Ebrahim Yazdi is Iran's oldest political prisoner, detained briefly after the June 2009 Presidential election and then again on 1 October 2010. He is reportedly in serious condition in prison, suffering from heart disease and cancer.
As we mark International Human Rights Day this week, we post an article by Barbara Slavin for AOL News and the appeal of Yazdi's family to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, sent last Sunday:
On my first trip to Iran in 1996, I met a rumpled U.S.-educated academic long marginalized by the Iranian government.
At the time, I did not think that the man --- Ebrahim Yazdi --= was much of
a threat to the clerical-led regime. But those running Iran now obviously
have a different view. And on Oct. 1, Yazdi --- now 80 and in poor health
after open-heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer -=- became
Iran's oldest political prisoner.
Arrested at a funeral in Isfahan, Yazdi was later sent to Tehran's dreaded
Evin Prison, joining about 500 other democracy advocates, journalists and
two hapless Americans, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. On Friday, Yazdi was
reportedly taken to the prison hospital.
Political prisoners and human rights are not likely to be high on the
agenda as the U.S. and diplomats from other nations sit down today in
Geneva with Iranian officials for the first time in more than a year.
Understandably, Iran's nuclear program is the main focus.
But the Americans and their allies should make time to talk about freeing
Yazdi and the other detainees. Iran's responsibilities go beyond keeping
its treaty obligations not to build a nuclear bomb; they include living up
to other international treaties and affording basic rights to the Iranian
Yazdi --- like so many of his fellow prisoners --- has not been charged with
any crime. An MIT-educated molecular geneticist who spent 1967-79 in
Houston at the Baylor College of Medicine, Yazdi was a committed political
activist who became Iran's first foreign minister after the 1979
revolution. He resigned a few months later after Iranian students seized
U.S. diplomats as hostages and the then leader of the country, Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, refused to let the Americans go.
In 1994, Yazdi succeeded to the leadership of the Freedom Party, a small
but venerable political group that has sought democracy for Iran for
When I interviewed him back in 1996, he complained that he was not allowed
to give interviews to the Iranian press or even to teach. The authorities
had told him "your genetics are liberal," he said. He compared Iranian
rulers to their fundamentalist counterparts in Afghanistan, the Taliban,
and said "there is only one way -- one solution -- and that is
democratization, the nonviolent legal transformation of political power."
That message was embraced by millions of Iranians who filled the streets
of Iran's cities following June 2009 presidential elections, which many
believe were won by an opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, not by
incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iranian authorities have succeeded over the past year in suppressing the
so-called Green Movement, but pockets of protest erupt from time to time,
particularly on university campuses. More disturbances [occurred] on
Tuesday, the anniversary of 1953 student demonstrations following a
U.S.-backed coup that restored Iran's monarchy. The clerical regime that
replaced that monarchy has now become even more repressive and is
destroying those who once helped bring it to power.
A Dec. 2 open letter to Iran's government signed by 188 Iranian
intellectuals and professionals calls for Yazdi's unconditional release,
saying that "the life of this well-known political reformer, who has
devoted his life to freedom and independence for Iran, is in serious
According to the letter, Yazdi's wife has been allowed to visit him only
once --- after he had been in Evin for 40 days.
"Medication and special medical equipment brought by his family to Evin
Prison has been rejected," the letter said. "We ask all freedom loving
people around the world to ask for the release of Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi and to
pressure the Iranian government to release all political prisoners and
cease the threats of arrest and intimidation of all nonviolent civil
The Obama Administration should echo that call and the Iranian government
should listen. Only then will Iran begin to receive the respect it says it
desires and deserves.
THE FAMILY'S LETTER
Your Excellency, Ban Ki-Moon
General Secretary of the United Nations
December 5, 2010
We are writing to appeal for your help to obtain the release of our father, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, from detention in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ebrahim Yazdi is the Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement of Iran. He is at present the oldest of imprisoned dissidents in Iran. He is 80 years old and in frail health. The actions of the government and judiciary of Iran towards Ebrahim Yazdi are in contradiction of the constitution and laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran and in violation of Iran’s international commitments to respect human rights.
Ebrahim Yazdi was arrested in the city of Isfahan on October 1, 2010. He had gone there to attend a memorial service for the young daughter of a friend. While participating in a prayer service in a private house, police violently disrupted the service and took a number of people into custody, including Dr. Yazdi. The authorities later justified these arrests with the claim that this was an “illegal trip” because he had not informed the government of his travel and an “illegal prayer” because it occurred without prior permission from the government.
Subsequent to his detention, Dr. Yazdi was transferred from Isfahan to Tehran to Section 209 of Evin prison. Within a few days, the government announced that he would be held in “temporary custody” for 30 days. He has been held now for over 68 days with very little contact with family and no contact with his physicians. Recently, the government announced that he would be tried on December 7, 2010, but have failed to provide clarification on the reasons for his continued detention or the charges against him. Iranian judiciary officials have also denied him access to legal representation of his choice, in contradiction of Iranian law.
This is the third time since the 2009 presidential elections in Iran that Dr. Yazdi has been arrested. In June of 2009, he was arrested and taken from a hospital intensive care unit bed to a prison cell. Following international outcry, Iranian officials returned Dr Yazdi to the hospital two days later. On December 29, 2009, Dr Yazdi was again taken from his home at 3 am and held in solitary confinement at Evin prison for 50 days. During this second imprisonment Dr. Yazdi was subjected to severe interrogation and poor sanitary conditions and as a direct result he developed severe heart problems. Again, under strong international pressure for his release and faced with the rapid deterioration of his health, Iranian officials permitted Dr Yazdi to be seen by his physicians at a hospital. Subsequently, they were required to perform emergency open heart surgery to save his life.
Since his latest arrest and detention on October 1st, he has again required hospitalization due to complications from his prior heart surgery. As a complication from prior cancer therapy, Dr Yazdi also requires daily catheterization, and the unsanitary conditions of Evin prison have resulted in repeated infections which may cause irreversible harm. Physicians who have seen him have stressed that his continued detention would lead to further and permanent deterioration of his health.
Mr. Secretary, our father, Ebrahim Yazdi has been arrested for doing nothing more than forcefully but peacefully speaking the truth about injustices and violations of the law he has observed within Iran. He simply asks that the government of Iran—which claims to be democratically elected by the Iranian people—be answerable to them for their policies and actions.
Ebrahim Yazdi succeeded the late Mehdi Bazargan as the General Secretary of the Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) in 1994. The Freedom Movement is one of the oldest political parties in Iran and has stood against authoritarianism and in support of political, civil and religious freedom for over 50 years. Dr. Yazdi has devoted himself and the FMI to bringing about democratic reform in Iran’s political system and the exposure and elimination of violations to the sovereignty and human rights of the Iranian people. Through its half-century of struggle against two regimes, the FMI has espoused and engaged in non-violent actions and those that are in conformity with the law. In his recent interrogations, Ebrahim Yazdi has been under extreme pressure by Iranian officials to dissolve the Freedom Movement of Iran.
Throughout his life, Dr. Yazdi has remained committed to his obligations to his conscience to stand for human rights. In his actions and words he has rejected regime demands to remain silent. He has patiently and effectively challenged ideas and practices of the rulers of Iran that negate human rights and distort and defame Islam.
For 64 years, Dr. Yazdi has worked tirelessly to build social organizations which promote tolerance and provide an opportunity for cultural and religious dialogue among peoples of all backgrounds, religions, ethnicities or nationalities. He has dedicated his life to supporting and giving leadership to the effort to make Iran a place where people of all ethnicities, cultural and religious backgrounds can flourish free from injustice and oppression.
Dr. Yazdi was forced into exile in the United States in 1959 because of his active opposition to the dictatorship of the Pahlavi regime. While in the US, he continued this struggle. In 1978 he left the US to work with the leadership of the Islamic revolution in Iran in hopes of contributing to the establishment of a free, open and tolerant Iran. After the victory of the revolution of 1979, Ebrahim Yazdi served as Foreign Minister within the Provisional Government under the Premiership of Mehdi Bazargan.
When Dr Yazdi saw that the revolution was deviating from these ideals, he remained in Iran and devoted his life to steer Iran in the direction of freedom and democracy, in a way that is true to his faith, principles and conscience. He has opposed dictatorship first under the guise of monarchy and then under the guise of religion. He has spoken out against torture whether justified in the name of faith or national security. He has decried as unacceptable the abrogation of human rights under any pretext. Dr. Yazdi believes that under any wrapping, dictatorship is inherently unjust, disrespectful to human dignity, and fundamentally un-Islamic – as would be the policies of any government that denies it citizens those inherent rights that belong to all human beings.
Ebrahim Yazdi’s first conflict with the post revolutionary rulers of Iran developed over the widespread and extrajudicial execution of individuals affiliated with the pre-revolution regime. Mehdi Bazargan and Ebrahim Yazdi argued against the arbitrary execution of former officials, and insisted on fair trials and access to defense lawyers for all accused. Yazdi was also advocating the presence of the international observers and lawyers in the courts of these ex-officials in order to make sure that the process is fair and unbiased. He felt the presence of international observers would temper post-revolutionary passions.
As a man of deep principles, he resigned his position as Foreign Minister in November 1979, in protest to the taking of diplomatic personnel and the autocratic direction the new regime was turning. He and the rest of the Bazargan government broke completely with the revolutionary government and its policies. He argued that hostage taking was against international law, conventions of human rights as well as the basic teachings of the Islamic faith.
After resigning from government, Ebrahim Yazdi turned his energy into challenging radicalism and government policies that ignored peoples’ rights and dignity. Despite the often extreme violence of the regime towards its opponents, Yazdi has always insisted on non-violent struggle and opposition based on accommodation with the Iran’s constitution and laws.
Dr. Yazdi has been an unwavering voice for reason and tolerance and a champion for the rights of minority ethnic groups and religious minorities in Iran. He has consistently stood for the rights of all human beings to freedom and self-determination. It is ironic that a champion of the rights of religious minorities should be himself imprisoned for the simple practice of a performing a religious obligation, namely a prayer.
For decades, Ebrahim Yazdi and the Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) have been the most steadfast voice within the country calling for a free and democratic Iran that respects the rights of individuals. This voice was singular and lonely at the beginning of the post-revolutionary era in a country when radicalism had taken root under the guise of a conservative-puritanical interpretation of Islam. The perseverance of this lonely voice has begun to yield results. Today, many political and religious leaders who in the early years of the revolution opposed Yazdi and the FMI’s views as “liberal” have come to accept this vision as the only way forward for Iran. This vision is of a democratic Iran that respects the rights of all Iranians from different religious, political and ethnic backgrounds – an Iran that is at peace with its self and its neighbors.
Dr. Yazdi and the FMI have been continuously harassed over the last three decades since the 1979 Revolution. They have over the years been victims of a wide variety of restrictions, detention and pressure. Today, he is the latest victim and the prime target of the theocratic regime. Iran’s prisons are full of individuals who have been violently arrested and detained for simply criticizing the government for its mismanagement and violations of human rights. Many of these victims are young, university students, both men and women. The brightest minds in Iran, who have earned entry to universities after years of preparation for and high marks on Iran’s national university entrance exam, find themselves denied their right to higher education. They are held in contempt of a regime that distains freedom of expression and critical intellectual discourse on national policies. Many of these bright students today find themselves in prison subjected to torture, lengthy and brutal sentences.
Ebrahim Yazdi has been targeted by the regime because he is both a leading advocate for democratic rule as well as a respected figure in the early leadership of the revolution. He is a symbolic and practical link to a way of thinking and a vision for Iran that brings together a humanistic nationalism and the faith of Islam. In current Iranian politics, Yazdi’s views are referred to as “Religious Nationalism”. The adherents of this discourse advocate for freedom, pluralism, rights for all religions and minorities, accountable government and democratic legal institutions. Yazdi and other Religious Nationalists have been targeted by the regime for courageous ethical stands on issues such as opposition to the hostage taking at the US embassy in 1980, continuation of the war with Iraq after the liberation of Iranian territory in 1982, the authoritarian nature of theocratic regime, mismanagement of the economy and violations of basic human rights.
In the recent wave of repression by the Iranian government, some of the youngest political prisoners are from the ranks of the Freedom Movement of Iran. One of them, Emad Bahavar, is the leader of the youth branch of the FMI and recently was given a 10 year prison sentence. Iranian judiciary officials listed his crimes as being member of the Freedom Movement, participation in the campaign of Mir Hussein Mussavi in the presidential election of 2009, and being openly critical of the supreme leader, Ayatullah Khamenei. Another young person related to the FMI that is under arrest is Dr. Yazdi’s niece (and daughter of the political secretary of the FMI) Leila Tavassoli. Mrs. Tavassoli is 26 years old and an engineering student. Last June, while observing a street demonstration, she witnessed the killing of two protesters when a truck operated by security forces struck them and ran over their bodies. Her crime, for which she is now serving a two year prison sentence, is that she reported to the media what she witnessed.
In all, twenty members of the Freedom Movement have been detained and prosecuted since the election in 2009. In addition to the FMI members, hundreds of others, young and old, have received harsh sentences and many have been subjected to abuse in prison and under interrogation. A few of these include: Abdullah Momeni, Nasrin Sotoodeh, Majid Tavakkoli, Mohammad Nourizad, Mustafa Tajzadeh, Isa Saharkhiz and Farid Taheri. The list is long and many social and political groups are victims of the government atrocities and human rights abuses.
One target of the authorities is repression and silencing of opposition from students. For the past 59 years, December 7 has been commemorated in Iran as Student Day, in recognition of three university students who were killed by the former Shah’s soldiers at the entrance to the university. In order to show disrespect to the student reform movement as a whole and to Dr. Yazdi in particular, who was a leader in the early student democracy movement in the 1950s, the regime has set his court date for December 7.
Unfortunately, the political authorities in Iran continue their stubborn opposition to any attempt at reform. They continue to violently attack, detain and abuse their opponents. Iran’s prisons are full of brave men and women who have spoken out against tyranny in the name of Islam. Specific accusations against them by the Iranian government also point to the conclusion that the regime is attempting to crush all dialogue among political groups, in addition to stifling opposition to their theocratic authoritarianism.
Given the important role that Your Excellency can play in being a public voice for those unjustly repressed by their governments, we ask that you pursue all channels of communication available to you to draw attention to the plight of Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi and all prisoners of conscience in Iran. We ask that you insist on their release, and that the government of Iran lives up to its obligations to respect human rights.
We turn to you at a time that we are helpless but not hopeless. We are heartened that you and most people around the world truly value human rights. We trust that you will use your good offices to remind the leaders of Iran that the world is keenly observing their treatment of Ebrahim Yazdi and other political prisoners, and will call out and condemn violations of their human rights.