There can’t be a happy ending to our story, if only the human rights of certain segments of society are considered
Editor’s Note: Dr. Vahdati is an Iranian-American human rights activist and freelance writer who has published extensively on the effects of the death penalty, women’s rights and gender issues in Iranian journals. Dr. Vahdati published the following article in the online Persian journal Iran-Emrooz, addressed to Mrs. Fakhri Mohtashamipour, wife of Seyyed Mostafa Tajzadeh, who served as the Political Vice Minister of the Ministry of the Interior of Iran in the government of President Mohammad Khatami. Tajzadeh was arrested in June 2009, amidst the Iranian election protests.
By Dr. Soheila Vahdati
I have read the letter that you have written to your husband [here], a widely published correspondence that was written for the purpose of seeking public attention and support in the wake of your husband’s arrest and the uncertainty surrounding his fate. I sympathize with you as a wife, whose husband has been arrested. I am writing to tell you that I absolutely feel your pain, and I hope there will be a happy ending for everyone.
Moreover, I am writing you as a human rights activist, who is concerned about the infringement of the rights of your husband. I want to draw your attention to the fact that there will be a happy ending to our story if, and only if, all of us, whether Muslim or not, participate in writing our story, as human beings who respect and defend each other’s civil liberties and do not keep quiet when anyone’s rights are violated.
You mentioned that when your husband was arrested, you yelled and screamed at the top of your voice in order to wake your neighbors in the middle of the night. When they took my husband, it was in broad daylight in front of the public, with their eyes wide open, but no one saw his arrest. In the exact same way, Baha’is have been apprehended in daylight and you have not seen their arrests – if you had, you would have screamed earlier.
Don’t be mistaken, the issue is not about being Husayni or Yazidi [pro or anti-Islam], or being Muslim, Communist or Baha’i. If the catastrophe resulting from the human rights violation is ignored, it will be repeated again and again. Human rights have such immense importance that if slaughtered, countless numbers, all those with different convictions including Muslims, will be taken to slaughterhouses, one after the other. When human rights were assassinated in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I wish you and your husband had screamed; today you would not be the victims of human rights violations.
You talk about solidarity and mention that that you have luckily had longstanding friendships and associations with the majority of the families of the warriors in the path of God and freedom. What is your definition of the warriors in the path of God and freedom? Are you sure you know the majority of the families of the warriors?
You talk about meetings for prayers and Qur’an recitations to gain resoluteness and steadfastness. You mention gatherings in front of Evin prison for the purpose of making noise. Not only were we confronted with insults and profanities in front of Evin prison, but we were not permitted to recite prayers when mourning the loss of our executed loved ones. These days, there are those who not only have no rights as detainees’ families, but they also have no place to bury their murdered loved ones in the vast spacious lands of our country.
You talk about contacting your husband’s lawyer. My husband did not have an attorney. At the time, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, it was not customary for political convicts to have lawyers representing them. Even now, when hiring lawyers is allowed, my Baha’i friend says that it is very hard to find a lawyer to defend her imprisoned spouse. Baha’is are prevented from obtaining higher education – they can’t become lawyers – and non-Baha’i attorneys hardly have the courage and audacity to stand up for a Baha’i in the Islamic courts.
You talk about spreading information about persecution and you write open letters. When my husband was in prison, spreading the news was of no consequence. Everybody knew there were many detained in prisons, some of whom were tried and executed without having access to any legal counsel. Human rights was led to the slaughterhouse, followed by those who were not entitled to any rights. Do you think it is possible to spread information and write open letters to the ruling authorities for the prisoners who have never been in the inner circle of the governing bodies? At one time, your husband had access to many podiums and microphones to spread information about the atrocities committed; did he ever voice any objection to stoning? Did he try to stop the stoning of Abdullah Farivar, who was a victim of this atrocity just a few months ago?
You mention, “visits and meetings with the Path of the Imam Khomeini Faction has been a good choice – members of the offices of Nation’s Home, Nation’s Representatives, and Nation’s Concerns have expressed their sympathy. The gentlemen said they had established a follow-up committee and will pursue it until final results are achieved”. How many spouses of those who are languishing in jails because of their belief system – Baha’is – do you think can go to the Path of the Imam Khomeini Faction in the parliament and ask for Nation’s Home, Nation’s Representatives and Nation’s Concerns? Has the Path of Imam Khomeini Faction in the Parliament heard or will it hear the squeal and desperate cry of those whose loved ones, wrongfully accused of drug dealing, are to be hanged or are about to face execution?
You go to Mr. Hashemi Shahroudi – head of the judicial system of Iran – you meet with Mr. Jamshidi – official spokesman for Iran’s judiciary – you talk about Hashemi Rafsanjani and say, “visiting him as the Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts is encouraging and brings hope”. Have you ever wondered which top officials of the country could bring a glimmer of hope for the women whose spouses or children have been charged with small offences for which they are being executed?
You talk about your visits with religious leaders and influential authorities. Which of the clergymen or authorities that you have met are willing to meet with the Baha’i families or to receive open letters from the children whose mothers have been wrongfully convicted of adultery and are waiting on death row?
Dozens of Baha’i prisoners have been detained for months; some have spent months in solitary confinement. Which of their spouses can have their voices heard like yours, or can have their open letters published by the media? Are you, now victimized by human rights violations, willing to defend the rights of Baha’is?
You sarcastically say that you are Yazidi [anti-Islam]. Isn’t it true that whoever is detained and who has had his rights violated is labeled as a Yazidi? When human rights can be contravened by labeling, then excuses for labeling will be easily found, and human rights can be infringed on a large scale.
When the government attempts to violate a minority’s civil rights, the first step is to create apathy towards that minority. The government labels them in a way that promotes negative attitudes. When fabricated allegations are repeated enough times by the government-backed media, lies become so firmly entrenched in public minds that sympathy towards that minority gradually fades away and those whose rights are to be violated will be considered strangers, aliens and bad citizens. When a society becomes indifferent towards a minority, atrocities can easily be inflicted in whatever manner the authorities desire, without anyone voicing an objection. Labels such as taghooti [one closely associated with the pre-revolution, Pahlavi regime], mofsed fel arz [one who causes corruption on earth], mohareb [fighter – a term used in Iran’s Sharia law to describe a major crime committed against Islam and the state], monafegh [one who pretends adherence to Islam, but in reality is against Islam], mortad [apostate], fergheh zaleh [misguided sect – used to label Baha’is], are among the above mentioned fabricated labels.
From its inception, the Islamic government, with especial shrewdness, has attached labels to group after group of dissidents; has separated them from society and then victimized and sacrificed them. These days, the common labels are activities against national security and conspiracy to foment a velvet revolution.
If, at the moment that label was attached to the first individual who was to be sacrificed, all of us, without minding the allegations, had defended his human rights, today we would not be victimized group by group. In reality, the main casualty of the revolution has been human rights. If all of us had stood side by side, making sure the rights of no individual or minority were violated, then today human rights would be guaranteed for us all.
How long have Baha’is in this country been called misguided? Did anyone defend their rights to believe in their own system of belief?
How long has it been that being called a heretic or apostate is equal to being guilty? Who defended our right to think independently?
There will be a happy ending to our story, provided no one claims to be Husayni [pro-Islam], calling others Yazidi [anti-Islam]. Can’t we look at one another and respect each other as human beings, irrespective of our convictions? Can we let words such as apostate, irreligious, Baha’i or Israeli not be considered to be profane? Isn’t the right to life so valuable that it should not be violated by any mere label, even drug dealer, murderer or mohareb? If the right to life, which is the most basic right of human beings, can be taken away by applying a label, how can we expect to safeguard other human rights?
Mrs. Mohtashamipour – at the end of your letter, while making a recommendation to your husband, you tell him that some are imitating Israeli murderers, though in their birth certificate, Muslim is written as their belief system. Really, according to your standard, is every Israeli a murderer and every Muslim a symbol of humanity?
Maybe your writing will incite the prejudice of the governing Muslims in your favor, but for sure it will not bring a happy ending to our story.
I wish you, who want your voice heard, would hear the lamentation of the other victims of human rights violations. Know that you are not alone. We are all with you. Many of us have been the victims of human rights violations, and it is through these sufferings that we have learned that what brings us together is not our beliefs, but our common humanity, our sufferings and our hopes. I sincerely sympathize with you; not only I, but all of us are with you. Don’t separate yourself from others. These all-encompassing sufferings will not be cured separately. Come – join us in our defense of human rights, and accept that humanity is not defined by being a Muslim.
Dr. Soheila Vahdati
[Posted on July 16, 2009, at: Iran Emrooz . Translation by Iran Press Watch.]