Palestine is Still the Issue | Interview – The Angry Arab on Zionism, Syria, and more

 

He is known for his radical leftist political stances and, in particular, his emphatic support for the Palestinian struggle. However, he has recently received criticism from readers and former fans for his stance on Syria (he is against both the Assad regime and the opposition’s Syrian National Council).

In January, AbuKhalil was in the UK for a speaking tour of university Palestine societies titled “The Case Against Israel”. The day before his first talk at Goldsmiths University, I sat down with the professor in an Edgware Road cafe to discuss his thoughts on the Palestine solidarity movement, the historical significance of the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, the uprising in Syria, as well as other regional developments. I started off by asking him about his speaking tour.

As`ad AbuKhalil: I am going around to speak on making the case against Israel. I’m not going to be making any qualifications, or any disclaimers. I think I am of a generation who have seen too many Arab intellectuals, particularly in the United States, who used to get awkward and nervous whenever, after giving a long talk about the Palestinians, they are faced with a Zionist in the audience who would ask them: “But do you accept the existence of Israel?” And I’ve seen so many famous names dance around that question… I have become influenced by it in a way to be very categorical about it. When I started speaking publicly about Palestine in the United States, in the first few cases I was confronted by these same people who would stand up and say “But do you recognise the state of Israel?” And to that I would answer “Of course I wouldn’t!”

Asa Winstanley: So they don’t bother now?

AA: That never comes [up] anymore! And I felt like: that was so easy, why didn’t they all do that before? Since Oslo there is a trend in the pro-Palestinian community, particularly those with links to the PLO, to make the case for Palestine palatable with a case for Zionism. And that’s why I am here to oppose it.

AW: Why do you think Israel seems to be so sensitive to the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?

AA: Since I left Lebanon in 1983, I have seen an erosion in the standing of Israel, especially in the eyes of Western liberals. When I left, these were the hardcore supporters… Public opinion in Europe has markedly changed over the last few decades. So much so that in almost all countries, even Germany, there is more support for Palestinians than for Israelis.

In Russia, after the rise of the supposed Islamic fundamentalist threat over there, there has been in fact a rise in the support for Israel, but if you talk about Scandinavian countries, or England, or France, and so on. I mean the public opinion is now, in England, more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli when they are asked that question. But now of course that does not translate into the political parties of the House of Commons or places like that.

In America, it has remained the same. It’s still 63 percent for Israel, versus [about] 12 or 13 percent for Palestinians. But what has changed even in America is that the bedrock of support for Israel has shifted from American liberals to hardcore Southern Baptists, Republicans, conservatives. So Israel is aware that they have an image problem, that they did not used to have a few decades ago, and they are particularly sensitive about college campuses… Why? Because they know this is their future generation of leaders, and if this bug gets to spread all around, it’s going to be hurting Israel in the long term. Assuming Israel’s going to be around by the time they reach power. In America, of course, there is such a big gap between college campus activism on Palestine (or any matter) and the very closed, conservative nature of Congress, that Israelis have less to worry about – and yet they seem to be worried.

AW: Why do you think BDS has taken off so much in the last five to six years?

AA: Israel does not do the just thing in the new world after the Cold War. Zionists still operate the way it did back in the 1880s, when they arrived in Palestine. They still use the same brazen and blatant racist resort to war crimes and massacres that they used all along, and I think they realise that it is much more shocking and horrific by the standards of today, and as a result there is an avalanche of reaction against Israel that has been generated in Western countries.

AW: What are the differences between the BDS movement in its modern form, and the more historical Arab boycott of Israel?

AA: The Arab boycott of Israel was much more strict… On the popular level it is [still] extremely strict: refusal of travel to Israel for any purposes – tourism of any form… There are disagreements about the visits, for example, some believe that if you go to Palestinian areas for activism and you can stay in Palestinian areas, spend money there and it’s fine, as long as you boycott any companies who trade with Israel.

The Arab boycott has been extremely effective – the loosening of it has been at the official level. When I was growing up, there was this simultaneous double boycott of Israel. There was the popular level that did not need any instruction, and then there was the official level, which was bad… So the BDS movement is a continuation, I think, of an Arab League official plan.

AW: What is your opinion of activists, quite often from Europe and America, who go to occupied Palestine?

AA: I have no problems with that whatsoever. I have a distinction made about Arabs who go there – those who have Arab citizenship, even if they have a passport from elsewhere. I am not against Palestinians who hold citizenship in America to go to Palestine, because that’s their home. But as long as Israel is occupying the land, and to abide by the Arab League boycott of Israel, I still believe we should adhere, and that all Arab citizens should not pass through Israeli soldiers’ checkpoints to enter into Palestine. If you do, it’s in areas where you do not have to go through them.

AW: So what’s the material difference there?

AA: That we have an Arab League boycott. The Arab League never did anything good! But they did [make] this plan of boycott of Israel, which I believe is something we should support.

AW: Many activists who go to Palestine are actually from Sweden, Norway, Scandinavian countries.

AA: Amazing. Those countries, when you go there, sometimes if you will stay for a week you will see a demonstration about Palestine somewhere – posters about Palestine everywhere – it’s amazing. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands – it’s advanced. Over there, being pro-Palestinian is becoming part of the definition of being a leftist. I mean it’s easy to be a leftist against war in general – the John Lennon version. The challenge is to be a leftist in a way that puts real challenge to the powers of government and the super powers around the world, because you can really expose the hypocrisy on the question on Palestine. This is why Palestine becomes more symbolic for many activists. It’s not only about Palestine, it’s about the hypocrisy of the Western world.

AW: I think I read in one interview a Scandinavian activist saying that Palestine had become the Vietnam of our time.

AA: Yes, absolutely. And I’m glad that Jane Fonda is not on our side. Who wants her?

AW: Western activists who go to Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank will quite often come into contact with Israeli activists, some of whom are anti-Zionist. You’ve said on your blog that you’re against any contact with Israelis, basically. Is that a fair understanding of your position?

AA: This is not an easy position, but that is my position. I have taken that position for a while. [Once] I was giving a talk at SOAS here in London and my hosts were sitting with me, and one of them was a graduate student and it was clear that she is one of the activists on Palestine. So suddenly it occurred to me to ask her, based on her accent, I said: “Are you Israeli?” and she said “Yeah, I am”. I said “have you served in the army?” and then she told me yes, that she was an instructor in the Israeli army. And then I had to tell her, “Well, let me tell you my position: I cannot talk to you.” Everyone around her, even her teacher (and one of her teachers is a good friend of mine) are telling me that she’s a wonderful person, that she has made a radical transformation, and I said “But that’s my position.”

And it’s not because of ideological dogmatism that I take this position, at all. It’s really, like, emotional. I mean, I get bothered – I just get bothered. To be sitting and chatting with somebody, and then thinking that this person may have killed a brother or sister… You know, I just can’t do that. Even with Ilan Pappe – I was telling [my wife] Farah – I was with him on a panel once, I didn’t ask that question. He’s done great work, but he served, right?

AW: I read in his memoirs that he did.

AA: Yeah, and as a result I remember I made a conscious effort not to shake his hand. So it bothers me. There is one known Arab here, who has been an adviser to Yasser Arafat and I told him, I said: “Don’t you have a psychological barrier?” Because it’s huge in my case and I don’t want to cross it and he told me “I do, but I feel like I have to cross it for another purpose”… I mean it’s psychological and personal… and for me, I am not for the categorical rejection of anyone. I have elaborated a position which [laughs] which basically…

AW: You wrote on your blog you’re opposed to contact with any Israeli, except where they’ve taken armed resistance against Israel.

AA: … they are resistant against Israel, or if they leave the land. There’s this socialist, anarchist Israeli who keeps sending me email, and he wrote an open letter to me one time. I never responded to him, I couldn’t.

AW: So do you think Westerners who make contact with Israelis are breaking a boycott?

AA: Not necessarily. I’m not dogmatic about that. They have a different experience, and I know their motives are very good, and I’m sure [the activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer] Rachel Corrie, who paid with her life for the cause, had dealt with Israelis, and I’m not in any way going to to delegitimise what she does for that… But this is for me – I’m not in any way saying that this is national or international policy, you know, this is suitable for me, it may not be suitable for someone else. I know many Arabs who disagree with me. Farah disagrees with me on this…

AW: There is a difference between a personal opinion and a general boycott strategy.

AA: Yea, yea, of course. This is the suitable position for me. There are Arabs I know who are activists, who deal with Israelis and I don’t reject them in any way, I’m not judgemental like that. But for me, I cannot.

Farah Rowaysati: The BDS [movement] does not call for boycotts against Israelis as persons, it calls for the boycott of institutions.

AA: But I am for super-BDS.

FR: I’m against dealing with Israelis who are Zionists…

AA: One time I gave a talk in Berkley, and this guy came up to me and said, “I’m an Israeli and I really agree with everything you say, I’m going to go back and work for human rights after I finish my law degree for the Palestinians” and I was like “Well, you know I don’t speak to Israelis” and he said “Yeah I know, I understand: I just wanted you to know” [laughs].

I’m happier like this, you know what I’m saying? I have a huge psychological block… We come from South Lebanon, both of us, which is so directly affected. We both grew up in homes that are within a few miles from Palestinian refugee camps.

FR:We’ve experienced several wars.

AW: What do you make of Gilad Atzmon? He is an Israeli saxophonist – a jazz musician who expresses support for Palestinians.

AA: I have declared him an anti-Semitic person based on things I’ve read. And that upset many Western supporters of this guy, and Arabs. I have refused any contact with this guy and, you know me: I’m strict about many things… and one of them is refusing any association with anybody who has the slightest tinge of anti-Semitism. And he has more than a tinge of anti-Semitism – he basically, writes against –

AW: ‘Jewishness’ is what he calls it… He’s a strange character because he keeps cropping up every few years and there keeps being controversy about him. He lives here [in London] by the way.

AA: Oh really? Call me paranoid – I mean that, please do, call me conspiratorial – I know there are genuine anti-Semites who creep into our movement, but I do worry that there are some infiltrators who pose as anti-Semites to stigmatise the movement. I’m not sure which group he belongs to, but either way I don’t want him [around]. It would be funny if he was sitting here in the cafe, right now.

AW: [Laughs] With all this news about Israeli organisations that want to sabotage the “delegitimization” movement [like the Reut Institute], people are getting justifiably paranoid about spies or infiltrators. Especially in London.

AA: It’s legitimate to be paranoid. I have heard enough by people in the United States about their experiences in the 1960s and 70, and many of them tell me that the loudest big-mouths during the 60s and 70s were the ones who turned out to be turncoats, the ones who would say during meetings, you know: “Let’s go and bomb that building!”

AW: You recently commented on your blog about Hamas being “for sale”. What did you mean?

AA: Al-Quds al Arabi had this story on the front page in which [Hamas leader] Khalid Maashal was cited – he was under pressure by the Saudis, that they would not have any dealing with Hamas unless he cuts all ties with Iran. And he was quoted as saying something to the effect that “I would accept that, if Saudi Arabia was providing the same support that I’ve been getting from Iran.”

So to me that indicated that Hamas is up for sale. I have always been suspicious of this guy, and never liked him (I’ve always felt that he is leading the movement on the footsteps of Fatah)… Look how [Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza] Ismail Haniyeh, when he went for his tour recently, asked to stop in Saudi Arabia.

AW: So how do you think those comments are related to the wave of Arab uprising the previous year, and the rise to prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood?

AA: [Many Palestinians] are worried that the Arab uprisings are marginalising the coverage of the Palestinians, and I share that kind of worry. Ismail Haniyeh strikes me as much more sincere than Khalid Maashal despite my opposition to the ideology of the movement and its practices. On the other hand, I think they also want to take advantage of the rise of the horrible Muslim Brotherhood, and I think the lousy Muslim Brotherhood is one of the reasons why I find Hamas to be very problematic.

It is a by-product of the Muslim Brotherhood which has contributed really nothing to the struggle for Palestinians… Look at Rashid Ghanuchi [leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party], who flies all the way to Washington DC to prostrate and speak before Zionist groups and offer to not include in the new [Tunisian] constitution an article that will ban normalisation with Israel — which tells you that they buy and sell.

AW: I put on Twitter that I was going to interview you, and I got several Syrians angrily Tweeting questions.

AA: On Facebook, if you read Arabic… both sides are very unhappy with me, and the Syrian regime side, they have a lot of supporters. And both sides are unhappy. What can I say? I have nothing to apologise for. If anything, I think the positions taken by the Syrian National Council have reinforced every single suspicion and doubt that I have harboured against them all along. I do believe there is a real conspiracy, and I believe there is an attempt to hijack a legitimate uprising against a repressive regime.

AW: One question on Twitter was: “How does it feel to be called a regime apologist?”

AA: If some intellectual goons of the Syrian National Council think that they can intimidate me or delegitimize what I do, by calling me a “regime stooge” or something like that, of course that’s not going to bother me, because I know myself. I mean, as long as I get a daily barrage of criticisms, and sometimes insults – not as obscene as the ones I get from the other side, but still from the side of the regime – I know where I stand.

When I was opposed to the Syrian regime in 1976 when they invaded Lebanon, to crush a great leftist movement at the time, these people who are criticising me now were not even born. So I don’t need any sermons about the stance against the Syrian regime. Their intellectual method is very clear. It’s quite funny, in fact – you may be opposed to the Syrian regime, you may call for its overthrow, you may support armed rebellion against the Syrian regime. But – if you don’t support the Syrian National Council, you are for the regime. What the fuck is that? It’s absurd. In other words, I want to reassure my enemies that their attacks on me and name-calling do not bother me in the least, and the more they come, the better. I want to make the life of my enemies miserable…

I don’t support the Free Syrian Army. Now I have received information that the Free Syrian Army of Riad al-Assad comes from the background of Hizb ut-Tahrir [a political-religious movement]. No, I don’t support that. I don’t support pawns of Turkish, Islamist intelligence. But the principle: I am in favour of the right of every Arab population to raise arms against its government. Absolutely, and I make no apologies about that.

AW: The Tunisian government as well?

AA: Absolutely!

AW: One of your criticisms of Al-Jazeera [the popular Arabic satellite TV channel owned by the royal family of Qatar] is that they now rely on anonymous sources a lot. Someone on Twitter wanted me to ask: “why then do you use anonymous sources on your blog?”

AA: I am not a newspaper. I am not a TV station. I am a blogger who is doing a very personal thing. I share whatever information I have, and even rumours. Sometimes I receive rumours and I share them with people. Sometimes they are true, sometimes they are not – and whenever I am given evidence that something I have put is wrong, I always say that I’m correcting it, and I don’t change it. I have a policy of never re-editing things I have posted after I’ve posted them.

On Al-Jazeera [Arabic], when they used to air Bin Laden’s tapes, they used to put the disclaimer every time: “We have not yet authenticated this statement” — even when it was very clear it’s Bin Laden! [But now] whenever they put various clips from YouTube, they never have any disclaimers…

AW: So don’t you think journalists might have reason to be using anonymous sources in Syria?

AA: I did not in any way oppose the use of anonymous sources in journalism. I was making the point about how Al-Jazeera is now comical. This is like a caricature of propaganda TV in the Arab world…

AW: What accounts for the shift? Is it purely [Qatari] reconciliation with Saudi Arabia?

AA: Absolutely… Basically, Al-Jazeera have become to me much more malleable, much more obedient in its service for the shifts in Qatari foreign policy than I’d expected. But it has become a campaign by Qatar and whatever Qatar represents… It has become so feverish, the campaign is so comical, it’s so lacking in credibility, and therefore lending an undeniable, unwitting hand to the Syrian regime.

AW: A final question on Palestine and Palestinian solidarity: what do you think is the main thing to focus on, strategically?

AA: Non-compromise on the total rejection of Israel. I believe the total rejection of Zionism in Palestine should be in the platform and the plan of every movement. I think all these attempts to reconcile Palestine and Israel, and “let’s live together as Israelis and Palestinians in two separate states” – all that is going to be at the expense of the lives and the cause of the Palestinians. And for me, any movement that does not reject – categorically – Zionism, is akin to a movement against apartheid South Africa that basically wants a reconciliation with apartheid, and there should be no doubt about that part. You know, we should insist on that part.

AW: Thanks for your time.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.
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Reaping What We Have Sown in Gaza

by: Amira Hass

I’ve already raised the white flag. I’ve stopped searching the dictionary for the word to describe half of a boy’s missing head while his father screams “Wake up, wake up, I bought you a toy!” How did Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Greater Germany, put it? Israel’s right to defend itself.

I’m still struggling with the need to share details of the endless number of talks I’ve had with friends in Gaza, in order to document what it’s like to wait for your turn in the slaughterhouse. For example, the talk I had on Saturday morning with J. from al-Bureij refugee camp, while he was on his way to Dir al-Balah with his wife. They’re about 60-years-old. That morning, his aging mother got a phone call, and heard the recording instructing the residents of their refugee camp to leave for Dir al-Balah.

A book on Israeli military psychology should have an entire chapter devoted to this sadism, sanctimoniously disguising itself as mercy: A recorded message demanding hundreds of thousands of people leave their already targeted homes, for another place, equally dangerous, 10 kilometers away. What, I asked J., you’re leaving? “What, why?” He said, “We have a hut near the beach, with some land and cats. We’re going to feed the cats and come back. We’re going together. If the car gets blown up, we’ll die together.”

If I were wearing an analyst’s hat, I would write: In contrast to the common Israeli hasbara, Hamas isn’t forcing Gazans to remain in their homes, or to leave. It’s their decision. Where would they go? “If we’re going to die, it’s more dignified to die at home, instead of while running away,” says the downright secular J.

I’m still convinced that one sentence like this is worth a thousand analyses. But when it comes to Palestinians, most readers prefer the summaries.

I’m fed up with lying to myself – as if I could remotely, by phone, gather the information necessary to report on what the journalists located there are reporting on. Regardless, it’s information that is important to a small group of the Hebrew-speaking population. They’re looking for it on foreign news channels or websites. They do not depend on what is written here in order to hear, for example, about the short lives of Jihad (11) and Wasim (8) Shuhaibar, or their cousin Afnan (8) from the Sabra neighborhood in Gaza. Like me, they could read the reporting of Canadian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld on The Daily Beast.

“Issam Shuhaibar, the father of Jihad and Wasim, leaned on a grave next to where his children were buried, his eyes hollow, staring nowhere. His arm bore a hospital bandage applied after he gave blood to try to help save his family. His children’s blood still covered his shirt,” writes Rosenfeld. “‘They were just feeding chickens when the shell hit,’ he said. ‘I heard a big noise on the roof and I went to find them. They were just meat,’ he gasped, before breaking down in tears,” continued Rosenfeld’s article. We murdered them about two and a half hours after the humanitarian cease-fire ended last Thursday. Two other brothers, Oudeh (16) and Bassel (8) were wounded, Bassel seriously.

The father told Rosenfeld that there was a warning missile. Before the attack, they heard the humming of the UAVs, the kind that “knock on the roof.” So I asked Rosenfeld, “If the missile was one of our merciful ones, those that come along as a warning, was the house bombed afterward?” By chance, I found my answer in a CNN report. The network’s camera managed to catch the explosion that came after the warning: knock, fire, smoke and dust. But it was a different house that was bombed, not the Shuhaibar house. I rechecked with Rosenfeld and others. What killed the three children was not a Palestinian rocket that went astray. It was an Israeli warning missile. And Issam Shuhaibar himself is a Palestinian policeman on the payroll of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

I’ve also given up on trying to get a direct answer from the Israel Defense Forces. Did you mistakenly warn the wrong home, thus murdering another three children? (Of the 84 that have been killed as of Sunday morning.)

I’m fed up with the failed efforts at competing with the abundance of orchestrated commentaries on Hamas’ goals and actions, from people who write as if they’ve sat down with Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, and not just some IDF or Shin Bet security service source. Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS. Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?

Hamas is cruelly and frighteningly destroying the traditional double standards mentality that Israel is a master at. All of those brilliant intelligence and Shin Bet brains really don’t understand that we ourselves have created the perfect recipe for our very own version of Somalia? You want to prevent escalation? Now is the time: Open up the Gaza Strip, let the people return to the world, the West Bank, and to their families and families in Israel. Let them breathe, and they will find out that life is more beautiful than death.

Palestine is Still the Issue | Interview – The Angry Arab on Zionism, Syria, and more

Palestine

Originally from Lebanon, As’ad AbuKhalil is professor of political science at California State University, a well known commentator on Arabic TV stations such as Al-Jazeera, and runs a popular blog, which he writes in English, called The Angry Arab News Service.

He is known for his radical leftist political stances and, in particular, his emphatic support for the Palestinian struggle. However, he has recently received criticism from readers and former fans for his stance on Syria (he is against both the Assad regime and the opposition’s Syrian National Council).

In January, AbuKhalil was in the UK for a speaking tour of university Palestine societies titled “The Case Against Israel”. The day before his first talk at Goldsmiths University, I sat down with the professor in an Edgware Road cafe to discuss his thoughts on the Palestine solidarity movement, the historical significance of the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, the uprising in Syria, as well as other regional developments. I started off by asking him about his speaking tour.

As`ad AbuKhalil: I am going around to speak on making the case against Israel. I’m not going to be making any qualifications, or any disclaimers. I think I am of a generation who have seen too many Arab intellectuals, particularly in the United States, who used to get awkward and nervous whenever, after giving a long talk about the Palestinians, they are faced with a Zionist in the audience who would ask them: “But do you accept the existence of Israel?” And I’ve seen so many famous names dance around that question… I have become influenced by it in a way to be very categorical about it. When I started speaking publicly about Palestine in the United States, in the first few cases I was confronted by these same people who would stand up and say “But do you recognise the state of Israel?” And to that I would answer “Of course I wouldn’t!”

Asa Winstanley: So they don’t bother now?

AA: That never comes [up] anymore! And I felt like: that was so easy, why didn’t they all do that before? Since Oslo there is a trend in the pro-Palestinian community, particularly those with links to the PLO, to make the case for Palestine palatable with a case for Zionism. And that’s why I am here to oppose it.

AW: Why do you think Israel seems to be so sensitive to the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?

AA: Since I left Lebanon in 1983, I have seen an erosion in the standing of Israel, especially in the eyes of Western liberals. When I left, these were the hardcore supporters… Public opinion in Europe has markedly changed over the last few decades. So much so that in almost all countries, even Germany, there is more support for Palestinians than for Israelis.

In Russia, after the rise of the supposed Islamic fundamentalist threat over there, there has been in fact a rise in the support for Israel, but if you talk about Scandinavian countries, or England, or France, and so on. I mean the public opinion is now, in England, more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli when they are asked that question. But now of course that does not translate into the political parties of the House of Commons or places like that.

In America, it has remained the same. It’s still 63 percent for Israel, versus [about] 12 or 13 percent for Palestinians. But what has changed even in America is that the bedrock of support for Israel has shifted from American liberals to hardcore Southern Baptists, Republicans, conservatives. So Israel is aware that they have an image problem, that they did not used to have a few decades ago, and they are particularly sensitive about college campuses… Why? Because they know this is their future generation of leaders, and if this bug gets to spread all around, it’s going to be hurting Israel in the long term. Assuming Israel’s going to be around by the time they reach power. In America, of course, there is such a big gap between college campus activism on Palestine (or any matter) and the very closed, conservative nature of Congress, that Israelis have less to worry about – and yet they seem to be worried.

AW: Why do you think BDS has taken off so much in the last five to six years?

AA: Israel does not do the just thing in the new world after the Cold War. Zionists still operate the way it did back in the 1880s, when they arrived in Palestine. They still use the same brazen and blatant racist resort to war crimes and massacres that they used all along, and I think they realise that it is much more shocking and horrific by the standards of today, and as a result there is an avalanche of reaction against Israel that has been generated in Western countries.

AW: What are the differences between the BDS movement in its modern form, and the more historical Arab boycott of Israel?

AA: The Arab boycott of Israel was much more strict… On the popular level it is [still] extremely strict: refusal of travel to Israel for any purposes – tourism of any form… There are disagreements about the visits, for example, some believe that if you go to Palestinian areas for activism and you can stay in Palestinian areas, spend money there and it’s fine, as long as you boycott any companies who trade with Israel.

The Arab boycott has been extremely effective – the loosening of it has been at the official level. When I was growing up, there was this simultaneous double boycott of Israel. There was the popular level that did not need any instruction, and then there was the official level, which was bad… So the BDS movement is a continuation, I think, of an Arab League official plan.

AW: What is your opinion of activists, quite often from Europe and America, who go to occupied Palestine?

AA: I have no problems with that whatsoever. I have a distinction made about Arabs who go there – those who have Arab citizenship, even if they have a passport from elsewhere. I am not against Palestinians who hold citizenship in America to go to Palestine, because that’s their home. But as long as Israel is occupying the land, and to abide by the Arab League boycott of Israel, I still believe we should adhere, and that all Arab citizens should not pass through Israeli soldiers’ checkpoints to enter into Palestine. If you do, it’s in areas where you do not have to go through them.

AW: So what’s the material difference there?

AA: That we have an Arab League boycott. The Arab League never did anything good! But they did [make] this plan of boycott of Israel, which I believe is something we should support.

AW: Many activists who go to Palestine are actually from Sweden, Norway, Scandinavian countries.

AA: Amazing. Those countries, when you go there, sometimes if you will stay for a week you will see a demonstration about Palestine somewhere – posters about Palestine everywhere – it’s amazing. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands – it’s advanced. Over there, being pro-Palestinian is becoming part of the definition of being a leftist. I mean it’s easy to be a leftist against war in general – the John Lennon version. The challenge is to be a leftist in a way that puts real challenge to the powers of government and the super powers around the world, because you can really expose the hypocrisy on the question on Palestine. This is why Palestine becomes more symbolic for many activists. It’s not only about Palestine, it’s about the hypocrisy of the Western world.

AW: I think I read in one interview a Scandinavian activist saying that Palestine had become the Vietnam of our time.

AA: Yes, absolutely. And I’m glad that Jane Fonda is not on our side. Who wants her?

AW: Western activists who go to Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank will quite often come into contact with Israeli activists, some of whom are anti-Zionist. You’ve said on your blog that you’re against any contact with Israelis, basically. Is that a fair understanding of your position?

AA: This is not an easy position, but that is my position. I have taken that position for a while. [Once] I was giving a talk at SOAS here in London and my hosts were sitting with me, and one of them was a graduate student and it was clear that she is one of the activists on Palestine. So suddenly it occurred to me to ask her, based on her accent, I said: “Are you Israeli?” and she said “Yeah, I am”. I said “have you served in the army?” and then she told me yes, that she was an instructor in the Israeli army. And then I had to tell her, “Well, let me tell you my position: I cannot talk to you.” Everyone around her, even her teacher (and one of her teachers is a good friend of mine) are telling me that she’s a wonderful person, that she has made a radical transformation, and I said “But that’s my position.”

And it’s not because of ideological dogmatism that I take this position, at all. It’s really, like, emotional. I mean, I get bothered – I just get bothered. To be sitting and chatting with somebody, and then thinking that this person may have killed a brother or sister… You know, I just can’t do that. Even with Ilan Pappe – I was telling [my wife] Farah – I was with him on a panel once, I didn’t ask that question. He’s done great work, but he served, right?

AW: I read in his memoirs that he did.

AA: Yeah, and as a result I remember I made a conscious effort not to shake his hand. So it bothers me. There is one known Arab here, who has been an adviser to Yasser Arafat and I told him, I said: “Don’t you have a psychological barrier?” Because it’s huge in my case and I don’t want to cross it and he told me “I do, but I feel like I have to cross it for another purpose”… I mean it’s psychological and personal… and for me, I am not for the categorical rejection of anyone. I have elaborated a position which [laughs] which basically…

AW: You wrote on your blog you’re opposed to contact with any Israeli, except where they’ve taken armed resistance against Israel.

AA: … they are resistant against Israel, or if they leave the land. There’s this socialist, anarchist Israeli who keeps sending me email, and he wrote an open letter to me one time. I never responded to him, I couldn’t.

AW: So do you think Westerners who make contact with Israelis are breaking a boycott?

AA: Not necessarily. I’m not dogmatic about that. They have a different experience, and I know their motives are very good, and I’m sure [the activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer] Rachel Corrie, who paid with her life for the cause, had dealt with Israelis, and I’m not in any way going to to delegitimise what she does for that… But this is for me – I’m not in any way saying that this is national or international policy, you know, this is suitable for me, it may not be suitable for someone else. I know many Arabs who disagree with me. Farah disagrees with me on this…

AW: There is a difference between a personal opinion and a general boycott strategy.

AA: Yea, yea, of course. This is the suitable position for me. There are Arabs I know who are activists, who deal with Israelis and I don’t reject them in any way, I’m not judgemental like that. But for me, I cannot.

Farah Rowaysati: The BDS [movement] does not call for boycotts against Israelis as persons, it calls for the boycott of institutions.

AA: But I am for super-BDS.

FR: I’m against dealing with Israelis who are Zionists…

AA: One time I gave a talk in Berkley, and this guy came up to me and said, “I’m an Israeli and I really agree with everything you say, I’m going to go back and work for human rights after I finish my law degree for the Palestinians” and I was like “Well, you know I don’t speak to Israelis” and he said “Yeah I know, I understand: I just wanted you to know” [laughs].

I’m happier like this, you know what I’m saying? I have a huge psychological block… We come from South Lebanon, both of us, which is so directly affected. We both grew up in homes that are within a few miles from Palestinian refugee camps.

FR:We’ve experienced several wars.

AW: What do you make of Gilad Atzmon? He is an Israeli saxophonist – a jazz musician who expresses support for Palestinians.

AA: I have declared him an anti-Semitic person based on things I’ve read. And that upset many Western supporters of this guy, and Arabs. I have refused any contact with this guy and, you know me: I’m strict about many things… and one of them is refusing any association with anybody who has the slightest tinge of anti-Semitism. And he has more than a tinge of anti-Semitism – he basically, writes against –

AW: ‘Jewishness’ is what he calls it… He’s a strange character because he keeps cropping up every few years and there keeps being controversy about him. He lives here [in London] by the way.

AA: Oh really? Call me paranoid – I mean that, please do, call me conspiratorial – I know there are genuine anti-Semites who creep into our movement, but I do worry that there are some infiltrators who pose as anti-Semites to stigmatise the movement. I’m not sure which group he belongs to, but either way I don’t want him [around]. It would be funny if he was sitting here in the cafe, right now.

AW: [Laughs] With all this news about Israeli organisations that want to sabotage the “delegitimization” movement [like the Reut Institute], people are getting justifiably paranoid about spies or infiltrators. Especially in London.

AA: It’s legitimate to be paranoid. I have heard enough by people in the United States about their experiences in the 1960s and 70, and many of them tell me that the loudest big-mouths during the 60s and 70s were the ones who turned out to be turncoats, the ones who would say during meetings, you know: “Let’s go and bomb that building!”

AW: You recently commented on your blog about Hamas being “for sale”. What did you mean?

AA: Al-Quds al Arabi had this story on the front page in which [Hamas leader] Khalid Maashal was cited – he was under pressure by the Saudis, that they would not have any dealing with Hamas unless he cuts all ties with Iran. And he was quoted as saying something to the effect that “I would accept that, if Saudi Arabia was providing the same support that I’ve been getting from Iran.”

So to me that indicated that Hamas is up for sale. I have always been suspicious of this guy, and never liked him (I’ve always felt that he is leading the movement on the footsteps of Fatah)… Look how [Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza] Ismail Haniyeh, when he went for his tour recently, asked to stop in Saudi Arabia.

AW: So how do you think those comments are related to the wave of Arab uprising the previous year, and the rise to prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood?

AA: [Many Palestinians] are worried that the Arab uprisings are marginalising the coverage of the Palestinians, and I share that kind of worry. Ismail Haniyeh strikes me as much more sincere than Khalid Maashal despite my opposition to the ideology of the movement and its practices. On the other hand, I think they also want to take advantage of the rise of the horrible Muslim Brotherhood, and I think the lousy Muslim Brotherhood is one of the reasons why I find Hamas to be very problematic.

It is a by-product of the Muslim Brotherhood which has contributed really nothing to the struggle for Palestinians… Look at Rashid Ghanuchi [leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party], who flies all the way to Washington DC to prostrate and speak before Zionist groups and offer to not include in the new [Tunisian] constitution an article that will ban normalisation with Israel — which tells you that they buy and sell.

AW: I put on Twitter that I was going to interview you, and I got several Syrians angrily Tweeting questions.

AA: On Facebook, if you read Arabic… both sides are very unhappy with me, and the Syrian regime side, they have a lot of supporters. And both sides are unhappy. What can I say? I have nothing to apologise for. If anything, I think the positions taken by the Syrian National Council have reinforced every single suspicion and doubt that I have harboured against them all along. I do believe there is a real conspiracy, and I believe there is an attempt to hijack a legitimate uprising against a repressive regime.

AW: One question on Twitter was: “How does it feel to be called a regime apologist?”

AA: If some intellectual goons of the Syrian National Council think that they can intimidate me or delegitimize what I do, by calling me a “regime stooge” or something like that, of course that’s not going to bother me, because I know myself. I mean, as long as I get a daily barrage of criticisms, and sometimes insults – not as obscene as the ones I get from the other side, but still from the side of the regime – I know where I stand.

When I was opposed to the Syrian regime in 1976 when they invaded Lebanon, to crush a great leftist movement at the time, these people who are criticising me now were not even born. So I don’t need any sermons about the stance against the Syrian regime. Their intellectual method is very clear. It’s quite funny, in fact – you may be opposed to the Syrian regime, you may call for its overthrow, you may support armed rebellion against the Syrian regime. But – if you don’t support the Syrian National Council, you are for the regime. What the fuck is that? It’s absurd. In other words, I want to reassure my enemies that their attacks on me and name-calling do not bother me in the least, and the more they come, the better. I want to make the life of my enemies miserable…

I don’t support the Free Syrian Army. Now I have received information that the Free Syrian Army of Riad al-Assad comes from the background of Hizb ut-Tahrir [a political-religious movement]. No, I don’t support that. I don’t support pawns of Turkish, Islamist intelligence. But the principle: I am in favour of the right of every Arab population to raise arms against its government. Absolutely, and I make no apologies about that.

AW: The Tunisian government as well?

AA: Absolutely!

AW: One of your criticisms of Al-Jazeera [the popular Arabic satellite TV channel owned by the royal family of Qatar] is that they now rely on anonymous sources a lot. Someone on Twitter wanted me to ask: “why then do you use anonymous sources on your blog?”

AA: I am not a newspaper. I am not a TV station. I am a blogger who is doing a very personal thing. I share whatever information I have, and even rumours. Sometimes I receive rumours and I share them with people. Sometimes they are true, sometimes they are not – and whenever I am given evidence that something I have put is wrong, I always say that I’m correcting it, and I don’t change it. I have a policy of never re-editing things I have posted after I’ve posted them.

On Al-Jazeera [Arabic], when they used to air Bin Laden’s tapes, they used to put the disclaimer every time: “We have not yet authenticated this statement” — even when it was very clear it’s Bin Laden! [But now] whenever they put various clips from YouTube, they never have any disclaimers…

AW: So don’t you think journalists might have reason to be using anonymous sources in Syria?

AA: I did not in any way oppose the use of anonymous sources in journalism. I was making the point about how Al-Jazeera is now comical. This is like a caricature of propaganda TV in the Arab world…

AW: What accounts for the shift? Is it purely [Qatari] reconciliation with Saudi Arabia?

AA: Absolutely… Basically, Al-Jazeera have become to me much more malleable, much more obedient in its service for the shifts in Qatari foreign policy than I’d expected. But it has become a campaign by Qatar and whatever Qatar represents… It has become so feverish, the campaign is so comical, it’s so lacking in credibility, and therefore lending an undeniable, unwitting hand to the Syrian regime.

AW: A final question on Palestine and Palestinian solidarity: what do you think is the main thing to focus on, strategically?

AA: Non-compromise on the total rejection of Israel. I believe the total rejection of Zionism in Palestine should be in the platform and the plan of every movement. I think all these attempts to reconcile Palestine and Israel, and “let’s live together as Israelis and Palestinians in two separate states” – all that is going to be at the expense of the lives and the cause of the Palestinians. And for me, any movement that does not reject – categorically – Zionism, is akin to a movement against apartheid South Africa that basically wants a reconciliation with apartheid, and there should be no doubt about that part. You know, we should insist on that part.

AW: Thanks for your time.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

UNAMA report: Mistreatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan facilities

(For full report visit UNAMA page.)

From October 2010 to August 2011, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) interviewed 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 detention facilities in 22 provinces across Afghanistan. In total, 324 of the 379 persons interviewed were detained by National Directorate of Security (NDS) or Afghan National Police (ANP) forces for national security crimes – suspected of being Taliban fighters, suicide attack facilitators, producers of improvised explosive devices, and others implicated in crimes associated with the armed conflict in Afghanistan.

Interviews were conducted at facilities including ANP detention centres, NDS facilities, Ministry of Justice prisons and juvenile rehabilitation centres; as a result of transfers, the interviews dealt with detainees located in 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. With two exceptions, Government officials from the ANP, NDS, Ministry of Justice and other departments cooperated with UNAMA and provided full access to detainees and facilities.

NDS and ANP are the main Afghan security forces engaged in detaining and arresting conflict-related detainees with NDS responsible for investigation of national security crimes and interrogation of such detainees. NDS is the State’s principal internal and external intelligence-gathering organ, conducting security and law enforcement operations to gather actionable intelligence to prevent crimes against public security. As the country’s police force, ANP deals with both criminal and conflict-related offences. International military forces also play a significant role in detention of individuals for conflict-related offences.

UNAMA’s research focused on detention practices of the NDS with a secondary focus on detention by ANP. UNAMA’s interviews concentrated on the treatment of detainees by NDS and ANP officials and the Government of Afghanistan’s compliance with due process guarantees under Afghan and international human rights law. UNAMA made no assumptions or findings on the guilt or innocence of those detainees it interviewed for crimes of which they were suspected, accused or convicted.

UNAMA acknowledges the critical and extremely difficult role that NDS and ANP have in safeguarding national security in the current situation of armed conflict in Afghanistan.

Torture and Abuse of Detainees by NDS and ANP

UNAMA’s detention observation found compelling evidence that 125 detainees (46 percent) of the 273 detainees interviewed who had been in NDS detention experienced interrogation techniques at the hands of NDS officials that constituted torture, and that torture is practiced systematically in a number of NDS detention facilities throughout Afghanistan. Nearly all detainees tortured by NDS officials reported the abuse took place during interrogations and was aimed at obtaining a confession or information. In almost every case, NDS officials stopped the use of torture once detainees confessed to the crime of which they were accused or provided the requested information. UNAMA also found that children under the age of 18 years experienced torture by NDS officials.

More than one third of the 117 conflict-related detainees UNAMA interviewed who had been in ANP detention experienced treatment that amounted to torture or to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In situations where torture occurred, it typically took the form of abusive interrogation practices used to obtain confessions from individuals detained on suspicion of crimes against the State. The practices documented meet the international definition of torture. Torture occurs when State officials, acting in their official capacity inflict or order, consent or acquiesce to the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering against an individual to obtain a confession or information, or to punish or discriminate against the individual. Such practices amounting to torture are among the most serious human rights violations under international law, are crimes under Afghan law and are strictly prohibited under both Afghan and international law.

Detainees described experiencing torture in the form of suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars or other fixtures for lengthy periods) and beatings, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet. Electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees’ genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse were among other forms of torture that detainees reported. Routine blindfolding and hooding and denial of access to medical care in some facilities were also reported. UNAMA documented one death in ANP and NDS custody from torture in Kandahar in April 2011.

UNAMA found compelling evidence that NDS officials at five facilities systematically tortured detainees for the purpose of obtaining confessions and information. These are the provincial NDS facilities in Herat, Kandahar, Khost and Laghman, and the national facility of the NDS Counter-Terrorism Department 124 (formerly Department 90) in Kabul. UNAMA received multiple, credible allegations of torture at two other provincial NDS facilities in Kapisa and Takhar. UNAMA did not find indications of torture at two provincial NDS facilities, Paktya and Uruzgan, at the time of its visits to these facilities.

UNAMA received numerous allegations regarding the use of torture at 15 other locations covering 17 NDS facilities. Twenty-five percent of detainees interviewed in these 17 facilities alleged they had been tortured. At the time of writing of this report, UNAMA had not established the credibility of the allegations based on the number of interviews conducted and the need to corroborate allegations satisfactorily. UNAMA continues to investigate these allegations.

Detainees in ANP custody reported that abuse occurred in a broader range of circumstances and settings. Some of this abuse constituted torture while other methods amounted to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Reports of abuse by the ANP included police officers committing torture or ill-treatment at the time of arrest, at check posts, at district headquarters, and at provincial headquarters.

The Government of Afghanistan is obliged under Afghan law and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to investigate promptly all acts of torture and other ill-treatment, prosecute those responsible, provide redress to victims and prevent further acts of torture. The Government’s obligation to respect the prohibition against torture is also non-derogable meaning that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, can be invoked as a justification of torture. UNAMA calls on the Afghan authorities to take all possible steps to end and prevent torture, and provide accountability for all acts of torture.

Transfer of Detainees to NDS and ANP by International Military Forces

UNAMA’s detention observation included interviews with 89 detainees who reported the involvement of international military forces either alone or together with Afghan forces in their capture and transfer to NDS or ANP custody. UNAMA found compelling evidence that 19 of these 89 detainees were tortured in NDS custody and three in ANP custody.

Under the Convention against Torture States are prohibited from transferring individuals to another State’s custody where a substantial risk of torture exists. Rules of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) also state that consistent with international law, persons should not be transferred under any circumstances where there is a risk they will be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

The situation described in this report of transfer to a risk of torture speaks to the need for robust oversight and monitoring of all transfers of detainees to NDS and ANP custody by international military forces in Afghanistan, and suspension of transfers to facilities where credible reports of torture exist.

Canada and the United Kingdom ceased transfers of detainees to NDS facilities in Kandahar and Kabul at various times in recent years based on reports of torture and ill-treatment. These countries implemented post-transfer monitoring schemes allowing them to track the treatment of detainees their armed forces handed over to Afghan authorities. The United States Embassy recently finalised plans for a post-transfer detainee monitoring programme and a proposal is with the Government of Afghanistan for its consideration.

The Embassy advised UNAMA that it regards the programme as a positive way for the US to continue its work with the Government to ensure its detention system is safe, secure and humane.

In early July 2011, US and ISAF military forces stopped transferring detainees to NDS and ANP authorities in Dai Kundi, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul based on reports of a consistent practice of torture and mistreatment of detainees in NDS and ANP detention facilities in those areas. In early September 2011, in response to the findings in this report, ISAF stated that it stopped transferring detainees to certain NDS and ANP installations as a precautionary measure.

Torture and ill-treatment by NDS and ANP could also trigger application of the “Leahy Law” which prohibits the US from providing funding, weapons or training to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross human rights violations, unless the Secretary of State determines that the concerned government is taking effective remedial measures. In the situation of Afghanistan this would presumably require the US to resume transfer of detainees only when the Government of Afghanistan implements appropriate remedial measures that include bringing to justice NDS and ANP officials responsible for torture and ill-treatment.

Lack of Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for Torture and Abuse of Detainees

UNAMA found that accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse is weak, not transparent and rarely enforced. Limited independent, judicial or external oversight exists of NDS and ANP as institutions and of crimes or misconduct committed by NDS and ANP officials including torture and abuse.

Most cases of crimes or abusive or unprofessional conduct by NDS officials are addressed internally. Senior NDS officials advised UNAMA that NDS investigated only two claims of torture in recent years, neither of which led to charges being pursued against the accused.

In December 2010, NDS established an internal oversight commission to examine allegations of mistreatment of detainees, due process issues and detention conditions. Following monitoring visits to several NDS facilities in January 2011, the commission was to report to the Director General of NDS. UNAMA observed the commission’s visits to several detention facilities and had concerns regarding the scope and quality of its investigations. Although a positive measure initially, the oversight body appears to have been ineffective to date in addressing torture, abuse and arbitrary detention as this report’s findings suggest.

Internal and external accountability mechanisms exist for ANP criminal conduct with most cases addressed internally through the Ministry of Interior. Alleged crimes committed by ANP officials should be referred to the Directorate of Military Affairs in the Attorney General’s Office for investigation and criminal trial by a military prosecutor. However, little information from the Ministry of Interior is available regarding any referral of such cases to the judicial system. Although private citizens can report crimes or misconduct committed by police officers through an office of the Ministry of Interior which assesses claims for investigation by one of three Ministry of Interior structures, few cases are pursued through this mechanism.

Due Process Violations and Arbitrary Detention

In almost all criminal cases in Afghanistan, including national security prosecutions, the case against the defendant is based on a confession, which the court usually finds both persuasive and conclusive of the defendant’s guilt. In most cases confessions are the sole form of evidence or corroboration submitted to courts to support prosecutions. Confessions are rarely examined at trial and rarely challenged by the judge or defence counsel as having been coerced.

Under Afghan law, where a confession is obtained illegally or forced, for example, under torture, it should be inadmissible in court. However, even in cases where defence lawyers raise the issue of forced confession through torture, courts usually dismiss the application and allow the confession to be used as evidence. This evidentiary practice clearly violates the letter and spirit of the law and is inconsistent with many expert studies that show information gained by torture is manifestly unreliable and non-probative of an individual’s guilt or innocence.

UNAMA documented other due process concerns and violations by NDS and ANP officials. These include the routine failure to meet procedural time limits demarcating the phases of the pre-trial criminal investigation and chain of custody, lack of clarity in the roles of arresting authorities and prosecutors, and lack of judicial oversight of pre-trial detention until very late in the pre-trial process. Since most conflict-related detainees do not have access to defence counsel or information about their rights, the absence of these procedural safeguards has a huge negative impact on detainees’ ability to challenge the legality of their detention, prepare a credible defence, or seek protection from torture or coercion.

Under Afghanistan’s Interim Criminal Procedure Code, custody is linked with the phase of a criminal case. Police may detain an individual for up to 72 hours after an arrest, while they conduct initial interviews, prepare charges and hand the case over to a primary prosecutor (Saranwal-e-btadaiah) who confirms the charges and basis for detention. Prosecutors then have a maximum period of 30 days from the time of arrest to investigate and file an indictment. During this process, suspects are to be transferred to a detention centre administered by the Central Prison Directorate – currently within the Ministry of Justice.

Separation of detention authority is aimed at ensuring suspects do not remain in the custody of those responsible for their interrogation for long periods, effectively serving as a safeguard against coercion and abuse. This safeguard is all the more important since the Interim Criminal Procedure Code does not provide for judicial review of the legality of detention in the early investigative stages after arrest. Rather the prosecutor effectively retains the ability to detain or release from the time in which charges are brought until the beginning of trial with minimal judicial oversight.

In practice, ANP and NDS officials routinely disregard these time limits and safeguards. UNAMA found that 93 percent of all NDS detainees interviewed were held for periods longer than the 72 hour maximum — an average of 20 days — before being charged with a crime and transferred to a Ministry of Justice detention centre. Many ANP and NDS officials attributed their inability to meet time limits to inadequate human resources, lack of logistical and technical capacity, and difficulties in travel to and from remote locations with poor infrastructure and insecurity to detention facilities.

UNAMA found that many prosecutors in national security cases delegate their investigative authority to the NDS and interview the detainee only after NDS completes its initial investigation and transfers the detainee to a Ministry of Justice prison which can take several months. In some cases, prosecutors draft the indictment solely on the basis of information gathered by NDS. This system of delegating the prosecutor’s authority along with the lack of speedy judicial review of the legality of detention means that most detainees do not see a judge or a prosecutor until they reach trial – a period of time that can extend up to three months from the time of arrest. This situation violates Afghanistan’s obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure all Afghans arrested or detained are brought promptly before a judge or other appropriate judicial official, and is inconsistent with provisions in the Constitution of Afghanistan that prohibit arbitrary detention.

Another weakness in procedural safeguards for detainees in NDS custody is the lack of access to counsel. Despite the right of all detainees under Afghan law to a defence lawyer at all stages of the process, only one of the 324 detainees UNAMA interviewed in ANP or NDS detention reported they had defence counsel. Almost all defence lawyers and legal aid providers informed UNAMA they had minimal access to NDS facilities as NDS officials deliberately prevented them from accessing detainees. NDS officials told UNAMA they deny detainees’ access to defence lawyers for fear they will influence detainees and hinder NDS investigations. Defence counsel reported they generally had better access to detainees held in ANP facilities but only after ANP investigating officials presented the case to the prosecutor.

Although detainees have the right under Afghan law to family visits, only 28 percent of detainees interviewed were permitted family visits during their detention in NDS facilities.

Torture and Arbitrary Detention Undermine Reconciliation and Reintegration

Torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention by the NDS and ANP are not only serious violations of human rights and crimes they also pose obstacles to reconciliation and reintegration processes aimed at ending the armed conflict in Afghanistan. UNAMA’s research along with the findings of other experts who have analysed the emergence and growth of the insurgency post-2001, highlights that such abuses in many cases contributed to individual victims joining or rejoining the Taliban and other anti-Government armed groups.

The findings in this report bring into focus a tension between programmes the Government of Afghanistan launched to promote reintegration and reconciliation with insurgents and abusive practices, particularly against conflict-related detainees, by ANP and NDS officials. The Government’s Peace and Reintegration Programme established incentives for insurgents to resolve grievances, reconcile with and reintegrate into their communities. At the same time, ANP and NDS abuses continue to provide individuals with an incentive to put their security in the hands of anti-Government elements and to fight actively against the Government.

The need to reduce the number of persons arbitrarily detained has been also recognised as a key confidence-building measure in efforts to promote reconciliation nationally among local communities and with anti-Government elements. The Government established several prisoner-release programmes to address the lack of confidence and mistrust in Government among local communities caused by high numbers of individuals detained arbitrarily and mistreated in detention. The High Peace Council recently began reviewing cases of conflict-related detainees held without evidence or access to courts as a means of confidence-building. Such efforts are undermined when the ANP, NDS, and the criminal justice system as a whole continue to tolerate torture and prolonged, arbitrary and abusive detention.

Torture and Abuse by State Officials Compromises National Security

It has long been the position of the United Nations that effective counter-terrorism measures require compliance with human rights and that torture and other abusive practices by State officials such as those documented in this report undermine national security. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Plan of Action affirm that human rights for all and the rule of law are essential components of counter-terrorism, recognising that effective counter-terrorism measures and protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing. The UN Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism notes there is broad consensus that combating terrorism in compliance with human rights is not only a legal and moral obligation of States but also the most effective way to fight against terrorism.

Observations

Torture and arbitrary detention are two of the most pressing human rights issues impeding the establishment of rule of law, transition of lead security responsibilities from international military forces to Afghan National Security Forces and arguably long-term reconciliation in Afghanistan. Persistent ill-treatment of detainees and the inability of judicial authorities to respect basic due process guarantees have long been factors fostering public mistrust in the Government, dissatisfaction with Afghan security forces and the growth and viability of the insurgency. Individuals detained by the NDS or ANP suffer torture without recourse or accountability, the ability to seek redress, to challenge the basis of their detention or, ultimately, to refute the persuasive power of a coerced confession gained through torture.

Afghanistan’s Constitution, laws and international legal obligations provide an effective legal framework for prohibiting torture and ill-treatment. While some critical safeguards are not yet in place, particularly the right to challenge the basis of detention, effective implementation of existing laws could ensure the worst abuses are stopped and hold accountable perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment.

UNAMA’s detention observation shows that NDS officials are responsible for the serious human rights violations and crimes documented in specific NDS facilities. UNAMA’s findings to date are that NDS officials systematically tortured detainees in a number of detention facilities across Afghanistan. Torture does not appear to have been practiced systematically in each NDS facility UNAMA observed. In other facilities UNAMA observed, more investigation is required to determine whether torture is used systematically in the facility. UNAMA concludes on the basis of the findings of this observation programme that the use of torture is not a de facto institutional policy directed or ordered by the highest levels of NDS leadership or the Government. This together with the fact that NDS cooperated with UNAMA’s detention observation programme suggests that reform is both possible and desired by elements within the NDS. In response to the findings of this report, the leadership of NDS advised UNAMA that it plans to investigate reports of torture and address concerns through a time-limited action plan.

The comments and response of the Government of Afghanistan, the NDS and the Ministry of Interior to the findings in this report are attached as Annex II.

Use and acceptance of abusive interrogation tactics amounting to torture also reflects the need for much greater attention to reforms in the judiciary, prosecution and law enforcement sectors. Police, prosecutors and NDS intelligence officials and interrogators should be trained in national and international legal frameworks prohibiting torture and in interrogation techniques that have proved to be more reliable in gaining the long term trust and cooperation of detainees and suspected perpetrators of terrorism that strengthen national security. These techniques also provide reliable intelligence, information and testimonial evidence on which courts can base decisions and on which police, prosecutors and courts can minimise arbitrary detention and increase respect for due process guarantees the Government is obliged to provide to all detainees.

UNAMA offers the following recommendations to the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners to address and end the practice of torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention in all NDS and ANP facilities.

Key Recommendations

To the National Directorate of Security (NDS)


– Take immediate steps to stop and prevent torture and ill-treatment at all NDS facilities and particularly at facilities where such practices have been used as a method of interrogation:
– Investigate all reports of torture and ill-treatment at provincial NDS facilities in Herat, Kandahar, Khost, Laghman and NDS Counter-Terrorism Department 90/124 in Kabul. Remove, prosecute, discipline and punish those officials found responsible. Permit independent oversight of these investigations and publicly report on findings and remedial actions;
– Promptly issue directives prohibiting torture and ill-treatment in all circumstances to all NDS personnel and advise them and their superiors they will be prosecuted and disciplined if found committing, ordering or condoning such practices;
– Permit full, regular and unhindered access of independent monitors to all NDS facilities including the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, UNAMA, International Committee of the Red Cross and others.
– Review the working methods of the NDS oversight/detention monitoring commission, identify why it has not uncovered torture at the facilities visited, and adopt methods that ensure future monitoring missions are effective.
–  Implement an external accountability mechanism that allows independent and transparent investigations into alleged abuses within NDS facilities.
– Ensure all NDS interrogators and their superiors receive mandatory training in lawful and effective interrogation methods, alternative investigative approaches (such as forensics), and legal obligations under Afghan and international law that prohibit torture and ill-treatment, in coordination with international partners.
– Change policies and practices on access of defence lawyers to detainees. Permit defence lawyers to visit all detention facilities and offer their services to any detainee at all stages of the process as required by Afghan law.

To the Afghan National Police
– Take immediate steps to stop and prevent torture and ill-treatment:
– Investigate all reports of torture and ill-treatment at police facilities and remove, prosecute, discipline and punish all police officers and their superiors found responsible for committing or condoning such practices;
– Permit independent oversight of these investigations and publicly report on findings and remedial actions.
– Permit full, regular and unhindered access of independent monitors to all Afghan National Police and Ministry of Interior facilities including the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, UNAMA, International Committee of the Red Cross and others.
– Issue and implement regulations instructing police that a limited number of designated officials with the Criminal Investigation Division, Counter-Terrorism Unit, and similar units conduct interrogations. Issue and train these officials on a standard operating procedure on lawful and effective interrogation and legal obligations on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

To the Government of Afghanistan
• Make the legal framework and procedures regulating NDS public and transparent, and ensure legal procedures provide for the external investigation and prosecution of allegations of serious criminal conduct, including torture and ill-treatment of detainees by NDS officials, in the civilian criminal justice system.

To the Supreme Court
• Direct primary and appeal court judges to routinely investigate all allegations of torture and coerced confessions and strictly enforce prohibitions on the use of evidence obtained through torture as required under the Constitution of Afghanistan and the Interim Criminal Procedure Code.

To the Supreme Court, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior and Parliament
• Revise the Interim Criminal Procedure Code to guarantee the right of detainees to be brought promptly before a judge for an initial and periodic review of the lawfulness of pre-trial detention, and the right of detainees to challenge the legality of their detention with a speedy court decision.

To Troop Contributing Countries and Concerned States
• Suspend transfer of detainees to those NDS and ANP units and facilities where credible allegations or reports of torture and ill-treatment have been made pending a full assessment. Review monitoring practices at each NDS facility where detainees are transferred and revise as necessary to ensure no detainees are transferred to a risk of torture.
• Review policies on transferring detainees to ANP and NDS custody to ensure adequate safeguards and use participation in joint operations, funding arrangements, the transition process, intelligence liaison relationships and other means to stop the use of torture and promote reforms by NDS and ANP.
• Build the capacity of NDS and ANP facilities and personnel including through mentoring and training on the legal and human rights of detainees and detention practices in line with international human rights standards.
• Increase efforts to support training to all NDS and ANP interrogators and their supervisors in lawful and effective interrogation methods, and alternative investigative approaches (such as forensics).

Five years and 32 lashes for criticising Iran’s economic policy

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International.

To mark this, Amnesty, in association with The Irish Times, is profiling a prisoner each month . . .

ACROSS THE Middle East and North Africa, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets demanding change. They have toppled dictatorships and threatened undemocratic regimes. But in Iran, the oppression and abuse of any who dare to speak out against the government continues.

Bahman Ahmadi Amou’i is 43 and was editor of the Iranian daily business newspaper Sarmayeh , which frequently published articles criticising the government’s economic policies. He was one of the country’s leading economic commentators and published two books analysing Iran’s economy.

Bahman was arrested on June 20th, 2009, and his newspaper banned in November. He spent the first two months of his detention in solitary confinement before being brought to trial. The allegations against him were the familiar list of vague and ill-defined charges used against political dissidents. He was accused of “propaganda against the system”, “disrupting public security” and “insulting the president”. Convicted after an unfair trial at a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on January 4th, 2010, he was sentenced to more than seven years, reduced to five on appeal, and 32 lashes.

He is currently serving his sentence in Evin Prison, Tehran, notorious for its harsh treatment of inmates, particularly political prisoners. He is allowed one monitored visit from his wife, journalist and former prisoner Jila Baniyaghoob, each week but no other visits or phone calls.

Despite the harsh conditions of his imprisonment, Bahman continues to resist the authorities. In June he was one of 12 prisoners who went on a hunger strike to protest the deaths of fellow prisoners Haleh Sahabi and Hoda Saber. Haleh Sahabi was a pro-democracy activist and a member of Mothers for Peace. She died at the funeral of her father on June 2nd, while on temporary release. Eyewitnesses said she died after she was struck by a member of the security forces.

Journalist Hoda Saber was a prisoner of conscience linked to an Iranian opposition party. He died in custody on June 12th following a hunger strike launched in protest at Haleh Sahabis death. According to a letter from more than 60 of his fellow prisoners, he was beaten and denied adequate medical treatment before his death. This is what life is like in Iran’s prisons for the hundreds of people still detained simply because they do not agree with their government and because they have campaigned peacefully for change. Bahman and the other prisoners ended their hunger strike at the end of June.

Today, they remain in Evin Prison, at the mercy of an increasingly brutal prison regime. Earlier this year, investigative journalist and prisoner of conscience Emadeddin Baghi was released so we know international pressure can make a difference.

Please write immediately calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Bahman Ahmadi Amou’i to:

His Excellency, the Iranian ambassador to Ireland, Mr Hossein Panahiazar, Embassy of Iran, 72 Mount Merrion Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Or log on to http://www.amnesty.ie and take action online.

Update : In February, as part of this series with The Irish Times , we profiled Chinese prisoner of conscience Mao Hengfeng. We are delighted to report that she has been released early from the Re-education Through Labour camp in which she was held. Although her health is very poor following her prolonged detention, she is back with her family and improving. We would like to thank everyone who took action on her case.

Interview with Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh

by: Semira N. Nikou

       Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, a women’s rights activist, is a founding member of the Stop Stoning to Death Campaign and the Iranian Women’s Charter. She was director of Entesharat-e Banoo (Banoo Publications) and Entesharat-e Jamee Iranian (Iranian Society Publication). She was the director of the Association of Women Writers and Journalists NGO. She is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
 
  • What is the status of female political prisoners in Iran?
Human rights organizations have reported around 300 female political prisoners since the Green Movement’s emergence two years ago. The accuracy of this statistic is uncertain since some women have chosen not to publicize their arrests.
We know that around 80 women’s rights activists have been arrested since 2009.  At least 34 are still in prison. Examples include student activist Bahareh Hedayat, journalist Jila Baniyaghoub, and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Others have been temporarily released but are still waiting for their final verdicts.
Extended prison sentences and/or punishments are an issue. Before the 2009 presidential election, prison sentences were usually less than three months—a worst case scenario being two years of house arrest. But since the election, the same crimes have been punished with years of imprisonment and the number of people arrested has increased. Currently, the shortest prison sentence has been six years. Baniyaghoub, for example, has been banned from pursuing journalism for 30 years.
Circumstances in Evin Prison are also dire. All 34 women reside in one room. They have to sleep on the floor. Before the Green Movement, prison standards were far better—higher quality of food, sanitary environment, warm clothes, more living space, etc. Now, that is not the case.
  • On what grounds have female political prisoners been arrested?
They have been accused of being a threat to national security. The regime targets activists from all spheres who can in some way keep social movements alive. The regime does not want the Green Movement to benefit from any other movements. The regime has always targeted women’s rights activists but the rate greatly increased after the emergence of the Green Movement.
  • Women were at the forefront of the 2009 demonstrations that produced the Green Movement.  What is the current status of the women’s movement two years later?
Since Iran’s 2009 presidential election, the women’s movement has focused on the status of female political prisoners and the daily government crackdowns. Women’s rights activists have broadened their human rights efforts. They are pursuing their cases not just in Iranian courts, but also in the international arena in their attempt to confront state violence with non-violence.
These activists simultaneously continue to battle gender inequalities, which are getting worse. Inequalities still exist in family laws favoring men, gender segregation in universities, and the exclusion of women from educational opportunities.
  • Have the women’s rights campaigns changed since two years ago?
The Green Movement and the women’s movement have influenced each other. Before the Green Movement, the latter focused only on gender equality.
The Green Movement broadened the discourse on equal rights—which women’s rights activists had been pursuing for decades—to democracy. Religious and ethnic minorities such as the Turks, Kurds, and Arabs, and other movements, such as the labor and students movements, began to speak about civil rights. The women’s movement, for its part, worked to ensure that the discourse on democracy included issues of gender inequalities.
The women’s movement increased its activities in human rights organizations—both in Iran and internationally. There are many human rights organization in Iran but they often function in secret. They spread information through social media and various other networks.
A number of Iranian women’s rights activists, after leaving the country, now work either in international human rights organizations or have created their own organizations. One example is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and former judge, who still focuses on human rights issues while residing outside Iran.
Interestingly, however, the Green Movement did not push the women’s movement from a social movement into a political movement. The women’s movement has not joined any political movements active inside or outside of Iran.
  • What is the status of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks to collect one million signatures to change discriminatory laws against women in Iran?
The campaign is still functioning but has had to change tactics. It now functions underground because of the heightened government crackdown. Many of the campaign’s members have also become active in the Green Movement, helping to further democratize the opposition.

Iran Rights Activists Face Challenges from Both Sides

By Ramin Mostaghim and Roula Hajjar
Los Angeles Times
July 26, 2011

In Iran, many human rights lawyers find themselves jailed or threatened with legal action. At the same time, some are criticized by peers who say they sometimes overlook clients’ best interests in their determination to take a stand.

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut— When Iranian activist-lawyer Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, human rights activists cheered. Here was a chance for Iranians to rally around a figure for political change and reform much as Poles rallied around Lech Walesa and Burmese around Aung San Suu Kyi, both fellow laureates.

Eight years later, the small cadre of attorneys close to Ebadi and the organization she started with her prize money, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, are either in jail or threatened with legal action. The center has been outlawed.

Activists decry the detentions as a vengeful crackdown by government hard-liners who were incensed by Ebadi’s Nobel prize. But some human rights lawyers criticize their peers, saying the attorneys sometimes overlook clients’ best interests in their determination to take a stand.

Few of the lawyers have escaped the attention of the government. For the last two years, Ebadi has been in exile. Another human rights lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani, has been in and out of prison for months since a crackdown against civil liberties intensified in the wake of the country’s disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet another lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has waged prison hunger strikes between sporadic court appearances. Mohammad Seifzadeh, who once represented Ebadi in court, has been in prison since April, facing a nine-year sentence.

This month, when Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Court sentenced prominent human rights activist Mohammad-Ali Dadkhah to five lashes and nine years in prison and barred him from practicing law for the next 10 years, few in the Islamic Republic even blinked.

Dadkhah, who was found guilty of spreading “propaganda against the regime” and plotting a “soft revolution,” was typically defiant about the sentence.

“Even if I am in jail, I will cheerfully advocate human rights, and those who put me in jail will be unhappy,” he said in an interview.

After Sotoudeh was imprisoned, Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Simon Gass, wrote an article for the embassy’s website in which he criticized Iran’s human rights record and called for Sotoudeh’s release, saying her “real crime” was “doing her job courageously and highlighting injustices that the Iranian regime would prefer stayed hidden.” In a Persian New Year address in March, President Obama called on Iranians to release her from jail.

Activists say Iran’s hard-liners have made good on private vows to make both the West and Ebadi’s circle pay for the Nobel, the first given to a Muslim woman or to an Iranian. They wanted to discourage those within Iran’s intelligentsia from pursuing Ebadi’s course, and to some extent they have succeeded. There appears to be no rush of lawyers taking the place of those jailed.

Some activists remain more optimistic, disagreeing that hard-liners had managed to scare lawyers away from representing controversial human rights cases.

“The center has succeeded in making defending human rights a common cause for all social groups, regardless of whether they are radical, Islamic, fundamentalist or reformist,” said Soltani, who is out of prison and is no longer facing serious charges. “We are ready to pay the price for practicing law to defend human rights, no matter how high the price is.”

But some lawyers believe that human rights defenders have played into the hands of the regime.

A well-known human rights defense lawyer who asked to remain anonymous says that his colleagues were not prudent or discreet enough given the climate in Iran over the last 10 years.

“In our job, when we practice law and defend our clients, our top priority is to save them from the death penalty and get a reduction of the sentence,” said the lawyer, who did not want to be quoted criticizing his colleagues. “We want to save our clients from the gallows. So it is not a matter of honor to speak like colonels in war fronts with Voice of America or BBC Persian, making our clients’ situation worse.”

He added: “It is not an honor to get yourself in jail. Our job as lawyers is to reduce the jail sentence of our clients. When we as defense lawyers receive applause from the USA and the European Union and their media, it is counterproductive for our clients.

“We are not here to look like heroes,” he said. “We are here to help human rights in an efficient way.”

Increasingly, the lawyers complain that they are being subjected to the same types of human rights violations they’re fighting. Soltani’s wife, Masoumeh Dehghan, received an official notification this month summoning her to the magistrate’s office inside Tehran’s menacing Evin Prison to clarify “some points,” Soltani recalled.

As soon as she arrived, she was hustled into jail and held for five days, in what Soltani believes was an attempt to show him how far authorities were willing to go to shut him up.

“My wife has never been a political activist,” he said. “She has only been active in some charities to help orphans. That’s it.”

The detention of Sotoudeh, an advocate for juvenile offenders on death row, who began serving an 11-year sentence in January, has left her two children miserable, her husband says.

“My wife is happy to do her time for 11 years and I am ready to bear it,” said Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband. “But why should my children suffer and be traumatized? As a father, it is agonizing to see this.”

He said his 2-year-old son cannot understand why he is not allowed to stay with his mother, and when their prison visits end, he “screams and cries for hours.”

When the boy asked why his mom had not yet come home, his aunt told him that he should pray, Khandan said.

But, according to his father, he replied, “Aunt, I have prayed a lot, and in vain. Praying does not work.”

Statement by the Women’s Movement In Protest of the Recent Escalation of Violence against Women in Iran

By: Change for Equality
July 2011

Physical and sexual violence against women in Iran, including violence perpetrated by state security forces, is rapidly increasing. News releases in official media, which usually censor such topics, have surprisingly reported on incidents of gang rape and assaults against women. Examples include incidents in the provinces of Isfahan (where 10 women were gang raped by 14 men), Golestan (where a village doctor was raped and assaulted by 4 men and a young girl was murdered by 2 men), and Khorasan. Reports of similar developments continue to emerge.

Following the attack and rape of a group of women, who had come together for a family gathering, in a private garden in Khomeini Shahr, by a group of thugs, the residents of the town demonstrated in front of the courthouse demanding that officials find and prosecute the perpetrators. However, the judicial officials not only remained silent, but through public declarations began to blame the victims. The local Friday prayer leader said: “the victims of rape were not proper Muslims either.” Even the head of Isfahan’s intelligence service, which is ostensibly responsible for the safety of the citizens, announced: “perhaps these women would not have been harassed in the garden if they had at least kept their veils on.” A similar comment was made by an official at Mashhad University, following a rape and assault of a young female student. The University official said: “a young woman has to maintain her hijab in order to remain safe and to avoid such incidents.”

Such statements stem from a patriarchal mentality that denies men’s responsibility for their sexual behavior. Men are seen as creatures with uncontrollable sexual desires, who are not bound by any moral sense and who could not care less about the consent of the other side. According to this mentality, the only way to prevent such incidents is to make sure that men are not sexually stimulated. This means that all responsibility for male sexual action and aggression paradoxically lies with women. However, rape occurs all over the world, regardless of the way women are dressed and even when they are fully covered in a veil. Devoid of any sympathy, government officials heartlessly pour salt on the wounds of rape victims with such comments, and in essence encourage a culture of assault and violence against women. Along these lines too, they do not describe rape as a crime but as a common sexual response to female sexuality inherent in male nature.

As feminist and anti-rape movements around the world have shown, rape is a common feature of patriarchal societies, which maintain male domination through violence against and intimidation of oppressed groups, especially women. Rape is nothing new, neither in Iran, nor in other countries. In Iran, however, the recent reports of rape and sexual assault reveal the hypocrisy of a State that attempts to present itself as a “model Islamic society” adhering to ethical and religious values. Moreover, rape is being used as a political tool of repression by the state’s security apparatus. For many years reports and testimonies have shown the prevalence of physical, sexual, psychological violence and torture against political prisoners in many of Iran’s prisons. In recent years, during and after the mass protests against Ahmadinejad’s contested re-election (June 2009), rape was used as a systematic tool to intimidate green movement protestors and other dissenters both women and men. The Kahrizak prison tragedy, the attack on Tehran University’s student dormitory, and the harassments in the basement of the Interior Ministry building are among the few incidents that were publicly disclosed. Several courageous rape survivors have broken the silence. The recent video of the testimony of a 22 year old woman released by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran is one example.

These rapes have been occurring at the same time as a broader crackdown against women’s social participation is underway, intent on preventing gender equality. Reintroduction of 1980s’ policies such as gender segregation in universities, strict control over students’ dress code, applied gender quotas in academic fields to limit women’s admission, and a requirement that female students study in their home cities or regions encompass only some of the recent attacks against women. They demonstrate the extent of misogyny of the Iranian state authorities.

Police violence against women has also taken a more public face. Women have been targeted for violence on the streets under the guise of morality and under a policy called “guidance and discipline,” which includes programs such as “fighting against those inappropriately dressed,” “chastity,” or “heightening moral security.” Police have targeted, violated and humiliated women while labeling them as “improperly dressed or poorly covered.” Violence and rape committed by the police, security officers, basijis and plainclothes security forces have been supplemented by thugs disguised as government agents attacking, intimidating and raping women. Even religious leaders have been using official podiums at places such as the Friday prayers, to express their anger towards women, describing them as “biting and devouring” creatures. The regime’s insistence on maintaining an Islamic facade for the country manifests mainly through forcing hijab on women. The Islamic dress code for women is not a religious but a political symbol of sovereignty of the Islamic state, which the regime wants to maintain at the price of sexual and physical violence against women. Different fractions of the regime, regardless of their internal conflicts, come together over their hostility toward women.

However, these policies have been ineffective and have led to women’s increased resistance to police violence.

Our Demands

As women and women’s rights activists, we are protesting against systematic violence, constant insults and humiliation, and the blaming of victims for acts of sexual violence against them, by government authorities. We insist on our right to choose our clothing.

Instead of worrying about controlling women’s style of dress or their hair, we call on all Iranian authorities and responsible institutions, such as the judicial and security forces, to take their responsibilities to ensure the life and security of Iranian citizens seriously who are constantly being subject to threats and violence.

We call on the judicial and security authorities in Iran to be accountable with respect to the systematic sexual violence and rape of female and male prisoners being carried out in state prisons.

We call on judicial and security authorities as well as all religious leaders who insult women and accuse them of being guilty of provoking sexual assault, to stop these destructive accusations and use their same podiums for expressing apologies.

Victims of violence are in urgent need of medical care as well as the emotional and social support of the entire community. They are not responsible for the violence they have suffered. We therefore call on medical and social work professionals as well as the entire citizenry to treat victims of rape with sympathy and to support them in their attempt to return to their normal lives.

We ask Mr. Ahmad Shahid, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, to call attention to discrimination and violence against women in Iran and pay his respect to them by arranging meetings with women activists and rape survivors on his visit to the country.

As a first step, while protesting the recent escalation of violence against women in Iran, we, as Iranian women, affirm our solidarity with our sisters in the region and the rest of the world and with the global campaigns for ending sexual, physical, gender-based and police violence. In honor of our collective struggle, we put on purple bracelets as a symbol of our voices all over the world and in protest to violence against women.

Saudi Arabia’s Freedom Riders

by: Farzaneh Milani

On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation, and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17.

The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women’s unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful “street-walker” or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similarly draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that “women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden.”

The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.”

Indeed, the rulers in Saudi Arabia are the most gender-segregated in the world today. In official ceremonies, and in countless photographs, posters and billboards, the royal family seems to be composed solely of men.

This desire to deny women entrance into the public arena is inaccurately presented as a religious mandate. Yet there is no basis for such exclusion in the Koran. On the contrary, in the early years of Islam, women were a vital presence in Muslim communities. They attended mosques, engaged in public debates and got involved in decision-making processes. Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, commanded an army of men while riding on a camel. If Muslim women could ride camels 14 centuries ago, why shouldn’t they drive cars today? Which Koranic injunction prohibits them from driving?

Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.

That is why the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.

These women know the value of a car key. Like the man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, like the unprecedented number of women participating in protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive is a harbinger of a new era in the region.

It may require decades to see an end to the Middle East’s gender apartheid and the political reconfigurations that would necessarily follow. One thing is certain though: the presence of women and men demonstrating side by side in the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a sign of more seismic upheavals ahead. Old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable.

The women demonstrating for the right to drive in Riyadh are seasoned negotiators of confined spaces and veteran trespassers of closed doors and iron gates. They are a moderating, modernizing force to be reckoned with — and an antidote to extremism.

Their refusal to remain silent and invisible or to relinquish their rights as citizens is an act of civil disobedience and moral courage. Their protest, and those of their sisters across the Middle East, represent a revolution within revolutions — and a turning point in the contemporary history of Islam.

Farzaneh Milani, chairwoman of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement.”

Arab Spring exposes Nasrallah’s hypocrisy

by Hamid Dabashi

(originally published on al-Jazeera)

Hassan Nasrallah is in trouble. This time the troubles of the Secretary General of Hezbollah, which were hitherto the source of his strength, are not coming from Israel, or from the sectarian politics of Lebanon. Seyyed Hassan’s troubles, which this time around are the harbingers of his undoing as an outdated fighter, are coming from, of all places, the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring, the transnational uprising of masses of millions of people from Morocco to Oman, from Syria to Yemen, is making the aging warrior redundant – his habitually eloquent tongue now stuttering for words. Two years ago, he thought he got away with rejecting the democratic uprising in Iran (whose brutal ruling regime is his principle patron and financier), as a plot by the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. And he did – aided and abetted by the moral and intellectual sclerosis of a segment of Arab intellectuals who thought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamic theocracy were the vanguard of “resistance” to US/Israel imperialism in the region and thus should be spared from criticism. And then Tunisia happened, and Egypt, and Libya, and Bahrain, and Yemen – and then, Hassan Nasrallah and Ali Khamenei’s nightmare, Syria happened. It is a sad scene to see a once mighty warrior being bypassed by the force of history, and all he can do is to fumble clumsily to reveal he has not learned the art of aging gracefully.

Deja vu

When Hasan Nasrallah came to the defence of Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria, signs of frailty were all over the old fighter’s countenance. He asked Syrians for patience. He admitted mistakes had been made by Syrians in Lebanon. He promised Assad would do reforms. He pleaded for time. Deja vu: For an uncanny moment the Hezbollah fighter sounded and looked like the late Shah of Iran days before his final demise early in 1979: desperate, confused, baffled by the unfolding drama, worriedly out of touch with what was happening around him.

“Hassan Nasrallah,” according to an Al Jazeera report on 25 May 2011,“has called on Syrians to support president Bashar al-Assad and enter into dialogue with the government to end weeks of ongoing protests across Syria.”

This is a far different cry than when the democratic uprising in Iran started in June 2009 and Nasrallah readily dismissed and ridiculed it as an American plot. These were Arabs up against their corrupt and cruel leaders, not “them Persians” whose money was good but their historic struggles for their civil liberties a plot by the Saudis, the Israelis, and the US.

“Bashar is serious about carrying out reforms,” he was now pleading with his audience, “but he has to do them gradually and in a responsible way; he should be given the chance to implement those reforms.” When Nasrallah made these remarks more than 1000 Syrian civilians had been gunned down by Bashar Assad’s army and security forces, serving the Assad dynasty for about forty years.

More criminal atrocities were to follow, forcing Syrians to abandon their own homeland and flee to Turkey. The cruel and gruesome torture and murder of Hamza al-Khateeb was still in the offing, where “in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces,” as reported by Al Jazeera, the 13-year-old boy’s “humanity [was] degraded to nothing more than a lump of flesh to beat, burn, torture and defile, until the screaming stopped at last.”

Nasrallah, who could not care less for such revolting behavior by his patrons, now for second time in a row, was siding with brutal, vicious tyrants and their criminally insane security forces against the democratic aspirations of their people – once in Iran and now in Syria. A “freedom fighter”?  Really? What kind of a “freedom fighter” is that? Forget about the Shah, Hassan Nasrallah now sounded more like President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) who once famously said about the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza (1896-1956) that he “may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Hassan Nasrallah too did not care if Khamenei and Assad tortured and murdered their own people – so far as they kept him in business.

“Peaceful Syrian citizens,” declared a statement by hundreds of Syrian filmmakers and their colleagues from around the globe, “are being killed today for their demands of basic rights and liberties. It is the same oppression and corruption that kept Syrians prisoners and swallowed their freedom, properties and lives for decades, that is assassinating their bodies and dreams today.” Hassan Nasrallah would have none of this, as he had no patience or sympathy for the kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered bodies of scores of young Iranians during the civil rights uprising of 2009. A belligerent segment of Arab and American intellectuals (ignorant or indifferent to the historic struggle of Iranians for their civil liberties) sided with him in dismissing the Green Movement in Iran as a Saudi-CIA plot. Shame, everlasting shame on them!

“Peaceful Syrian citizens,” declared a statement by hundreds of Syrian filmmakers and their colleagues from around the globe, “are being killed today for their demands of basic rights and liberties. It is the same oppression and corruption that kept Syrians prisoners and swallowed their freedom, properties and lives for decades, that is assassinating their bodies and dreams today.” Hassan Nasrallah would have none of this, as he had no patience or sympathy for the kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered bodies of scores of young Iranians during the civil rights uprising of 2009. A belligerent segment of Arab and American intellectuals (ignorant or indifferent to the historic struggle of Iranians for their civil liberties) sided with him in dismissing the Green Movement in Iran as a Saudi-CIA plot. Shame, everlasting shame on them!

The only language that Hassan Nasrallah understands is the language that keeps him in power, condemning the US, the EU, Israel, and the Saudis – all hitherto truisms that have, thanks to the Green Movement and the Arab Spring, lost their grip on reality even more than Nasrallah.

Hypocrisy

Nasrallah’s predicament with Syria had been moving towards him apace. He has been dillydallying since the commencement of the Arab Spring as to how to calibrate his positions. When Tunisia happened he said,“we must congratulate the Tunisian people on their historic revolution, their struggle, and their uprising.”

He thought this was happening only to European allies, and he thought this was good. When Egypt happened, he said, “in Tunis and Egypt, tyrants have gone away… we call on the people of Egypt and the people of Tunis to unite, because division could be a prelude to the resurrection of the ruling regimes.” This is when he thought these were happening only to the US allies. Nobody was watching him, but he was already in trouble. How come he never sent any encouraging word to “the people of Iran,” when they did precisely what Tunisians and Egyptians had done – rising up against tyranny?

He (and he had his allies on this matter among the leading Arab and non-Arab “left”) categorically denounced the Iranian uprising. He sided with identical tyrants like Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. He said Iran was in the capable hands of his friend “Grand Ayatollah Khamenei”. He did not even blink on al-Manar when he said that. It was payback time for him.

When Libya happened, Hassan Nasrallah said, “a group of young men and women rose and they were faced with bullets; war was imposed on the popular revolution. What is taking place in Libya is war imposed by the regime on a people that was peacefully demanding change; this people was forced to defend itself and war broke out in the east and the west, with warplanes, rocket launchers, and artillery. It brought back to our memory the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and all of Israel’s wars. Such serious crimes should be condemned and the revolutionary people of Libya should be helped so as to persevere.” How splendid!

But what is the difference between Iranian or Syrian and the Libyan people? In Iran and Syria too: “a group of young men and women rose and they were faced with bullets.” Were arbitrary arrest, torture, and even rape not “imposed by the regime on a people that was peacefully demanding change” in Iran and then Syria too? Is Iranian or Syrian blood any thinner than Libyan blood in the mighty warrior’s estimation? Is there a word for this barefaced hypocrisy in any language? What sort of “resistance” is this – and resistance to what?  Resistance to Israeli expansionism by a band of militant thugs maiming and murdering their own people in Syria and Iran? Is this the choice that our people must make?

When Yemen happened, Nasrallah said, “it is not possible to keep silent about killing and oppressing the demonstrators. We praise the steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their commitment to their peaceful movement, although we know that Yemen is full of weapons.” But how come it is possible to “keep silent about killing and oppressing the demonstrators” in Iran? No, sorry, he was not silent at all about Iran. He was positively elated and quite verbose that his dear friend Ayatollah Khamenei had managed to oppress those identical demonstrators. As masses of millions of Iranian were pouring into streets calling the presidential election of 2009 a charade and a fraud, Hassan Nasrallah was quick to congratulate Ahmadinejad, calling the result a “great hope to all the mujahedin and resistance who are fighting against the forces of oppression and occupation”. As even more millions of people took to streets risking arrest, incarceration, torture, and even cold-blooded murder, Nasrallah assured the world that “Iran is under the authority of the Wali Al Faqih and will pass through this crisis.” He never praised “the steadfastness” of the Iranian people “and their commitment to their peaceful movement.” Why? What’s the difference between Iranians and Yemenis?

When Bahrain happened, Nasrallah said, “why is the movement [in Bahrain] condemned and the injured accused? Just because they are Shias?… We’ve always been with the Palestinian people, but the sect of the Palestinian people was never an issue for us. Nobody asked about the confession and sect of the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples; we have an obligation to stand by the downtrodden. Iran stood by the people of Palestine, Tunis, Egypt, and Libya; was this based on secular considerations? I find it very weird to hear some people calling on Egyptians to take to the streets, Libyans to kill Gaddafi, but when Bahrain is involved, their ink dries out, and their voices dampen.”

This was indeed very ecumenical of the Hassan Nasrallah. But was his own ink dried and his own voice dampened when Iranians were being clubbed to death, tortured, and even raped by the security forces of his friend “Ayatollah Khamenei?”  How come he did not feel obligated to stand by millions of human beings for whom spoke two bona fide Shias, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi? Were they not Muslims, Shias, human beings? And yes, Iranians have “stood by the people of Palestine, Tunis, Egypt, and Libya” – but not because they are Muslim, or Sunnis, or Shias, but based on their shared aspiration for a free and democratic future. Will Hassan Nasrallah have a place in that democratic future, with this kind of record, of siding with criminal thugs that deny and seek to prevent it?

And then Syria happened, and Hasan Nasrallah began stuttering. “First, we should be committed to Syria’s stability, security and safety.” Syrians’ security and safety – or Bashar al-Assad’s? Scores of Syrians are being gunned down, tortured, and killed. There is a massive humanitarian crisis on the Syrian-Turkish border, finally forcing Turkey to sever its ties with Syria. Syrians are fleeing their homeland en masse, fearing for their lives from Bashar al-Assad’s murderous army. What about their security and safety?

“Second,” he said, “We call upon the Syrian people to maintain their regime of resistance, as well as to give way to the Syrian leadership to implement the required reforms and to choose the course of dialogue.” Really? Isn’t that what Clinton also says about Bahrain? How come if Clinton says it about Bahrain it is bad and imperialistic, but if Hassan Nasrallah says it about Syria it is good and revolutionary – while both Bahrainis and Syrians are being slaughtered by identically corrupt ruling regimes? The magnificent aspect of the Arab Spring is that it exposes the identical hypocrisy of both the US (on Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen) and Hassan Nasrallah (on Iran and Syria).

“Third, we as Lebanese shouldn’t interfere in what is going on in Syria, but let the Syrians themselves to deal with the issue.” Truly? How come “you as Lebanese” interfere anywhere from Morocco to Iran, from Bahrain to Yemen, but not about Syria? Why? Aren’t Syrians humans? If you shoot them do they not bleed? If you torture and mutilate them do they not suffer and die? “Fourth, we should reject any sanctions led by US and the West asking Lebanon to abide by them against Syria, which is the most important goal of [Assistant US Secretary of State Jeffrey] Feltman’s recent visit to Lebanon.” Why? How come UN resolutions against Israel are good, but UN resolutions against Syria are not good? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Right?

Promoting democracy?

There is an old expression in the film industry, “continuity clerk”, which refers to a member of the crew responsible to ensure that there is continuity and consistency – especially in matters of dress, make-up, etc. – in successive shots of a film, particularly when these shots are filmed on different days. The grand Hezbollah leader badly needs a “continuity clerk”. You cannot wear a revolutionary garb one day and then a pathetically apologetic disguise another.

That Hassan Nasrallah is not altogether aware of what is happening around him is also evident in the fact that it seems just to have dawned on him that the US is “seeking to hijack the wave of pro-democracy popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world.” Of course they are – but what is Hassan Nasrallah doing to safeguard and promote it, siding with Bashar al-Assad and Ali Khamenei? Hassan Nasrallah is now outmaneuvered, checkmated, made redundant by history, by, of all things, a magnificent Arab Spring, in which he has no role, no say, and no decision. Nothing. He could and he did dismiss Iranian uprising and he got away with it.  Syria and the rest of the Arab Spring are doing away with him. He has failed the test of history—of knowing when to abandon tyrants benevolent to him for their own reasons but abusive and criminal to their own people.

It is not accidental that Iran’s Ahmadinejad is on the same page with Hassan Nasrallah in defending the Syrian regime – for they are all made of the same cloth. What is happening in Syria, Ahmadinejad believes, is a plot by a number of countries in the region, “because Syria is in the frontline of resistance and the Islamic Republic is standing shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian state and nation”? Not so fast. The Syrian state is now murdering the Syrian nation. You cannot be on both sides. Siding with the regime is endorsing its murderous record of killing its nation, as indeed the Islamic Republic, on Ahmadinejad’s own watch, has done against Iranians, with Nasrallah’s approval.

Ahmadinejad’s protestations in support of the Syrian regime, however, should not muddy the clear conception of why the Islamic Republic supports Hamas or Hezbollah. In defending the allocation of funding for Hamas and Hezbollah, the military strategist of the Islamic Republic make no bones about why is it that they support the Palestinian and Lebanese causes. “The Palestinians are not fighting for Palestine,” one leading Iranian military strategist is seen recently explaining to a captivated audience, “they are fighting for Iran; the Lebanese are not fighting for Lebanon; they are fighting for Iran. To have the courage to say this and the courage to demonstrate this means to provide a strategic conception [of what we do].”  Does Hassan Nasrallah know this, or is he taking advantage of the Islamic Republic the way the Islamic Republic is taking advantage of him. And what do millions of human beings caught in this massive hypocrisy have to do with these political and strategic machinations?

During protests in Iran, when scores of young Iranian men and women were being brutally tortured and killed in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic, Nasrallah was not keeping silent. He was voluminously loquacious in siding with tyranny, exposing his utter and pervasive hypocrisy.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

من يخاف من أحلام جعفر بناهي؟

ت. 1960) ومجموعة من زملاءه عن محكمة إيرانية في العشرين من ديسمبر الماضي. والتهمة المساقة هي تشويه صورة إيران والقيام بدعاية مغرضة ضد النظام. نظام يبدو أنه أفلس إلى هذه الدرجة فأصبح يخاف من أفلام بناهي التي تتناول بالدرجة الاولى قضايا إجتماعية. وكأن هذا النظام يريد أن يطلق رصاصة تغتال أحلام جعفر بناهي، الأحلام المستوحاة من الواقع، كما يقول في الرسالة التي وجهها إلى مهرجان البرليناله السينمائي (إنعقد بين  10-20 فبراير 2011).

بدت إزابيلا روسوليني، رئيسة لجنة التحكيم الرئيسية في مهرجان هذا العام، تغالب دموعها وهي تقرأ رسالة المخرج الايراني جعفر بناهي عضو لجنة التحكيم الغائب في حفل إفتتاح المهرجان في العاشر من الشهر الجاري أمام جمع من السينمائيين الاوربيين والعالميين كالأخوين كوين. فصدع صوت التصفيق في القاعة حالما إنتهت من قراءة رسالته، تلك القاعة  التي تتسع لأكثر من الف شخص ووقف الجميع تحية لهذا المخرج الذي بقي كرسيه كعضو في لجنة تحكيم هذا العام خالياً، إلا من اليافطة التي تحمل هذا الإسم. كما خصصت الكثير من الصحف الألمانية تغطية واسعة ضمن صفحاتها لهذا المخرج وأعماله. 

في فبراير من عام 2010 أعلن منظمو مهرجان البرليناله عن نيتهم إستضافة بناهي في مهرجان هذا العام كعضو في لجنة التحكيم. بعد فترة وجيزة من هذا الإعلان ألقي القبض عليه وبدأت محاكمته في إيران ليصدر حكم بحقه وبحق مجموعة أخرى من العاملين في مجال السينما كانت تعمل معه. بناهي طوى خمس عقود من حياته. كرس حوالي الثلاث منها للسينما كمنتج ومخرج وحصلت أفلامه على جوائز عالمية.

درس بناهي الذي ينحدر من أصول أذربيجانية الإخراج التلفزيوني والسينمائي في طهران وعمل كمساعد مخرج مع المخرج الإيراني الشهير عباس كيروستامي. في عام 95 كان أول تتويج عالمي لأعماله في مهرجان كان حينما حصل فيلمه ”البالون الأبيض“ على جائزة الكاميرا الذهبية، تلاها حصوله  عام 97 على جائزة مهرجان لوكارنو عن فيلمه ”المرآة“ ومن ثم عام  2000 حصوله على جائزة الأسد الذهبي في مهرجان البندقية عن فيلمه ”الدائرة“. وفي عام 2006 حصل على جائزة الدب الفضي في مهرجان البرليناله عن فيمله ”اوفسايد“.

يبدو بأن النظام الايراني على حافة الافلاس! وإلا لماذا يعتقل ويوجه تهمة لبناهي بأنه كان يخطط لإعداد فيلم عن الثورة الخضراء  التي كان قد دعمها بصراحة؟ كما أيد بناهي موسوي بعد الإنتخابات الأخيرة. هذا السينمائي الذي قبض عليه هو وزوجته وابنته في مارس في العام الماضي وسجن دون أي محاكمة أو تهمة توجه إليه لمدة ثلاث اشهر لم يتوقف عن رفع شعار الحرية. فدخل في إضراب عن الطعام ولم يفرج عنه إلا في شهر يونيو بكفالة تصل قيمتها إلى 200 الف دولار أمريكي وكان قد فقد الكثير من وزنه بعد الإضراب عن الطعام ليبدو كالهيكل العظمي عندما خرج بعد سجنه. كما منع من مغادرة إيران إلى أن تتم محاكمته. فكانت المحاكمة في ديسمبر والحكم بالسجن ومحاولة لإغتيال أحلامه، كما ألمح هو. هذه الأحلام تحدث عنها بناهي في رسالته الموجهة إلى جمهور مهرجان البرليناله مع العلم أن ذلك ربما يكون له عواقب وخيمة إضافية عليه وعلى عائلته.

ولعل بناهي يجد عزاء في حصول مخرج إيراني آخر وهو أصغر فرهادي على جائزة الدب الذهبي هذا العام عن فيلمه ”طلاق نادروسيمين“. حاول فرهادي توجيه كلمة حذرة تحية لجعفر بناهي ربما لأنه يعرف أنه بعد ساعات قليله سيكون هو الآخر بين مخالب النظام الإيراني.

لعل المخرج الإيراني لن يحتاج عشرين عاماً أخرى من الإنتظار كي يسمح له بعمل فيلم أخر. ألم نقل بعد الثورة التونسية أن ما حدث في تونس لا يمكن أن يحدث في مصر! فلنقل إذا أن ما حدث في مصر لا يمكن، إلا أن يحدث في إيران وكل على طريقته.

هنا كلمة جعفر بناهي التي قرأتها إزابيلا روسليني في إفتتاحية مهرجان برلين السينمائي البرليناله مترجمة إلى العربية نقلاً عن الألمانية عن موقع البرليناله :”في عالم صانع السينما يتمازج الحلم والواقع ببعضهما البعض. ويستغل صانع السينما الواقع كينبوع للإلهام، فيرسم الواقع بألوان من نسج خياله. وبهذا ينتج فيلماً يحمل آماله وأحلامه بين طياته ويجعلها مرئية للعالم.

الواقع هو أنني منعت من مزاولة مهنتي كمخرج دون أي محاكمة وذلك منذ خمس سنوات. والآن تمت محاكمتي بشكل رسمي ومنعت للعشرين سنة القادمة من مزاولة هذه المهنة. وعلى الرغم من ذلك سأستمر بخيالي في تحقيق أحلامي وصنع أفلام بهذا الخيال مستوحاة من هذه الأحلام. كصانع أفلام تتناول بالدرجة الأولى قضايا إجتماعية، علي أن اتعامل مع الوضع الجديد، الذي يفرض علي ألا اصور مشاكل وهموم الحياة اليومية لأبناء شعبي. إلا أنني لن أتوقف عن الحلم بأن جميع هذه المشاكل بعد عشرين عاماً ستختفي وأنني سأتمكن عندئذ، من إخراج أفلام عن السلام والرفاه الإجتماعي في بلدي.

الحقيقة أنهم يمنعونني ولمدة عشرين عاماً من التفكير والكتابة. لكنهم لن يتمكنوا من منعي من الحلم وستحل الحرية والتفكير الحر مكان الملاحقات. ولعشرين عاماً سيمنعونني من أن أطل على العالم ولكن أتمنى بعد أن أخرج من السجن أن أسافر عبر عالم، تكون قد سقطت فيه الحدود الجغرافية والعرقية والايديولوجية. عالم يعيش فيه الناس سواسية وبسلام دون الإلتفات إلى عقائدهم ومعتقداتهم.

حكم علي بالسكوت لمدة عشرين عاماً ولكن في أحلامي أصرخ باحثاً عن زمن نكون فيه متسامحين مع بعضنا البعض، زمن نحترم فيه آراءنا المختلفة ونعيش واحداً من أجل الأخر. في نهاية الأمر يقضي الحكم علي بأن أقضي ست سنوات وراء القضبان. في السنوات الست القادمة سأعيش مع الأمل، بأن تتحقق أحلامي. أتمنى أن يقوم زملائي المخرجين في كل زاوية من العالم، بإخراج أفلام عظيمة بهذه الفترة بحيث أشعر بالحماس والرغبة في العيش في هذا العالم الذي حلموا به بأعمالهم.

من الآن فصاعداً وللعشرين عاماً القادمة حكم علي بالسكوت. وأجبر بأن لا أرى وأجبر على ألا أفكر. وأجبر على ألا أصنع أفلاماً. ساواجه الواقع والسجن وأتمنى بعد تحريري أن أشاهد أحلامي في أفلامكم :  على أمل أن أجد هناك ما سلب مني.“

جعفر بناهي

Interview with “Leila” on Torture in Iran

Web Exclusive: Extended interview with “Leila” on torture in Iran
BY CIR   |   CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING   |   JUNE 10, 2011

PBS NEWSHOUR and the Center for Investigative Reporting mark the two-year anniversary of Iran’s “Green Movement” with an exclusive report about the government crackdown that followed. The report features the courageous work of an Iranian journalist and the first, heart-wrenching accounts of women demonstrators who say once arrested, they were raped, beaten and tortured by the Iranian government. Watch the full report on PBS NewsHour.

CIR editors had the full interview with “Leila” translated. What follows is an excerpt. For reasons of safety CIR has decided to not reveal the identities of the interviewer and person interviewed.

I was an ordinary person and a student who was detained for no reason.

That day I wasn’t part of any protest. I was returning home from the university. They harassed me, abused me, tortured me.

They constantly deny any act of torture on TV, but that’s exactly what they did to me. I want to tell the whole world, it wasn’t just me, but many people.

They arrested me and put me in a van. Along the way they hit us with batons, harassed us, and cursed us. They were policemen wearing uniforms with large builds, wearing hoods disguising their faces, you could only see their eyes and mouths. They had ripped off their name tags from their uniforms. Their uniforms, batons, shields and equipment were all similar. It was inside a van like those of morality police, they hit us and insulted us.

Among them was a young boy, his mustache hadn’t even grown yet, he wasn’t a man. He touched us all over with lust, on my breasts, other women’s breasts, wherever he wanted. No one dared to challenge him. A woman who protested, he turned and slapped her on the face. We all fell silent.

There was a guy filming us constantly with a handycam from all directions. They transferred us to a place that was like a warehouse. I didn’t see much of it, just that it had tall walls and a high ceiling like a warehouse. They wouldn’t exchange a word with each other, nothing whatsoever. They are such fearful people that [they wouldn’t speak] in front of someone like me, who is a nobody. I have the strength only now. Why didn’t I speak out before? I didn’t have the ability to speak out.

I am an ordinary person who decided to speak out more than a year after what happened to me. Go try find someone like me who would be willing to give an interview. They don’t exist, they don’t have the strength because they fear another round of torture and trouble. No one would come forward and say these things.

If our captors weren’t scared they wouldn’t have heaped this misfortune on us. I am not a very religious person but I do believe in something. They shattered my soul such that I say “Damn God!” Because what had I done? What had I done to deserve this? All I had done was to give one vote and that was to Mousavi. A vote that was never counted, never!

The dragged us on the floor, not even asking us to stand and walk. They dragged us like potato sacks into hallways made of curtains.

They gave us typed up pages, with the standard bureaucratic font. And what was written on those pages? It said that I had committed acts I had absolutely never done. I was to copy from those pages that I am a rioter, I have endangered national security, I did this and that, and I am a terrorist! I didn’t even have nail clippers in my purse, for them to say I had anything remotely sharp or dangerous. I only had my books and pens coming from the university.

They separated us into groups of five here, five there. It was the same boy who was groping us in the van, he separated us. For example, he said I was one of the pretty ones and should go to one side.

They shaved all our heads. I used to have log hair. He grabbed my hair in his hand like this. A man! It was a man shaving my hair, a man giving me a body search, a man touching me all over. There were no women there.

He would purposely hurt me while shaving me, to give me marks on my head.

While he was shaving me, he was touching me all over. I wasn’t sitting on a chair. He held me like this and grabbed my head while his legs were feeling me.

Five of us were taken to a cell. A tiny cell. Some earlier detainees were also there. I was really tired, bruised, my face all cut up, totally devastated. They held us there until they supposedly clarified our status.

We were in that tiny room for 18 hours. I desperately needed to go to the bathroom. The pressure was really hurting me. I felt my bladder would burst. I was nauseous, thirsty. I had read in human rights books that detainees have certain rights. But I didn’t have the most basic rights like going to the bathroom or drinking water. I didn’t the right to a lawyer, or to call my parents to say where I was and not to worry.

I didn’t have any appetite for food but I wished I could call my father. That was much more important to me. To say “Father dear, I am here and need someone to come help me.”

It wasn’t like they would tell us confess to this or that and then go free. They wanted to keep us in such limbo, to reach a point where you say enough. You would say I would do anything to get out of this.

With our hands tied, our eyes covered and hoods over our heads, they transferred us to a detention center. I couldn’t tell where it was. Not just me, no one had any idea where we were.

What haunted me the most was the groping, more than the insults. Their groping was torture.

As they groped us they would invoke Saint Zahra. Could you imagine that? Could Saint Zahra believe such things?

In the name of Saint Fatima, Saint Zahra they touched us and they even said “In the name of God” as they did it. They would say “Oh God accept us!” As if it was our wedding and he was performing his rituals preparing for the marital bed.

I detest the phrase vigilante forces that the government uses. How could they be vigilante if they have serious backing and protection? No! they were no vigilantes. All the papers and forms had seals of the Judiciary and Intelligence Ministry. You think I am a little kid to believe these people could be vigilantes? I am no kid! I have seen it all … killing people and claiming it was vigilantes!

They took us to a detention center. This was more like a proper detention center, not a warehouse. This time they took me into a solitary cell. I figured out that before and after interrogations they throw you in solitary confinement, so when you are done you don’t share your experience with others.

After a short time, about 20 minutes, they took me to the interrogation room. My hands were tied behind my back, I was blindfolded and gagged. The room was dark and the door opened. I heard steps. Someone sat in front of me.

“So you are a rioter! So you are undermining the State! Who you think you are? Who are you with?” I was gagged. He said “Why are you not talking?” I teared up.

I said “I am not with anyone.” He said “Shut up, speak when I tell you.” I was trembling all over. I felt my body tense up. I was so defenseless. He went on and on saying “Who are you with? You want to overthrow the State?” I said “How can I? I am not capable.” He said “Oh, yeah? You putting on a show? You think I am going to listen to you like others?” I kept silent. Next question: “What do you do?” I said “I am a student.” He said “No you are not. From now on don’t say you are a student.”

Suddenly I felt he was sitting on my legs. I couldn’t breathe from his weight. I was scared silent. I could feel his breathing on my face.

The first thing he did was lick my face. I felt my life drained. I felt my whole being escaping out of my mouth. He started to pull my clothes off. My hands bound, my eyes covered, I started crying. He shouted “Shut up whore!” Then he opened my bra and took my clothes off. He was stroking and hitting me at the same time. Saying “I will do something to you that you’ll never forget. I’ll make it so you never leave your house again. Anytime hear my name you’ll tremble, I’ll drive you insane”… and he did. He raped me.

Me, who never had a boyfriend. He raped me. Not with a baton … it was his filthy thing … his ugly male instrument. He raped me. Afterwards he urinated on me. The smell nauseated me. After a while he walked away and I was left with my sorrows. What happened? I was told from childhood to protect [my virginity] and now it was gone. What happened? I was in shock. After a while someone else came and meanwhile I had wet myself.

When he came he smacked me in my face and said, “You filthy scum you have stunk up the place!” Then he called some guy to come over and mop the floor. Then he went out and dragged something into the room, and sat in front of me. I could hear crinkling. He started unwrapping something. I didn’t know what, but when he flicked his lighter I realized he wanted to smoke. Until then he hadn’t said anything. I sat there with my hands tied. I sensed, I mean I heard, he put the cigarette to his mouth, and lit it. He said, “You are not talking? Are you mute? I’ll make you talk, who do you think you are?”

He untied my hands and started caressing me as if he wanted to make love. I had no feelings, I was numb from the beatings. Then something burned me. I screamed. He extinguished his cigarette on my left hand. I screamed. It hurt. It hurt a lot. I felt it penetrate to my bone. A hole in my hand. It burned, as if my hand was seared against a hot kettle… He still wasn’t done. He extinguished another cigarette on my knee. I was still consumed in the pain, when he put out another on my breast. I sensed it. I didn’t see it.

I keep using the verb “see” but I didn’t see anything, I was feeling everything. He put one cigarette after another on my body. I was burning. I felt my life drain from my veins. Why me? How much can I endure? How much should I suffer? I got quiet. I was crying. Someone else came into the room. I could hear the steps. He said something that I could not process. I was just raped an hour ago, and he said, “I’ve heard you are not a virgin. Did you do it with your boyfriend? How many guys have you been with?” In my heart I screamed, “You just raped me, you took my innocence, and now you are asking me how many guys I have been with? Before, I was a girl! You did this to me!”

I couldn’t comprehend that they were saying this. Me, who was a girl, living in this rotten society. I was someone who would tell off a guy who got too comfortable in the taxi cab next to me! Now he was telling me, “You had fun with your boyfriend? When they brought you here your hymen was broken Which whorehouse do you come from? Are you a prostitute?” I couldn’t talk. I wanted to say, “It was your friends who raped me, it was you! You all! Before this I was a girl!”

I didn’t know how long I was there. I fell asleep. A kick to the stomach suddenly woke me up. I felt like my stomach filled with blood. I tasted blood in my mouth. They cursed and pulled me out of the cell. I could not breathe. I didn’t know how long had passed. I felt drowsy, I couldn’t walk, I fell unconscious and when I woke up I thought I was in a clinic, but I wasn’t. The walls were dirty. They wanted to give me an IV, but I didn’t let them. I was scared it was infected with AIDs. They just dressed my cigarette burns.

I could smell blood, I was still drowsy. I didn’t feel well. They took my back to the cell. I don’t know how much time passed. One week, two weeks. Every other day it was the same routine. They would take me into the room, they would beat me, rape me, they would pour their sperm and excrement on me, and they would supposedly wash me with a bucket of water.

They didn’t extinguish cigarettes on me anymore, maybe they thought it would leave marks. They mostly beat me. I got an infection because of the repeated rapes. My uterus got infected, it smelled, I had little ugly bumps, I thought it was syphilis. I got treated, but I was never sent to the hospital. When I got back, my parents just took care of me at home.

I suffered many things during those days, and then later I was still tortured by the remaining pain. My uterus was polluted and sick. My spirit was crushed. Me, who was an active person, I was scared of crowds. I don’t know how many times they raped me. I didn’t have a watch to calculate. May be it was ten minutes, but for someone under such stress ten minutes is like a lifetime. I just know the number of rapes was very high, and it wasn’t always the same person.

They had handed my belongings to my father. They called him from my mobile and told him that we have arrested her. They told him she was one of the demonstrators. They showed him the file that I had handwritten and my father pursued my case. They kept us in limbo for so long that we no longer asked them when they would release me. This whole time I told myself to be strong. Be calm. In one instance, it will all be over. Death was my wish. I wanted to die. I wanted it all be over. I wanted to die in my sleep. I wanted peace. I prayed that I no longer existedI wanted to die.

In my dreams my only wish was death. In my dreams I was running in a field in a white dress. That field was so beautiful. It reminded me of a trip with my family, it was a beautiful memory. Those days I never thought one day I would be able to sit here and say what happened. To say what happened to me, to others. We are not Nasrin Sotoudeh, so that someone would come to our rescue. We are not Nasrin Sotoudeh, so that our voice would be heard. No one knows my name, no one knows where I am, no one, no one came to look for me.

When Neda died, all of Iran, the whole world, heard about it. But no one knew when they were raping me, when they were torturing me, when they were burning me with cigarettes.

I told myself one day I would speak so the whole world could hear. I would speak, I had promised myself. I signed in blood, a promise stronger than the bond of marriage. Unbreakable. I told myself that I would do it and I did it.

There are many of us, people that, because of their reputation and because of their life, they don’t speak up. People who are out there, people like me. Believe me, they are out there. They need you. All of you. Don’t let people like me suffer. It already happened to me, I’m only 22, but I feel old and I feel like dying. Please stop them. Please stop them. How did you help others? Please do it for us too. Us, who fear our reputation. If they see this video, what they will do to me? But I’m here. I’m speaking because I have to. Those who hear this, those who are like me, you have to speak. They have to understand. The whole world has to understand that there are those of us who are invisible.

‘No Let-Up’ In Secret Executions In Iran

On the second anniversary of the disputed June 2009 election and the ensuing repression, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran today released video testimony from a young female detainee, describing in detail her severe torture and repeated rape after her arbitrary arrest.

Her forceful testimony challenges the Iranian authorities’ official narrative, which denies widespread use of torture and rape by security forces against ordinary protestors.

 

‘No Let-Up’ In Secret Executions In Iran

originally published at Radio Free Europe
A U.S.-based rights group says Iran has carried out more secret executions at a prison where the practice was criticized in a recent UN report.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the executions were carried out at Vakilabad prison in Mashhad in recent months.

Group spokesman Hadi Ghaemi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on May 25 that “We have been able to confirm through local sources that executions have been performed secretly in Vakilabad prison since March 2011.”

He said some 70 people were executed over that period without having been informed in advance of their imminent death.

Ghaemi said the death sentences are carried out after the sentences are forwarded by chief prosecutor Mohseni Ejei to the Mashad regional prosecutor. He blamed Ejei for the failure to inform prisoners or their families before the sentences are carried out.

Ghaemi questioned claims that most of the 1,000 people executed over the past 18 months were sentenced for drug-related crimes, noting that no statistics have been released. But he said his organization has compiled statistics for the number of prisoners executed at Vakilabad, a huge detention center housing some 10,000 prisoners.

He said executions also continue at the Karoon, Birjand, and Ahva prisons. He said the number of executions at Vakilabad may be higher because Mashhad borders on Afghanistan and is therefore on a major drug-trafficking route.

Ghaemi said the Iranian authorities have admitted to the UN that unannounced executions take place but that they understate the actual number.

He expressed concern that executions for drug-related crimes have not resulted in a decline in drug use in Iran, and that some of those executed may in fact be innocent.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern about the human rights situation in Iran, including the executions of drug traffickers. The report said some 60 people had been executed in Mashhad in July.

Iranian Women Prisoners: ‘Death Was Like a Desire’

Listen to Audio

JEFFREY BROWN: Next, a rare look at dissent in Iran, including the abuse of female prisoners during and following the 2009 Green Revolution. That was when thousands took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest a disputed presidential election, before facing a violent crackdown by the government. Our story is told through interviews recorded in secret with Iranian women. The correspondent’s voice and the faces and voices of some of the women have been altered to protect their identities. This report is a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting. A caution: Some of the images and stories are disturbing.

CORRESPONDENT: It’s been two years since the bloody days that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election. I was there in the streets, along with hundreds of thousands of people. During the uprising, known as the Green Movement, I witnessed horrific acts of suffering, including the death of Neda Agha Soltan. It was captured on video and posted on the Internet for the world to see. But I felt compelled to share some of the untold stories from that chaotic time. A Rare Look at Abuse of Female Prisoners in Iran A Rare Look at Abuse of Female Prisoners in Iran

WOMAN (through translator): When Neda died, all of Iran and the rest of the world knew. But when they were raping and torturing me, and putting out cigarettes on my body, nobody knew.

CORRESPONDENT: On a cold day this past winter, I met a 22-year-old woman I call Layla in a cafe. She was like any other vibrant, talkative girl, but I could see a deep sadness in her eyes. A month after the disputed election, Layla and several other women were randomly rounded up in the street by police who accused them of being part of the Green Movement.

WOMAN (through translator): When they arrested us and threw us in a van and beat us with clubs, they kept hitting us, and they verbally abused us. They took us somewhere. I didn’t know where it was. The windows of the van were tinted.

CORRESPONDENT: She said she was taken to a secret prison.

WOMAN (through translator): When the guard was shaving my hair, he was purposely shaving in a way that would cut my skin very painfully. And he left a little patch of hair in front just to bother me. I wasn’t sitting in a chair as he was cutting my hair. He was holding me from behind and rubbing himself against me.

CORRESPONDENT: Next, she was blindfolded and gagged. Then, with her hands tied behind her back, she was dragged into an interrogation room. After being questioned for only a short time, Layla says her interrogator became physical with her.

WOMAN (through translator): I was scared to death. The first thing he did was lick my face with his tongue. Then, he started touching my bra and all over my body. I was crying, “Please, please don’t. I am innocent. I’m a virgin.” He said, “No, you are not a virgin anymore.” Then he raped me. After he raped me, he urinated on me, on my whole body.

CORRESPONDENT: Layla said her torture didn’t end there. WOMAN (through translator): Then I heard the sound of the whip in the air, and then felt it on my body. Then he untied my hands and he started caressing my arm like a lover. I felt something burning me just for a second. I screamed and he slapped me. He put out his cigarette on my left hand. He put out another cigarette on my knee. I was still lost in the first and second pain when I felt another cigarette on my chest, another cigarette on back of my feet, another, another, and another, a pack of 20 cigarettes put out on my body.

CORRESPONDENT: Layla showed me the scars from the cigarette burns, but was too afraid to let them be filmed. As the protests continued in the streets of Tehran, Layla continued to be brutalized in the secret prison for nearly two months.

WOMAN (through translator): I don’t know how many times a day I was raped. It wasn’t just one person. There were different people. The whole time I was there, I was telling myself, be strong, be calm. The end of this is death, and death will only take a moment. Death was like a desire for me. I wanted to die.

CORRESPONDENT: Layla was released on several hundred thousand dollars bail, a price so high, that her parents had to sell the family business. She was never formally charged with a crime, and the secret police continue to monitor her. Layla was one of several women who have talked with me over the past year, even though all of us can face retribution from the regime for speaking out. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Rape was routinely practiced as a matter of policy to intimidate young ordinary people from ever coming out to protest again.” Iranian TV released this footage of a detention center after the speaker of Iran’s Parliament admitted that almost 100 cases of rape were filed. But the government later dismissed the charges. In the mountains north of Tehran this past winter, I met up with a young woman I call Samira. She asked to meet me here because it’s one of the few places young people can go and not be spied on. Samira is a rap singer and uses her music to give voice to those who cannot speak out.

WOMAN (through translator): What I could do was write about it, what I had seen, and be the voice for the people who are dead or imprisoned.

CORRESPONDENT: I first met her in the early days of the protests of 2009. She was an activist in the Green Movement, and had just seen a young man gunned down in the street next to her. WOMAN (through translator): I went to the streets to demonstrate. We held back the Basiji militia for two hours just by throwing stones. A man standing next to me with a mask on his face, I had given him some stones just a few minutes before. He fell down and blood exploded out of the middle of his forehead. I was shocked. Then somebody shouted that it was a direct shot.

CORRESPONDENT: What Samira saw wasn’t unusual. Countless numbers of protesters were shot by the Basiji militia. Parvin Fahimi is the mother of one of those victims. She’s the only woman I interviewed who wanted to be identified.

PARVIN FAHIMI, mother (through translator): I can’t understand it, really, why my child, who went out for a civil protest — which was his right to ask, what happened to my vote? And he get a bullet as his answer.

CORRESPONDENT: Fahimi’s son Sohrab has become one of the famous martyrs of the Green Movement.

PARVIN FAHIMI (through translator): The regime actually wanted to kill our children. It makes me sad that they don’t realize these could be their own children.

CORRESPONDENT: She says that, even though the street protests have quieted down, the Green Movement is still very much alive.

WOMAN (through translator): This is an angry silence. And they shouldn’t think, if the people are quiet, it means everything is finished. No, the tornado is coming after calm and peace.

CORRESPONDENT: Layla, the woman who was tortured and raped, agrees.

WOMAN (through translator): I am totally Green. If I don’t wear Green clothing, it’s because I don’t want to go back there. But, in my heart, in my brain, I am Green, even in my blood. If I wasn’t Green, I wouldn’t have come in front of the camera to tell my story.

CORRESPONDENT: Samira, the rapper, says too many people have suffered too much to return to the way things were. She sings: “Captive and prisoners behind the dark walls, we know our destiny to freedom. We, the caged birds, sing the song of flight together, solid as a row of cypress, dedicated to the soil of Iran. Tomorrow’s green sunrise belongs to us.”

MARGARET WARNER: As we said, that report was a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Riskiest Job in Iran

By Shirin Ebadi
Not so long ago, my colleague Nasrin Sotoudeh was the lawyer so many of us human rights defenders in Iran would call when our government harassed us or put one of us, or one of our family members, in jail. Sadly it is now Nasrin who is in jail. The government’s accusations against her include acting contrary to “national security”, “propaganda against the state”, and “membership” of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, an organisation I founded in 2001. The government has also accused her of failing to wear hijab, the traditional Islamic covering for women. On some of these trumped-up charges she has been sentenced to 11 years in jail, and is now banned from practising law for 20 years.

This courageous 45-year-old mother of two young children is one of many in Iran who are targeted – and punished – for speaking up for the rights of others. Women are all too frequently on the receiving end of the Iranian regime’s wrath – as we know from the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to be stoned to death for allegedly coNasrin-Sotoudeh-frei-02mmitting adultery. But what makes Nasrin’s case especially poignant is that it raises a fundamental question about Iran’s future. If the people who come to the defence of people whose human rights are violated cannot do their jobs, who will ensure that such values as equality and justice are upheld in Iran?

Iranian authorities arrested Nasrin at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison last September, during a visit to a client who is a political prisoner. Since then Nasrin has spent most of her time in solitary confinement. To protest against her illegal arrest, Nasrin has gone on several hunger strikes. Iranian officials have denied her access to a lawyer, and for the first month she was not allowed to talk to her family, even on the phone. At one point authorities detained her husband for speaking publicly about his wife’s case.

Why is the Iranian government so afraid of Nasrin Sotoudeh? It is clearly frustrated that an Iranian woman’s work is shining a light on the deplorable human rights situation in Iran. Nasrin is fearless in taking on cases that other lawyers carefully avoid, and for that she has earned respect around the globe. She took on the case of Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian who was arrested for participating in post-election demonstrations in 2009. Zahra was denied her right to an appeal and, despite the intervention of Dutch authorities and a call by the European Union not to go ahead, she was executed without warning on 29 January.

Nasrin was my lawyer in a complaint I filed against Kayhan, a conservative newspaper, and she also defended me when Iranian authorities seized my assets in 2009. Nasrin has also taken on cases involving juvenile executions – Iran is one of the few countries in the world that still puts children to death. Nasrin’s case, among others, is making Iran’s failure to uphold basic human rights increasingly obvious. This is why some countries are pushing for a United Nations human rights council resolution on Iran, with a special rapporteur to carry out investigations into human rights abuses there. Such a push is encouraging, but it will still take a few more countries to reach a majority within the council.

Before her arrest the authorities summoned Nasrin to the tax office and froze her assets. While she was there she realised that the government was carrying out similar “investigations” of at least 30 other lawyers. If Iran is jailing its human rights defenders we need to step up efforts to ensure that justice is upheld there. Such concrete international action would be, in my mind, the best way to honour my colleague Nasrin.

Please visit Amnesty International’s urgent action page to find out how you can help:

The Shoe Thrower’s Brother: An interview with Uday al-Zaidi

On February 27 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave his parliament 100 days to “reform” their sometimes totally nonfunctional ministries or face consequences, in response “to people’s demands” as he put it. Those demands have taken the form of some of the least noted events of the Arab Spring: large mobilizations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, mass acts of civil disobedience and a general strike in Mosul, and the resignations of several governors all over Iraq, including two Basra governors. The Iraqi state has responded violently; with curfews, live ammunition, and wide scale arrests (signaled by Iraqis calling March 18th, “The Friday of Prisoners.”) That deadline ended June 7th, and many Iraqi civil society leaders are preparing for renewed protests this summer, calling June 10th, the “Friday of Resolution and Departure.” One such organizer is Baghdad-based Uday al-Zaidi, leader of an organization called “The Popular Movement to Save Iraq” and the brother of journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who gained renown for throwing his shoes at then president George Bush.

The past three months have also seen a large shift in al-Maliki’s position on the presence of US troops in Iraq, from insisting on their scheduled withdrawal at the end of 2011, to allowing for the possibility of singing a new agreement extending their stay after “a national referendum.” Iraqis have been discussing at length what they see as this double crisis of legitimacy of the present Iraqi government: an utter lack of ability or interest in providing the most basic of services, and obedience to both a deeply unpopular military occupation as well as regional forces. Grassroots organizers meanwhile have seen this as an opening to make their protests really have an impact. In the following interview, Uday discusses his brothers, what he thinks has been driving these protests, who is participating, as well as the most prominent demands. The interview was conducted and translated by Ali Issa on May 25th, and was edited and produced by Joyce Wagner.

(For more on organizing in Iraq, see http://iraqleft.wordpress.com/

 

Articles

(Originally published at http://www.utoronto.ca/prisonmemoirs/)

Political Prisoners of Iran

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General Articles – A Selected List

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