Breaking the Language Barrier on Human Rights

Prominent Iranian Student Leader Writes a New Letter from Prison

December 08, 2014

Bahareh Hedayat, a women’s rights activist and student leader sentenced to a total of nine and a half years in prison for speaking out against the injustices in Iran, has written a new letter from Evin Prison. She was arrested by Iranian authorities in December  2009. Persian2English has translated parts of her letter to English:

bahareh hedayat

Is human rights political? Human rights is basically reclaiming rights from a higher authoritative power or  temporarily removing the dysfunction of this power, whether this power be a dictatorship, democratic, or a rebel group. Human rights, whether it is obtaining [or reclaiming] rights or maintaining and preserving rights, needs to confront power. This confrontation can range from working with the authoritative power in order to induce principles and reach human rights solutions or engaging in a physical confrontation.

At least in the case of a country like Iran, human rights is definitely political, and this is not necessarily a negative thing. What I want to understand is why human rights activists are indifferent or avoid the human rights violations that occur in politics.

Human rights activism is political, firstly because it is linked to the current government/power. Secondly, through confrontation itself, human rights activism acquires a form of power. However, human rights activists don’t have the right to choose a political position, their scale of action is just human rights violations. [Bahareh is saying that if someone defines herself as a human rights activist and not a political activist, she still must defend human rights violations that occur in political conflict, but she should not take a political position in that conflict].

Human rights and politics are not two completely separate issues, they are interconnected. The existence of political prisoners is the basis of human rights violations. [A human rights activist] cannot [write off] human rights violations that occur in the field of politics and/or take the ambiguous position of “I’m not political”.

It must be said that being silent about political prisoners constitutes as taking a political stance. Nothing comes out of this silence other than these political prisoners become invisible to international regulatory bodies (E.g. international human rights organizations). One cannot evade responsibility by claiming, “I’m not political”.

The Green Movement in Tehran may have attracted at least a few million people – a number of people died for this movement, hundreds were imprisoned, and its leaders have been under house arrest without trial for nearly four years now. Despite this, how many times have human rights activists used the term “Green Movement” or mentioned the names of “Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard“?

Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard are under house arrest, they do not have access to a telephone, their [family] visits are limited, and all three of them have been ill for some time now. They are being held indefinitely under tight security control without an official [judicial] sentence – doesn’t their situation comply with the standards of [what constitutes as] human rights [violations]?  Are freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to fair trial and due process, etc. not components of human rights? Ultimately, these three individuals are under house arrest for defending those who [were murdered by Iranian regime authorities] and defending the rights of people [in society].

It has been four years now that Mostafa Tajzadeh has been held solitary confinement, in total isolation. He is only allowed one visit per week with his wife. He’s not even allowed to meet with his daughter, except for one or two times a year. It has been months now that Abolfazl Ghadyani is hospitalized under the presence of heavy security.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Mohsen Mirdamadi, Keyvan Samimi, Alireza Rajai, Massoud Pedram and Saeed Madani are prominent political prisoners whose basic human rights have been trampled on, yet they are not that known or recognized by the international human rights organizations. Are prominent lawyers Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Seifzadeh outside the radar [of human rights groups] because they are not women? Do you know that they are imprisoned because of their defense of human rights? Have you heard of the names: Hakimeh Shokri, Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, Emad Bahavar, Zia Nabavi, and Majid Tavakoli?

We have dreams of a day when human rights is not politicized and instead human rights activists monitor the behaviour of governments. But,it seems like in the present day, someone needs to monitor human rights activists to make sure they are doing their job properly. I am unsure about whether we have our priorities straight. I lose hope when I think of the possibility that if a number of human rights activists were assuming the role of a judge [in a court room], they would not take a neutral stance.


The original letter by Bahareh was published by Kaleme

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