Iran’s dissidents appear to be on their own. Once revered and celebrated by the international community, Iran’s dissidents appear to be an afterthought in respect to policy towards Iran. This reality was on full display this past week, as the Iranian regime arrested Nargess Mohammadi, Vice-President of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC). The arrest of Mohammadi is just the latest example of the regimes ongoing war against freedom of speech and human rights activists.
Mohammadi had been facing continual pressure from authorities in regards to her human rights work, and had previously been sentenced to six years in prison for charges that were solely political in nature. Mohammadi had recently been involved in overt opposition against the inhumane policies of the regime, including giving a passionate speech on the second anniversary of the death of Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti.
During the speech, Mohammadi stood beside Behshti’s eldery mother, Gohah Eshgi, who has also become a face of opposition against the regime in Iran. (Watch speech in Persian here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hibHguSIsI) In the speech she condemns Iran’s authorities for murdering Beheshti under torture.
Beheshti was murdered in November 2012 several days after being arrested by the Iranian Cyber Police unit for criticizing the regime on Facebook. In one of his blog posts, Beheshti directly addressed the Supreme Leader Khamenei, and sharply criticized the judicial system stating it was; “nothing but a slaughterhouse,” and that “the sentences and … the executions carried out … were not out of a desire for justice – but were aimed at terrorizing the people! So that no one will complain!”
The day before his arrest, Beheshti posted, “They threatened me yesterday and said, ‘Your mother will soon wear black because you don’t shut your big mouth.'” Beheshti is not the only dissident in Iran who has been targetted for free speech.
Ironically the Iranian Foreign Minister was recently quoted on as stating “We don’t jail people for their opinions,” during his goodwill tour of the United States. Zarif’s bold faced hypocrisy is nothing new among the regimes henchmen, but his ability to push such bold faced lies in the West is disappointing for Iranians, particular those imprisoned in Iran.
Following the arrest of Mohammadi this past week, Beheshti’s mother, Gohar Esghi, rallied to her support, protesting outside of Iran’s notorious Evin prison. Just as Mohammadi stood by her side during the anniversary of Beheshti’s death, Gohar Esghi stood tall outside of Evin prison and called for Mohammadi’s release.
The picture of the elderly woman’s defiance outside of the prison captures the current state of Iran’s political dissidents. Although have been marginalized by the media, and suppressed by the state, they remain unbent and unbroken in their resolve, and stand firm in solidarity against the barbaric regime in Tehran.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.