Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Iran's Students: Interrupted Lives

. . . Blood in daylight.
Blood in the dark. Blood in the words. . . .
~ "IV. Counterpoint" 
From If I Were Another by Mahmoud Darwish

Repression, imprisonment, torture, execution: You find these four words, almost always together, wherever you find written or photographic documentation of human rights abuses. We don't have to imagine a place where these acts are a part of daily life. We have to imagine a world without them.

In Iran, you are not safe from these acts by virtue of age, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, or national origin. Nor will the demographics of your social background, financial status, or geographic location matter. You are especially not safe from these acts if you dare speak truth to government lies, rally against election fraud, situate yourself among pro-democracy political activists, assemble or agitate in the streets for political change, or are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Winning a Nobel Peace Prize, as Shirin Ebadi did, will not save you from punishment, as Shirin Ebadi can tell you.

In Iran, if you are a student unwilling to accept regime ideology, refuse to war a hijab, engage in  any of a number of unspecified "immoral behaviors", use your cell phone to photograph another student being clubbed, text-message about Baha'i social activities, or happen to express your belief in either or both human rights and individual rights, you commit a "revolutionary offense" that puts you at risk for covert surveillance, arrest, isolation, beatings, other torture, long imprisonment including solitary confinement, becoming "disappeared". That you reside in a university dorm room will not save you. Nor will being in a high school classroom. You can be a child and still lose your life to extrajudicial murder.

The following documentary, produced by Story4 and the nonprofit Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation as part of a traveling exhibit, "Interrupted Lives: Portraits of Student Repression in Iran"*, presents four students' case histories, those of two young men and two young women who were arrested and imprisoned and tortured or executed for advocating for religious freedom or other human rights. Their stories represent the narratives of thousands of other students in Iran who have suffered brutal repression — and worse — since the 1979 revolution that established the Islamic Republic of Iran.

To watch the roll of names, so many so fast, is breathtaking. To hear these four students' stories is to challenge your conscience, and also witness the possibility of hope borne bloodily from truth. 

Despite Iran's efforts to exact silence from its opposition, the voices go quiet only for so long. Through documentaries such as this, supported by the efforts of two sisters, Ladan and Roya Boroumand whose organization bears their murdered father's name, the voices have another chance to be heard—and to make a difference. We owe it to each other to watch and listen, to promote awareness, to speak out. We owe it to all the students by virtue of being human.

The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation has compiled a list of more than 11,000 students who have been subject to severe human rights abuses by judiciary, security, or paramilitary forces, university disciplinary committees, and other political or ideological groups doing the Islamic Republic's bidding. The Omid Memorial, an electronic database of human rights violations in Iran, honors more than 1,600 voices that have been silenced. The stories of some of them are posted here. Not a few have no details at all. A slideshow that draws from both lists provides photographs for and basic facts (name, age, punishment) about students whose cases have been documented. The slideshow lasts just over 28 minutes. Its power is its straightforward presentation. If you think of Iran, think of these students' names.

*Haleh Esfandiari's excellent essay on the exhibit while it was at Georgetown University earlier this month is here.

Esfandiari was held in solitary confinement in the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran in 2007. She is director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Her book, My Prison, My Home: One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran, was published in September 2009. It has been reprinted in paperback (Echo, October 2010). To read an excerpt from the book, go here. (I recommend it.)

"A Place Called Evin"(2009)

Election 2009

Human Rights & Democracy for Iran

Human Rights Watch

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Interview with Ladan Boroumand About Omid Initiative

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Ladan Boroumand at 2010 Democracy Awards Conference

Lesh Walesa Prize Awarded September 29, 2009, to Boroumand Sisters

Maziar Bahari, "118 Days, 12 Hours, 54 Minutes" in Newsweek, 2009

"Shirin Ebadi Prepares for the End", by Jeffrey Gedmin for Foreign Policy, January 11, 2010

Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening: One Woman's Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country (Random House, 2007) (GoogleBooks) The hardback version is titled Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope (Random House, 2006). (I have also read and recommend this book.)

The Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights

Witness Testimony (Video from Iran Human Rights Documentation Center)


M.L. Gallagher said...

May we never grow silent to their voices. May their voices never be silenced.

Thank you for bringing their voices and stories forward.

What you do makes a difference in the world.

Doug Spurling said...

Oh Maureen - Thank you - thank you - thank you.

Lord open our ears to hear their cry. Give us conviction to reply.

This cancer will spread if not stopped.

S. Etole said...

It is difficult to comprehend this degree of repression/brutality when we enjoy so much ...

A. Jay Adler said...

The great hope is that in the repression of these brave young people is the foundation of future liberty and democracy, as it was in Spain, in Chile, in so many places.