Iran – a sickening sense of déjà vu
For our spring 2010 appeal we chose to turn our focus to Iran to highlight the urgent and ongoing plight of thousands of peaceful opposition party supporters who are still being detained as a result of the crackdown after the disputed 2009 elections. It was with an increasing sense of dread that we read the reports coming out of Iran, of students being arrested at demonstrations, former detainees describing widespread torture and rape, and alarmingly, the first executions related to death sentences passed down as a result of the election protests. All of this has disturbingly similar echoes to the events of 1988 when the Islamic Republic detained, tortured and executed thousands of political prisoners in a few short months.
Shokoufeh is a truly remarkable woman who suffered quite unimaginable cruelty after being arrested as a student in 1982. She was 18 when she was arrested; her young son was one year old. For nine months Shokoufeh was kept in a ‘coffin’; a wooden box that did not allow her to stand up or lie down. She had to sit upright, never touching the sides of the box. She was not allowed to speak, cough or sneeze – in short she was “chained with invisible chains” and not permitted to show any signs of life. Shokoufeh describes how she managed to survive her time in the ‘coffins’ and hold on to her sanity. She made a conscious decision not to close her mind and drift but to resist, “restating” her beliefs constantly and keeping images of those she loved as clearly as she could in her mind. Shokoufeh spent eight years in prison before she was finally released.
She now lives in exile in Canada and lends her support to those who are campaigning for change inside Iran by helping to publicise their work and keep their struggles visible to the wider world. She also kindly agreed to speak at our Iran Seminar last year; you can watch a video of her speech here. During the seminar we also screened the film ‘The Tree That Remembers’ by Masoud Raouf which features Shokoufeh along with other Iranian political prisoners who survived the prison massacres. You can watch the film online here.
Since the unrest following the election in June 2009 thousands of activists, students and opposition supporters have been arrested. There have been a series of ‘show trials’ where scores of detainees have been convicted of vague crimes such as “mohabareh”, or “enmity against God”. According to Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, this conviction is “imposed for a wide range of crimes, often fairly ill-defined and generally having some sort of political nature”. As has happened in the past, the Iranian government is again trying to suppress all forms of political opposition through intimidation, violence and fear.
Our work with Iranian Prisoners of Conscience
Over the years we have helped many Iranians both those living in Iran and others in exile in other countries. One young man who we helped recently was Naveed, who was arrested during the 1999 student protests for speaking at a pro-democracy rally. He was taken to a detention centre where he endured 10 days of near constant interrogation and beatings. As a result, one of his eyes was severely damaged and without his consent, the authorities went ahead and removed it. After this ordeal Naveed was sent to Evin prison to spend two years in the most terrible unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. Once released, he was under constant surveillance by the government and was suffering such extreme psychological distress that he tried to take his own life. He eventually escaped to the UK where he is currently receiving treatment at a specialist eye hospital and counselling for depression, insomnia and agoraphobia. Thankfully though, due to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to award this brave but vulnerable young man a £350 grant to help him with basic living costs, such as food, clothes and travel to his medical appointments.
Unfortunately we fear there will be many more people like Naveed and Shokoufeh who will need support in the future. At PoC we are here to provide practical help to prisoners of conscience in Iran and around the world when they need it most.
If you can, please help us to help them as they risk life, freedom or exile rather than deny their principles.