Commitments to liberty made by the living must be fulfilled
It was just two years ago when Neda Agha Soltan was shot to death in the streets of Tehran. Neda died with eyes wide open after the rigged 2009 presidential elections of Iran, where millions of people poured into the streets with a demand for change. Neda’s death shocked many who watched in disbelief from the comfort of their homes. A picture is worth a thousand words, it is said. But reality is often stronger than its captured moments.
Ironically, a few days short of the anniversary of Neda’s death, another senseless killing occurred. Haleh Sahabi, 54, an ardent humanitarian and democracy activist, died from wounds inflicted following her father’s funeral. Haleh, a member of Mothers for Peace and a campaigner for women’s rights, was arrested on Aug. 5, 2010, with numerous other activists. Her father, Ezatollah Sahabi, a former member of the Iranian parliament and prominent dissident who served sporadic jail terms throughout his life, was hospitalized because of a brain hemorrhage. Haleh was released from jail with a two-week pass to visit her ailing father. It was too late, and sadly, Mr Sahabi went into a deep coma and died.
Mr. Sahabi’s funeral was scheduled for the morning of June 1 at 8 a.m. However, security forces postponed it for a later time as a very large crowd gathered and tried to confiscate the corpse of the deceased. There was also an attempt to alter the direction of the funeral procession, much to the disapproval and protest of Mr. Sahabi’s daughter, Haleh. At this point, the infamous plainclothes security forces attacked the crowd. In an attempt to disburse them, police announced the funeral procession’s closure. Consequently, a scuffle with police occurred in which Haleh Sahabi was thrown to the ground. She was brutally kicked and eventually was beaten to death.
A large number of funeral attendees were arrested. Among them was the grandson of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri – the heir to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic of Iran. Montazeri lost the leadership of the country because he opposed Khomeini for the killings of political prisoners in 1988. Khavaran is perhaps the most renowned site that marks these mass graves of the reported 30,000-plus murdered political prisoners of that era.
Needless to say, the Islamic Revolution of Iran has failed to deliver on its promises. Tragically, Iran’s leadership has proved to be one of the most repressive regimes of recent times. Rather than providing prosperity and progress, the Islamic republic ended up setting new records in other areas, such as executions per capita (including executions of children), the imprisonment and torture of journalists and bloggers, the number of prisoners of conscience and the arrest of human rights activists.
Saeed Pourheydar, a reformist-journalist and ex-political prisoner who recently fled Iran, has painted a very gruesome picture of the physical and psychological tortures that occur inside Iran’s prison walls. These include hanging a detainee from a ceiling in an upside-down position, dropping the detainee into icy water, lashing the detainee with cables, squeezing the testicles and holding mock executions. Rape and threats on the wife and daughters of the detainee are also a sadistic norm.
Followers of the Baha’i faith have been deprived of a higher education, and just a few weeks ago more than 30 were arrested for attending an online higher-learning institution.
At the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in France, President Obama and other world leaders pointed out that the recent Middle East and North African uprisings – now known as the “Arab Spring” – actually began in Iran and that current events have not pushed the Iranian issue to the sidelines. “We deplore violence which has led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians, and we deplore interference with media, unjustified detentions and arrest,” a G-8 statement said. It also called on Iranian officials to “respect their international commitments.”
But what will another statement – one of many – do to prevent the next brutal death? What will another round of negotiations do, aside from gaining time for the Islamic republic?
The West must bring the human rights issues to the forefront. Khomeini, the founder of Iran, promised a democratic nation with all the freedoms and liberties based on the International Declaration of Human Rights. Are we to deliver the same hollow promises? Or will our words actually have meaning?
Haleh Sahabi, may she rest in peace, is also watching us with her eyes open. If she could speak, she probably would ask when our words will turn to actions. Millions of Halehs in places like Iran and Syria are waiting for just that.
Nir Boms is co-founder of Cyberdissidents.org and a board member of Neda for a Free Iran. Homayoun Mobasseri is a founder of Neda for a Free Iran.