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Opinion: A Hellhole for Protesters

by JOSH SHAHRYAR

26 Feb 2011 14:32Comments

Iranian demonstrators' incomparable courage in face of systematic atrocities.

[ comment ] With the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and the ongoing mass protests in Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, many people here in the West are hopeful, nay eager to see Iran's dictatorial regime fall. Indeed, tens of thousands of Iranians did take to the streets in Tehran and other major cities on February 14 to support Egypt and Tunisia's protesters and demand their own rights, but were brutally beaten back by the regime's thugs. Thousands more took to the streets on the 20th, with the same consequences.

That left many people unfamiliar with the hellhole that Iran has become questioning whether Iranians really want freedom, dignity, and human rights like their protesting kin elsewhere in the Middle East. After all, they demonstrate every once in a while but don't seem to "seize the momentum," as one colleague put it. The answer is actually quite easy to give, but grasping the reality of the oppression against protesters in Iran is not just difficult, sometimes it's nearly impossible. That's because it isn't just the general suppression of rights and the failure to address widespread hunger and unemployment that characterizes the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is also centrally defined by its barbarity against peaceful protesters.

I'm sure some could relate a few tales of the brutal and inhuman suffering that Iranians have had to go through in the past 32 years, but even those few are spared the most horrifying of the details or get only snippets. I mean, yes, some could understand what it might feel like if your brother or sister was murdered -- people lose loved ones daily to violence. But how would you feel if your loved one went to protest, then, when he or she was killed by security forces, the government held a funeral claiming the deceased was actually a member of the security forces murdered by the opposition?

Imagine a country where when protesters are killed, their families have to pay something called a "bullet fee," because the government expended resources to murder them. Imagine being a war veteran, standing in a morgue and begging the very men who are responsible for your son's death to return his body to you because you cannot possibly pay the amount they're asking for.

Yes, stoning is horrifying, but there are other things you don't hear about much. Imagine a regime that doesn't execute virgin women. Don't get too excited. It doesn't mean what you think. It actually means that when a woman who's a virgin is condemned to death, she's married off to a prison guard in a sham ceremony hours before her execution so he can rape her. Only then can she be executed.

Imagine a prison, where instead of cells, they have shipping containers out in the yard. Dozens of detained protesters are forced into a container until there is no more room, then shut in for days without food or water. But that's the least of prisoners' concerns when they cannot breathe in such a confined space under the burning sun and can only wait to die of asphyxiation.

Imagine a police force that will drag the dead bodies of your loved ones from the streets after shooting them in a protest, then, bury them in unmarked graves. Imagine finding your child's grave after bribing a dozen officials, then coming the next day to find the grave gone. Imagine that.

But most of all, try to imagine a state where if you speak of regime change or go out to protest or even try to raise awareness about these brutalities, you are condemned and tried for "fighting against God," because apparently, the state is governed not by human laws, but by the laws of the divine. You won't be tried for sedition, but for daring to challenge God's authority on earth because you wanted to speak your mind.

This is what a proponent of democracy faces when he or she goes out to protest in Iran. Almost certain torture, rape, and even murder in the event of arrest. Fifteen hundred protesters were arrested on February 14 and many more on the 20th. The United Nations doesn't care. The United State and the European Union can do little and don't do the little that they can because, hey, they gotta worry about those nukes the mullahs are building first.

Now, tell me what you would do if you were a hungry, unemployed, disenfranchised Iranian? Would you try to go and camp out in a public square? Or would you march around the city? The fact that thousands of Iranians went out to protest on Sunday wasn't a show of discontent, but a show of unparalleled heroism.

I'll warn you, your subconscious may try to block you from absorbing the atrocities that I have written about here -- it is certainly easier to think of Iran as if it is on another planet or even in an entirely different dimension. Makes us all feel better if we are as far away from such inhumanity as possible. I won't blame you for not believing any of it, though. Sometimes, I can't believe it myself.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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