltrate the Islamic Republic; then she was transferred to a prison. Naghmeh was tied to a bed and sexually assaulted by the authorities.
Next she was transferred to Evin Prison in Tehran where she endured 75 days in solitary confinement. The authorities held her in Ward 2A. Naghmeh describes her cell as being so small that when she lay in it there were only about 5 inches between her toes and the wall. She was warned by prison guards to not speak, scream, cry, or raise her voice in any way. Naghmeh says she was psychologically tortured by her interrogators.
She recalls her interrogators threatening and insulting her while constantly asking questions about her and her friend’s Facebook activities. They presented her with photos of her family that she had posted on Facebook and interrogated her for hours about them while critiquing her physical appearance.
Saeed Malekpour’s story:
“My name is Saeed Malekpour. I was arrested on October 4th, 2008, near Vanak Square (in northern Tehran) by plainclothes agents who did not present an arrest warrant or identification. The arrest resembled an abduction. Afterwards, I was handcuffed, blindfolded and placed at the back of a Sedan. A heavy-set agent leaned his weight on me by positioning his elbow on my neck, and forcing my head down throughout the ride. They transferred me to an undisclosed location which they called the “technical office.” When we arrived, a few agents physically beat me severely and verbally abused me, while I remained handcuffed and blindfolded. They forced me to sign a few forms, but I was not able to read the contents. As a result of the physical assault, my neck was aching for several days and my face was swollen from the punches, slaps, and kicks I received. That night, I was transferred to ward 2-A of Evin prison. I was placed in a solitary cell [6’x6’]. I was only allowed to leave the cell twice a day at specified times for a break of fresh air. However, during the times I left the cell, I was blindfolded. The only time I was allowed to remove the blindfold was in my cell.”
When he speaks of his tortures, he describes them like this:
“Most of the time the tortures were performed by a group. While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons, and their fists struck and punched me. At times, they would flog my head and neck. Such mistreatment was aimed at forcing me to write what the interrogators were dictating, and to compel me to play a role in front of the camera based on their scenarios. Sometimes, they used extremely painful electrical shock that would paralyze me temporarily. Once in October 2008, the interrogators stripped me while I was blindfolded and threatened to rape me with a bottle of water.
One of those days, as a result of being kicked, punched, and lashed with cables on my head and face, my face became very swollen. I lost consciousness several times, but each time they would wake me up by splashing water on my face and continue with the torture. That night, they returned me to my cell. At the end of the night, I realized my ear was bleeding. I banged on the door of my cell, but nobody came. The next day, while half of my body was paralyzed, and I was unable to move, they took me to Evin prison’s clinic.
Saeed eventually was taken to the hospital, but he received no care and was returned to Evin prison. For 20 days, the left side of his body was paralyzed. Later:
On January 24, 2009, after being subject to severe beatings, one of the interrogators threatened to pull out my teeth with a pair of tongs. One of my teeth broke and my jaw was displaced after I was kicked in the face by him. However, the physical tortures were nothing compared to the psychological torments. I endured long solitary confinement time (totaling to more than one year) without phone calls or the possibility of visiting my loved ones, constant threats to arrest and torture my wife and family if I did not cooperate, threats to kill me. They also provided me with false news of arresting my wife. My mental health was severely threatened. I had no access to any books or journals in the solitary cells, and at times, I would not speak to anybody for days.
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