Remembering Five, One Year Later

May 9, 20110 comments

On Mother’s Day last year (May 9, 2010), Iran’s Revolutionary Court announced that five prisoners had been executed: teacher & activist Farzad Kamangar and activists Ali HeidarianFarhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Holi, and Mehdi Eslamian. This was, and remains, an immense blow to the activist community and to humankind as a whole. This loss of some of Iran’s brightest stars seemed then – and still now one short year later – an unreality. But hope also remains, in that these inspiring people and their amazing stories, aspirations, and courage reached — and continues to reach — activists and ordinary citizens around the world everyday. The world will remember and continue their visions for a better Iran, where they could teach in their mother tongues, show dissent without fear, and be a proud member of a religious and ethnic minority without facing the heavy hands of Iran’s authorities Below are short profiles of these five amazing people. Today, let us not just mourn their losses, but also recommit ourselves, our drive, and our motivations to fulfilling the visions of freedom for which these activists worked the entirety of their short lives. Farzad Kamangar was a 33 year old Kurdish teacher, social worker, activist, and journalist in the city of Kamyaran. The young teacher also went by Siamand. A year before being arrested, he taught at the Karodanesh Institute. He was also on the board of directors of the Teachers of Kamyaran Association at the Kurdistan branch (until disbanded and banned by the government). Farzad was arrested when he traveled to Tehran in August 2006 to see his ill brother. In a letter published by Enduring America, he wrote of his persecution for being a Kurd:

“While they were writing down my details they asked me of my origins as soon as I said “Kurd” they flogged me all over my body with a hose looking whip. Because of [my] religion I had to endure profanities, insults and beating. I was even severely battered because of the Kurdish ringtone that I had on my mobile. They would tie my hands and put me on a chair and put heavy pressure on various sensitive parts of my body…they would remove my clothes with force and threatening me with rape with a baton or sticks… They had a strange, singular hatred towards me as a Kurd, journalist and a human rights activist. No matter what was going on they never stopped torturing me…”

In a parable Farzad wrote reportedly about two weeks before his execution, the early-30′s teacher and social worker asks:

“Is it possible to carry the heavy burden of being a teacher and be responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge and still be silent? Is it possible to see the lumps in the throats of the students and witness their thin and malnourished faces and keep quiet?”

Ali Heidarian, who was arrested along with Farzad Kamangar and Farhad Vakili in August 2006, was also an ethnic Kurd and civil rights activist. He, Farzad, and Farhad were detained Rajai-Shahr Prison near Karaj, a prison notorious not only for the abuse and torture, but also for housing prisoners of conscience with violent criminals as an intimidation technique. It was in Rajai-Shahr Prison that Ali was wounded by prison guards in May 2008. He was denied medical treatment until other prisoners united in protest.  In a show of dissent, Ali and Farzad both took a vow of silence to protest the rough treatment by prison security guards.

Shirin Alam Holi, who would have celebrated her 30th birthday this coming June 3, was born in the village of Gheshlagh near the city of Maku. She was arrested in May 2007 by the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran and spent her first 25 days in an unknown location.

She was later transferred to ward 209 of Evin prison where she was held in solitary confinement for six months. During her time in jail, Shirin spent 22 days on a hunger strike, during which time she continued to endure both physical and psychological torture. In an account before her execution sentenced was issued, she details her prison time, complete with internal bleeding, cigarette burns, forced feeding with tubes, and pain killer injections as her only medical treatment. In a second letter, reportedly written only one week before she was executed, Shirin writes:

“I am entering into my third year of imprisonment, three years under the worst conditions behind the bars of the Evin prison. I spent the first two years of my imprisonment without a lawyer, and in pre-trial custody. All my inquiries about my case went unanswered until I was unjustly sentenced to death. Why have I been imprisoned and why am I going to be executed? For what crime? Is it because I am Kurdish?… Today is May 2, 2010 and once again they took me to Section 209 of the Evin prison for interrogation. They asked me to cooperate with them in order for me to be pardoned and not executed. I don’t understand what they mean by cooperation, when I don’t have anything more to say than what I have already said. They want me to repeat whatever they say, but I refuse to do it. The interrogators told me “we wanted to release you last year, but your family wouldn’t cooperate with us so things had to come to this.” He admitted to me that I was a hostage and until they reach their goal they will keep me a prisoner or execute me, but they will never release me.”

Farhad Vakili was also a Kurdish activist that was arrested along with Ali Heidarian and Farzad Kamangar in August 2006. All three faced allegations and charges, including alleged links to Kurdish opposition groups. Reports say that Farhad was a mid-‎ranking manager at Sanandaj’s Jahad-e Sazandegi (also known as the government ministry in charge of developing ‎rural villages). While in Evin, Farhad protested his situation by undertaking a hunger-strike, despite his failing health and a previous heart attack. Mehdi Eslamian was a 30 year old arrested on May 3rd 2008. He was taken to the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Shiraz where he endured emotional and physical torture for 2 weeks before being transferred to Evin. He was accused of providing “financial assistance” to dissident groups. Mehdi was denied medical treatment for his fractured shoulder and nose, both of which resulted from torture. On March 22nd, 2009, Mehdi’s 20 year old brother, Mohsen, was hanged along with 2 other prisoners of conscience, Ali-Asghar Poshtar & Roozbeh Yahya-Zadeh, in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz.