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Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Journalists and Students in Prison, Workers' Day Cancelled, & More (Arseh Sevom)

The latest weekly round-up in Iranian civil society from our colleagues at Arseh Sevom:

From the last week of April to 1 May: a World Press Freedom Day spent behind bars, workers denied the right to mark International Worker's Day, the launch of a campaign to free imprisoned students imprisoned, and the intimidation of park rangers. Also: Iranian artists challenge racism, and writers, poets, and translators challenge censorship.

World Press Freedom Day Marked with List of 108 Journalists Behind Bars

Many international organizations have reported on the alarming number of prisoners of conscience in Iran, particularly journalists. In 2009 and 2010, Reporters Without Borders reported that Iran topped the world when it came to imprisoning journalists. This past week, exiled journalist, Massih Alinejad, published a list of 108 imprisoned journalists plus “one fallen media activist".

Alinejad has been following the cases of human rights violations since the flawed 2009 presidential elections and the resulting crackdown on opposing voices.

In June 2011, EA WorldView published a partial translation of cases from an earlier list.

One example:

Masood Bastani: A young Iranian journalist whose arrest story is among the saddest according to his colleagues. After the tainted Presidential elections of 2009 in Iran and once the wave of arrests started, Bastani’s spouse Mahsa Amrabadi, was officially arrested [taken hostage in effect] to make Masood Bastani surrender so that the authorities release Mahsa. Hence, he has been in prison since 5th of August 2009 without a single day of furlough. Ever since his incarceration, Masood Bastani has been kept in solitary confinement on several occasions and was once even severely beaten before the eyes of his mother and wife during a cabin meeting.”

Other sources include Tehran Bureau and Arshama3’s Blog.

Workers’ Day Cancelled

In the lead-up to May Day, or International Workers’ Day, a request from the House of Workers in Iran (khaane-ye Kaargar) for a rally marking the occasion was rejected. An event supporting workers to be held at the University of Tehran called “National Production, Supporting Iranian Labor and Laborers” was cancelled by authorities as well.

Many workers still managed to gather in Tehran and mark the day in an enclosed space, calling for their right to join workers all over the world and mark the day publicly.

Freedom for Imprisoned Students in Iran A campaign calling for the freedom of imprisoned students in Iran has been launched by the Iranian student organization Daftar Tahkim Vahdat and the alumni association Advar Tahkim Vahdat. Shirin Ebadi and a number of international rights organizations are among the initial supporters. More information is available via the Facebook page.

Publishers’ Complaints

Following the suspension of publishing permission for a number of companies in Iran, Khodnevis reports that many have been banned from participating in the 25th International Book Fair in Tehran. More than 160 writers, poets, and translators have signed a letter calling for the reinstatement of banned publishers.

According to the letter, the publishing industry has been significantly weakened by actions prohibiting publishers and circulation of books is at its lowest point in years. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance reiterated that publishers who “undermine the moral values of society” would not be given permission to publish or attend the Book Fair.

I Am an Afghan: Artists Show Support for Embattled Afghan Refugees

Last week, officials from the province of Mazandaran announced the expulsion of Afghan refugees, claiming they “threaten” tourism and the labor market. Several Iranian artists traveled to the province to show support for the Afghan community including Darius Mehrjui, Mani Haghighi, Leila Hatami, and Niki Karimi, and Ali Mosaffa.

This announcement comes on the heels of efforts to prevent Afghans from picnicking in parks in Esfahan, a decision that spurred vigourous protest which forced officials to back down.

Prisoner of Conscience Refuses Medical Care in Protest

Cyber activist and prisoner of conscience, Hossein Ronaghi, wrote an open letter to the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, stating that although he is suffering from serious kidney problems, he has chosen not to take any medication or have any surgeries while “in prison unfairly.” An excerpt from his letter reads:

I have been sentenced to 15 years in prison, yet today I suffer more from the suspension of the constitution, violation of law, and cruelty than from my own pain and physical malady. I am spending the best days of my life behind the high rising walls of Evin prison that, due to your lack of judicial independence, is ending with a gradual death for me. Nevertheless, I will not remain silent.

The Kalemeh website adds that torture has left Hossein Ronaghi’s kidneys bleeding and infectious. Prison physicians at Evin have alerted officials to Ronaghi’s condition, stating that without immediate medical leave to undergo a surgery, he will be in danger of losing both kidneys.

No Fruit, Protein, or Fresh Air for Female Prisoners

Families of female prisoners told The Committee of Human Rights Reporters that the health conditions of their loved ones are deteriorating. They have not had protein, fruit, or fresh air for two months.

There have been many instances of health problems among Iranian prisoners of conscience. In an extremely controversial case from last year, imprisoned journalist and activist, Hoda Saber, died after being denied access to proper medical attention.

“Roads of Death”

According to World Health Organization data (pdf), Iran has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world. Radio Zamaneh reports:

Most Iranian drivers do not believe in following driving regulations and consider themselves above them. Driving above the speed limit, a main cause of traffic accidents, is considered a cool and attractive social behaviour. Illegal passing, smoking and eating while driving, zigzagging through traffic, failing to wear seat belts and so forth are some of the common habits of Iranian drivers. […] most drivers consider irresponsible driving behaviour to be quite ordinary and in some cases even desirable, due to the late and unregulated advent of driver education.

Less than a year ago, Hamshahri reported, “Every 24 minutes one person loses his/her life to traffic accidents in Iran…[A]part from the number of casualties, many are afflicted with severe problems such as spinal damage.”

Conscientious Municipal Sweeper Hailed

Shargh newspaper publishes an interview with a municipal sweeper, Ahmad Rabani, who found a bag containing $500,000 worth of cash, checks, deeds, and jewelry. The street sweeper, who earns roughly $250 per month returned it to its owner. Rabani was quoted as saying, “People’s property must be returned to them. I would do the same thing if it happened another 100 times.”

Student Activist Reports from Prison

This week we read a report from imprisoned student activist, Majid Dori. Dori interviewed a fellow inmate with a long history of robbery and theft. The interview reveals a man struggling with the effects of long-term poverty and low wages. “My father was a simple laborer,” he states. “He could never meet the needs of our family with his wages.”

Park Rangers Threatened

Many of Iran’s unique wildlife are endangered and facing extinction. In the light of the prosecution of park ranger Assad Taghizadeh for defending himself against poachers (see the weekly review from 4 April), reports are emerging of the decapitated heads of endangered Persian deers showing up atop the posts manned by park rangers as a form of intimidation.

The British playwright W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame said it best: “Deer hunting would be fine sport, if only the deer had guns.”

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