Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Knife and its Handle

The committee investigating the rights of citizens recently produced a report that has stirred support and protest both domestically and also internationally. Parts of the report were published by Tehran Province Judiciary Alizadeh and reveal gross violations of citizen’s rights.

  1. Of the many questions that this report and others like it raise this is the most serious one: Who is really barring reforms in Iran when the public, many politicians and even many high office holders demand it?

I personally do not belong to that group which believes that no improvements have been made in the sphere of citizen’s rights. While I am aware that official murders cannot take place as easily as they did a few years ago, I still ask what real difference have these measures made in our lives? I believe perhaps nothing other than simply exposing these crimes, injustices, corruptions etc and isolating those practices can be done. The publication of Zahra Kazemi’s court proceedings – she is the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who was arrested for taking photographs outside Evin prison and then died in that same penitentiary after being subjected to torture – is by itself sufficient to initiate reforms in the sphere of human rights and due process of law. The defense presented by the Ministry of Intelligence agent involved in the case to justify and protect his acts, and the statements of the defense lawyers that expressly name Tehran’s Prosecutor as the accomplice in the death of Zahra Kazemi are all historic events that will be among the highlights of this period of our history. Probably more and new attempts will be made to cover up these criminal activities and violations. But this will only discredit them even more.

In order to prevent the repetition of crimes that have been committed, while exposing those who commit them, we must work remove such institutions from the culture of citizenry altogether. And the only way to do it is to institutionalize freedom of speech. Otherwise, we have had plenty of denouncements, reports and speeches on these topics. In the past historic humanist figures ranging from Cyrus the Great, to the poet Ferdowsi, and more recently prophets and their emissaries, were presented as models in an effort to end such inhuman and criminal activities. But to no avail. Hundreds of investigative groups were formed and presented their findings. Still nothing changed. Only freedom of expression can expose such deeds.

While investigative work is necessary, it is not sufficient. Why do these evil practices continue? One answer is that without them, governments cannot rule. The other is that, as the Persian saying goes, a knife cannot cut its own handle.

I remember when I was in prison with others, a non-political prisoner wrote a letter that was published in the prison newspaper that asked: “Why is it that all the concern and attention is focused on the few political prisoners? Do we not matter?” When we heard the stories of these prisoners, they were so shocking that we would often forget our own miseries. One of us, Emadedin Baghi even formed a group to defend the rights of the families of prisoners (non-political ones) on his release from prison and has provided much service to them. Unless one has been through this, it is not easy to comprehend the pathetic atmosphere of prisoners or the days when they have visitations. The pain and humiliation the families and the prisoners go through just to see their loved ones for a few minutes, is incomprehensible. Meetings that begin with tears and cries, and end with even more forceful ones.

I can never forget the day I was participating in a family visit when the young woman and her child sat with their prisoner. Sometime into the meeting, suddenly he got up, put his hands on the table as if getting ready to make a speech, and then hit his head with full force on the table with a thud that I had never heard before. Blood was all over. The child screamed, the woman pounded herself under her veil. He fell. “Visitation time is over.”