Iran’s Silent Spring

Apr 14, 20100 comments

By Iran Davar Ardalan

Human rights campaigners say the activist community in Iran has been under unprecedented attacks since protests erupted following last June’s disputed election.

In Persian her name symbolizes spring and new beginnings, but Bahareh Hedayat (Ba-ha’-reh He-da’-yat), one of Iran’s most outspoken and tenacious student activists remains silent and secluded in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. Human rights campaigners say the activist community in Iran has been under unprecedented attacks since protests erupted following last June’s disputed election.

“Dear friends who live in free countries,” Hedayat says in a videotaped message (shown above) presented at a student conference in the Netherlands on December 5th, 2009, “You are hearing my voice from Iran, a country where its President cannot stop lying when being interviewed by the foreign press… He is even brazen enough to call Iran the “’freest country in the world.’” The video went viral on YouTube and by December 31st Hedayat was back at Evin prison her fifth arrest in five years. This winter, Tehran’s Prosecutor charged Hedayat with 16 counts including insulting the Supreme Leader and the President of Iran and taking part in post-election protests. Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran based in New York says, “The majority of well-known as well as ordinary activists, particularly university students, have been detained, prosecuted in show trials, and either sentenced to lengthy prison terms or remain in prison without trial, like Bahareh.” Ghaemi says despite widespread arrests and government-sponsored violence against protestors after the disputed elections, Hedayat continued to speak up in public against the ongoing crackdown. Ghaemi says as a woman and university student Hedayat exemplifies two poles of Iran’s youthful society that are “eager for change and transformation of the social, cultural, and political environments towards more openness and freedoms.” Hedayat has also emerged as the voice of Iran’s student movement to the outside world. This month, the European Students’ Union nominated her for the 2011 Student Peace Prize. The European Students’ Union (ESU), based in Brussels, is an umbrella organization representing some 11 million students in 37 countries. Ligia Deca, the Chairperson of the ESU said in a statement, ”Being an active female student union leader, with the oppressive environment the Iranian society is facing at the moment, is in itself an extraordinary challenge. But expanding the student union’s work, making visible the hardship of Iranian students and establishing a link to European organizations without fear for the consequences, shows a great personal dedication to the rights of students, women’s rights and human rights as a cornerstone of every society on the planet.” Ali Afshari knows Hedayat well. A former leader of Iran’s student movement, Afshari spent 400 days in solitary confinement for his political activism between 2000 and 2003. He is now a political analyst in Washington D.C. Afshari notes “Among current student leaders, Hedayat has shown remarkable resistance against intelligence agents and has never given up against heavy pressure and has had great influence inside student populations and women activists in Iran.” “I am Iranian, from a country with three thousand years of civilization,” Hedayat says in her December 5th video message, noting that for the past century, Iranian students have been fighting for freedom of expression and democracy, “Given that political factions, and NGO’s do not enjoy political independence or free governing principles, and we have no freedom of the press, the role of the student movement can be life-changing,” she notes. Hedayat represents a new generation of young women educated within Islamic Iran who demand full partnership in their society. Some 60% of University students in Iran are female and as they educate, they are empowering themselves to stand up for their rights. Back in 2006, she became an active member of the One Million Signature Campaign, a grassroots effort demanding that the government change discriminatory laws against women. She actively promoted this demand for change among female university students across Iran. In her December 5th video address, Hedayat voiced concern for the way the current government is in her words, “filtering” the admissions process across Universities, to limit the number of women entering. Hedayat said the government is creating obstacles for female entry and more specifically limiting areas of study for female students. Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says, “The hardliners are terrified by the rise of the women’s rights movement as well as the tangible increase of women’s presence in cultural, economic, and social spheres, particularly for women to have a higher rate of admissions to universities over the past decade… as a result the Ahmadinejad administration has started instituting quotas limiting the admission of female students to many university programs, particularly in science and technology, and capping them at 50%.” Speaking on the current state of activism in Iran, Ghaemi says, “the calculation of the security and intelligence agencies, orchestrating this harsh crackdown, is that they will manage to uproot, paralyze, and render ineffective the civil society and various social movements such as the students’, women’s, and labor movement.” But Ghaemi says “for every activist who is imprisoned and silenced behind bars, we continue to see others stepping forward to fill their place. Although these activists are not able to organize and advocate openly at the moment, our sense is that their networking and connections continue to develop, particularly in cyberspace.” But almost a year after Iran’s disputed Presidential election, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is defiant that Iran remains united particularly against outside forces, “They tried very much to divide the people but they failed. This was a victory for the nation,” Khamenei said in a speech on March 22nd, “Eight months after the elections, they took the worst possible stance. The American President called those rioters and saboteurs ‘civil rights activists’,” Khamenei said, “You take the side of rioters and call it a civil movement. Are you not ashamed?” On April 5th friends and family gathered in Tehran to celebrate Bahareh Hedayat’s 29th birthday. Prison officials reportedly allowed her to call in during the celebration to talk to her husband. Iranian Judiciary authorities have refused to hold a trial or issue bail in her case. Photographs from the birthday show friends sitting around a huge cake covered with chocolate frosting. The message on the cake reads, “May your name ring eternal in this green spring.” Re-posted by request and with permission: