Who are Iran’s Khashoggis?

Source: Amnesty International- Three Iranian demonstrators on the verge of being executed

Reporting on Iran has become an anxiety-inducing affair. In addition to the Islamic republic’s horrible economic decline, mysterious explosions — three so far this month — and wildfire that have been roiling the country. A second wave of Corona is raging through the country.  And on it goes.

But this is just the starker side of the story. There are, as well, daily reports of ordinary Iranians going to jail for absurd crimes, being forced to confess on television, more reports of torture and death of people who are already in jail in Iran. At times it is exhausting to open Twitter to read about yet another poor soul who has fallen victim to the brutal dictatorship of Iran just for speaking their mind.

“We do not jail people for their opinions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed in an interview with U.S. journalist and television personality Charlie Rose back in 2015. It seems, though, that this is what the regime does 24/7/365, all day, all week, all year. Tragically, people who are jailed or hanged are often not members of an organized political group or a political party despite the regime’s false accusations or forced confessions. No, they are ordinary Iranians demanding their basic human rights such as asking to wear what they want or expressing a simple opinion. Students, journalists, teachers, union workers, influencers, researchers, environmental activists, member of religious minorities are among them.

Recently, the regime has also been imprisoning mothers and fathers and even relatives of those who are already in jail or killed by the regime, simply for speaking out about their children. Manouchehr Bakhtiari father of slained demonstrator 27 years old Pouya is an heartbreaking example.

Here are some examples from the last week.

Saba Kord Afshari, a 21 year-old female who had been protesting the compulsory hijab, now serving 24 years sentence, had her birthday last week. It was her second year in prison. Her mother, Rahele Ahmadi, is also in jail for the crime of defending her daughter.  Saba took part in the women’s activist and famous journalist Massih Alinejd’s White Wednesdays campaign against compulsory hijab. Saba’s father published a heart-wrenching video on social media marking his daughter’s birthday.

Last week, the old mother of Sohrab Arabi an activist and journalist who is in jail for criticizing the regime was sentenced  to six years in prison for discussing her son — and demanding justice.

Then came the shocking news of a 55 year-old man, Morteza Jalali, had been executed in the Mashhad jail for drinking alcohol. According to Iran’s Islamic law, someone arrested for the third time for drinking gets put to death. This was his sixth arrest according to authorities.

Last week, the father of the gifted 15 -year- old student Adib Vali, winner of an international robotic contest announced that his son had been kicked out of school for being a Bahai.

Then there is Yasman Aryani, currently serving a 16-year sentence for defying the compulsory hijab, celebrating her birthday in jail last week. Her mother, Monireh Arabshahi, is also in jail for defending her daughter.

Oh, and Atena Daemi a young women who has protested against child labor and capital punishment had just finished serving her five-year prison sentence last week but was sentenced to an additional two years in prison — and 74 lashes—  for speaking up about Iranian protesters of Nov 2019. She has been denied medical help in prison despite suffering from health issues.

Amnesty International has also been petitioning for the release of three other women in need of covid-related medical care. These are the lawyer and activist Soheila Hijab, 30, who has asked for a referendum about constitution. Alongside her is Nargas Mohammadi, known women’s rights activist with Corona who already suffers from bad health,  and the ailing political prisoner Zeynab Jalilian who is currently serving a life sentence.

Last week also came the news of female activist Samane Noroz Moradi who was serving a three-plus year sentence for defending monarch has received  an additional 18-month sentence for saying long live the king in a clip on social media while she was out on a temporary release. She has breast cancer, among other serious health issues and is serving her sentence in the notorious Evin prison. But these cases as horrible as they are, are not even the tip of the iceberg.

The journalist/activist Ruhollah Zam who had been living in Paris has been abducted to Iran by the regime in Iraq. He was hauled on to state TV again after a forced confession, which was used to justify a death sentence, and then again “interviewed” and humiliated by a man who is said to be a state TV interrogator and “host”. The show was so grotesque that Journalists Without Borders protested against it and called it “regime’s obvious confession to torturing prisoners”. Three young men all in their 20s, Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajab are close to execution for taking part in last year’s #IranProtests and on false accusations. Last week the Supreme Court in Iran has confirmed their sentences. The list goes on and on. In fact, there are so many names, so many people each week that it is hard to squeeze them into a weekly newsletter, let alone here.

The plight of these people spurs a sticky question: Why are the western media as silent as door mice in the face of the corrupt, oppressive, criminal regime of Iran? After all, somebody like Khashoggi got endless coverage on every famous western media outlet; his name is so engraved on people’s mind in the west that you can’t say Saudi Arabia without his case popping into your head. Yet, thousands and thousands of people are sitting in Iranian jails, being convicted daily, dying under strange circumstances, some sentenced to death, yet nobody cares to write about them, even to showcase one case to be the face of the horrible injustice going on in Iran.

A British friend tells he has never heard about the human rights abuse in Iran. Not in the UK media anyway. He has heard of Iran being an axis of evil, and of course the sanctions. By mentioning people such as those above, the established media will have to admit what they are essentially trying to hide, that the Iranian regime is evil.  After all, when the media wheels in the west starts rolling, we remember names. Actions take place, changes are demanded. Look at the George Floyd movement, or the aforementioned Khashoggi case. Yet, there are thousands of innocent people in Iran who do not receive the same courtesy. These people’s lives are nothing to media’s machinery that apparently only cares about people if they are somehow connected to anti-western, anti-Trump, anti-Israel agenda on the political landscape.  After all who can forget the deafening silence of CNN’s Christian Amanpour when hundreds of demonstrators were butchered on the streets of Iran eight months ago? Instead, she showed up in January interviewing the Iranian vice president and terrorist Ebtekar who climbed the US embassy wall in ‘79, on the matter of Soleimani’s death.

Putting the burden of informing of these people’s unjust plights on the shoulders of the activists alone is inhumane. These people are standing up for their rights against a brutal dictatorship with or without our help. They suffer and some even die. The least we can do here, is go give them an ounce of our decency to mention their names in our established media coverage.  Some say history has not happened if nobody has heard about it. I am saying these people are happening now, and they deserve to be heard. Loud and clear.

About the Author
Iranian-Nowegian author writing about Middle East-Iran. I write for the Norwegian newspaper Nettavisen.
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