On the 18th August the sad news about the death of Simin Behbahani emerged. Hailed as the Lioness of Iran by The Wall Street Journal, Behbahani was one of the most celebrated women in Iranian literature. Through her work and activism she also became a prominent and defiant voice for human rights. In her obituaries constant reference is made to her support and her inspirational role for Iranian rights activists, especially within the women’s rights movement. Her work had been nominated for numerous prestigious international awards, yet the Iranian regime placed a travel ban on her in 2010 in response to her writing denouncing the Iranian government’s brutal suppression of the post-2009 election protests.
On many occasions she wrote poems in response to the regime’s crackdown on activists, yearning for a freer Iran. One of the lines that has been echoing throughout social media dedications is from a poem she wrote after the 2009 protest: “Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind.”
Famously, during a ceremony dedicated to her work and legacy, she said of writers: “We will be truly honoured the day when no writer is in jail, no student is under arrest, when journalists are free and their pens are free.”
Behbahani didn’t manage to see that true honour she called for. Currently in Iran there are hundreds of political prisoners ranging from journalists, writers to minority rights activists. Human Rights Watch has recently released a new report to debunk the Iranian regimes fallacy that there are no political prisoners in Iran— those prisoners who Behnahani dedicated her work to. They highlight that Iran arrests them under the notion of “national security” which in effect means they grant themselves the opportunity “to hold people in pre-trial detention for months for interrogation, not allowing them to meet with their lawyers, see family members, or have any access to the outside world. They are tried in revolutionary courts, whose proceedings don’t respect international fair trial standards.” These arrests are unlawful under Iranian and international law. In their report they provided information about 62 cases of political prisoners, but also they include 125 names of people in these three prisons who do not fully fit the label of political prisoner, making it difficult to deny the existence of political prisoners in Iran.
Their important work is part of the campaign to bring about an international dialogue for these prisoners and their rights, and to show that they have not been forgotten. Although most have recognised that Rouhani does not have the power to release these prisoners of conscience alone, pressure will be mounting on the Iranian judiciary and security apparatus to answer the facts that have been raised in such publications.
Further, just two days ago it was reported that two Iranian photographers, Khalil Emami and Abass Alipour, were arrested and sentenced to 25 and 50 lashes for criticizing a book of photos published by the Qazvin city government. This ridiculous punishment has been called out by Reporters Without Borders as “medieval”. The arrest followed the publication of Emani and Alipour criticising the work conducted in the book. Reza Moini, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran desk reflects: “Many countries are abolishing jail terms and other harsh sentences for press offences but the Iranian justice system continues to inflict medieval punishments for absurd reasons.”
The article from Reporter Without Borders finishes by reminding us of Iran’s position as the one of the world’s most repressive countries in regards to freedom of information, being the 173rd of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index. Time will tell if the pressure from the plethora of information proving Iran’s incomprehensible dismantling of freedom of expression and right to information will bring about the release of these innocent prisoners held unlawfully.
Image source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2008/march5/simin-030508.html