Human rights activist Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, founder of Persian2English.com, a website documenting Iranian human rights violations and co-founder of Oslo Women’s Rights Initiative, prepares to address the 10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the recent protests in Iran:
Quoting letter from civil rights defender Atena Daemi in Evin Prison: “The main demand of the people of Iran is resolutions to the issues they face, including: poverty, unemployment, addiction, embezzlement, corruption, child labor, the repression of the LGBTQ community, the large gap between the social classes in Iran, the expenditure of the national capital for war in neighboring countries while Iranians live in poverty….”
Quoting letter from Jafar Eghdami in Karaj’s Rajai Shahr Prison: “The damages caused during the recent protests don’t compare to the damages the government has caused to the national interests of Iranians for the past 40 years.”
On the resilience of the Iranian people:
“It is the Iranian people who are able to place the most pressure on the Iranian government, as it is the Iranian people whom the Iranian authorities fear the most.”
Quoting letter from Mohammad Saber Malek Raeesi in Ardabil Prison for the occasion of his 26th birthday (in prison since age 17): “Torture, pressures, and oppression will not stop us, the people of Iran, from demanding our human rights.”
On the Iranian leadership:
“We have not seen much difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani… In his presidential campaigning, Rouhani criticized the Ahmadinejad administration’s treatment of protesters and for filtering the internet. But, when the recent protests erupted, Rouhani’s administration arrested and jailed thousands of protesters, and filtered the Internet.”
On the failure of the international community on Iran:
“As a result of inadequate pressure from the international community, there is no incentive for the Iranian authorities to change their behaviour.”
“The international community needs to make the political and economic costs for committing human rights violations too high for the Iranian government.”
The recent protests that began in Iran on December 28 and lasted for approximately a week came as a surprise to us all. It was arguably the first time since the Islamic revolution of 1979 that we witnessed protests in every single Iranian province. But what didn’t come as a surprise were the people’s demands. For years, we have witnessed Iranians calling for fundamental changes of the government system, while demanding civil liberties. We have also witnessed these brave people are being ignored by the Iranian authorities and not taken seriously by the international community.
As the founder of Persian2English, a blog that aims to expose the human rights violations in Iran through translation, I strongly believe that the most effective way to understand the situation in Iran is to listen to the voices of the people in Iran struggling to exercise their fundamental rights.
On January 7, 2018, a few days after the Iran protests ended, civil rights defender Atena Daemi wrote a letter from Evin Prison. Atena and fellow civil rights defender Golrokh Iraee are currently held in Tehran’s Gharchak Varamin, one of Iran’s most deplorable and dangerous prisons. Here are some translated excerpts from Atena’s letter:
It is us the people in the streets who are protesting against the desecration of the country caused by the autocratic rulers and their policies.
We want to return pride and honor to our dear Iran. We want our individual rights and social freedoms. The people of Iran demand resolutions to the issues we face, including: poverty, unemployment, addiction, embezzlement, corruption, child labor, the repression of the LGBTQ community, the large gap between the social classes in Iran, and the expenditure of the national capital for war in neighboring countries while Iranians live in poverty. Lack of freedom of speech and religion, gender inequality, lack of occupational and economic security, and refusal of the Iranian authorities to officially recognize religious and ethnic minorities.
The beloved people of Iran have suffered these issues for the past 40 years. And they have repeatedly expressed in various ways their demand for resolutions. But they have never received any response other than repression, murder, arrests, imprisonment, and exile.
The international community hasn’t paid adequate attention to the human rights situation in Iran, which has emboldened the Iranian government and left Iran’s civil society at risk.
Iran is best represented by its nonviolent civil rights defenders. Despite this, it is Hassan Rouhani and his administration who the international community seems to regard as the representatives of Iranians. We have not seen much difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani, except for their rhetoric and the image that they display of themselves to the international community. In his presidential campaigning, Rouhani criticized Ahmadinejad administration’s treatment of protesters and for filtering the internet. But, when the recent protests erupted, Rouhani’s administration arrested and jailed thousands of protesters, and filtered the Internet. We were even witness to the killing of protesters.
To justify the recent violent crackdown on protesters, Iranian authorities claimed that the protesters weren’t citizens with legitimate concerns, but rather a bunch of thugs.
Civil rights defender Jafar Eghdami wrote a letter from Karaj’s Rajai Shahr Prison regarding the recent protests. Here are some excerpts from his letter:
State-run TV station IRIB labelled the protesters as anarchists, rioters, troublemakers, Zionists, or affiliates of America who inflicted damage onto public property. However, it is the government powers in Iran who are directly responsible for these possible damages. The damages caused during the recent protests don’t compare to the damages the government has caused to the national interests of Iranians for the past 40 years – it is not even comparable. When independent organizations in Iran are faced with severe restrictions and oppression, how can a young Iranian learn civil, rational and peaceful protest? It is these independent civil society organizations who are able to teach the citizens democratic principles, restraint and rational behaviour.
Iranians have demonstrated time and again that they aren’t aligned with the Iranian government’s domestic and foreign policies. We have witnessed Iranian protesters chant slogans such as: Abandon the nuclear program, think of our well-being instead. Leave Syria, think of us instead. Not for Gaza, not for Lebanon, I give my life only for Iran.
The Iranian authorities have demonstrated time and again that they will do whatever it takes to silence the voices of the Iranian people. If the voices of Iranians gained strength, the authorities would be under much pressure to change their behaviour. As a result of inadequate pressure from the international community, there is no incentive for the Iranian authorities to change their behavior. There is too much political and economic power at stake. And they are fighting for their survival.
A large majority of the international community’s attention on Iran goes to the missiles and nuclear programs. However, if we wish to resolve these issues, there needs to be a focus on changing the overall behavior of the Iranian authorities. For example, sanctions issued against Iran for the nuclear program succeeded to bring the Iranian government to the negotiating table, but, at the same time, the Iranian authorities continued their human rights violations and proxy wars. We saw little to no change in the behavior of the Iranian authorities.
To change the behavior of the Iranian government, the international community needs a human rights focused approach, and must take multiple actions simultaneously:
- Put human rights at the top of the agenda of any bilateral talks
- Issue sanctions that help end the repression of Iranian civil society (rather than sanctions that hurt the Iranian people). Such as issuing sanctions against telecommunications companies that provide the Iranian government with tools and services used to suppress Iranians.
- Ease the free flow of information in and to Iran.
- Finally, maximize efforts to support the pro-democracy movement in Iran and help elevate the voices of Iran’s civil rights defenders.
The international community needs to make the political and economic costs for committing human rights violations too high for the Iranian government. This would make introducing reforms advantageous. And, the more reforms that are implemented in Iran, the bigger the space for Iranians to speak out and pressure the Iranian authorities to change their behaviour in regards to the nuclear and missiles program and think twice before using the nation’s capital to fund proxy wars. As I mentioned earlier, Iranians aren’t aligned with the government’s domestic and foreign policies.
It is the Iranian people who are able to place the most pressure on the Iranian government, as it is the Iranian people whom the Iranian authorities fear the most.
If these actions aren’t taken simultaneously, the vicious cycle of violence will continue. [Salto de ajuste de texto]
I will end with a quote from a letter written by Mohammad Saber Malek Raeesi from Ardabil Prison for the occasion of his 26th birthday. Mohammad was under the age of 17 at the time of his arrest. He is the youngest person to be arrested on political charges. The English translation of the quote:
Torture, pressures, and oppression will not stop us, the people of Iran, from demanding our human rights.