Free Saberi and All Other Political Prisoners!

Roxana Saberi’s case has by now become internationally known: the photogenic 31-year old Iranian-American journalist, who for the six years before her arrest in January had been freelancing in Iran, reporting for different agencies including the BBC and the NPR. She was arrested in January, and after a closed-door summary ‘trial’, was sentenced to eight years in prison on espionage charges. As of Sunday, April 26, 2009, Saberi’s father has reported that her daughter has been on hunger strike for six days, to protest her imprisonment and the charges brought against her.

The Iranian President Ahmadinejad along with the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, have made public announcements, urging the relevant courts to play fair with Ms. Saberi’s case and to allow her all the legal means available to her by law, including the chance for a fair defense.

Iran’s Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi announced recently that she would be joining the team representing Saberi in her appeal of the espionage charges and the eight-year sentence.

As reported by Inter Press Service, “The former beauty queen — Saberi was the 1997 “Miss North Dakota” — was arrested in January and initially accused of trying to buy wine, later of lacking valid press credentials, and finally with espionage,” (“Int’l. Support Mounts for Jailed Journalist,” IPS, April 21, 2009). This summary of the rapid evolution of her alleged ‘crime’ should be enough to evince the spurious nature of the charges brought against her, and is a great example of the sham called ‘judiciary’ in Iran.

There are speculations regarding:

1) Whether or not some conservative elements are using their tentacles within the judiciary to pick on Saberi so as to stick a crowbar in the wheels of the advocates of normalization with the U.S. Very possible.

2) Whether or not Saberi’s case is a show of toughness by some who need to showcase their credentials in the coming elections, in June. Possible, but a weak explanation.

It could also be a manufactured case so as to have something for the Iranian government with which to show their ‘high intentions and good will’. My guess is Saberi will be released as a ‘show of good will.’ (Naturally, it would be very dreadful if things came to a situation where I would have to eat those words!)

Another case, that of Hossein Derakhshan, is equally indicative of how politicized the Iranian judiciary is. Derakhshan is known as the ‘godfather of blogging in Iran’ (under the blogger name, Hoder). His politics is pretty much aligned with the reformists’ platform, though he has also written approvingly of Ahmadinejad’s policies (see his blog). Yet, he has been in detention since November 2008. The charge against him is quite an unfounded one of spying for Israel. The apparent reason for his being in prison is a trip to Israel in 2006 on his Canadian passport, to build ‘people-to-people’ understanding between the two countries, a trip used by the authorities as the excuse to bring the espionage charges. It must be said that additional motivation for bringing such absurd charges against him could have been provided by Derakhshan’s ideas for some very mild reforms for more free expression than currently allowed, and his gentler criticisms of the wilder aspects of the theocratic-obsessive policies of the state.

In his letter to urge the head of the Iranian judiciary to ensure fairness in dealing with Roxana Saberi’s case, President Ahmadinejad asked that the case of Derakhshan also be looked into with more care, thus extending his good will to those who in the past have spoken kindly of his policies.

[Note: My reference here to Derakhshan's expressed support for some of Ahmadinejad policies is in no way to be taken as implying that he 'got his just deserts', or anything as obscene as that; not at all. Nobody should be jailed based on ideas they express. Whether or not Derakhshan exercised good political foresight, or whether or not he should have/could have spoken in defense of other, more radical political prisoners in Iran when he had a large platform ... all those things are completely beside the point and have absolutely nothing to do with his unqualified right to free speech. The point here is to establish that in Iran even political non-foes are not spared the random brutality of the 'justice' system.]

Be that as it may, ‘good will’ toward the Iranian people is a torturous joke and, from the government side, in very scarce supply. Especially when it comes to other prisoners held purely on political grounds: women’s rights activists, labor unionists, student activists, socialists and radical democrats, national-minority rights activists (mostly Kurdish, Azeri and some Arabs) or … and this one takes the cake … blasphemers. That’s right, apostates and blasphemers. Iranian socialists are obliged to repeatedly remind western readers and followers of things Iranian that for the past thirty years in our country, if a judge really wants to, he can throw the charge of ‘fighting against God’ (in Farsi, ‘Moharebeh baa Khoda’) at anybody he wishes.

Now, isn’t it insanely presumptuous for any human agency, and more so for a religious-based one, to imply that God cannot take care of himself in a fight against a mere human being? But, lucky and convenient for God the Iranian mullahs have the charge in their books, and, lucky for the mullahs, those statutes come in handy in putting the lid on undesirable advocacy by any of the millions kept under the thumb of the state.

It is completely fair, I think, to say that a judiciary so flawed as to prosecute people’s thoughts and ideas, and thoughts and ideas alone, is nothing but a frightful insult on top of a kick in the head. Of course, to its credit, the Iranian judiciary does not burn people at the stake for witchcraft; nevertheless, qualitatively speaking, it’s nothing but the second cousin to what the Europeans must have experienced under the Spanish Inquisition. Let’s call it ‘Selective, Low-Intensity Inquisition’. And if you think it’s not medieval enough, just arrange for an in-depth interview with any of the numerous relatives of Iranian women who, for the alleged ‘crime’ of loving another man, have been stoned to death, while buried waste deep.

Among the solidarity actions taken toward the Iranian activists, I must mention at least two:

1) Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace & Justice (part of USLAW), on April 16, 2009, issued a statement of solidarity with the Haft-Tapeh Sugarcane Co. Syndicate members arrested and detained. Their umbrella organization, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), has generally been supportive of Iranian labor unionists under fire.

2) The US-based organization Feminist Majority Foundation recently awarded the ‘One Million Signatures Campaign’ with the Global Women’s Rights Award, a clear statement of solidarity with the women’s rights movement in Iran, and in particular with the One Million Signature movement, a peaceful and legal campaign in Iran to collect signatures for a petition to be presented to the state, demanding that Iranian women be recognized legally as equal to men; meaning, in plainer language, to be recognized as having equal worth as men, something the current constitution denies.

* * * *

Due to the different sets of circumstances that have come together, international community’s attention has now been brought onto the unfortunate case of Roxana Saberi (and less so, onto the case of Hossein Derakhshan). As a result, the Iranian President and the Judiciary Head have taken notice and are expressing concern. So, we must use this moment of attentiveness to bring to the attention of the international community, and hopefully more specifically to the attention of the American left, the plight of hundreds of other political prisoners in Iran, and point to the general poverty of the judicial conditions there.

Further, we would like to call on all left-leaning, progressive, freedom-loving and justice-seeking individuals and organizations to call on the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (see contact information at bottom), to look into the injustices done in the cases of the following groups of people.

It must be emphasized that these individuals are only some representative examples of the social injustices being laundered through the Iranian judiciary. We urge the Iranian government that true diligence and justice be afforded to these individuals unjustly imprisoned, by immediately and unconditionally setting them free, and to restore and respect their rights of advocacy on their own behalf and for their rights. To do so, Mr. President Ahmadinejad, could well be taken as a symbolic show of your good will toward the people of Iran. In this spring of renewals, why not free ALL political prisoners?

I) Women’s Rights Activists
Free imprisoned ‘One Million Signatures’ campaigners!

According to Change for Equality, “Nearly 900 women’s rights and civil society activists have signed a petition requesting the judiciary to immediately and unconditionally release Khadijeh Moghaddam and Mahboubeh Karami and drop the charges against all the 12 activists arrested on March 26th, while meeting up on a street corner to go for visits of the late Dr. Zahra Baniyaghoob’s family, on the occasion of the Iranian New Year.”

Further, Change for Equality states: “Twelve women’s rights activists were arrested on March 26, 2009, on Sohrevardi Avenue in Tehran, while meeting up to go for New Years visits of families of imprisoned social and political activists. Ten of those arrested are members of the One Million Signatures Campaign. The Campaign members arrested are: Delaram Ali, Leila Nazari, Khadijeh Moghaddam, Farkhondeh Ehtesabian, Mahboubeh Karami, Baharah Behravan, Ali Abdi, Amir Rashidi, Mohammad Shourab, and Arash Nasiri Eghbali. Also, Soraya Yousefi and Shahla Forouzanfar were arrested.”

We also urge action on the cases of Ronak Safazadeh and Parvin Ardalan.

II) Labor Rights Activists
Free Mansour Osanloo!
(also, see his bio)

Further, besides Mansour Osanloo, the following are either in detention or else their cases are still pending, meaning they are subject to random state harassment:

1) Labor unionists associated with Haft-Tapeh Sugar Cane Co. Syndicate: Jalil Ahmadi, Fereydoon Nikoofar, Ali Nejati (released on bail, but ‘case still pending’), Ghorban Alipoor and Mohammad Heidarimehr. (see, in Farsi only)

2) Labor unionists associated with Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations: Ghaleb Hosseini and Abdullah Khani (held in Sanandaj Central Prison after being arrested for participating in activities, including strikes, on the occasion of May 1st of 2008). (see: http://komitteyehamahangi.com/English.htm)

III) Student Activists
Free jailed university student activists!

As announced by Amnesty International, on 1 April 2009, urgent action was called on the Iranian government to ensure that Nasim Roshana’i, Maryam Sheikh and Mohammad Pour-Abdollah [all university student activists in Tehran's Evin prison] are protected against torture or other ill-treatment and are allowed immediate access to their family, legal representation and any medical attention that they may require.” (see: http://freeirstudent.blogspot.com/)
(see AI’s appeal)

Also of concern is the fate of the following: Alireza Davoudi, Amin Ghazaei, Shabnam Madadzadeh (all university students in Tehran).

Other students unjustly detained, according to AI: Esmail Salmanpour, Majid Tavakkoli, Hossein Tarkashvand, Kourosh Daneshyar, Mehdi Mashayekhi, Nariman Mostafavi, Ahmad Ghasaban, Abbas Hakimzadeh, and Yasser Torkaman.

* * * *

In closing, it is important to bear in mind the following: If the Iranian authorities have found it within their willed rights to bring clearly ludicrous and spurious charges of espionage (based, allegedly, on her ‘confession’) against an internationally known journalist, Roxana Saberi; and have further brought absurd charges of spying against a mere blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, who advocates nothing outside of the current theocratic setup and has even written kind words about Ahmadinejad and his policies … well, dear reader, it should not be too difficult to imagine the kind of Guantanamo like treatment handed out to political prisoners lost in the shadows of anonymity and those with serious ideological and political differences with the state. Their horror is daily, their futures uncertain at best, and their cries of help unheard by any in the ‘international community’, or else deliberately ignored.

Iranian President
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, The Presidency
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: ri.tnediserpnull@dajenidamha-rd
Salutation: Your Excellency

Iranian Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh / Office of the Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: ri.narhet-yratsogdadnull@iduorhahs (in the subject line write: FAO Ayatollah Shahroudi)

Salutation: Your Excellency

Reza Fiyouzat can be reached at: rfiyouzat@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Reza, or visit Reza's website.

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  1. Klara said on April 29th, 2009 at 4:43pm #

    Thank you for this discussion of Iranian political prisoners. My heart goes out to these people and their families, especially since I can so easily relate: my cousin and close friend, Silva Harotonian, has also recently been imprisoned in Evin, the same prison as Roxana Saberi.

    Silva, an Iranian citizen of Christian Armenian descent, recently held a modest role with a humanitarian organization working to improve child and maternal health in Iran. But then, on June 26, 2008 her life changed completely when she was arrested by Iranian authorities. A victim of circumstance, they say that she was conspiring with the U.S. to start a “soft revolution.” While she is innocent of all charges leveled against her, she was sentenced to three years in jail in January 2009. She filed an appeal, which was denied in April; she continues to serve time at Evin. You can learn more about Silva’s story by visiting our Web site, http://www.FreeSilva.org that we built to share news and to respectfully urge the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to grant her release. Silva does not have one political bone in her body. All she wanted was to help others and give back to her society.

    To this day, we are still trying to put together the puzzle of her arrest. By sharing her story, we hope to raise public awareness of these types of situations and our efforts to bring Silva home. If you’re interested, you can help us by signing an appeal to ask for her release, which you will find on our Web site.

    I pray for the safety and release of Silva, and any other person who has been unfairly detained in Iran, and thank you again for sharing these stories.

    -Klara Moradkhan