Young Lions of the Green Movement
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
03 Jan 2011 19:02
[ spotlight ] Since June 2009, when Iran's rigged presidential election was held, the international community has learned much about the Green Movement and the courageous Iranians who have supported its struggle against the hardliners. Neda Agha Soltan, one of the first martyrs of the Green Movement, has become a household name. The world knows that the movement has had at least 110 martyrs, some of whose families were jailed, simply because they protested the murders of their loved ones. It also knows that Iran has become a hell for journalists, with many jailed and at least 30 effectively forced into exile in 2010 alone. At the same time, the international community has learned much about the courageous attorney and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh, currently imprisoned and, until a few days ago, on a hunger strike. The repression has grown so severe that even Majles deputy Ali Motahhari, brother-in-law of Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, recently said that his colleagues do not dare to question Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because they are afraid that he will destroy their lives. Another deputy, Sayyed Reza Akrami, concurred. And keep in mind that this is the Majles that was elected after the draconian vetting by the Guardian Council in 2008.
But there are many other brave figures who have been arrested and given long jail sentences following show trials who are little known to the world. There are many who are languishing in prison and are just as deserving of receiving attention as those on whose behalf the international community has rallied. For example, Sotoudeh was joined in her hunger strike by Gholam-Hossein Arashi, journalist and filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, Arash Sadeghi, and Reza Shahabi. Nourizad declared that he would continue his strike until he and his fellow inmates were accorded their rights or he died. Yet when Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Laureate for Peace, and several other woman activists staged a sit-in in front of the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, the focus was overwhelmingly on Sotoudeh. Her image was prominently displayed, while the names of the others who were on hunger strike with her were briefly mentioned in the statement that the group issued when it ended its protest. Sotoudeh certainly deserves the attention that she has been receiving. But this is a collective struggle and attention must be paid to all the political prisoners, even those who once worked within the system. There are currently at least 800 political prisoners in Iran, and Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, have emphasized that people should pay attention to the plights of those who are relatively unknown, such as Arashi, a day laborer. In fact, Mousavi's website, Kaleme, has featured several such prisoners.
The focus of this article, the first in a series, is on the plight of several young, imprisoned Iranians who have contributed greatly to the struggle of the Iranian people for democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and dignity. They are all former or current university students and activists. Despite their courage, relatively little attention has been paid to what has been done to these young lions of the Green Movement.
Bahareh Hedayat is a student at the University of Tehran, majoring in economics. She has been an activist for women's rights and a member of the Campaign for One Million Signatures, a feminist movement devoted to changing the laws that discriminate against Iranian women. She is also the spokeswoman for and a central committee member of Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office for Consolidation of Unity, or OCU), the umbrella group for most of the university students' organizations (see here for a history of the group in Persian and here for one in English).
Hedayat was first arrested on June 12, 2006, after a demonstration in Tehran's 7 Tir Square by women's rights activists. After a week in jail, she was put on trial and given a two-year sentence, suspended for five years. She was rearrested on July 9, 2007, after a peaceful gathering by members of the OCU central committee to protest the arrest of three Amir Kabir University of Science and Technology students, Majid Tavakkoli, Ehsan Mansouri, and Ahmad Qassaban. She spent a month in jail. She was arrested again a little over a year later, on July 14, 2008. This time she was accused of associating with anti-government groups outside Iran. She spent 35 days in solitary confinement before her release on bail. She was arrested yet again the following March 21, after she and other university student activists gathered in front of the notorious Evin Prison, joining the families of political prisoners that had assembled there. She was jailed for three days.
Hedayat was arrested most recently on December 30, 2009, after the demonstrations on the Day of Ashura two days earlier. After a show trial, she was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, to which her previously suspended two-year sentence was added. This is the most severe punishment ever given to a student activist. Hedayat has been told that if she agrees to a TV interview in which she renounces her beliefs and criticizes the Green Movement, she will be dealt with leniently, but she has refused. She has never been granted a furlough and has been on hunger strike since December 18 to protest that her family has been banned from visiting her. Her husband, Amin Ahmadian, has said that she has kidney stones and needs urgent medical care.
Listen to Hedayat's speech delivered via satellite to an international conference of solidarity with Iranian students, held at Delft University in the Netherlands, and read the article about her written by a friend. For a collection of her own articles, see here.
Madad-Zadeh was born in 1988. She is a computer science student at Tehran Teachers College in Karaj, 50 kilometers west of Tehran. She is deputy secretary-general of the Tehran Committee of the OCU, as well as a member of her college's Muslim Student Association. She was arrested on February 20, 2009, while taking a taxi from Karaj to Tehran. Security agents stopped the cab and took her to a police station. They then asked her to call her brother Farzad Madad-Zadeh to come to the station to pick her up. When he arrived, the agents arrested them both. Initially, no reason was given for her arrest. She was eventually taken to the section of Evin Prison where narcotics offenders are held, prompting strong protests by human rights advocates.
Her attorney, Mohammad Oliaeifard, has said that she has been accused of moharebeh (warring against God). According to him, a relative of Madad-Zadeh who lives outside Iran had left her baby child in her care. She called Madad-Zadeh to see how the child was doing, and that became the basis for the accusation, as the relative is supposedly a supporter of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO). Madad-Zadeh has reportedly been tortured severely in order to make her "confess," which she has refused to do. She has been given a sentence of five years, and is currently in Rajaei Shahr, a prison for dangerous common criminals. Her brother is also a political prisoner (see below). She is ill with heart problems that need constant care. The two have never been granted furloughs.
Read her moving letter from prison.
Tavakkoli was born in 1986 in Shiraz, in south-central Iran. A student at Amir Kabir University in Tehran, he is a well-known activist. Together with Ehsan Mansouri and Ahmad Qassaban, he was first arrested in December 2006 after taking part in a demonstration against Ahmadinejad, who had visited Amir Kabir. As he was active in publishing a student newsletter, security agents published a similarly designed, fraudulent newsletter filled with insulting comments about Islam and the Shia Imams. The trio was arrested. They spent 15 months in jail, but were eventually exonerated.
Tavakkoli was arrested again in January 2009 after participating in a commemoration of former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan (1907-1995). This time accused of having links with the MKO, he spent 115 days in solitary confinement. After posting a bail for $200,000 he was released, a powerful indication that the accusation was bogus. He was subsequently exiled to Bandar Abbas, a port on the Strait of Hormuz.
On December 7, 2009, Iran's University Student Day, Tavakkoli gave a speech to a large gathering of students in front of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran in which he severely criticized the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to his brother Ali Tavakkoli, as he was leaving the campus, he was attacked by security agents and beaten savagely in the street. After a show trial, on January 20 Tavakkoli was given an eight-and-a-half-year jail sentence and banned both from political activity and leaving the country for five years. Because he kept writing against the hardliners, he was transferred to solitary confinement. He went on a hunger strike on May 23 in protest. Six days later, he was transferred back to the political prisoners' ward of Evin Prison, after which he ended his hunger strike. He has an ulcer and is in poor health.
Tavakkoli and Hedayat sent a joint message of solidarity on the occasion of University Student Day in early December. Although under pressure, both also refused to denounce the leaders of the Green Movement and accuse them of lying and inciting sedition. As a result of their defiance, new charges have been brought against them.
Listen to the courageous speech Tavakkoli gave at the University of Tehran right before he was arrested. In honor of his efforts, Tavakkoli was given the 2009 Homo Homini Award, bestowed annually by the Czech-based human rights group People in Need on a person who has contributed significantly to the defense of human rights.
Golroo is a student and activist at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabaei University and a member of the Committee for Defense of the Right for Education (CDRE), which was formed after many student activists were expelled from their universities and prevented from continuing their education.
Together with her husband, Vahid Lalipour, who is not a political activist, Golroo was arrested on December 2, 2009. The judiciary accused her of being linked with the MKO. The hardliners hoped that her husband's simultaneous arrest would pressure Golroo to work with them and renounce her beliefs. She refused. Her husband was released. A bail of $500,000 was set for Golroo, but her family could not afford it. In April 2010, after a show trial, she was sentenced to three years and four months in prison.
On the first anniversary of the rigged presidential election of 2009, Golroo sent out an open letter. Referring to the university expulsions and the great number of student activists that have wound up in jail, she wrote, "We tried to go back to our universities, but we could not. What we did achieve is transforming Evin Prison into a university." On December 7, she sent a brief message of solidarity on the anniversary of University Student Day, writing, "If three students were murdered in [December 7] 1953, today dozens of students are in jail. Although the price of speaking up is very heavy these days, but at the cost of transforming Evin Prison to a university, our universities must live on. You should know that we are with you and will sing the song 'My Grade-School Friend,'" a popular song among the opposition.
Together with Hedayat, Golroo went on a hunger strike on December 21. The two ended their strike eight days later, but new charges have been brought against them. Golroo is ill with severe colon problems. Her husband has said that the authorities do not allow him to send her the medications that she needs.
Read a collection of Golroo's articles here.
Momeni, a high school teacher, is the spokesman for the Sazeman-e Danesh Amookhtegan-e Iran-e Eslami (Organization of the Educated of Iran, or OE), a group of former university student activists, particularly those who were active in the OCU. Dr. Ahmad Zaidabadi, a distinguished journalist and an expert on Israel and the Middle East, heads the OE.
Momeni has been imprisoned since just after the rigged election of 2009. He has been given a six-year jail sentence and five years of internal exile, and is barred for life from involvement in any political or journalistic activity. For a collection of his articles, see here. When he was a university student, Momeni was very active in the OCU and was a member of its central committee. His brother was killed during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and Momeni adopted his two nephews.
Momeni was first arrested when security forces attacked the OE offices on July 9, 2007, but was eventually released. In the last presidential campaign, Momeni and the OE supported Mehdi Karroubi. Momeni declared, "Voting for Karroubi is voting for human rights and democracy." On the evening of June 20, 2009, eight days after the election, Momeni was arrested again, when the security forces raided Citizens' Headquarters, a Karroubi campaign organization he headed.
Momeni spent months in solitary confinement. During the show trials of summer 2009, he was coerced into "confessing" his "crimes." He later said that he had been forced to "confess" after being tortured. On February 23, 2010, the court set a bail of $800,000 that his family could not afford. He was given a furlough on March 4 and returned to jail on April 13. He received an eight-year jail sentence that was reduced to four and a half years on appeal. He is currently in Ward 350 of Evin Prison.
In a moving letter to Khamenei, Momeni described his torture and the other ill treatment he has received.The letter is a historic document that provides extensive detail on the plight of the political prisoners in Iran, and the harsh conditions, interrogations, and torture that they suffer. Concerning his detention, Momeni wrote,
Beatings, verbal abuse and degradation, and illegal treatments started at the very moment of my arrest. During my arrest, tear gas was used, which prior to this had only been used in the streets and open air. Breathing tear gas in a confined space made me feel as if I were choking and rendered me unable to move. Still, the security officials did not stop at that...
Of the torture and ill treatment that he received, Momeni wrote,
During the 86 days I spent in solitary confinement I never saw the color of the sky. During the 7 months of my detention in the security wards of 209 and 240, I was only allowed to go into the courtyard on 6 occasions.... They cursed at me and my family and, after a good beating, while cursing at me and belittling me, they said, "We will prove to you that you are a bastard child and that you are the result of illegitimate relations." These words made me angry and I responded by fighting. They forced my head down the toilet. They shoved my head so far down the toilet that I swallowed feces and began to choke. They pulled my head out of the toilet and said that they would leave and come back at night and that I had been provided this time to confess to my sexual indiscretions.
They claimed that I had to "explain fully who I had had sexual relations with, when, how and where." They even demanded that I falsely confess to being raped as a child. On many occasions I was threatened with the prospect of being raped with a bottle or a stick. This was so extreme that, for example, the interrogator of the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic would vow that "we will shove a stick in your rear so far that even 100 carpenters won't be able to extract it."
Of his coerced confession, Momeni wrote,
The interrogations had only one aim: to break the prisoner and force him to confess to what it was that the interrogator wished. When we asked why it was that they used such methods to extract such confessions, we were told, "According to the founder of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini], the preservation of the regime is the foremost obligation." During interrogations, whenever I did not respond in accordance with the will of the interrogator, or as he put it, "in line with the interests of the regime," I was told that either I had "to respond as we want you to, or you have to eat and swallow your interrogation form." This was not a threat. After refusing these demands, they would force-feed the interrogation forms into my mouth. From the start of the interrogations, I was forced to write against my friends and those close to me and when I resisted, besides being beaten and slapped repeatedly, I was given this response by the interrogator: "You have to write against others so that your own notorious personality is demoralized." Perhaps this logic, which was intent on demoralizing and breaking me, justified their insistence that I confess to sexual relations and indiscretions which I had not had. When I objected that these accusations were not true, and insisted that I could not implicate myself in a false confession, I would receive beatings and insults and would be told, "We will bring a prostitute to your court hearing to confess against you and say that she had illegitimate sexual relations with you." More than 400 days have passed since my arrest.... I just want to inform all that I continue to hold the same beliefs that I had prior to my arrest and I remain true to those beliefs. As explained earlier, the statement I read in court and under pressure does not represent my beliefs.
Of his show trial, Momeni wrote,
Following these abuses, 86 days in solitary confinement and 50 days of being completely out of touch with the outside world, lack of access to my family, lack of phone privileges or visits (which resulted in everyone outside of prison wondering whether I was actually still alive) and after practicing my lines with the interrogator to ensure I made statements implicating myself, I appeared for my court hearing. I appeared in court despite the fact that I was not allowed to have a lawyer of my own choosing representing me. This was a court after all, where my testimony was dictated to me by my interrogators beforehand. The interrogators had falsely promised me that if I read the testimony they had prepared during my court hearing, they would release me by the end of September 2009. But freedom was not my motivation for reading their statement in court and implicating myself in confessions.... I was hoping that I would not have my head jammed into the toilet bowl in order to extract a false confession. I was hoping to free myself of the constant beatings, punches, kicks, and slaps of the interrogator. I was looking to free myself of the constant threats of execution and other promised acts of violence against me.
Of the judiciary's lack of independence, Momeni wrote,
Interrogators said that they were in fact the ones who issued court rulings. Perhaps it is important to note that the judge in charge of my case [Judge Salavati] had explained to me that "if the interrogators are satisfied with you, we will free you." This statement in and of itself reflects the level of independence enjoyed by judges and court officials. The interrogator said, "The prosecutor is a nobody. I am the one who decides."
The Reformists and supporters of the Green Movement have been speaking about how security agents and interrogators dictate to the judges the sentences that they should give to political prisoners, but the hardliners have always rejected the charge. Momeni's letter confirms what the Reformists have been saying for years.
Momeni's letter angered the hardliners. He has been threatened many times, and Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi has said that the credibility of the regime has been greatly hurt, not because of what the torturers have done to Momeni, but because Momeni publicized their crimes.
Words such as "honor," "credibility," "honesty," "patriotism," and "freedom" take on completely different meanings when invoked by the hardliners. Momeni has filed a lawsuit against his torturers, but there is no hope that the judiciary will pursue it.
To read Momeni's writings regarding various issues, see here. Read, as well, the moving letters of Momeni's children and his wife, Fatemeh Adinehvand, to their father and husband. Together with Majid Tavakkoli, Momeni was awarded the 2009 Homo Homini Award for his efforts in defense of human rights.
Sayyed Milad Asadi was born in April 1986. He is a member of the OCU central committee and an electrical engineering student at Tehran's Khajeh Nasir Toosi University. He was first summoned to the Revolutionary Court on the charge that he had written insulting articles in his school's student newsletter. This charge was dismissed. In March 2009, Asadi, his family, and several other OCU members were arrested. He was jailed for several days, but released. In October 2009, he was arrested again while participating in an OCU central committee meeting. He was threatened by the Ministry of Intelligence, but released a day later. Finally, he was arrested on November 30, 2009. He spent one month in solitary confinement in Evin's Ward 209, after which he was transferred to Ward 240. During his interrogation, his interrogators became fascinated by his knowledge and humble, polite behavior. They developed such respect for him that they were replaced by other, more belligernet interrogators. It has been reported that he often responded to his interrogators poetically.
Asadi was put on a show trial on May 10, 2010, and given a seven-year jail sentence. He is now in Ward 350 of Evin Prison, where he reportedly reads the Qu'ran and plays chess. He has never been given a furlough.
Read the statement that was issued by Khajeh Nasir Toosi students on the first anniversary of Asadi's arrest.
Sayyed Zia-olddin Nabavi was born on December 21, 1983. He is a graduate of Babol's Noshirvani University of Technology in Mazandaran province by the Caspian Sea. He passed the national graduate school examinations with distinction, but due to his political activities, was not allowed to enter the program. A member of the OCU and a spokesman for the CDRE, he was arrested on June 15, 2009, and spent 98 days in solitary confinement in Evin's Ward 209. He was accused of associating with the MKO, a charge that he has rejected. The sole basis for the charge was that some of his relatives were members of the group. His attorney has said that the real complaint against Nabavi is that he participated in the peaceful demonstrations on the day of his arrest, the demonstrations three days after the rigged presidential election that 3.5 million people participated in according to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Bail of $500,000 was set, but Judge Pirabbasi, who was overseeing the case, told his family not to bother trying to raise the bail -- if they succeeded, he said, he would simply raise the bail to $800,000.
Nabavi has reported to a friend that Pirabbasi told him in court, "Despite your youth and the fact that you never confessed to having any link to the MKO, on the written order of the Ministry of Intelligence I must convict you on the charge of being linked with the MKO." Nabavi has also said that, "Apparently, a letter has been sent from the Ministry of Intelligence to the Judges of the Revolutionary Courts in which they have been told to convict all those that have been arrested and are a member of the CDRE on the charge of being linked with the MKO." He has been given a prison sentence of ten years that he must serve in internal exile in Ahvaz in southwestern Iran, far from where his family lives. They cannot afford to travel from northern Iran to the south to visit their son with any regularity. Reports indicate that he has been severely ill.
Malihi was born on April 30, 1982. He is an electrical engineering student at Islamic Azad University, as well as the public relations officer for the OE and a member of its policy committee. He is a distinguished journalist, having worked with the Reformist newspapers E'temad and E'temad-e Melli, as well as with Sharhvand-e Emrooz and Irandokht weeklies, and the monthly Mehr Naameh. Like other OE members, he supported Karroubi in the 2009 presidential election.
Malihi was arrested at home on February 11, 2010, and spent months in solitary confinement. In late July, Malihi and four other political prisoners -- Gholam-Hossein Arashi (mentioned above), Kouhyar Goodarzi, and journalists Kayvan Samimi and Bahman Ahmadi Amouei -- went on a hunger strike. They ended the strike after two weeks in response to pleas by leaders of the Green Movement. He has been given a sentence of four years, and a fine of $100. He is now in Ward 350 of Evin Prison, and his family is seldom allowed to visit him. He has never been granted a furlough.
Read the statement that a group of students at Islamic Azad issued after Malihi's arrest, the moving letter that his father sent to the prosecutor after his son was arrested, and an article that a friend wrote in praise of his character.
Emad Bahavar was born on June 29, 1978. He received a B.S. degree in industrial engineering from the University of Yazd in central Iran. He was studying for an M.A. in political science at the University of Mazandaran, but was expelled. He is a member of the political directorate of the Freedom Movement of Iran -- founded in 1961 by Mehdi Bazargan, Dr. Yadollah Sahabi (1905-2002), and Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud Taleghani (1911-1979) -- and is in charge of its youth branch. He headed Mowj-e Sevvom (Third Wave), a youth political organization that first backed Mohammad Khatami in the 2009 presidential campaign and then, after he withdrew, Mousavi.
Bahavar was first arrested on May 28, 2009, but was released after four days. He was arrested again on the evening of June 12, the day of the presidential election. After 46 days in solitary confinement, he was released. He was summoned to the Revolutionary Court on March 7, 2010, and rearrested. He was under tremendous pressure to "confess," but refused. After a show trial he was given a ten-year prison sentence. He told the judge that he will continue on the political path of Bazargan, that he is a Reformist, and will remain one. He is currently in Evin's Ward 350.
Khodaei is the former leader of the Muslim Student Association of Islamic Azad University in Ray, a town on the southern edge of Tehran. A human rights advocate, as well, he was suspended by his university in 2006 for two semesters due to his political activities. During the 2007-8 academic year, 40 students at the university were intitially banned from taking their final exams. Khodaei played a lead role in getting the university to overturn the decision. He also played a crucial part in the removal of Khosrow Zafar Navaei, who was opposed by most students, from the post of university president.
Khodaei became the first Islamic Azad student to be imprisoned, when he was arrested on July 9, 2008, the anniversary of the students' uprising of 1999. He went on a hunger strike and was hospitalized. After spending 38 days in solitary confinement, he was released on $100,000 bail. He arrested again on March 3, 2010, and put under tremendous pressure to confess to bogus charges, which he resisted. He spent seven months in solitary confinement and a total of nine months in Evin's Ward Alef, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' intelligence unit, because he refused to make a televised "confession." After two show trials for two different bogus charges, he was given a sentence of seven years, and is currently in Ward 350.
Listen to Khodaei's courageous speech at Islamic Azad University.
Abadi, born in 1986, is a civil engineering student at the International University of Qazvin, 140 kilometers west of Tehran. He had no history of political activity before he protested in the aftermath of the 2009 election. He was arrested in the demonstrations during the Day of Ashura on December 27, and was accused of moharebeh, a charge that was later dismissed. The security forces also arrested Abadi's fiancée and detained her for 17 days. They also arrested his two sisters in an attempt to pressure Abadi, threatening that the two young women would be raped. They were subsequently released.
After a show trial, he was given a nine-and-a-half-year jail sentence, which was reduced first to six years and then to three. He is currently in Evin's Ward 350. He is said to be in poor health. He has never been granted a furlough.
Read an interview with Abadi's mother.
Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi
Asadi Zeidabadi is a member of the OE central committee and in charge of its human rights committee. He was very active in pursuing cases of torture and mistreatment of political prisoners in the aftermath of the 2009 election. He was first summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence on July 29, 2009, and threatened with arrest, which took place on November 3. He was released after 40 days, when his family posted bail. He was barred from leaving Iran in April 2010 and arrested again on August 22.
After a show trial, he was given a sentence of five years in jail and a fine of $100 for "insulting the president." In December, he was again brought to court to face new charges. He has never been granted a furlough.
Read the article that Asadi Zeidabadi wrote about human rights and their protection, and his examination of the legislation redefining political offense, 30 years after it was first defined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. For a collection of his articles, see here.
The courage and depth of conviction of these young men and women have secured their place in Iran's history. History will remember them for selflessly sacrificing everything for the cause in which they believe, namely, democracy, respect for human rights and dignity, the rule of law, and equality for all.
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