The disaster in Gaza has dominated the news and has given the Iranian government the opportunity to point fingers at Israel over its human rights abuses. The mounting death tolls and carnage has allowed the Iranian government to move the attention away from the killing it undertakes itself. Due to Iran’s historical record of murdering its own citizens, its condemnation of Israel loses all credibility. Yet, many familiar faces have taken a stance to show their support for Gaza. Recently, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh posed for a picture holding a banner that read “Stop Killing Your Fellow Beings” on the Stop Killing campaign page. They were however criticised for not making it clear who the slogan was aimed at and for not aiming the campaign at the Iranian government. Sotudeh and Farhadi’s banner was clearly a response to the war in Gaza; however, anyone familiar with Farhadi’s work or has heard of Sotudeh’s courageous human rights exertions, will know that the simplicity in their message calls for a broader cause – stop killing, full stop.
Sotudeh has been imprisoned previously and recently released, for her support of the movement towards democracy and has defended numerous other human rights activists, as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors – thus, she is fully acquainted with the Iranian government’s brutality. Farhadi’s work has always depicted the grave divisions within the Iranian society and in ways subtly conveys the difficulties Iranians face under a regime that attacks all forms of freedom owed to its citizens.
On the campaign page Shahnaz Karimbeigi, the mother of Mustafa Karimbeigi (one of the protestors killed in the 2009 opposition protests) posed with the same banner in her symbolic green scarf with a large picture of her late son in the background. It is quite clear to see that the Palestinian cause is in many ways dear to Iranians and Iranian activists that have suffered at the hands of this modern day theocracy. Hamid Dabashi perfectly encapsulates this sentiment through his analysis of a picture taken in front of the UN office in Iran: in the picture are Jafar Panahi a prominent Iranian filmmaker who is currently under a prison sentence and banned from filmmaking by the state, Isa Saharkhiz a leading Iranian journalist also previously imprisoned for his journalistic work, Parvin Fahimi whose 19-year old son, Sohrab, was murdered by the Iranian security forces during the Green Movement in Iran. Dabashi sees this picture as testament to the bravery of these Iranians who have all suffered under the brutal arm of the Iranian regime and are thus able to sympathise with all who are being oppressed. He says that “this I call moral courage, political imagination, worldly wisdom, and unrivaled emancipatory politics!” Dabashi sees that this bravery allows them to protest against the slaughter of innocents, slaughter that Iranians themselves witness done by their unpredictable and cruel government.
These calls for an end to killing come at the right time. In shocking news political prisoner Arjang Davoodi has been sentenced to death by branch number one of revolutionary court of Karaj. This sentence has been brought under the charges of “advocacy, being member and performing activities in favor of progression of MEK’s objectives in prison”. Arzhang Davoodi had already served his first 10 years in prison; however, he was served with another 20 years and 8 months imprisonment subsequently.
Only a month ago tragic news about another prisoner of conscience, Gholamreza Khosravi Savadjani, broke after his execution took place. Despite international outcry to save Savadjani’s life, the sentence was carried through. After his death more attention was brought to the fact that the execution of a political prisoner constitutes a violation of Iranian and international law, yet this barbaric act continues.
Not only have the number of executions risen in the past few months, but the number of arrests of social media users has surged too. Last week the Iranian judiciary intensified its Facebook crackdown by sentencing eight Facebook users to a combined 127 years in prison. This was based on actions counter the country’s national security, propaganda and insults against Islam and state officials. It seems the target is no longer prominent activists or campaigners but ordinary citizens unaware of the dangers they face.
Iran’s intensified brutality against its own people must be addressed; Iran must release its prisoners of conscience and comply with its international obligations. It should not attempt to take the higher moral ground on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when the Iranian government itself has distorted the notion of rights to an unrecognisable degree. Those Iranian activists supporting a cause against the killing of innocent people in the Gaza conflict do so in the name of justice. They too are suffering from their own type of oppression in their own form of open prison – it is not an allegiance of political opinion with the Iranian regime.