Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) is the press association established in 2009 by Iranian human rights advocates in order to report and disseminate daily news of human rights violations in Iran.
Peace Line Monthly / Hossein Raeesi – Certainly complexity of social relations and diversity of social and individual needs for long has strengthen the necessity for a society, that would not be able to fulfill all its needs, pass all its barriers and problems and earn the public trust, without the existence of the civil society institutes.
The necessity of social institutes have been emphasized by philosophers such as Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel believes “Family and Civil society are the two bases of the idealistic and rational state and the realization of rational state would not be possible without passing through the ethical life of family and civil society.” He also believes “the relation between civil society and state, is an absolute public and individual relation that while different have things in common that would smooth the path to collective or the Ethical Spirit and teaches what steps one need to take in the path towards ethical development and preparing for joining a rational state and how to perfect one’s self and transform from individual self in order to join the communal spirit.” In Hegel’s Theory, Civil society is composed of classes and groups in which its members have willingly and on their own gathered on the basis of certain individual and personal interests; however they learn trough interacting and communicating with one another not to use these relations for their own personal benefits and to mostly consider the collective and communal interest and to obey common Rules. Hence although we could say that people arrive at the civil society based on their individual motives and interests, yet because of the interaction with others and experiencing a kind of unity, universality and understanding interdependency, will cross the individual motives and interests and incline to collective interest and commit to professional ethic. (Hegel’s Philosophy of right: Civil Society, retrieved from: International Foundation of Theories and Doctrines)
HRANA’s Publications about Women’s Rights – 2008
100 years of Iran’s contemporary history, and specifically the years before and following the 1979 revolution and failing to achieve democracy in the society, has made the possibility of realization a civil society in the country, very difficult. Despite the difficulty of the matter, yet its necessity has not disappeared and will not disappear. Totalitarian regimes, always prevent realization of a vibrant and apparent civil society; because in this kind of regimes public participation and collective cooperation for achieving important social goals, does not matter. However in today’s societies no government has a good chance of running a society without the public’s participation. In this respect, as much as the government implement cumbersome and restrict laws for establishing a civil institute, some institutes may never get the chance to be born; but this does not mean that they are not needed.
Suppose the issue of desertification in the country is to be addressed, only by public cooperation and public institutes eliminating this ecosystem’s issue is possible. Since the extensive area of these wildernesses will not make the government to spend on human resources on appropriate vegetation of millions of hectares of deserts. In this cause only an organized civil society institute could organize the people of a city or a neighbourhood in a way that millions of people only in one day, would plant millions of saplings in the wilderness to fight desertification and destruction of natural resources.
Material for Human Rights Education – 2008
Consider this example about change in other unjust conditions, the establishment of compassionate thoughts and providing collective prosperity in the society. The Government may claim to represent the society, but it cannot realize and spread the common welfare. In our current society due to the nature of the government that is being independent of the people, achieving a rational state as Hegel mentions, or a true Republic according to Kant and realizing a civil society has become very difficult. Therefore the governments are facing numerous social issues. This government is not at all able to solve the social issues without developing civil institutes. To achieve this, it is necessarily for people to reach the realization of motivation and willingness to cooperate in collective prosperity. While greatest banking corruptions occurs in the networks affiliated to government, highest number of causes exist in the court system of the country; only the police has the power to suppress and control the people, but the police and the government’s conducts has strongly robbed people of public trust. For instance, when the Guardian Council which is not from people runs the election and lawfully deprives or very much limits people from their right to political participation, naturally the ability to think of the public welfare and establishing civil institutes will be lost, and the country will be transformed to desert which needs collective cooperation to stop this desertification.
HRANA’s Campaign for Imprisoned Workers, Gorgan – 2005
During the 80s when I was a high school student, a few weekends with the invitation of the department of the natural resources of our city, I along with other high school students collectively attended planting saplings in the areas around the city that were being deserted. Massive crowd of students and their fast movements of planting saplings was giving me hopes, enthusiasm and passion, turning around and looking on how we have turned a desert into a green land, is an experience that is unforgettable for me.
According to the aforementioned reasons, despite that all the people if the conditions for civil activism is given, in general would want to cooperate in stopping desertification, yet drawing people to participate in this important matter and similar matters, needs coordinating organizations. However the excessive centralization, the lack of trust between public and the government, wind fallen money from oil and the governments ignorance towards the need to cede some of the responsibilities to public, not only has not increased activities such as planting saplings, but the communal activities without the government’s support are also destroyed by intimidations, accusations and planting seeds of cynicism among people. Not long ago, the youth civil association of Marvdasht of Fars Province made small pools of water in the spring in the mountains around Larestan to save thirsty animals, today there is not much left of that association.
HRANA’s Campaign against Death Penalty, Gorgan – 2005
Civil activism faced serious suppression especially after the disputed presidential election of 2009, and many civil activist like many others who had left the country earlier had no choice but to leave the country and they are currently active with the help of social media, satellite and internet from around the world. Therefore attracting and encouraging people to cooperate with civil society and its institutes and using people’s resources is an undeniable necessity. For instance, an Iranian Canadian capitalist is willing to invest a lot of money in order to change a law that is contrary to some of Canadian civil rights, and proudly talks about it on TV, yet will not invest in changing any laws in his mother country. Some civil institutes may occasionally meet major Iranian capitalists but they normally do not assist them. Hence, achieving collective prosperity and public welfare is not possible just by having enough human resources, but rather by using all civil resources realization of a civil society becomes possible, whether inside or outside the country.
What has not yet happened in Iran, is earning the public trust; because the government is still trying to have full control on everything and to direct every significant or insignificant economical or cultural affair. In this cause the government will be independent of the civil society and limits their activities to small charities. In the post-reformist atmosphere in Iran, especially post 2009 election, most of the government budget assigned to civil society channels to institutes such as Basij and Basij of Mosque resistance, and in these institutes all affairs are trough orders and therefore there is no thought of the collective prosperity. In addition at times, in order to infiltrate the civil activism and to destroy or deviate them from their path, in particular in late 80s and early 90s, the government establishes seemingly civil institutes which in reality are governmental and in parallel with the civil institutes.
Gathering Signatures against Farzad Kamangar’s Execution, Sweden, 2009
Thus in the contemporary history of Iran, due to the government interference, lack of public trust and the lack of sense of society belonging to each and every person (lack of democracy), the chance to arouse the public sentiment towards collective prosperity and the common good has not been made possible. Many of the civil institutes have been destroyed by the government extreme suppressions and their activists were forced to leave the country. In such an atmosphere, there is no room left for civil activism, the government is responsible for destruction and the diversion of the civil society; because we are not facing a government oriented from civil society.
Given that realization of a true civil society is impossible in the current atmosphere of Iran, the vacuum created by its lack or weakness, will not be filled; because the civil institutes have responsibilities outside of the government responsibilities and the government would not be able to in anyway fulfil these responsibilities well. The government in distrust with the civil society instead of supporting the civil institutes, by controlling and monitoring their establishment trough the division of administration of Monitoring Public Premises of the Disciplinary Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran (NAJA) and Governorates, have made all the civil activism into Semi governmental activities and has tried to obstruct the growth of civil activism. For example, a tactic government uses and it stems from its lack of understanding the importance of civil activism in a society, is associating the civil society to strangers and foreigners.
The civil activism outside Iran is divided into different sectors and in practice, all the civil and political sectors are following a mutual goal, that is helping the domestic civil society so that they could create change in the civil and political atmosphere of Iran, so that it would result in the return of civil forces, creates a sense of belonging to the society and increases the sentiment of collective welfare in the country.
Among the suppressed institutes, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN IRAN (HRAI) is an example of a civil organization established inside Iran and faced major repressions. This organization was established in 2006 in Iran, and fell in the path of officially registering and following legal procedure of increasing lawful civil activism. March 2010, marks the closure or in other words the death of many non-governmental organizations that took place with the efforts of Ahmadi Nejhad government, particularly with the approach of apparently legal control of organizations. HRAI also faced extreme oppression during this time, to the point that gradually it was forced to secretly continue its civil activism. With the increase of the suppressions, part of the activism of HRAI moves to outside Iran and with the goal of empowering the civil society inside Iran, its activism outside of the country continues.
There are other examples of civil activism from outside of the country which are currently producing educational, scientific and civil materials for inside of the country, thereby increasing public awareness in the strict censorship atmosphere of the country.
It is certain that, suppressions does not destroy the civil society of Iran and eventually the sentiment of collective prosperity would find its way in to the society. In my opinion, without civil institutes that could have healthy activism in the country, and to be free of state repressions, the increase in public participation in political affairs in its true meaning will not be possible. The increase in repression of the civil institutes after the uprising of 2009 was because forces of this uprising were generally formed in active civil society and institutes of the time.
What is important today, is that the civil institutes outside of the country do not lose any chance to identify and examine their weaknesses and to always put an effort into reviewing themselves so that civil atmosphere will have a chance to sustain itself and not become semi-political or semi-civil. Semi-civil and semi-political meaning that despite the importance and need for all kinds of activism, there should be a line between politics and non-civil and civil activism, and not to continue with non-civil motivations and without the sentiment of collective prosperity.
Today the international civil-organizations with spreading the notion of collective prosperity and public welfare have developed the idea of global citizen. Citizen of all the countries are not indifferent towards incidents and human right violations such as violence, torture, violation of human rights and political rights in other countries, and could questions those in charge of this violations. Global society is not only made up of governments and political parties, but all the global citizens are an active part of it. Anything that originates suffering for people anywhere in the world, is of importance to everyone and it attracts attention regardless of ones homeland, country, religion, people and city; everyone is responsible and accountable for the fate of the other and ideas such as citizen of a country, a tribe or an ethnic group has given place to the idea of equal people, and the concept of man versus man is valued and global collective prosperity has been born.
In conclusion civil activism in Iranian society, is not born today and will not die, however there is possibility of decrease in public trust and decrease in sensitivity towards civil activism. Considering that the structure of civil activism has been changed in today’s world and has transformed from the religious prosperity to the civil prosperity, it is necessary for all those who think of better social life for themselves and others, to spread the idea of collective prosperity and welfare. Hence we can, like organizations such as HRAI, tried to better the civil activism and with the help of people think of a better life for them and not to give in to suppressions and sarcasms. The bottom line is that, for actualization of a civil society, a democratic society based on respect to everyone’s rights and with the notion of collective prosperity is necessary and a democratic society is in need of a civil society.
Peace Line Monthly / Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani – I met Keyvan Rafiee for the first time in the winter of 2007, in ward 209 of Evin Prison. A young person who was trying to play his part in improving human right in Iran. I remember he was transferred from solitary confinement to our prison cell, and he was holding a few meaningful painting; all of Keyvan’s Painting showed concern for human rights.
Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani
Despite all the dangers of the time, Keyvan Rafiee was trying let the outside world hear the voices of the Political Prisoners. At the time social media’s were not as widespread as today, and those like Keyvan with the little they had tried to let the world hear the voice of the political prisoners so that they would not be forgotten. As I mentioned before, due to the lack of the existence of a widespread social media, quite often political, civil and human right activist would have been imprisoned and nobody would have known. Those years, many were completely forgotten and faced a bitter fate. I believe this is why Keyvan and his friends thought of establishing Human Right Activists in Iran (HRAI). An organization that has become the neutral voice of numerous groups and various spectrums of people. This organization has fought against numerous executions by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which have terrified the global society. HRAI regularly publishes the cruelty endured by various political and ideological groups, and reflects the suppression and pressure on the civil society and its activists in Iran.
At the time two groups were active in regards to the conditions of the Christians in Iran. The first group, were our friends or in reality other Christians who were mostly non-Iranian; but amongst the Farsi and Non-Christian Media, HRAI was the only organization and news resource. During all these years, it has always been this way and HRAI has been able to channel the voice of the Christian prisoners in Iran to the outside world. For instance, on the year that I was arrested, 15 Christian citizens were arrested across the country; then and during those years of silence of media, HRAI was the only media and organization that our arrest mattered to them and notified and informed though Farsi Media.
HRANA’s Campaign in Support of Keyvan Rafiee
It’s fair to say that HRAI’s key to success is that it only follows human right motives and does not have smallest glance towards green or purple and such tendencies. This is while, unfortunately many of Farsi Media with tendencies and sides they support, at times scarifies the Human Rights. HRAI has been also able to without any discrimination recognize all the ethnic and minority groups as Iranians and even more so important they have an especial attention towards the rights of a human. Hence HRAI even supports the rights of those committed a crime for instance a drug dealer. In this regard, it does not matter if HRAI supports drug dealing, what matters is that it seeks to create transparency in judicial rulings and to defend the rights of those who have committed a crime.
This humanistic vision bare of violence and discrimination, is a great success for HRAI and I wish HRAI and all those who cooperate with this organization to earn even more success on the path they have chosen.
Peace Line Monthly / Habibollah Sarbazi – First Glance: Baluch People are deprived of a TV or Radio that would voice their issues. Islamic Republic media have boycotted Baluchistan’s news, and what is being broadcasted of Baluch people has an untrue show like quality. Overall the Islamic republic state TV and Radio programs that are about the violation of human rights of the Baluch people, are not true to the existing reality of these people and they are literally “Blackwashing” and “Lies”. In other hand the lack of independent domestic websites, newspapers, magazines, weeklies or even monthlies that could freely voice the reality of this province which is known as the “most disadvantaged” and the “most security atmosphere” of Iranian provinces, has contributed to the problems. The weakness of the civic society has also substantially increased these issues; all together they have killed the sparkles of hope among people who are carrying the weight of enormous oppressions and deprivations on their backs.
Second Glance: Campaign of Baluch activists in its 3 years of activism with correct and timely information and news publication on violation of rights of Baluch people has tried to take a major step forward in breaking the media’s silence about Baluchistan. Considering the “deliberate neglect” of the domestic media, we tried very hard to draw the attention of the independent and foreign Medias and TVs to this region; however unlike expected, there has been very little attention and practically although a lot milder, yet we experienced the same “neglect” once again. Major Medias have repeatedly with various excuses rejected printing or broadcasting news in regards to rights of Baluchistan, these news had even had the criteria of a professional news, and we did not receive the desired companionship and cooperation.
HRANA Reports the Human Rights Violations in Baluchistan
Third Glance: with certainty I can say “Human Right Activist in Iran, HRAI” and in particular the “Human Rights Activists News Agency, HRANA” have been Baluchistan’s glimmer of hope. If I and my colleagues in the campaign of Baluch Activists did not come across HRAI, perhaps I could have with full confidence said that: The human right activism in Iran has become factions and mafias. Even though other independent human rights activists, associations and centers have been great and pleasant, yet none in any period (at least in this 3 years that the Baluch activists’ campaign has entered the field) were able to be as a great companion to Baluch people as “HRANA” has been, and to be effective and successful as HRANA in breaking the media’s silence and the dominant centralized media. Therefore, as the director of the Baluch Activists Campaign and on behalf of our Baluch audiences, I will use this opportunity to thank HRANA; With the hope that this organization will more than ever stand by Baluch people in voicing the cries of oppression and deprivations of “Sistan And Baluchistan Province” and will be a strong platform for empowering the civic society.
HRANA Reports the Human Rights Violations in Baluchistan
Peace Line Monthly / Shahed Alavi – The story of violations of human rights in Kurdistan is full of sorrows. This sorrowful story, this open wound was denied for a very long time, either because it was labeled as a lie and victimization, or because sometimes it was narrated in a way that was too heroic and vague and was hard to believe for the audience. Somewhere on this disastrous land, for many years, people have lived with suppression, prison, torture and executions as part of their daily life; that is for numerous reasons, but foremost because of their inevitable resistance. More heart breaking is that they were used to screaming in silence, even worst, they were used to hearing the cheers coming from the opposition of the center which itself is wounded by the suppressive system.
The suppression of the margin was not by the centre or the opposition of the center. The real tragedy was the silence in favor or the endless doubts by the movements and peoples who were so called human rights activist and human rights organizations, and it was their duty to report human rights violations. For those who had followed their political opinions to lead them to human rights activism, were the real example of the kind of human rights reporters and watches, were the one was considered “human” if it was one of their own.
Thus defending the rights of victims of human rights violations was subjected to the victims’ political interest, their way of resistance, and their identity, and specifically the picture that the reporter had in mind of the way the victim thought about territorial integrity; and this is how they decided whether the rights of a “human” was violated and needed to be exposed and reported to the public or only “an armed secessionist” had been punished.
HRANA’s report from Kurdistan, 1999
In this view, a victim of human rights violation in Iran was an imprisoned political or civil rights activist who had peacefully opposed the whole or parts of the ruling system. This victim could not be Kurdish, Arab or Baluch, and always Iran’s territorial integrity has been the red line. Specifically Kurdish and Baluch people and in general “the discordant others” of the imaginary Iranian political society, are not considered as humans with basic rights in this political take on human rights; for many years, this view has been the guide for human right reporters – a major part of it but not all – and the political/human rights activists of Iran and it has been a beacon for taking political positioning for many political forces of the opposition and even for most of the independent media based outside of Iran.
Red lines undrawn, yet effective on the independent media was called the necessarily principle of “maintaining national unity and avoidance of fanning the flame of ethnic interests”. Thus the impression that the regular and responsible reports on the repression in areas such as Kurdistan and Baluchistan could exacerbate the secessionist interests in this areas, drove the reports and news on the oppression these people faced to the margins. This inhumane and influenced by political expediency view on the human rights violations in Iran, in practice intensified the divergence and deepened the gap between the canter and the margins, and it was moving in the opposite direction of its intended goal. Kurdish, Arab and Baluch victims of suppression, naturally interpreted this silence as cooperation and approval and of course they couldn’t see a political future in alignment or even tactical cooperation with the claimed opposition, as they did not have a place in a society based on the laws that the human rights reporters had imagined as explained.
In such a hopeless atmosphere, and despite the fact that there were glimpses of hope, establishment of a new human right organization ten years ago, was a growing sunlight at the end of a long dark tunnel. The birth of “Human Rights Activists in Iran, HRAI” marks the end of politicized and centralized human rights reporting in Iran. Two features of this organization stood up from the early days of its work, and herald a serious and different kind of activism; first: two of its officials were publicly and transparently introduced, second: its reports and news were published in details and in a human right and non-political language.
In addition to this two points, what differentiated HRAI from other real or unreal similar organizations in those years, was the volume of news articles it was publishing on the human right violations of the minorities, the same “discordant others”. This high volume of human rights violations specifically in Kurdistan, at first glance created two visions for the audience; either the authorities of the organization are Kurdish themselves and have easier access to its news and probably they exaggerate in reflecting the truth, or this was only a marketing tactic to get the attention of audience with news from a region where it was impossible to examine the authenticity of it.
However none of the authorities of the HRAI were Kurdish, nor HRAI method of reflecting and reporting ever changed, and nearly none of the news were proven unauthentic or untrue. It was simply that “human rights Activists in Iran, HRAI” was truly a group of activists who had experienced prison and whom concern was not political orientation, but their strategy and concern was fair reporting of human rights violations, regardless of the victim’s identity, ethnicity or religion.
News and periodic reports about Kurdistan were more visible on the HRAI’s website, because the human rights violations in Kurdistan are very high and HRAI did not want to censor the news and reports. In a short time, many people were attracted by HRAI and as a result the ability to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the news increased and so did the speed of publishing the news. That is how, the volume of news related to Kurdistan and of course other ethnic minorities increased on the HRAI’s website.
Commitment of HRAI to human rights principles and avoidance of politicization and standing firm in reporting human rights violations across Iran, were highly effective in promoting HRAI. HRAI’s commitment to explicit and detailed reports on human rights violations, in long term gained the trust of Kurd, Turk, Arab and Baluch audience to HRAI’s website and thus they started cooperating with HRAI.
HRANA’s report from Mahabad, 1999
The silence about human rights violations in Kurdistan was broken; the reports and news published by HRAI was frequently published on other accredited media and organizations’ websites. There after calling victims of human rights violations “secessionists” or “terrorists” were not a reason to stop reporting on their situation. Everyone’s fundamental human rights should be reported and respected regardless of their political status and their method of activism.
In the past 10 years HRAI, in addition to teaching ears and eyes to be able and more importantly to choose to hear and see the screams and wounds of minority and marginalized prisoners better, it also has effectively forced other human rights activists and organizations to put aside their own interests in reporting human rights violations. Today no longer seeing daily news and reports related to Kurdistan, Baluchistan and Khuzestan on almost all serious human rights news agencies, results in immediate prejudicing that the victim is guilty. This is one of the most important things that HRAI has achieved over the past 10 years.
Peace Line Monthly / Ali Kalaei – Out of the ashes of a great incident something new will always be born; something that perhaps is part of the evolution of that incident itself. A phoenix is born from its own ashes; although the new phoenix might be reborn with a different form each time, yet it will be the continuation and evolution of the same story, which has taken a new shape.
Years ago, at a time when the candle of the reformist government was about to burn out and excitements and hopes of the days after May 1997 (1) were waning to the autumn of a coalesced government structure and fully locked atmosphere, some stood up and stepped in a path that is being walked on till this very day. In the final days of the Reformist Government, which all its strengths and weaknesses a side, had let a generation grow that was taught and believed in civil, civility and modernity, a movement sparkled that consequently in the March of the other year (the year of enthronement of Ahmadinejad and announcement of him as the president to a republic which was still shocked by his presidency), created an organization named “Human Right Activists in Iran, HRAI” with the aim of human rights activism and reflecting the obvious and hidden violations of the human rights in Iran. Despite all the calamity and struggles, HRAI has continued its activism till this very day and in comparison to other independent non-governmental and civil organizations in Iran, has done an amazing job.
HRAI’s Members Activities in Iran, 2009
The years in office for Ahmadinejad, were the years that the independent civil institutions in Iran were put to test, many were closed down officially with the force of the cudgels of the guardians of the system. Seeing the security atmosphere in the country many organizations closed down on their own and by seeing this atmosphere many others left the field and abandoned their novice institutions and followed other paths and fields. Yet there were a few independent civil institutions that stood and faced the wave of anti-civility which had found a new life by the new government, despite all the suppressions and the now and again encounters with the guardians of the government, these organizations insisted on thriving, transparency and civil continuation of their work.
During those years, there were many independent human rights organizations at the national level, but perhaps in my opinion, three of them have stood out and have had more significant presence in the civil society of Iran. “The Association of Human Rights Defenders” has been an assembly of the great till this very day, however I believe that despite the precious human resources and expertise, it lacked connection to the substratum of the Iranian society. “Committee of Human Rights Reporters, CHRR” which started as the “Students Committee of Human Rights Reporters” and later removed the title of students due to the graduation of its members and based on the principle of honesty with the people, is another example of a human rights organization that despite having a few members was able to provide many services in order to broaden the human rights dialogues and publication of news on the violations of human rights in Iran. “Human Rights Activists in Iran, HRAI” had also grown to become one of the most influential human rights organizations in Iran along with the two previously mentioned organizations and other institutions. These three organizations worked in parallel on human rights discourse, publishing the news on human rights violations in Iran, and defending the victims of human rights violations, sometimes as collaborators and sometimes as competitors.
Shahin Najafi Supports HRAI by Wearing their T-Shirt, 2010
Certainly the presence and impact of other independent human rights institutions and organizations is unforgettable, organizations such as “Association for the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights” which has been funded by our venerable professor Emadeddin Baghi, the “Arbitrary Detention Inquiry Committee” and the “Commission of Human rights at the office for Strengthening Unity” to name a few. But despite the active presence of these organizations in aiding those prisoners whose rights have been violated (whether political or non-political prisoners), they were either barely or not active at all in reporting. Having a news agency and “being the voice of the silenced and voiceless” is the very feature that distinguishes HRAI and CHRR from other groups and organizations.
In the year leading to the presidential elections of 2009 (2) and the uprising of people, it was as if both groups (HRAI and CHRR) had come to the conclusion at once that transparency had to be their priority, therefore both started publishing the names of their members online; with the idea that with publishing the names of their members and activists, not only they would make an example of transparent human rights organization, but they would also prevent people from misusing the names of their reputable and well-known organizations. But neither, not the fellows at HRAI and not those like me who at the time were working with CHRR, could ever imagine the tempest of 2009 and that the hungry beast of tyranny would show up and slaughter all the opposition and devours all those activists whose names had been published!
The independent human rights groups and organizations that have resisted and stood through all the storms of 2005 to 2009 could be considered amongst the founders of the uprising of 2009. The spreading of discourse on such issues in Iran, is the result of the endless efforts of these young people who had stood tall, around the clock, day in and day out, without budging an inch stood firm, true and committed to their human rights duties, despite all the now and again threats and occasional encounters of the guardians of the government. Indeed by an analytical view, part of the preparation of the social body for such an uprising (informed on time at the public level, yet at the level of the leadership and experts late informed), is the fruit of the efforts of these independent and novice human rights organizations who with publishing the reports on apparent and hidden human rights violations in Iran and giving a voice to the voiceless, had made the society aware of that which was happening within its substratum.
The Rewards of the Blogging Race of HRAI, 2007
These organizations greatly insisted on their principles, to the point that for expanding transparency in the social and civil atmosphere they started from themselves, and by publishing the names of their activists they became an example of transparent activism for the public and civil society. Perhaps regarding this impact there needs to be further explanations; if the uprising of 2009 is considered through Hoda Saber’s approach(3), as one of the peaks in the history of liberty, equality and fraternity movements in Iran, this uprising could be modelled in two ascending and descending curves and a point at the peak of the curve. In the ascending curve and on the acclivity between the previous peak and the peak ahead, the social, civil and political democrats, the harbingers of human rights, equality and fraternity are standing in minority compared to the bulk of the society, yet were leading the rest towards the peak, by bearing the torch and protecting principles and accelerating the society towards the point of liberation. These efforts despite dispersion in a common ground or on a specific incident, were turning the accumulated potential energy in the ascending curve to kinetic energy, and Incident and Event (in this case, elections of 2009) in the descending curve and in declivity of the curve at once brings about the storms of incidents and events in the society. In the course of this descending curve and by the release of this accumulated energy now it’s the duty of the leaders of this movements, uprisings and masses to see if they can alongside and with the convergence of vectors, achieve their demands, or with late awareness and by not focusing this released energy on a specific goal and with dispersing and pointing vectors at different directions decrease the impact of it. The mentioned human rights organizations and groups are one or a few of the carriers of that stone which is supposed to be pushed towards the peak, so that in the declivity brings change to the society.
The Misinformation Published by the Iranian Authorities against HRAI, 2011
It is by the mentioned analysis and approach that these organizations such as HRAI and CHRR and other groups are considered effective in the background for the uprisings of 2009.
Later the system of Vilayat-e Faqih (4) fully and at the cost of Iranian society tried to entirely disable these human rights organizations. Indeed although after the uprising of 2009, these human rights organization and groups were subjected to violence, conflicts, persecutions, torture and imprisonment etc., the rapid process of 2009 had not made them crippled and vulnerable, but it was the hungry beast of tyranny that by targeting those groups whose activism was leading towards broader human rights, civil and rational discourses in the Iranian society, wanted to nip the uprising in the bud before it would blossom into a movement. In fact the gigantic security apparatus tried to devour and vanish these organizations and groups, but the triumph was for the human rights organizations and not the security apparatus.
March 2010, marks the time when while dealing with the civil rights activists, finally the security forces of the IRGC (5) ran out of patience with HRAI and with harsh and widespread crackdowns, they were arresting all the members and those any how related to HRAI, including all those whose names had been published in the organizations charts regardless of their collaboration levels and ranks. In fact, the IRGC abused the transparency of HRAI and started a full-scale arrest of all its members and activist, series of arrests that indeed were a security and harsh attacks in order to disable HRAI and prevent its activism, which was never achieved and the security forces were defeated against honesty, perseverance, and permanence of HRAI.
After the attacks of March 2010, although that kind of transparency and announcement of the names of the activists is not possible, and perhaps as a general criticism publishing the names of activists by the two organizations that have been attacked in 2010 (HRAI and CHRR) was premature and based on shallow understanding of the surroundings and status quo, but HRAI is still standing strong and firm, despite all the misfortunes, mistrusts, and back-breaking calamities such as loss of the late editor of HRANA, honorable Jamal Hosseini.
Perhaps in a general view a few points could be mentioned as the strengths of this organization. Certainly the points are not limited to the ones being mentioned, but rather these are the points and strengths crossing my mind, and maybe if this piece was written by a different author, different points would have been mentioned.
In my opinion the most notable strength of HRAI, is its 10 years of existence. The experience of group work with Iranians has shown ten years of standing and working together within Iranian crowd, by having an Iranian mindset, in itself is a great achievement and is almost a miracle. Iranian individualistic traits and our failure to comply with collective work is no secret to anyone. The historical, cultural, and psychological critics of Iranian society, from Seyyed Mohhammad-Ali Jamalzade to Mehdi Bazargan and Hassan Naraghi and “Attempts to Criticize the Collective Conduct in Iran” by Taghi Rahmani (which is an edited series of his online meetings with activists in Malaysia), all have tried to detect the origins of this attribute and habit in collective work in Iran and to learn how in other countries, in the east and west of the world, people come together in a team work and by empowering the collective force they can carry out great results; but in Iran only a few coherent groups have been able to produce a timely, cohesive historically, rationally and procedurally output in a long period of ten years by collective and structured work (not by traditional delegations or individualism), which is the precious achievement of HRAI. Perhaps it’s a good suggestion to the fellows at HRAI to write and publish as much as it’s permitted security wise, their 10 years of experience in collective activism and vicissitudes. Historiography has been generally an oral act and this nature of Word-of-Mouth of it caused many changes and distortions in it; maybe writing this experiences could help to preserve its authenticity against the eyes of those with presumptions and maybe it is possible to reach a structural model and graph of the possible permanence of a collective structured Iranian work, from the 10 year process and performance of this organization.
“Giving voice to the voiceless” is another strength of this organization which only exists in this organization and couple of other similar organizations (that unfortunately those other organizations have been frozen in time). HRAI has been able to reach and communicate with the prisons or the most rural and far from the capital areas and be the voice to those who haven’t had a voice, due to their distance from the capital (due to the nature of capital oriented media in Iran). Although this strength is slightly decreased with the development of ethnic media (which on one hand is the result of suppressions and pressures on the HRAI by the security forces, and on the other hand the communication of ethnic based media with the local people of that specific region), yet this organization’s reputation and efforts continues in order to communicate and persist on the principle of “giving voice to the voiceless”; within recent years, this very principle has been one of the main reasons behind the hostility of Iranian regime with HRAI and other similar groups.
Seyed Jamal Hosseini’s Tomb, Nevshehir, Turkey
Another strength of HRAI would be being organized and structured. The kind of structure and organization that at times might be infected with some bureaucracy infections, yet it gives it an exemplary discipline that helps the organization to move forward on its path as a creative system and not a machinery one. Iranian groups traditionally are authoritarian; where one person has the absolute power and makes all the decisions, and the rest of the members without any specific rank and considerations start working (not based on responsibilities and abilities). The disease of authoritarian management (has been successful before modernism in Iran, and still traditional ceremonies are ran this way and are successful in their field), in modern organizations contradicts the organization’s purpose and at times leads to terrible internal conflicts, and subsequently collapses or paralyzes the organization. In the sense that one person with the mindset that he is the founder of the organization gives out orders that members have to follow and rejection of the order (in a situation where there is no structure and discipline) leads to conflicts which by going public could crush the organization. HRAI despite the vicissitudes, and hardships of times, has relayed on being structured to survive and continues to be creative and progressive.
HRAI has been active for 10 years. The security apparatus of Islamic Republic of Iran has several times attacked HRAI with baseless allegations such as accusations of collaboration with different political groups/parties and attempts to destroy the picture and moral reputation of its members. Unfortunately not only the security forces of the regime, but even some hasty friends were a part of this. However the performance of this organization – despite all the mistakes it certainly have made and will make, based on the saying “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” (Albert Einstein) – is not only defendable but it’s praiseworthy. The development of HRAI not only in its news agency but also in the theoretical aspects (by its monthly publication, Peace Line) and in other levels from their Fourth Column Committee to efforts on fighting filtering, is also promoting and developing human rights discourse and dialogue in Iran.
10 years has passed since the establishment of HRAI. I hope that this organization will stand firm and strong on its principles, and will continue to be creative and effective for another 10 years to come, and that it would be possible to discuss the 20 years of activism of this young human rights and civil organization in Iran. In the Hope that then, there will be no sign of security system’s suppressions so that this organization and other organizations as the contributors to development of the discourse of democracy and civil society, are able to be present and active within Iran.
1. On the 23rd may 1997, the seventh presidential elections of Iran was held, in this election more than 80% of those eligible voted, which marked a new era in Iranian politics because of the unexpected win with nearly 70% of the votes going to the reformist president Mohammad Khatami. This is while in the previous presidential election only 50% of those eligible had participated.
2. Iran’s 10th presidential elections, which created many controversies and surprised the Iranian public by the announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president. Millions of Iranians across Iran and the world took to the streets in the protest, and many Iranian figures directly supported the protesters and declared that the votes were fraudulent. The opposition green movement emerged from this uprisings.
3. Hoda Rezazade Saber was an Iranian intellectual, economic scholar, journalist and social-political activist. He served several prison terms since 2000 and died while on a hunger strike in prison.
4. The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, also called the Governance of the Jurist (Vilayat-e Faqih), is a post-Age-of-Occultation theory in Shia Islam which holds that Islam gives a faqīh (Islamic jurist) custodianship over people. The constitution of Iran calls for a faqih, or Vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist), to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government. In the context of Iran, Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist is often referred to as the “rule of the Islamic jurist”.
5. A coup d’état or simply known as coup, is the illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus. Some of the Iranian political figures, groups and media consider the government of Ahmadinejad after the elections of 2009 a coup government. As some oppositions believe in this election Ahmadinejad falsely named himself the president of Iran and was supported by Ali Khamenei (the supreme leader) and the guardians of Islam.
Peace Line Monthly / Keyvan Rafiee – February 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment and activism of the “Human Right Activists in Iran, HRAI”; an organization that has been subjected to great vicissitudes and has endured enormous amount of pressures, and yet it has been able to leave a constructive and positive impact behind. Certainly this organization has also had its share of weaknesses and mistakes that call for criticism. As the founder and director of HRAI during the past decade, by avoiding repetitions, I will share my own experiences and will try to discuss the less mentioned aspects of the history of this organization in order to create more transparency.
Keyvan Rafiee, Secretary General of Human Rights Activists in Iran
Let us start at the very beginning, 10 years ago, after the repetitive experience of imprisonment and civil rights activism, the circle of like-minded friends and I, formed a “we”; a group of young people with idealistic demands seeking for change. In the time of frustration with political activism and increasing loss of hope in the ability to impact the surrounding world through partisan activism, we learnt about human rights and found it a field in which we could continue our activism in the hope of achieving our ideals, which is a society filed with humanitarian values.
Finally in February 2006, I put an end to months of challenges and doubts which perhaps were an opportunity to learn about human rights and its related concepts, and then with issuing a statement the “Human Right Activists in Iran, HRAI” was officially born.
In the fledgling civil society of past 23rd of May 1997*, at the time of unprecedented change in the world of communication in Iran and with having minimal and insignificant amount of freedom and security, we started our activities.
It is especially important to have in mind that in the beginning years of our activities, the speed and the influence of the internet in Iran was not anything in comparison to today. The internet as a main way of communication, within and outside of our group, was not a service available to all, and the extreme slow speed of uploading and downloading information (a few hundred kilo bites per second), seems comical today. In addition to the lack of technical means, the minimal influence of internet and the underdeveloped internet compared to today in Iran, the social media as a revolutionary element in today’s world of communication did not have a significant presence and overall was not mainly established; for instance Facebook as a primary social network of today, had only started working for two years and naturally did not have a considerable place in Iran of the time. In such circumstances at least during the first weeks, our communication and information (considering our knowledge and resources) was limited to emails; later this was replaced with a free weblog. It took at least two years before our website (in the modern sense) was launched, even then without having any access to Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Joomla and WordPress, in order to keep the website manually up-to-date, the posts had to be changed to HTML format using a special software, and subsequently uploaded directly into the server using FTP. I remember the days when we had to keep an old computer in use for a whole night just to update the website with a few simple news. We had to start uploading the news at night so that in the morning the website would be updated; if in the middle of the upload there was a power fluctuation or the internet was disconnected, what we had to do! Start over and repeat all these painful hours.
In addition to these communicational circumstances, during the early years of our activities the cellular network in the country was limited to “Hamrah-e Aval**” and was not widely used. Recalling these brief descriptions, I believe the past 10 years of technological development in the field of communication has been equal to 100 years of steps forward.
At the beginning of our activism, we were inexperienced; trial and error has always been a part of the process of our growth. While political activists could reduce their errors by studying and learning from the experiences of the former parties and revolutions, for us there was no such a possibility, considering that the cohesive human rights activism in Iran was very young and limited, and even if there were former experiences, they were not available to us, as we were a novice group of young activists; thus we could only rely on our own analyzing abilities. As the director of the team I referred to the books written during the 70s and the 80s, in order to educate myself on collective work and learn more about creating, keeping and developing a structure; the result was establishment of a complex structure for a civil rights organization. This was followed with various advantages and disadvantages that on one hand promoted the growth and development of the group, especially during the high security conditions, and in the other hand it had limited our communications and had made it difficult for our audience to see the essence of our activism, the Human Rights. Creating a vertical structure for a civil rights organization that would traditionally follow horizontal management structures, was indeed an innovation that impeded our growth, yet guaranteed the continuation of our activism.
The early years of our activism, were the years of earning experiences, creating a structure and developing the doctrine of the team work with a touch of idealism for our burgeoning organization. We realized that without planning, discipline and creating a coherent structure, there was no hope for our survival. By studying and by gaining experience certain principles were developed, positive attributes that the lack of any of them would have meant the end of our activism.
The following are briefly our most prominent organizational and personal attributes:
Some of the books published by HRAI, 2004 – 2007
Youth-led: Our team’s age average was low, probably the main reason being that the initial members consisted of young people with enthusiastic demands. This was an opportunity to benefit from strong executive members and creative minds. The young members acted more daringly and idealistically, and took on more risks; however not having experienced members by our side increased our error percentage.
Having a Social base inside the country: It was very important to be able to establish an organization based inside Iran without connection to any party or taking any political side, to be able to continue our activism without raising the attention of the security sector of the country. By being within the country we were able to increase the sense of security within people to cooperate with us and so the ability to recruit, and therefore we were able to be present at happenings and events and to have a more realistic analysis of the ongoing affairs of the time.
The principle of equality and indiscrimination: Thought and organizational independence from any movement and any political, religious, governmental parties made indiscrimination of all people (which is extracted from our understanding of the essence of human rights) a permanent fundamental and unchangeable principle, and a dominant belief within the group. As people who started their activism outside the Capital (Tehran), we had an inner desire to be the voice of the voiceless and to highlight their demands and issues.
Courage: The lack of fear of experiencing and the belief in innovation, gave us courage so that instead of repeating others, we believed in ourselves; the type of organization’s management, field of study and the kind of activities were all the results of our own thinking, therefore we were not frightened by being challenged in any field against the accepted circumstances.
Innovation and creativity: We had a creative, curious, and idealistic mind that enjoyed and took activism seriously. We believe a group that is not creative and progressive is doomed to fail. Thus we have shown our ultimate creativity, from innovating new reporting methods, which were considered as an undeniable transformation in the field of human rights in Iran during the recent years, to acquiring new skills with the efficient use of technology.
Independency: Independency for a civic or even political organization, is equal to its freedom. Certainly, this has its own advantages and disadvantages; it is a disadvantage in the sense that without any empirical support and resources it would be left alone, yet it is an advantage if the goal is a long term activism, this independency would allow risk taking, innovation and flexibility. In general in terms of your goal, your interest will not be any different from your organization’s interest, and this means: Ensured continuity on the right path.
Being aware of our lack of awareness: Being aware of our lack of experience and lack of practical and theoretical knowledge was of the most important positive feature within our organization. By completely accepting our lack of knowledge, not only we did not resist against learning, but rather we sought knowledge, experience and awareness. We welcomed criticism and tried to keep our knowledge up to date. Whether in prison or free, we spent our leisure time preparing educational material for the fellows and ourselves.
Diligently and tirelessly: The fulltime members have been and still are mentally and physically active for 20 hours a day at times. We have experienced imprisonment and tolerated the lack of basic amenities; we knew that we were unexperienced and every failure for us was an opportunity to learn. We capitalized on our hope and aspiration in order to be diligent and tireless, or simply we were pertinacious at work. We have been through the most difficult times and circumstances with this pertinacity and the desire to survive and to continue on our path.
The experience of being a victim to human right violations: As the founder of the organization, I had personally experienced prison and been an activist, and that is how I came across the rest of the companions of the group. Hence the core members of the organization have the history of being a victim to human rights violations, specifically imprisonment for peaceful activism. This placed us in a position to be able to maintain a qualitative communication with the activists and communities that were prone to more human rights violations. Furthermore we truly understood the process and cost of activism and with a better understanding of the potential costs, we accepted the risks, and we had been trusted easier.
Selflessness: Sacrifices and forgetting ones individual interests for the common interest of the others has always been of our most important doctrines. Staying anonymous and being active without any personal interests in mind, has always been considered a key value in our mind. With the understanding of the importance and necessity of selfless activism and daily sacrifices, we have always tried to strengthen and arise this spirit in our collective activism.
The higher the rank, the higher the pressure: As part of the principle of organized activism we believed that anyone with higher authority should have had more responsibilities and show more effort, so that the ones under their management would be convinced to take on more responsibilities and to put in more efforts. Accordingly, the higher ranks in the organization, including myself, have always tried to be under the most pressure and to put in the most effort, for instance I would have requested my colleagues to work long hours in a day, only if on the very same day I had worked longer hours than my request. This is the manner that all levels of the organization work in and define their relations with the members under their management. We tolerated the lack of sleep and exhaustion as well as hardships and imprisonment, yet even when we were forced to flee our country, we refused to stop our activism at the cost of our families’ security and we have paid the price of this tenacity. To us, the authority is with the one who shows greater effort and endures deeper wounds; a great ship asks deeper water.
Organization: From the very beginning by the studying, we highly believed that the secret to our permanence in human rights activism would be in a team work; the kind of team work that in the security atmosphere of Iran is better to be regarded as “organized activism”. A Coherent, unified and flexible organized activism that could as one body guarantee the existence of an organization. We truly believed in this idea, and with all seriousness we tried to build a single body of discipline and organization.
The first number of Peace Line Monthly, February 2009
In the security socio-political circumstances of the time, “Human Right Activist in Iran, HRAI” by relaying on the mentioned principles began its activism, and has been through 10 years of vicissitudes. I believe it is the time that some of these peaks and important events of HRAI’s activism, even though briefly, be shared and examined:
Farzad Kamangar, a Shooting Star
Farzad Kamangar had officially joined our organization before his arrest, there is an audio file available on the internet as the proof. He was a member of HRAI for months, however we did not ever claim his arrest is related to us or that he had ever significantly collaborated with us, yet our acquaintance before his arrest created a strong trust between us which remained strong till the very end. I was personally Farzad’s ward-mate and our connection and acquaintance led to his writings of “Letters from the Prison”, and putting them at my disposal. In fact the campaign to save Farzad Kamangar, which could even be considered as a movement, publicly began with the publication of his “Letters from Prison” and his “Narrations of Torture”. Alongside Farzad, his family and his lawyer, HRAI was one of the pillars to this roof, and played a key role in media publications and other affairs of his campaign.
In the memory of Farzad Kamangar, Iraqi Kurdistan
I do not intend to elaborate on Farzad Kamangar’s story here, the purpose of this brief is to acknowledge the fact that our continuous communication with Farzad and working with the campaign, became a golden opportunity for our exponential growth and embedding the principle of equality and indiscrimination in the body of our team. This provided us with the experience of working with marginal parts of the country and oppressed regions like Kurdistan; the experiences learnt from activism in this region became a key in engaging and involvement in similar regions. Along with our activism in other regions, fields and sectors, with Farzad Kamangar’s Campaign we became recognized, thus we established more connections that helped us to earn more trust and to be subjected to more tests.
The opportunity of vast activism in Kurdish regions was given to us when the head and the body of the “Kurdistan Human Right Organization” managed by Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, was dastardly and unfairly damaged by the security sectors of the country, and its leader had been imprisoned. In such circumstances as one of the very few none-Kurdish groups in the region, with attracting the trust of Kurdish people we were able to expand our activism into the farthest Kurdish villages and later use this experience to expand in other parts of the country.
Committee of the Right to Education
Thanks to our insistence on the principle of equality and indiscrimination (as mentioned before), we were able to find our way into the minority communities of Iran. The Bahai’s community despite its small population, was a prime focus in the field of human rights in Iran. This community’s young and educated generation is a precious capital for lighting the path of improving human rights in Iran. By proving our faith in equality and honesty we were able to gain the trust of the youth of this community and make HRAI a field for collaborative activism. The tireless and motivated young Bahai community, who were facing educational discrimination and deprivation in Iran, found their presence in our Committee of Right to Education a way to demand their fundamental right to education.
Demonstration in protest against the execution of Farzad Kamangar and 4 other political prisoners in front of the Iranian Interests Section in D.C. May 11, 2010
The presence of these friends in the organization was an opportunity to earn more experience in broader activism and develop farther. However eventually because of the difference of opinions in management and also because of the March 2, 2010 attacks on HRAI, we could not continue our coherent collaboration; nevertheless it does not take away from the value of the constructive influence and the positive history of collaborating with them.
I have previously published an article concerning Seyed Jamal Hosseini (Esfandiar Baharmas), and his records and status (1); however the current article would be incomplete without any mention of him. Certainly when the 10 years history of our activism is being considered, he is missed by our side more than anyone else.
Seyed Jamal Hosseini, the very first days of HRAI’s activities, Van, Turkey
Jamal Hosseini has played a valuable and outstanding role in the activities of the group; yet before his death not many activists knew about him, therefore we insist on introducing him broadly and accurately. Surely the history of HRAI has not only been made by Jamal alone, but rather there have been many more Jamals who anonymously and diligently made this activism possible. Seyed Jamal Hosseini’s tragic death in Turkey led to further introduction of this valuable example and a role model in our activism.
Jamal was a real friend, a virtues brother and a precious colleague who played an important role in the executive process of our work from the very beginning up to his death (August 5, 2014). Although the mechanisms, activities and policies of HRANA (which he was the editor of) has been specified by the organization and not by a particular person, yet it is hard to imagine to stand where we are today without Jamal’s around the clock endeavor and contributions.
March 2, 2010
March 2, 2010 marks the beginning of the fundamental changes in HRAI, this day marks the start of the vast effort of security sector of the Iranian Regime to halt our organization. Although even before March 2nd we had many members arrested and sentenced; yet the major difference of this date is the planned and extensive attacks with the clear purpose of immediately halting our activism. From March 2nd to nearly the end of March, approximately 46 people who were members, colleague or had any connections to HRAI were arrested and detained at security prisons. The security sector took on a different approach for a few of us including myself (who was not arrested due to leaving the country), their approach was arresting and keeping the family members as a hostage, therefore the family members also spent times in detention. Eventually, in one year this arrests led to the issuance of at least 60 years of suspension and imprisonment, many open cases and some having to leave the country. (2)
March 2nd is the day that we realized it was impossible to be publicly or semi-publicly active like before, and we were forced to accept that we had to continue our activism in scrutiny and dangerous circumstances. This incident created major changes in the structure and practices of our activism.
Accusation of Political Tendency
During these years, the difficulties that were exerted on the organization by the critics and oppositions of the Iranian Regime, if not considered more than the pressure that the Iranian Regime exerted on us, was not much less either; the reason is clear: the lack of a proper communicational culture, instrumental use of Human Rights, and the lack of belief in the independent existence of a civil institution.
As an old strategy when the Security Sector of the Country wanted to alienate and distance our activism from its key centers, they started accusing and spreading rumors about us. For instance they would summon our Baloch members and tell them that our organization is collaborating with Jundallah or they told our Kurdish members that we were collaborating with PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan), to the nationalist members we were introduced as a secessionist group and so on. Thus the volunteers even with knowledge of the falsity of such claims, ultimately would had taken this warnings seriously and either stopped their collaboration with HRAI, or at least tried to keep it hidden.
The cover of a music album published by HRAI, 2007
The procedure of the Security Sector derived from the protests after the controversial tenth presidential elections of Iran, was revealed in March 2010, in one hand by the arrests and destruction of our facilities and in the other hand by the soft war and propaganda against us; by the decision of the security sector, outlandish claims that did not make any sense were aired multiple times from the most popular medias, known as the national media. One day we were connected to The “People’s Mujahedin of Iran” and the next day we were connected to the exact opposite, The Royal Assembly and the monarchists, another day it would be our connection to the West or intelligence agencies..
Peace Line Monthly / Kouhyar Goudarzi – It was May Day, the first of May, the international worker’s day, I was there to report on the rally of the workers of the Syndicate of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC). It was about noon and the crowd kept growing, citizens, worker’s families and students. A young bearded man with long hair was taking pictures and videos in the middle of the crowd.
Kouhyar Goudarzi, Human Rights Activist
While some were joining and some were leaving, the riot police arrived with Commander Ghodratollah Mahmoudi, the same commander in charge of the riot police clashing with protesters on the rally of the March 8th in front of The City Theatre. Now people have started to spread and the undercover forces are starting to increase in numbers. A few of them start to gather around the young man and are pulling him towards one of the gray cars, the young man struggles to pull himself towards the rest of the crowd, they beat him up with baton and hit him with pepper spray. I am watching all this from the window of a gray car. It was only a few minutes before that one of the undercovers had pulled my hand and taken my phone, and now I am watching the scene sitting in the gray car and sharing a handcuff with abdolreza Tarazi who later I found out, is a member of the syndicate.
They take us towards the Niloufar police station. Interrogations, familiar charges and Ebrahim Madadi who in the middle of the chaos is calmly explaining his civil rights. The young man with the long hair and now ripped cloths is taken to the next room, it does not take long before he starts screaming, and a little later the door opens up and a soldier walks out of the room, takes the baton which was on the table and walks back in to the room. Ebrahim Madadi kept talking: “a few night ago Mr. Dorri was on the TV saying: ‘we hope the police treats the citizens well.’” 10 minutes later the young man barely able to walk is brought out of the room.
In the middle of the night at the detention center of the security police, when I wake up from the few hours of quiet sleep; he comes and sits beside me and we talk, I found out his name; Keyvan Rafiee. Later on when we were released I came to know he was the director of the “Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI)”, and he found out that I was the director of the “Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR)” in Iran.
Spring of 2006.
I met Keyvan a couple of times at coffee shops and amongst common friends, till he was arrested, imprisoned and eventually left the country. We were always somehow in contact because of work, and he sometimes read my blog. Nevertheless I followed HRANA* due to the scope of my work. At many levels HRANA along with CHRR were of the most critical references of documenting the human rights violations in Iran. Both organizations started their news reporting agencies as weblogs and it took months before they became proper websites. HRAI just like any other organization has had its share of ups and downs during all these years, with so much difficulties of group works in Iran’s atmosphere, pressures, threats and security lockdowns and suppressions. Many of the HRAI members were arrested and received long prison sentences during the fall and winter of 2009-2010. The peaceful practice of the right to defend the human rights as a civil action, has always came at a high cost. Need not to forget Keyvan’s continuous efforts to maintain an organized work and to increase the outputs on human rights. Thanks to the many years of work in human rights, HRAI now has the vastest infrastructure in information and news among the media and activist groups of Iran. The continuation of a team effort towards Iran’s transition to democracy should be taken positively.
In the hope of many more anniversaries and valuable achievements.
*Human Rights Activist News Agency, the news agency of the HRAI organization.
Peace Line Monthly / Simin Rouzgard – The external view of the “Human Right Activists in Iran, HRAI” is visible to all, mostly through its news Agency HRANA and at a different level through its monthly journal of “Peace Line”; however the interpretations and perceptions of it may vary. How is the internal view of this organization, especially from the eyes of “one of its own”?! Perhaps there is the need to dig deeper and farther than what is visible on the surface. Walter Benjamin speaks of this as two different views of the same country road, the view from the eyes of the person walking along the road, and the view from the eyes of a passenger flying over the road by an airplane: “The power of a country road when one is walking along it is different from the power it has when one is flying over it by airplane… The airplane passenger sees only how the road pushes through the landscapes, how it unfolds according to the same laws as the terrain surrounding it. Only he who walks the road on foot learns of the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only the unfurled plain, it calls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of is turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front.” (One-way Street, 1978, P. 27-28)
Human Rights for Everybody / HRAI’s Archive
This angle of view might be interesting, because I was not one of the founders or primary members of HRAI. In fact, I came across HRAI by chance and I had to start my activities at lower levels of the organization, and when growth within the organization was possible, I climbed to higher levels and have continued my activism as one of the core members of the organization. As someone who is not the founder, but is considered one of the second-generation members of the organization, the reason behind my devotion to the organization could raise many questions.
To address these questions, elaborate, and simultaneously answer the question “why did I choose to be a human rights activist and why did I choose to join and stay with HRAI as a human rights organization?” I will narrate 5 stories of five different intervals of my life, from my personal life to when it slowly over time transitioned into a collective life.
First story: Winter of 2009, I was sitting on a bench at “Daneshjoo Park” beside a friend whom I knew from the virtual world of blogging and we gradually had become friends in the actual world as well. In order to organize and manage my activism, he had asked me a couple of times to collaborate with a civic group that at the time was following the demands of a particular social strata/group. Even though some of these demands were of my own, yet I always rejected the offer because I could not choose between those demands and my other concerns. Perhaps I was a little in to pluralism and I cared about demands and interests that were not directly of my own. Moreover, I could not simply ignore and justify the fact that those at the top of these organizations were of social and political aristocrats. Our discussion was leading to this direction again, though this time he mentioned that he has started collaborating with a young and emerging human rights activists’ organization founded by “Keyvan Rafiee”. He also mentioned that the news agency of the organization would start working in few months and they were looking for volunteers. I asked for a few things to be explained and then assured him that I would think about it.
Other than a few petitions, reports and pictures of the tortured prisoners, which was published by this organization, I did not know much about the way it operated. I did not know much about the founder of the organization, even though I had once previously shared the news of his hunger strike in the prison. I pretty much did not know any of the members of the organization in person. the more I asked, the more I heard, and the more curious I became; eventually after few weeks of query, thinking and considerations, I felt I needed to be faithful and concern about their kind of activism; few days later I called my friend to let him know I was in. A few days or weeks after, I contacted “Jamal Hosseini” (whom back then I knew by his pseudonym “Esfandiar Baharmas”) as a volunteer to start working with HRANA.
Honestly at the beginning, I looked at working at HRANA as a place for more coherent and organized activism, especially in an atmosphere that was pushing me towards individual or at best academical activism. At the time I perceived human rights (according to the politicized view of it) as a western term and therefore, I did not completely believe in it.
Second story: May 2009, about three months had passed since I started working for HRANA, and it was a few days that I had started what I thought would be smart shenanigans; for instance, I started highlighting the news of the prisoners that had similar political believes as myself. Regardless that he was sentenced to 3 months of imprisonment and on the same day another prisoner (whose believes and activism were not of my ideal) had been sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment. One day, one of the authorities of HRAI contacted me to let me know that my collaboration is not needed anymore! Although I could guess my trickery had been exposed, yet it felt unexpected and sudden. When I asked why, he replied “we have noticed that you hold back certain news and publish some news that are subjected to less human rights violations in the important news section and etc.; unfortunately this organization cannot work towards your personal believes and interests.” I insisted to stay!
Human Rights for Everybody / HRAI’s Archive
He suggested, if I was really interested I should have taken a week off and study further about human rights, then after a short probation period, if approved, I might continue to work with the organization. During that week, more than studying about human rights (which I was not fully uninformed about) I thought about staying or leaving the organization; if I was to stay, I had to change my perception of people and groups and had to view everyone as equal where it came to the violations of their human rights. At the time such a decision was incredibly difficult for me… but it was not easy either to forget all that the organization had given me in such a short period of time, things such as the satisfaction that I felt from thinking that I was making a difference. Therefore, I tried with respect for a collective work (which I generally believed in) to put aside my individualism and become a team player. To be totally honest, I also wanted to get to understand everything deeper. About 10 days later I restarted working for HRANA again.
Third story: I was trying to be more involved and engaged at work, if I am not mistaken it was about this time that HRAI was developing the weekly reports and the daily of Human Rights Violation for publication; I volunteered to participate. This greater involvement, opened my eyes to things that were new to me; in the sense that the group was greatly organized, and it was easy to believe that such an order came from a capable leadership. For example, if a report took too long, there was always someone who would not leave me alone and would repeatedly follow up and keep messaging me until it was done! This leadership, had regulated honorable objectives in which most importantly politics and gaining political power had no meaning. I am emphasizing on this because, at the time campaigning for presidential elections of 2009 had started and was reaching its peak, most of the youth in my circle and people I knew (especially university students) were interested to be a part of candidates’ campaigns. Although the nature of such an activism was not pleasing to me, yet it was understandable. It was not acceptable to see most would participate in building political power block, or would involve in occasional short term activism with goals that were defined without sufficient knowledge, or even activism that was out of excitement. It is disturbing that as a student activist sometimes one would be “forced” to go with the student association. For instance, I was the editor of the political science association journal of our university and almost all the members were in favor of supporting a particular presidential candidate. With what collective interest should I have given up my own views and stuck with them?
During those days, it was not only the names of prisoners and other victims (which we published daily) that passed through my head; but the numerous events of the past would come alive and pass through my eyes just like a scene from a movie: the death of our neighbour (who was the night guard of a construction site and had fallen from the scaffolds one night) did not make it to any newspaper or website; why did everyone blame him for the neglect and his death?! Why was there no insurance? In less than a year his family had to sell their home and move out of the neighbourhood… Demolition and burning of Dervish’s Hussainia in Qom in the winter of 2006 which I was an eyewitness to, not only did not change a thing but even some took pride in it! I heard one of my acquaintances proudly talking about throwing a stone to one of Dervish’s head and shamelessly laughing… My maternal relative that would once in a while (for leisure and entertainment) wake up in the morning and go to watch a public execution in our city. And she had even started videoing the executions on her phone, so she could more voraciously tell her live experience of the moment when the convict was being smothered to those who gathered around her. Once when she was showing me one of the videos, it was as if one of the men was staring at the camera and smiling from the top of the gallows. Why… In those very days, a worker (who they had gotten into the campaign HQ with the excuse that he should have a drink and rest a bit) was asked whom he would vote for. He said to whomever that would bring down the price of meat because it was two months that he had not been able to buy a kilo of meat for his wife and children. They did not even let him finish what he was saying. Of course, their candidate was going to make meat cheap!
Honestly even though I was majoring in political science, I was not meant for politics; because I hate the hypocrisy that surrounds it. Those days when I heard “Aftab-Karan-e Jangal 1” from the speakers in the town, I just tried to swallow my painkiller as fast as possible: Home, Computer, dial up internet, and finally the holy moment of publishing a news on HRANA!
The forth story: The intelligent services of the Revolutionary Guards had arrested 46 people who somehow had connections to HRAI (a few of them were my close friends) and they were still after me. They even had weaved together a ludicrous story and along with my picture and information had published it in the media such as Gerdab, Fars, and Keyhan2. There was no escape; I only had a few days or maybe a few hours. To stay, to be imprisoned and to await my unknown future; or to go, to leave everything behind and build the unknown future. This was the most difficult decision I had and probably will ever face; right on the verge of turning 20! These very words still sound like a distanced audience (the same passenger who sees the country road from the plane).
Security Forces’ Propaganda against HRAI
Considering the interest of the group that was so dear to me that despite their own suggestions and even at the price of being exposed, I was not willing to give up any opportunity to lift the slightest weight off of their shoulders (for instance I used to go to internet cafes so that I might be able to edit a short report), my analysis of the given situation was that in a specific time period such as two to five years, would I be more useful for the organization as an imprisoned member who is willing to cover the prison news, or would I be more useful as a member working for the organization from “Turkey”? At the time when the organization was under sever attacks of the security and intelligence services of the country, not only did it lose many members to the recent arrests, but it also had lost 6 websites, 33 addresses and many of its other facilities were interrupted as well. in simpler words should I become a political prisoner or considering the given situation should I try to be the voice of the political prisoners and those who are silenced?!
Choosing the second option allowed my approximate one year of engagement with HRAI, to continue under refugee circumstances in a different country. The move and the lifting of security barriers, brought me closer than ever to the organization. About then, it was truly proven to me that the authorities and members of HRAI are faithful to their activism and are concerned about the human rights. Facing the place where one of the authorities of the organization lived and worked from at the City of Van in Turkey (which more than a home looked like a ruin with the only valuable things being, an old computer, a few hard drives and electronics) was an end to all the rumors that the security services had started to spread and publish about the organization. Some people unintentionally or maybe deliberately had shared and confirmed these propagandas, and were making it more difficult for this suppressed organization to continue its activism. Another assurance, was the sleepless nights and the consistent selfless work that I was witnessing, it did not matter how tired one would be; it was almost impossible to leave a shift without the replacement ready. The work was always superior to personal issues, and it was definitely impossible in that deplorable financial conditions, to replace the high-speed internet or telephone lines and more, with good meals. Of course such a lifestyle, that had become a part of my own life, was totally different from my previous lifestyle, but I had found so much faith and devotion in our group (brought on by the atmosphere in the group) that I was ashamed to even think about these problems. Imagine; when Farzad Kamangir3 was sentenced to execution or other prisoners are calling from the “Prison” to announce a “Hunger Strike”; then not only time would find a different meaning, but even the common occasions would lose their place. The dates of arrests, sentences and executions would replace the birthdays and such occasions. Not only I belonged to this organization and its members more than ever, but I was confident that I was blooming in the healthiest of atmospheres. It might sound like a propagandist slogan, but it is true if one day I was forced to consider two people with different believes as equal, today I deeply believe in it.
Many at that point believed that I would either intentionally or unintentionally seek a personal life, after the refugee period ends and by moving to a 3rd country.
The fifth story: It was a year and a month since I had moved to Canada and I tried with tooth and nail to not let their predictions come true, and not to seek and get lost in my personal life, during this period I even had set my sleeping time with the time of Iran. For many reasons, specifically financial hardships, I could not do so for too long. I had to find a full time job, and therefore I was becoming less and less active at HRAI to the point that, the around the clock working had given its place to writing a few news or reports per week, or even later to only 2 or 3 pages of reports per month. In fact I was truly perplexed; in one hand, I was constantly asking myself how essential, effective and important my work at HRAI was, especially that many more had started working for HRAI and I thought they could easily replace me. Almost every time I reached an answer abruptly; for instance, once randomly I answered the phone call of an inmate that used to contact HRAI regularly and was imprisoned at one of the border cities of Iran; he asked how I was doing and why I had been away for so long. When I told him why, he replied: “people like you are our only hope, and if you were to leave, this little window of hope would be closed.” In another hand it was disturbing that I had stripped myself from the satisfaction that a collective work had given me. In the past 6 years I had reminded myself many times of why I left my country behind.
These internal tensions and conflicts, the friendships that were and are increasingly becoming deeper and holier, and the group needing me, had resulted in leaving my fulltime job in order to be able to spend more time working for HRAI. We decided that it would be better if instead of HRANA, I continue my work for HRAI at its monthly journal the “Peace line”; ever since July 2013 till today.
Spreading Peace Line Monthly in Iran
The experience of 7 years of team work with HRAI, has led me on a different path in life. A path full of ups and downs, in which the flame of hope for an ideal future, might have dimmed at times, but has never burned out; and with any spark it has flamed higher. To me HRAI is not a “group” or “organization” but it is what I prefer to call a “family”; the family that I feel the sorrow and the happiness of its members and I would live their success and failure. Experiences have proven that they feel the same towards me. Honorable colleagues whom I love just like my own family, at times maybe even more. Not being beside these forgotten people while they are making the history; would only be possible, when I had forgotten and abandoned myself.
I am proud of that sacred moment of calm that I achieve by repeating this sentence to myself: “the truth will find its way!” when hearing unfair judgments or false accounts that intentionally and unintentionally are trying to stop us. I heard this sentence for the first time from Keyvan Rafiee, based on the testament of a prisoner before execution, with the explanation that “the truth is like the limpid water of an ocean that might be covered with foam and sludge, with time it is the foam that leaves and the limpidity that stays.”
I am proud to breathe in the air that once Farzad Kamangar and Seyed Jamal Hosseini had breathed in; all the difficult moments; arrests, sentences and the sorrowful moments of death or execution of a friend. To grieve or to stay faithful to the path once you have walked alongside them. Emotions and moments that I would not have experienced to this extend outside of HRAI.
With all that being said, I deeply believe there is a virtue in suffering that cannot be in happiness.
1- The name of a revolutionary hymn that was published in the album of “Sharare-haye Aftab” after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Lyrics are written by Saeed Soltanpour whom in 1981 was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards on the day of his wedding and after enduring 66 days of torture, has been executed. This hymn was used in 2009 elections for the Campaign of candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Many of Iranians believe Mousavi and his followers had no right to use this hymn for their campaign; because the alternative nature of this hymn does not match their reformist believes.
2- Keyhan newspaper, Gerdab Website, and Fars news are some of the famous media of the Iranian regime, which are being controlled by the security forces. These media have tried numerous times to portray a false and evil picture of political and civil rights activists of Iran for the public.
3- Farzad Kamangar was a Kurdish-Iranian teacher who was executed at Evin prison in 2010. He was also one of the members of HRAI.
4- The footnotes have been added by the translator so that the non-Iranian reader would understand the text fully.
Peace Line Monthly / Behrouz Javid Tehrani – From long years in prison till this day, I have always, at any time and place, tried to use any small opportunity in order to achieve my humanitarian goals. When the security apparatus by imprisoning people like myself was trying to limit our platform for activism, and limit our resources and our communications in order to stop us, I used the smallest available windows of communication and tried to voice the human rights violations that were happening in the prison and my surroundings. Maybe this was the most effective activism I could possibly do from the prison.
Human Right Activists in Iran (HRAI) which later Human Right Activist News Agency (HRANA) was added to it, has been my main partner in human rights activism from the very beginning; especially that I knew Keyvan Rafiee personally and had worked with him outside the prison, I also have kept in contact with Jamal Hosseini and other members during all these years.
However I started cooperating more seriously with HRANA after the prison, which lasted about 3 years, and it was a broader and more complicated experience having the title of “Human Rights Reporter” comparing to the time when I was a “prisoner”.
HRANA’s Report from the Prisons
Certainly I do not intend to share my observations about the flourishment and thrive of HRAI or specifically HRANA. I would like to take this opportunity to tell what kind of qualities one should have to work for this organization, and for those who are wondering how such an organization could thrive and move forward for 10 years, I am listing 12 of these essential qualities from my personal experience.
To work for HRANA you need to have these qualities:
1- To somewhat forget your personal life
2- To be able to deal with eating less or not eating on time
3- To be able to at least have 16 hours of productive work per day
4- To be able to tolerate and endure criticism and gossips from every one
5- To be able to handle the back pain from long hours of sitting
6- To be able to talk on the phone for few hours a day without a break
7- To emotionally be strong enough to transfer the news of execution of a son to his mother
8- To publish the news of executions, tortures and other horrific news daily, yet to be able to not lose hope and motivation in the work
9- To be able to not sleep at all or wake up and work at any time of the day
10- To be able to live with stress
11- To be able to always have financial struggles
12- To repeat these for years and years on daily basis!
If you are such a person, congratulation and I advise you to contact HRANA for cooperation; such an organization with all the difficulties it faces is in need of people like you.
Peace Line Monthly / Ali Ajami – on May 1, 2006, we – the radical students who became later “Freedom & Equality Seeking Students” and finally dismantled – had decided to join the fired workers who were protesting in front of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company.
We were with placards and slogans which had been selected by voting and we thought that nothing was going to happen. Aggregation was performed and we along with the workers started raising the placards and chanting slogans. The police officers were careful and the IRGC intelligence agents took photos regularly, but there were no particular problems, and we believed that the aggregation was going to end with no problem.
As soon as some people who wanted to take report came the police attacked and arrested them, police attacked to one of them who resisted and he got beaten; some of his friends wanted to help him and finally few of them were arrested and few of our friends realized that they were the human rights activists and the one being beaten was Keyvan Rafiee, editor of Human Rights Activists in Iran.
Demonstration in front of the Syndicate, Tehran. The Moment Keyvan Rafiee was arrested
Those days we did not have a good attitude to human rights activists and their works in our opinion were a light action; but it was interesting that police were sensitive about the probable report of aggregation more than the aggregation itself. This was my first encounter with Human Rights Activists.
After December 2007 and extermination of the Freedom & Equality Seeking Students, while our collective feeling was that the important media discriminated about reporting the arrest of more than forty students, Human Rights Activists was among the groups who published news of our friend’s arrest regularly.
After my arrest and when I entered ward number 350, the conversations were about the arrest of human rights activists. All of them were arrested in 2010 and transferred to ward 2-A.By the experience of arrest of our group in 2006 I knew that the security apparatus will not be satisfied until the complete eradication of the group. My guess was that they were done. Later, after few months of interrogation, a number of them entered ward 350 with heavy sentences.
It was 2011, I was exiled to Rajai Shahr prison. All of political prisoners were gathered in the hall number 12 and were deprived of the phone, it means that they had locked the room where the public phones were and the prisoners could not communicate with the outside world except on meeting days. The reason was clear: News and pressure inside the prison should not be leaked out of the prison.
I met Behrouz Javid Tehrani there. He was one of the activists of July 1999 and was one of the oldest prisoners in Rajai Shahr prison. A few days later an anonymous conscience prisoner, who was harassed while being under detention was transferred to the ward and we wanted to spread his news to out of prison.
In Rajai Shahr prison because of the presence of old political prisoners and their communication with non-political prisoners, there was the access and the possibility to buy a mobile phone, although it was very difficult and expensive. However the prison authorities installed jamming devices around wards to stop this possibility too. This device was manifold around political ward so there was no possibility of sending news by the mobile phone. Even once our strove to break and disable the jamming devices by rock hooks also failed. The only way was breaking the door of the room which has public phone; the problem was that it was possible to disconnect the phone from the center and there was no guarantee that we would be succeed but even a small possibility or a loophole in prison, was worth the risk.
Documents of Human Rights Violations from HRANA’s Archive
Behrouz looked up the door and it was possible to create a hole to enter into the room by crawling, by breaking down the middle layer of down part and bending sheet metal; but breaking must be very calm and quiet to neither wake up the prisoners nor the guards. During a night behrouz and another friend started the work and I also worked as a guard. I do not remember how hard, they could do it in one or two nights, but finally we did it and the only one who could enter the room by crawling was me. Wood shavings on the floor was not a problem, but winter was extremely cold, and if I wanted to dress, the small cavity space would not allow me to pass. I went crawling inside, turned on the lights, an empty phone room and five or six telephone booths. I picked up the phone of one of the cabins, was a dial tone which means the phone was connected. I called the number, someone replied and introduced himself with the name of Esfandiar, Jamal Husseini, former editor of HRANA.
However, after a few days, prison officials understood and disconnected the phone, but this was a lesson to me that there was always a way, a window, aperture to freedom, and a prisoner knows better than anyone how to appreciate and find it.
When I left Iran and arrived in Turkey, I had decided to leave political activity for ever, means I realized that I could not imagine myself as a political activist from outside the country who was going to change the Iranian society. I was certain that I would not be more active than occasional texts on Facebook and mentioning my friends who were in the prison.
However, it is now about a year since the beginning of my activity in the HRANA, as the editor of the agency we with anonymous activists. I am proud that I have tried to highlight the unique features of HRANA more and more namely fast and accurate reporting and independent human rights reports with the aim of improving it, not only independent of the government, independent of the government opponents, too, avoiding any discrimination and political background, being a window in the walls of the prisons and detention centers, remembering the forgotten, being the voice of voiceless, margins and poor.
Back then, as an outside observer and today from within, I think the Human Rights Activists in Iran has been quite positive and defensible and unique. Activists who are not limited to names that are known, but are a collection of anonymous reporters who were the narrators of distant and silent stories, the elites who because of humility and the fear of repression were never mentioned.
I believe that due to the growth of awareness and communication tools in situations that every citizen is able to record the human rights violations, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of anonymous reporters, Human Rights Activists and HRANA, will start the second decade of its life in better conditions.