Cruelty just a part of everyday life in today’s Iran
Sentenced to 90 lashes and a year in prison.
That’s was the verdict Marzieh Vafamehr received. Her crime? Acting in a film about an actress whose work is banned by Iranian authorities. No prizes for spotting the irony there.
Public whippings should outrage and anger us. Yet compared to a year in jail, these 90 lashings will most likely be the humane aspect of the sentence.
We don’t know exactly how many political prisoners there are in Iran but we do know the numbers significantly increased after the disputed 2009 elections where Ahmadinejad was named President.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, last year many individuals, mostly young people, who had taken part in non-violent protests were held in solitary confinement and refused contact with their families and lawyers.
When their families tried visiting them they were met by the batons of riot police. Mothers and fathers of legitimate political activists had the photos of their children ripped out of their hands and were threatened with arrest.
The most terrifying reports of conditions have come from smuggled letters of activists that remain inside prisons. Earlier this year Mehdi Mahmoudian, a member of a reformist party currently in jail, wrote such a letter. He reported that government officials were handing out condoms to criminals and encouraging them to systematically sexually assault young freedom activists.
In his own words: “In [Rajaeeshahr] prison, those who have pretty faces and are unable to defend themselves or cannot afford to bribe others are forcibly taken to different cells each night [to be raped].”
There is no judicial oversight – no real independent means of review, appeal or hope for these activists. In one case Ebrahim Sharifi, a 24 year old activist who had endured mock executions, beatings and rape in prison lodged a judicial complaint.
His case judge said: “Maybe you took money [to say this]… [and] if you go through with this, you will surely pay for it in Hell.”
As such his complaint was dismissed as being fabricated and politically motivated.
Those who attempt to speak out about their fate face the same treatment. In Iran prominent human rights lawyers are routinely arrested and the state has one of the highest rates of detained journalists in the world.
That’s the thing with Iran. It’s not the lashings that we should be most outraged about.
It’s the everyday incidents of cruelty, the common place human rights violations, the systematic way that the government aims to extinguish hope and recourse that should truly terrify and outrage us.
We need to make sure that we turn that outrage into action. And that we don’t get overwhelmed by the weight of the injustice and the depth of the problem. There is hope and I know that as you read that might be hard to believe but it’s true.
Despite these injustices, activists continue to build momentum and maintain hope.
The most powerful ways external supporters make a difference in Iran is by mobilising through facebook and twitter. It may seem laughable, but it’s one of the few things that has actually worked in creating change in Iran by activists outside the country.
Last year at the Sydney Writer’s Festival Reza Aslan, a prominent Iranian thinker and writer, compared the protests in Iran that followed the stolen presidential election to what had happened in Tiananmen Square.
He argued that if YouTube hadn’t existed, Iranian activists would have had no way of releasing the footage of Neda being gunned down by Iranian police to the international community.
Without the mass outrage this act created there would have been nothing stopping the Iranian authorities from expelling all foreign journalists and simply gunning down their own citizens.
Iran no longer relies on media alone. It’s own citizens can ensure the world can bear witness.
Those who argue that online activism is simply ‘slacktivism’ forget that when it comes to dictatorial regimes like Iran, silence and fear is their greatest ally. The more we expose human rights abuses, the harder it is for the Iranian government to continue routinely violating human rights.
The Iranian government wants the world and its people to feel defeated. But voices heard through twitter and status updates in solidarity with Iranians who take to the streets can cripple the regime.
So why don’t you sign this petition and let the Iranian government know that you won’t look away, that you won’t forget and most of all you won’t let them get away with it.
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