Thursday, December 24, 2009

Statement by Homosexual Students at Iran’s Universities

Translator’s note: The formation of the new organization, “Homosexual Students at Iran’s Universities” is a courageous act. Below are large excerpts from a statement which this organization issued on the occasion of Students’ Day. For more information about queer organizing in Iran, please see “Twelve Men Face Execution for Sodomy in Iran” by Doug Ireland, published in Gay City News ( Please also contact Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator at International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (

Statement by Homosexual Students at Iran’s Universities
Translated by Frieda Afary

December 6, 2009

This year’s commemoration of December 7, significantly differs in nature from previous years. This December 7 is being shaped anew, not as necessitated by the calendar, but as necessitated by conditions that have set the stage for protest movements.

We cannot stop still or go backward. We cannot commemorate this event in a routine way. Just as we gave new political meaning to Qods Day, and appropriated November 3, so our preservation of December 7 as a commemoration which belongs to the student movement, denudes this day of its official title in order to make it an event once again. [Qods day refers to September 18, a day designated by Ayatollah Khomeini as Jerusalem Day. November 3, refers to the anniversary of the take over of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. This year, the Green Movement transformed both events into protests against the government and in defense of democracy and human rights –tr].

After five decades, the rise of a revolution, and the emergence of a people’s movement, December 7, the symbol of protest against a regime backed by the July 1953 coup, now confronts the June 12, 2009 coup [The July 1953 CIA-sponsored coup deposed the democratically elected government of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, and returned Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power—tr] This year, the distinguishing factor is that the forces of the people are intertwined in the context of these [December 7] protests. Students are no longer starry-eyed in their socio-political struggle. Prior to the people’s protest against dictatorship and lawlessness under the Islamic Republic, students might have felt isolated in their opposition to dictatorship. Now, however, the student movement takes place in the context of a society which demands an end to dictatorship, and is untainted by superficiality and narrow-mindedness.

Due to the depth of social perception in the student body, and an extensive grasp of human rights and civil rights, student demands are now linked to women’s demands on the one hand and workers’ demands on the other. This dual link has been achieved not only on the basis of theoretical knowledge but also on the basis of practical experience.

On the other hand, the student movement includes the demands of homosexuals. These demands represent a transgression of deeply rooted cultural boundaries which impede social tolerance.

The presence of minorities within the student body, limits the possibility of monopolization. . . . Students who may have different names, are part of the people. Their multiple presence on a variety of fronts continues to shake the weak foundation of the regime and challenges its security. The student movement is not green throughout. It also includes other colors. However, the breadth of the instinctual drive for equality among the people of the Green Movement, has compelled other colors to accommodate to it. We hope that the social right to self-determination of a people who wish to live within the framework of human rights and not any type of ideological dictatorship, will be placed in the hands of the people themselves. The students will not monopolize December 7.

Similar to years prior to the June 12 election, students constitute the largest number of those murdered, arrested and tortured . . . December 7, 2009 is equated with December 7, 1953 in order to transcend it and move from protesting the coup to determining the fate of democracy in Iran. In order to create a society in which everyone is free to move safely in her/his direction, we need to be together. On December 7, let us comprehend that freedom for the majority can only exist when minorities are safe. Let us be together.

Homosexual Students at Iran’s Universities, publish their third statement on the occasion of a December 7 commemoration which might signify the last gasps of a coup-backed government.

Considering that a significant number of university students are also queers, and considering that the active part of the queer community in Iran consists of university students and university graduates, it is not too late to correct the intolerant and inappropriate drafts of the constitution, in order to guarantee that the perspectives of the representatives of the Green Movement do not fall short of the perspectives of the rank and file of the people’s movement.[The authors of this statement do not cite the specific drafts to which they refer. A draft presented by the “Lawyers of the Iranian People’s Green Movement” does recognize the rights of people regardless of gender, religion, nationality and race, but makes no mention of sexual orientation—tr. The Persian text can be viewed online at A brief summary in English is available at]

Another milestone achieved by this year’s December 7 commemoration was the student body’s deep comprehension of the concept of human rights. It is crucial to remind the readers that the student movement and the women’s movement have captivated a larger portion of Iranian society because these movements are more tolerant and think more deeply.

At a time when two human rights organizations in Iran --which consist of students-- have been courageous and forthright in taking up the rights of minorities and especially sexual minorities who have been excluded from civil rights protection, the representatives of the Green Movement who are devising the outlines of the new constitution, avoid mentioning the rights of minorities. If we do not pay attention, the first opportunity for correcting the defects of the constitution will lead not to reform but to a future imprisoned by prejudice and exclusion.

On the eve of December 7, and at a time when the Green Movement of the people has come to signify fresh air for a repressed society, students who give their all to this movement, do so to make sure that the passion for life is not crushed under the boots of dictatorship.

Homosexual Students at Iran’s Universities who have not been promised any share of political power or fame, would like to send a message to the Green Movement in the spirit of solidarity and kinship. The demands of the people, rooted only in the necessity to abide by human rights and civil rights, are greater than all the demands which the leaders of the Green Movement utter in honor of the [1979 –tr] revolution.

Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Mousavi, Mrs. Rahnavard, students and families, on this December 7, keep the Green Movement dynamic by making a statement about the human rights demands of all the people of Iran. The movement needs more than the blood of the youth to survive. The movement needs a timely declaration of its exact, explicit, and human rights-based demands, in order to defend your lives and your social rights. Let us all be together.

Homosexual Students at Iran’s Universities

For Freedom and Equality

December 2009

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Majid Tavakoli Becomes a Symbol of a Growing Student Movement

Majid Tavakoli, an Iranian student leader who had been imprisoned twice for his defense of human rights, was violently arrested on December 7 after he gave a speech at a gathering of students at Amir Kabir University (Tehran) to commemorate Students’ Day. Three years earlier in December 2006, he had been among students who protested Ahmadinejad’s speech at Amir Kabir University and called him “ a source of prejudice and corruption.” This year, Tavakoli was speaking to Amir Kabir students in the midst of student demonstrations throughout the country. Below are excerpts from two articles which defend Tavakoli and address the meaning of the Iranian government’s claim that he was arrested while dressed in a woman’s hijab. The first article is by Mujtaba Saminejad, a journalist, human rights activist and blogger. The second is by Shakiba Shaker Hosseini, a young feminist activist.

Majid Tavakoli Is Not Afraid. The Fearful Are Those Hiding Under One Cover
By Mujtaba Saminejad
Translated by Frieda Afary

December 10, 2009

. . . The coup leaders are very worried today. The more time elapses, the stronger and more widespread the Iranian people’s protest movement becomes. The coup leaders’ illusion about the degeneration of this movement is weakening.

The media that have backed the coup, also support the murderers of the Nedas and the Sohrabs in Iran. They defend the Yemeni and Lebanese and Afghani Taliban terrorists. . . These media are crying out about the connection between a student activist and terrorist groups. . .

Majid Tavakoli has been arrested several times. He spent months at the Evin prison under the most severe psychological and physical torture. First he was arrested when the Basijis [militia –tr] who are supported by Keyhan and the Pars New Agency [a newspaper and a press agency that support Ayatollah Khamenei—tr.] published and distributed a publication which insulted religious beliefs which the Basijis promote and represent in the name of God. They accused Majid Tavakoli and other students at Amir Kabir Polytechnic, of having issued this publication. After 15 months of imprisonement, Majid and the other students were exonerated by the court. Those who had issued the publication were discredited.

Majid’s second arrest took place at the cancelled memorial meeting for Mr. Bazargan [reference to Mehdi Bazargan who was the first prime minister after the 1979 Revolution—tr.] . He was subjected to psychological and physical torture for 115 days at the Evin prison once again. . .

Keyhan and the Pars New Agency are experts at fraud and falsification. That is whey they support the coup-promoting government. They report that Majid was afraid as he was attempting to flee [Amir Kabir University—tr.]. They liken him toBani Sadr who put on women’s clothing in order to escape.[Reference to Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first president after the 1979 Revolution. Bani Sadr fled the country in 1981 –tr.]

But who is afraid? Majid Tavakoli and the student activists or those who beat women, girls and elderly women in the head to prevent them from chanting slogans or forming gatherings? Who is afraid? Those students who courageously stand in front of the truncheons, tear gas and the violent Basijis and security forces, or those who create a security barrier around the university to prevent people from witnessing their crimes? . . . The fearful are those increasingly in denial about the growing flames of the protest movement.

Tavakoli Carries the Weight of the Humiliation Suffered by Iranian Women
By Shakiba Shaker Hosseini
Translated by Frieda Afary

December 11, 2009

. . . The story of Majid Tavakoli is the story of centuries of women’s oppression in Iran. He and his fellow activists in this movement are jointly experiencing the bitter taste of this oppressive attitude. This is an attitude that reveals the humiliation of the perpetrators and not the victims.

This event clearly reflects the thought of those who view women and all things associated with women in a humiliating manner. In Iran, the Hijab has been considered a “mandatory honor” and a great deal more than a question of volition or choice. Now it is being used as a sign of humiliation. They [the authorities –tr] dress Tavakoli in women’s clothing and take his picture, and think that they have humiliated him. . .

The bearers of pathological thoughts and images about women, get excited about dressing a student member of the Office for the Consolidation of Unity, in women’s clothing! However, Majid Tavakoli and other men who have experienced this injustice, have now gained an intimate and true understanding of what women are forced to bear. This intersubjective comprehension will make Iran’s progressive movement more united.

The violence, suppression and the arrest of dissidents, regardless of their attire, is to be condemned. The creation of terror and fear among citizens reveals the face of a system that is using fear to stay in power. Under these circumstances, the spectacle of citizens who are willing to do anything in order to not be caught, exposes the violent behavior of the oppressors.
. . . Once again look at those unbelievable pictures. Could any other image express the bitterness and humiliation of the compulsory hijab with such clarity?

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Socialists Inside Iran Differ on the Green Movement

Recently, Alborz, an Iran-based site devoted to a critique of political economy, has published articles which represent differing views among socialists inside Iran concerning the future of the Green Movement. Below are excerpts from two articles which represent some of these differing views.

The “Green Insurrection:” From Dream to Reality
Author: Mohammad Gharagozloo
Translated by Frieda Afary

November 19, 2009

. . . In the first few weeks after the [June 12, 2009] election, many appropriated the color green and chanted slogans which insisted on the cancellation of the election results and called for a new election. Now however, the protest movement has taken a different direction. Starting from the July 16 Friday Prayer to [the September 18 ] Jerusalem Day and November 3, the appearances and the slogans of the protesters --even the ones dressed in green –have not matched the primary and secondary goals of the green insurrection and its election-time leaders. . .

Let us grant that there is a green insurrection whose class hegemony (political, economic, social and cultural) is in fact under the control of the two protesting reformist candidates. In an article entitled, “Are the Economically Impoverished Among the Forces of the Green Movement?”( Mohammad Maljoo correctly points out that during the 16 years of their participation in the leadership of the fifth through the eighth government, these candidates have been economically “market-oriented”

Everyone knows that the neo-liberal plan called “economic transformation” or “targeted monetary subsidies”[reference to the current government’s plan to phase out existing subsidies on basic goods and gas --tr.] which is now being placed as the first item on the agenda of the tenth government and the eight parliament, is a proposal made by the World Bank. The main preparatory steps were implemented through the “economic modification” plan of the fifth and sixth governments under the name of economic development. These steps were continued by the reformist governments. . .

Mohammad Maljoo’s emphasis in the aforementioned article is quite true and objective: “The economically impoverished have not benefited from the economic actions of either side of the June 12 dispute.” In their debates, speeches and half-baked electoral promises, the two reformist candidates have not proposed any article or amendment through which any “favor” is done for the working and the economically impoverished classes. . .

My question for Mr. Maljoo is the following: Based on what material evidence is he so optimistic about the future of the liberals as to write: “At a time when the economic policies of the hurried tenth government do not promise economic growth or social justice, perhaps the political elite of the green movement would have the unique opportunity to not repeat their past calamitous actions concerning the economically impoverished, but instead take up a justice-seeking discourse to officially call on the working classes and the urban poor to join the growing ranks of the Greens. The most important barrier to such a call is the domination of the market-oriented economic discourse among extensive numbers of the political elite of the Green Movement.”

Mr. Maljoo must certainly know that in order to change the direction of the economy from the free market or the closed market (capitalism in any form) , to a “justice-seeking economic discourse to defend the working and urban impoverished classes,” or what I would call a socialist mode of production and the abolition of the sale of labor power, the decision-making body cannot be the “political elite of the Green Movement.” . . .

A Critique of the Perspectives of Mohammad Gharagozloo:
From Repeating Cliches to Understanding Cliches
Author: Yassir Azizi
Translated by Frieda Afary

November 22, 2009

. . . I wish this proclaimed leftist, who happens to be a true representative (based on being on the left side of the spectrum and not based on his correct thinking) had as much sense as one of the liberal candidates, to comprehend that “the color green has turned into a fluid signifier.”(Statement from Mir-Hossien Mousavi in a post-election speech to a group of university professors) Therefore, this signifier does not represent any particular signified or concept. Having said this, let’s move on to the heart of the issue.

1. The Unity of Theory and Practice

“It is not enough that thought strive to actualize itself; actuality must itself strive toward thought.”
Karl Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Any reflection on Marx’s thought and his methodology clearly shows that theory to him is not an abstraction from reality. If it were, he would have never ended his Theses on Feuerbach with the historic statement which challenges the official role of philosophers: “Philosophers have interpreted the world in different ways. The point is to change it.”

For Marx, the unity of theory and practice was the most important and the best way to achieve the change that he called for. But a change in what? Changing the world to Marx meant changing the reality around you. To be changed, that reality has to be comprehended first. Then that cognition, as theory, becomes concomitant with and coordinated with objective and conscious practice. It is the lack of such [a concept] that Marx criticized among his predecessors whom he called “utopian socialists.”

He called the likes of Fourier, Owen and others, “utopian” not simply because they sufficed themselves with giving sermons and did not engage in objective action. He called them utopian because of their defective comprehension of reality. . .

Simply drawing up a plan and posing a singular paradigm for action which is not in harmony with the present pulse of history, only strengthens the mental capacities of those who are tourists in the world of theories and not the efforts of those who want to step forward in the rough trails of social reality.

2. The Origin of Today’s Movement

“To be radical is to grasp matters at the root. But for the human being the root is the human being herself/himself.”
Karl Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

Regardless of the interpretations which call it a middle-class movement, the present people’s movement in Iran is a manifestation of the unity of theory and practice. Leftists such as the one discussed, offer an insufficient analysis. This movement’s material and social form is not that of a working-class movement with a limited conceptual definition, but a middle-class movement which is supported by large sectors of the lower classes. At this sensitive historical moment, based on its experiences and its real sense perception, this movement has found itself preoccupied with political practice. This position is not defective from the standpoint of Marxist theory. In fact, it is based on comprehending reality and transforming it into a theory of action. . .

Of course I believe that a socialist has to clarify her/his horizon, general position and distinctions. Nevertheless, there can be a balance between grand goals, the realization of which seems further on the horizon, and actions with results which may make life a little easier. . .

No one can claim to be a leftist and not have the benefits of the impoverished classes and specifically the working class in mind. . . .We have to ask where the majority of workers in our society—those who have “nothing to lose but their chains” according to Marx—stand as far as the levels of general consciousness and self-consciousness are concerned. The lack of support for the present movement and its slogans, on the part of a spectrum of the impoverished, does not seem to arise from a class standpoint. Rather, realistically, it arises from their lack of consciousness and their having been co-opted by parts of the ruling ideology on the one hand and their being deceived by the donations of the ninth government, on the other . . .

Carefully examining the existing realities of society and the direction which the “Revolutionary Guard” has taken in expropriating the economy and transforming the form of Iran’s economy into a type of “military rule of capital,” should illuminate the challenge which the majority of the unemployed face in their struggle. Given the current situation in which hiring is shifting toward using the members of the Basij (militia --tr) and consequently those who pass the ideological test, we need to pay additional attention to comprehending what position workers would take.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Put Human Rights Defense on Par with Nuclear Safety Concerns, says Feminist Attorney, Shadi Sadr

On November 9, 2009, Shadi Sadr, a young feminist attorney and journalist received the "Dutch Human Rights Defenders Tulip" for her work in Iran. In her acceptance speech she wrote: "As long as the issue of human rights is not raised at least in a parallel way to the nuclear issue at all levels of political and economic negotiations with the Iranian government, and sanctions and other possible guarantees of action do not include both areas, one cannot accept that some real effort has been made to stop the violation of the rights of Iranian citizens." The English translation of her speech is reprinted below. For more information on Shadi Sadr and for a translation of her article on the rapes of young women protesters imprisoned after the forged June 2009 election, see

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Acceptance speech by Ms Shadi Sadr, winner of the 2009 Human Rights Defenders Tulip
Source for Persian original:

Source for English Translation:

Translator Unknown

Jury of the Human Rights Tulip Award,
Your Excellency Foreign Minister of Holland

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am greatly honoured that the jury of the Human Rights Tulip Award has found me worth of receiving this year’s award and given me the opportunity to speak about the situation of women’s rights in Iran, the dire needs of people in Iran and also their expectations from the international community. You have all seen pictures and videos of people’s protests in the aftermath of this year’s presidential elections. You have seen how women, particularly young girls, have been at the forefront of all protests. They challenged the stereotype image of Iranian woman which was often imagined in veil or passive around the world. Neda, the young girl who was shot and murdered in demonstrations, quickly became a symbol for the struggles of Iranian people for freedom and democracy. To me, however, the active and determining role of women was not shaped only through images and videos. I had seen the leadership of women on the streets and the most lasting images I have in mind go back to the 9 th of July this year.

On this day, large crowds of people took to the streets of Tehran on the 10 th anniversary of the suppression of student protests of 1989. Demonstrations were about to end and as usual, violence and attacks were increasing by the minute. Along with a number of the demonstrators, to get away from pepper gas which was thrown into the crowd by security forces, I had to run into a city bus, while I was badly coughing from the effects of tear gas. A few stops away from there, when coughs were less disturbing, a political debate began among the people on the bus. Young women, who had broken the gender segregation rule on public buses and had found seats in the male area of the bus, were leading the debate. I asked loudly and with suprise, “Anyone from the gentlemen? They are all quiet!” Instead of someone from among men, a young girl who was dressed in black said, “Men had better be quiet now. Thirty years ago, they made this revolution and we have now seen its result. They had better be quiet now and let us do our job! This revolution is our revolution, women’s revolution!”

Here, I would like to pose this question: who are these women, who simply speak about a revolution of women, those whose images you have seen and I hope you have not forgotten? Who are they? And why do they fight so bravely for freedom and democracy?

Many of these young women have been born after the 1979 revolution or they have been young kids in the early days of the revolutions; they are completely products of an ideological system, which has had the monopoly of power in Iran for thirty years. Apart from having to suffer the lack of political freedoms and democracy like men, they also have to accept rules of compulsory veil, live with family laws which put them under the guardianship of men, seek the consent of their fathers for marriage, the right of getting a divorce and they are often deprived of the guardianship of their children. These are the same women who will be flogged in they have relationships other than in a marriage and if they are married women, an extra-marital relationship may lead to being stoned. These are the same women that Ahmadinejad’s government wants to minimise their role in universities and the labour market and make them stay at home and be isolated with fundamentalist policies which is now even more restrictive than the past 30 years.

In the past thirty years, Iranian women have gone through the highest level of suppression and pressure in their personal and social lives and have sustained the most damage of all from the ruling system. Under such circumstances, it is obvious that they are the unhappiest and the angriest citizens who do not have much to lose. If they are arrested today because of attending demonstrations for democracy, they have been arrested before for attending gatherings in defence of women’s rights and they have gone to prison for it. If they are raped today by security forces, they have felt this rape on their body and their soul for thirty years in the violation of their rights and their human dignity. Given all these facts, do we still have to ask why, today, women are at the forefront of the struggles of Iranian people?

At the beginning of my talk, I said I hope you have not forgotten the images of the protests of Iranian people against the violation of human rights and the absence of freedom and democracy.

However, let me be honest and tell you that I concerned. I am concerned that these images and these struggles may be forgotten. Yes, if violation of human rights in Iran does not face any resistance or repercussions and if these struggles are not defended in a concrete way, the Iranian people have the right to tell us you have forgotten us. My concern becomes even much deeper when I see that the western media is becoming less and less concerned about the violation of human rights in Iran and even politicians are not better than the media.

Unfortunately, forgetting the thousands who were arrested and tortured in prisons, the hundreds who were killed and the unknown number of prisoners who were raped are killed in detention is a real concern. The fact is that in Iran, while on the one hand people’s struggles and protests are still powerful and living and on the other hand , violation of human rights continues in a systematic way in all spheres, from women’s rights to freedom of gatherings, from rights of prisoners to freedom of speech, it appears that European nations and states are beginning to forget what they witnesses in Iran this summer. It is my conviction that by forgetting these realities, western governments not only forget their own responsibility which has been defined as countries who uphold human rights, but they are also putting in jeopardy the interests of their own state and their own citizens by forgetting these events.

They sit at the same table of negotiations with Ahmadinejad in the capacity of a legitimate president and the only item on the agenda of these negotiations is the issue of nuclear energy, as if none of these events had happened in Iran and as if none of the disasters which we see today keep occurring in Iran. On the level of international politics, everything is business as usual with the Islamic Republic like before the events of this summer. Even when there is talk of sanctions against Iran, sanctions are considered in the face of Iran’s advancements in the area of nuclear technology, as if no one sees the day to day violation of the basic rights of Iranian citizens by the Iranian government. Human rights is a universal issue and if one state claims to be supporting human rights, this claim brings about responsibilities with it . Ignoring these responsibilities, not only subjects Iranian people to further and wider suppression, but it also has long term repercussion for the citizens of countries who consider themselves defenders of human rights, because just in the same way that human rights is universal, fundamentalism as one of the greatest enemies of human rights has also become universal and global. Silence, toleration and recognition of a fundamentalist government that violates the rights of women, dissidents and minorities result in the enhancement and the export of global fundamentalism. We can already see symptoms of it even on this side of the borders: Holland is one of the societies which is now dealing with the issue of religious fundamentalism as a social and political problem..

In the latest demonstration of the Iranian people against the government which was held last week, a large number of people and this time, women more than before, were attacked, beaten up and abused by security guards. Women were wounded, arrested and among them were a large number of political activists such as Vahideh Mowlavi, a women’s rights activist , were violently arrested. In these demonstrations, people were chanting the slogan: “Obama! Obama! You are either with us or with them!” The slogan clearly implies that right before the eyes of the people who are now fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights in Iran, one cannot sit at a negotiation table with a dictatorial government to speak about nuclear energy or economic contracts and talk about concrete conditions and at the same time, criticise the state of human rights in Iran through political statements which have no actual guarantee to be put into action. Demonstrators are overtly challenging Obama to clarify his position towards the struggles of the Iranian people and they have the same expectation from European governments.

As a women’s rights activist who comes from the heart of the struggles of the people, I am here in The Hague, in Holland – the city which is the seat of the International Criminal Court for addressing crimes against humanity – to speak of two dire needs of the movement of the Iranian people. These needs and necessities will not be realised unless western governments take responsibility. First, it is necessary that the issue of human rights in Iran remains on the table of negotiations alongside the issue of nuclear energy with equal significance. As long as the issue of human rights is not raised at least in a parallel way to the nuclear issue at all levels of political and economic negotiations with the Iranian government and sanctions and other possible guarantees of action do not include both areas, one cannot accept that some real effort has been made to stop the violation of the rights of Iranian citizens.

The second necessity is that all those involved and all those who have ordered the widespread and systematic violation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran should be prosecuted and tried. It is true that Iran, like many other violators of human rights, has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but western governments, including the Dutch government, as the host of the International Criminal Court, can ask the UN Security Council to pursue the issue of crimes against humanity through setting up an international court for Iran. Let us not forget that a global issue can only be dealt with through a global action.

Thank you.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Last Statement by Kurdish Activist, Ehsan Fattahian

On November 11, 2009, Ehsan Fattahian, a young Kurdish activist and political prisoner was executed in Sanandaj, Iran. He had been arrested in July 2008 and imprisoned for his association with Komalah, a Kurdish opposition group which considers itself Marxist. His execution was carried out by the Iranian government despite expressions of protest inside and outside Iran. The English translation of Fattahian's last statement is being reprinted from the official website of the Iranian Green Movement. My corrections have been interpolated in square brackets. For more information about Fattahian's case, please see the article, "What Happened to Ehsan Fattahian?" in Tehran Bureau (

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Last Statement by Ehsan Fattahian

Translator Unknown

Last ray of sun at sunset/

is the path that I want to write on/

The sound of leaves under my feet/

say to me: Let yourself fall/

and only then you find the path to freedom./

I have never been afraid of death, even now that I feel it closest to me. I can sense it and I'm familiar with it, for it is an old acquaintance of this land and this people. I'm not writing about death but about justifications for death, now that they have translated it to restoring justice and freedom, can one be afraid of future and destiny? "We" who have been sentenced to death by "them," were working to find a small opening to a better world, free of injustice, are "they" also aware of what they are working towards?

I started life in city of Kermanshah, the city that my country people consider grand, the birthplace of civilization in our country. I soon noticed descrimination and oppression and I felt it in the depth of my existence, this cruelty, and the "why" of this cruelty and trying to resolve it made me come up with thousands of thoughts. But alas, they had blocked all the roads to justice and made the atmosphere so repressive that I didn't find any way to change things inside, and I migrated to another resort: "I became a pishmarg [armed Kurdish fighter or literally "one who faces death"] of Koomaleh," the temptation to find myself and the identity that I was deprived of made me go in that direction. Although leaving my birthplace was difficult but it never made me cut ties with my childhood hometown. Every now and then I would go back to my first home to revisit my old memories, and one of these times "they" made my visit sour, arrested and imprisoned me. From that first moment and from the hospitality (!!) of my jailers I realized that the tragic destiny of my numerous [comrades] also awaits me: torture, file building, closed and seriously influenced court, an unjust and politically charged verdict, and finally death...

Let me say it more casually: after getting arrested in town of Kamyaran on 29/4/87 [July 19, 2008]and after a few hours of being a "guest" at the information office of that town, while handcuffs and a blindfold took away my right to see and move, a person who introduced himself as a deputy of the prosecutor started asking a series of unrelated questions that were full of false accusations (I should point out that any judicial questioning outside of courtroom is prohibited in the law). This was the first of my numerous interrogation sessions. The same night I was moved to the information office of Kurdestan province in city of Sanandaj, and I experienced the real party there: a dirty cell with an unpleasant toilet with blankets that had probably not seen water in decades! From that moment my nights and days passed in the interrogation offices and lower hallway under extreme torture and beatings and this lasted three months. In these three months my interrogators, probably in pursuit of a promotion or some small raise, came up with strange and false accusations against me, which they better than anyone knew how far from reality they were. They tried very hard to prove that I was involved with an armed attempt to overthrow the regime. The only charges they could pursue was being a part of "Koomaleh" and advertising against the regime. The first "shobe" [branch] of Islamic republic court in Sanandaj found me guilty of these charges and gave me 10 years sentence in exile in Ramhormoz prison. The government's political and bureaucratic structure always suffers from being centralized, but in this case they tried to de-centralize the judiciary and gave the powers to re-investigate (appeal?) the crimes of political prisoners, even as high as death penalties, to the appeal courts in Kurdestan province. In this case [Kamyaran's city attorney] appealed the verdict by the first court and the Kurdestan appeals court changed my verdict from 10 years in prison to death sentence, against the Islamic republic laws. According to section 258 of “Dadrasi Keyfari” law [criminal justice law], an appeals court can increase the initial verdict only in the case that the initial verdict was less than minimum punishment for the crime. In my case, the crime was “Moharebeh” (animosity with God), which has the minimum punishment of one year sentence, and my verdict was a 10 year sentence in exile, clearly above the minimum. Compare my sentence to the minimum sentence for this crime to understand the unlawful and political nature of my death sentence. Although I also have to mention that shortly before changing the verdict they transferred me from the main prison in Sanandaj to the interrogation office of the Information Department and requested that I do a video interview confessing to crimes I have not committed, and say things that I do not believe in. In spite of a lot of pressure I did not agree to do the video confession and they told me bluntly that they will change my verdict to death sentence, which they shortly did, and demonstrated how the courts follow forces outside of judiciary department. So should they be blamed??

A judge has been sworn to stay fair in every situation, at all times and towards every person and look at the world from the legal perspective. Which judge in this doomed land can claim to has not broken this [oath]and has stayed fair and just? In my opinion the number of such judges is less than fingers on one hand. When the whole judicial system of Iran with the suggestion of an interrogator (with no knowledge of legal matters), arrests, tries, imprisons and executes people, can we really blame the few judges of a province which is always repressed and discriminated against? Yes, this house is ruined from its foundations...

This is in spite of the fact that in my last visit with my prosecutor he admitted that the death sentence is unlawful, but for the second time they gave me the notice for carrying out the execution. Needless to say that this insistence on carrying a death sentence under any circumstance is the result of pressure from security and political forces from outside of the judiciary department. [The people who belong to these circles] look at life and death of political prisoners only from the point of view of their paychecks and political needs, nothing else matters to them other than their own goals, even if it is about the most fundamental right of other human beings, their right to live. Forget international laws, they completely disregard even their own laws and procedures.

But my last words: If in the minds of these rulers and oppressors my death will get rid of the “problem” called Kurdestan [the province], I should say, what an illusion. Neither my death nor the death of thousands like me will be remedy to this incurable pain and perhaps would even fuel this fire. Without a doubt, every death points to a new life.

Ehsan Fattahian

Sanandaj Central prison

(November 8, 2009)

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Poor Face a Logjam in the Labyrinths of Work

Translator’s Note: The official unemployment rate in Iran stands at 18%. Unofficial rates however are as high as 40%. The official minimum wage is $263 per month, and the legal working day should not exceed 8 hours or a total of 44 hours for 5.5 days. (1) Many of the unemployed have no choice but to accept lower wages and longer working hours. Below are large excerpts from a report by the reformist Iranian Labor News Agency, which describes the types of jobs, wages and working hours that unemployed Iranians are forced to accept.

For more information about poverty in Iran and about the history of the Iranian Labor News Agency, please see my translator’s note to the article entitled “Poverty Line: A ‘Hoax?” (2)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Poor Face a Logjam in the Labyrinths of Work

Author: Unknown


Translated by Frieda Afary

October 21, 2009

When you get lost in the commotion of the city, it is only the workers who can show you extreme pain and expose you to the unsavory smell of life. Believe me, this is true. Given the current Iranian economy, being a worker is very difficult. It permanently exposes you to the bitter taste of life.

Of course the road is open to everyone. Anyone who is unemployed can experience what it is like to be a worker for a while. In this city [Tehran –tr.] there are jobs that await the unemployed.

These are jobs that are not covered by labor laws, insurance and the minimum wage, i.e. issues which continue to be the subject of a battle between workers and employers. These are neither underground and illegal jobs offered unbeknownst to the government, nor part-time jobs for which wages and benefits do not fall under the government’s jurisdiction. These are jobs advertised daily in the job advertisement pages of Tehran’s morning newspapers. Job seekers search them in the hope of finding a job. Perhaps hundreds of managers and employed people glance at them without any interest.

Job seekers however, continue to dial eight-digit telephone numbers. Upon discovering that wages and benefits are not even at the minimum level, they hang up and test their fortune again by trying another job advertisement. If a long search for work, forces them to forego the minimum wage and health insurance requirements, they join all the other job seekers who have given up on the minimum wage. They obtain the employer’s address and fill out the job application without any hope.

All of this in order to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at a clothes packaging workshop in exchange for $180 to $200 per month, or in order to work at a similar workshop, where justice is slightly more observed as it concerns worker’ wages, and where they can work for ten hours a day and earn $220 per month, with the hope of getting health insurance after a year.

It is not only the packaging companies that reveal this lack of regard for the rights and benefits of workers. Sales clerks at clothing stores, cosmetic stores and medical equipment stores, and in general all sales clerks are not exceptions to the rule. The unemployed who do not have production skills and have good oral skills, are part of the above category.

An inexperienced sales clerk who works 12 hours a day, receives $120 to $140 per month. Experienced sales clerks receive $200 to $250 per month. If they are skilled and can demonstrate good sales in their monthly work record, they receive a commission as well. However, there is no health insurance.

The situation is much worse for the typists. The pay for each typed page is 12 cents. A hired typist sits and types at a computer monitor from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. At most, she or he makes $230 per month.

Unskilled workers are also not immune from this lawlessness. During the last few and first few months of each years, determining the minimum wage for workers turns into a great battle between workers and employers. Various meetings are held at the Supreme Council for Labor in order to arrive at a single figure. Workers and employers each struggle to increase or decrease the wages on the basis of their interests. Unskilled workers do not benefit from this battle. They receive the $8 per day laborer’s wage. Taking into account the four monthly days off, their wages amount to $208 per month. A worker who pastes shoe parts 12 hours a day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. receives $10 per day.

The term employee, may imply more optimism about the wages. However, the wages are no better. Computer-savvy employees who work for 12 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at an internet café, receive $200 per month. An office employee who works eight hours a day, receives $200 per month and a 15% commission.

Although, job advertisements list the wage of a secretary as $300 per month and sometimes even $300 to $500 per month, secretaries often do not receive an adequate wage. They receive $200 per month for an eight or 9 hour working day. Wages are lower for part-time work or job types such as answering the phone or typing letters etc. . .

Nowadays the $200 monthly wage, and not the minimum wage, is considered the norm by employers. This is the approximate first figure that is offered to job seekers in morning job advertisements. This figure is about $70 less than the minimum wage which the Ministry of Labor has set as the monthly wage for a worker.

However, given the rise in marketing job during the past few years, the concept of a fixed salary has become meaningless. Most employers who hire job seekers for marketing purposes, speak in terms of commissions from the beginning. Even if the employers offer a fixed salary, most of them consider it a benefit paid alongside the commission.

This is not the end of the story as far as wages offered to the unemployed are concerned. Iran’s crowded capital is not the only place where wages and benefits for workers are ignored. The situation is even worse in other cities in our country. In those cities, wages amount to $150 to $200 per month. Most employers who do not want to offer legal wages or health insurance to their employees, pay a $150 fixed monthly wage and a commission on the side.

For a long time, the subject of the minimum wage for workers has been brought up twice a year. However, sub-minimum wages which violate the labor laws continue. Given the opposition to the enforcement of the minimum wage, this subject has been forgotten for the past month.

Nevertheless, in the underground economy of this city and other cities in this country. . . the large unemployed labor force has created the condition for employers to offer wages and benefits that openly rob the workers. In light of this worrisome unemployment, there are no inspections to enforce working hours, wages and insurance benefits. The unemployed are the victims. They work 12 hours a day, that is 4 hours above the legal working day, in order to receive wages below the minimum wage. . .

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Poverty Line in Iran. A "Hoax?"

Translator’s note: At a recent press conference in Tehran, fraudulently elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that customary approaches used by economists to determine the poverty line are a “hoax” and cannot be used as a measure to prove that there is poverty in Iran. Existing facts, however, contradict Ahmadinejad’s statement.

According to a World Bank study done in 2005 and published in 2008, over 8% of Iran’s population of 72 million live under the severe poverty line of $2 per day or $240 per month for a family of four.(1) Based on a study done by the Central Bank of Iran in 2006, the general poverty line is currently no less than $400 per month for a family of four. (2) Another study done by the Iranian economist Hussein Raghfar, and endorsed by the Iranian newspaper, Capital, states that the poverty line in Tehran is around $800 per month for a family of four. This study also claims that given the large number of Iranian city dwellers, around 30% of the population fall below the poverty line. Raghfar’s study emphasizes that an increasing percentage of the following groups have fallen below the poverty line: 1. Laid off and unemployed workers. 2. Farmers who cannot compete with the cheaper prices of imported agricultural goods. 3. Civil servants whose salaries cannot pay for living expenses, given the current 26% inflation rate(3) While a minority of Iranian economists claim that poverty has declined during the past ten years, most Iranian economists think otherwise. (4) The following report from the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) responds to Ahmadinejad’s latest claim that there is no poverty in Iran. ILNA was launched in February 2003. It belongs to the Workers House, a labor union set up by the Iranian government. However, it is considered close to the Iranian reform movement. ILNA was banned in the Summer of 2007 and was reinstated a year later after much pressure from workers’ organizations, students and journalists.(5)

1. Poverty Data: A Supplement to World Development Indicators 2008, p. 19.



The following summary of a report by Iran’s Chamber of Commerce states that only 30% of Iran’s production units are actually engaged in production.

Also see the following article for a recent analysis of the Iranian economy by an economist inside Iran.

4. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani is an Iranian economist and a Dubai Initiaitve research fellow at Harvard University, who believes that the current protests in Iran are not proof of mass dissatisfaction with rising poverty and economic stagnation. He believes that “poverty has declined steadily in the last ten years.” However, he does admit that “in the last ten years, a huge inflow of oil revenues has taken place without any improvement in income inequality.” See

Two other Iranian economists, Sohrab Behdad and Farhad Nomani, have also carefully examined economic life and labor in Iran since the 1979 revolution, and have presented a more critical analysis in their recent book, Class and Labor in Iran: Did the Revolution Matter? (Syracuse University Press, 2006)

ILNA Examines the Government's View:
The Poverty Line Hoax
By Tara Bonyad
Translated by Frieda Afary

You need not travel too far from the city to see the poverty hoax. In order to discover the poverty line hoax, you simply need to turn your head to see the child peddlers and the homeless people who spend their days and nights under freeway bridges.

You need not travel too far from the city to see this poverty hoax. You simply need to open your eyes a little and turn your head. In order to discover the poverty line hoax, you simply need to see the children who hang by your clothes to sell you something, the old women and men who stick out their hands to beg, the women and men who make a living through peddling, or the homeless people.

We enter a street. Children are playing. As soon as they see the camera, one screams out: “Reporters are here. Run away. Tomorrow our pictures will be in the newspapers. Run away.” Each runs in a different direction and disappears in the narrow streets.

Ashkan has a sister and a brother. He lives with his parents, sister and brother in a two-story dilapidated place. His father is a cobbler on the street. His mother cleans homes. His mother says: “But we can’t make ends meet.” Ashkan is a citizen of Tehran. His parents are Afghans. . . .

The Iranian Labor News Agency reports that according to experts, the poverty line in Iran is $850 [per month for a family of four –tr]. If Ashkan’s parents earned half this amount, they could have fixed their home. The first floor is uninhabitable. The entire family lives on the second floor.

In the first press conference of the tenth government [on September 7, 2009 –tr.], Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the poverty line a hoax. He said that first you have to pay attention to the definition of the poverty line. It changes depending on whether the definition considers minimum needs or less important needs.

Ashkan has a home, a dilapidated one. Are his minimum needs satisfied? Does he live above the poverty line?

The further we walk on the streets, the narrower the streets get. A door is open. Dirty soap suds are seeping out from the bottom. I knock on the door. A beautiful young woman opens the door and calls on someone who turns out to be her sister-in-law. They emigrated from Kurdistan years ago. Her husband went bankrupt four years ago. She says he was a garment worker and a foreman at a production unit. A few years ago, after the introduction of Chinese goods, the business slowed down. It cost this workshop $22 to make a raincoat. But retail stores could buy that item for $14 or $15 [from importers—tr.]. Clearly it is more economical to buy the Chinese goods . . .

According to the Iranian Labor News Agency, between the years 1992 and 2007, family incomes in Iran have increased by 71%. At the same time, family expenses have increased by 1840% . . . In his aforementioned press conference, the president claimed that the addition of 200,000 people to the rolls of the unemployed in one year is not very large, but in fact normal. He claimed that the labor market continuously involves job loss for some and job gains for others. This means that those who are laid off today, may regain employment after a while. Therefore, the labor market is constantly engaged in the exchange of human labor power.

This woman’s husband has not “regained employment” after four years. However, based on the above [Ahmadinejad’s statement about the poverty line—tr] her family does not live below the poverty line. They have food and clothing and a dwelling, in the worst possible way. . .

According to the president, having barely enough food to survive, enough clothing to cover yourself, and a roof to protect you from the rain, constitutes the satisfaction of minimal needs. Thank God we all have that. Therefore, no one lives under the poverty line in Iran.

September 22, 2009

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Iran's University Students Defend the Humanities

Translator's note: The study of the humanities has become a major focus of Iranian university students during the past decade. Over half of Iran’s 3.5 million university students are enrolled in various branches of this field. In order to combat the effects of this field of study on the minds of young students, the Iranian government has launched a campaign against the humanities. At the recent shows trials of reformists, the prosecution specifically attacked western philosophers and academics for supposedly having instigated the latest protest movement. On August 30, Ayatollah Khamenei also addressed a gathering of professors and university administrators with a stern warning. He blamed the humanities for Iranian students’ “lack of faith,” and called on professors to “identify the enemy” and to revise this field of study. Below is a response from a student at Amir Kabir University in Tehran. Amir Kabir University has been the site of several important human rights protests during the past few years.

Why Is the Islamic Republic Afraid of the Humanities?

By Abuzar


Translated by Frieda Afary

The teaching of the humanities is often under scrutiny by governments and statesmen in various countries. It is under particular surveillance by those rulers and statesmen who are constantly afraid of the of dissemination of beliefs contrary to theirs. They do their utmost to set the direction and outlook of this field.

The humanities embody theories, perspectives and various political, social or philosophical schools of thought. These schools of thought develop in the context of the humanities and ultimately permeate various sectors of society.

Sociologists, legal scholars, economists, etc. are all products of the humanities. The type of government and school of thought upon which a society is based determines its laws, lifestyles, individual-social activities, and plans. Perhaps this is why rulers and statesmen with a weak power base and intolerant of dissident views are afraid of the dissemination of the humanities. From time to time, they attack or seek to revise this field.

In Iran, academics, whether students or professors, have always been highly scrutinized. If we examine contemporary Iranian history, we will see that in the past and the present, the university has been the site of critique, of opposition to , and struggles against the rulers. A great deal could be said about the influence that academics exert upon society and its political environment. However, it needs to be emphasized that this wise sector of society is constantly a source of fear for Iran’s rulers and statesmen. There is an added concern with regard to academics who represent the humanities. Rulers come to the conclusion that this sector should be either eliminated or cleansed. They [academics -- tr.] should be prevented from moving in a direction contrary to that of the rulers.

In a government like the Islamic Republic, freedom of speech and opinion only exist within the framework of the beliefs and interests held by the rulers and the system. There is no need for a person studying law, sociology, philosophy, etc. to become familiar with different philosophic schools of thought, with theories held by various intellectuals, with law as practiced in other countries, or with human rights, etc. After all, isn’t it true that in an Islamic state, all should follow a single school of thought and a single belief? And that is the school of Islam, of course as interpreted by the state authorities.

Therefore, rulers should see to it that no one strays from the path or thinks differently. And if the rulers don’t begin the surveillance at the university, the task of controlling dissident and diverse beliefs and theories in the society as a whole becomes very difficult, if not impossible. This explains why those who rule the system are concerned about the increasing numbers of students in the humanities and their own inability to control them.

Likewise, in the latest show trials, the attacks have been aimed at the humanities, intellectuals and philosophers. Even Saeed Hajjarian [former advisor to president Mohammad Khatami -- tr. ] says the following in his confessions (which are not really his own words): “Teaching the theories of the humanities in Iran’s universities has been a factor leading to waste and destruction of public property after the recent election.”

For years, the Islamic Republic has attempted to dismantle the field of humanities, and to limit it or teach it in a selective way. Years ago, it started to cleanse the universities devoted to the study of the humanities. Great scholars in various fields like sociology, psychology, law, literature, political science, etc. were expelled or forced to resign. Many students were denied an education. Many limitations were imposed on the universities. Now, the Islamic Republic is making an ultimate effort to further limit the teaching of the humanities in order to deny future Iranian society the presence of thinkers, philosophers, intellectuals, and scholars.

September 2, 2009

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Feminist Political Scientist Analyzes Transformations in Iranian Society Today

Fatemeh Sadeghi has a PhD in political science and has taught at the Islamic Azad University of Karaj near Tehran. Soon after the publication of her controversial article, “Why We Say No to the Compulsory Hijab” in May 2008 ( see translation available on this blog at ), she was suspended from her teaching post at the University of Karaj. In the article below, she takes a strong stand against the fraudulent June 2009 presidential election and presents a brief sociological analysis of changes in Iranian society during the past 30 years. Excerpts follow.

Why Don’t They Believe It?

By Fatemeh Sadeghi


Translated by Frieda Afary

. . . Many have tried to present minor or major documents to prove that a great fraud has taken place in this election, and that the results have been rigged in one way or another in favor of a particular candidate. In the following notes, my goal is not to present these documents which are quite considerable. My goal is to present a brief sociological analysis to demonstrate that given the social developments of the past few years, it is highly unlikely that the majority of voters would have voted for Ahmadinejad. Based on many predictions, Iranian society is heading toward a different choice. These developments could be detected even during the June 2005 election which was boycotted or treated with indifference by many who were called the silent majority.

Below, I will demonstrate why part of the voters, whether those who had boycotted the previous presidential election or the silent majority who account for the high rate of voter participation in this election, demanded change. This fact will give credence to the doubts about the announced results of this election. First I will examine some general development in Iran during the past few decades. Then, I will examine Ahmadinejad’s cultural and social resume and its effect on people’s participation in the recent election. The arguments below are by no means new. I am only emphasizing them as a reminder. Considering these arguments will allow us to better comprehend Iranian society’s protests against the recent events and its concerns about the latest trends.

Political disillusionment in post-revolutionary Iran has increased in all the years after the revolution. This phenomenon can be explained by many factors. The most important factor is the inability of the Islamic system to satisfy many of the demands of the middle and lower classes and realize their dreams. I am referring to freedom and social justice in particular. Prominent signs of this political disillusionment can be found in the daily increase in open and hidden forms of opposition. These forms of opposition have continuously increased during the past several years. Two phenomena in the past few years can be considered symbols of this opposition.

One is the increasing use of internet sites as sources for obtaining news and analysis. The other is the increasing use of satellite news and information stations as the most important source of news and analysis inside the country. There has been a turn away from the government’s “Voice and Face of Iran.” [The name of the Iranian government’s television and radio network -- tr.]

The number of internet users in Iran exceeds 25 million [Iran’s total population as of 2008 was 72.2 million -- tr.] Despite extreme forms of media censorship, the internet became an important medium for transmitting news, especially during the ninth government [2005-2009 – tr.]. Even many of those who sympathized with the ruling current turned to the internet to obtain news and analysis. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 Persian language weblogs and news and analysis websites. Most are in one way or another critical of the status quo or opposed to it. . . .

Most remember that up until a few years ago, it was not easy to speak of satellite [television –tr.]. I was very surprised to see that intensely religious people in remote areas and in religious cities such as Qom were turning more and more to satellite [television—tr.]. Their earlier reluctance has almost disappeared. The increasing use of the internet and virtual space to obtain information and news reveals that the official ideology cannot satisfy searching and critical minds. During all these years, the government’s “Voice and Face of Iran” has emphatically adopted an approach which resists change and underestimates its audience’s ability to reason. This approach has resulted in people’s disillusionment and their turn to other sources and media for news and analysis.

Political disillusionment revealed itself openly in the voters’ behavior. Many voters refused to participate in the June 2005 election because they were not satisfied with the pace of the reforms in Iranian society and expected the reformists and Mohammad Khatami to be more decisive and to take more action in creating changes. However, the rates of disillusionment were even higher in the post-reformist period.

Many reasons can be given for this disillusionment. Here I will only point to reasons which seem to be significant in explaining the general trend toward disillusionment in the years after the revolution and especially in the past four years. The more time elapsed after the Islamic revolution, the more people disembarked the ship of the revolution. However, disillusionment increased at an accelerated rate during the term of the ninth government [2005-2009 tr.] because of the many criticisms of its record, particularly in the realms of culture and the economy. Naturally, this disillusionment reveals itself in the actions of the voters and their choice of a candidate or candidates who call for change, even if the candidate or candidates are not able to satisfy all of the voters’ political and social demands.

The increase in literacy and consciousness among Iranians is most important in explaining all the markers of development and especially the disillusionment with the status quo. The literacy rate has increased during all the past few years. University entrance rates have increased considerably in comparison to the past.

Women’s increased consciousness is very significant. During the past few years, the majority of university entrants have been women. We have often heard slogans about how women are the educators of humanity. Regardless of the intentions of those who created these slogans, it seems that this statement is undeniably true in Iran. If Iranian women of [the generation -- tr.] prior to the revolution were the educators of the ideological generation which opposed the Shah’s regime and engaged in a ceaseless struggle against it, women in post-revolutionary Iran are to be given credit for much of the sociological developments, the rise in consciousness, and the development in methods of educating the young generation. Once faced with barriers to or limitations in their choices for advancement, these women turned to the universities and became determined to raise their consciousness and increase their knowledge.

I cannot say what percentage of the votes for Mousavi or Karroubi were cast by women. What I can say based on my own observations is that women and especially young women constituted the majority of those who voted for reformist candidates and especially Mousavi. Furthermore, their strong presence in the electoral campaigns of both candidates [Mousavi and Karroubi -- tr.] was completely new. Based on my personal observations I can even say that in many cases, the number of women activists at the campaign headquarters of both candidates outweighed that of men. . .

I don’t mean to say that women did not vote for Ahmadinejad. However in the last part of this essay I will argue that Ahmadinejad was unable to draw the votes of the majority of women in this election. Even based on my own personal observations in many parts of Iran, it can be said that those who did vote for Ahmadinejad in 2005 did so not for the sake of nuclear energy or other ideological slogans.

They voted for him because of economic problems and because of his electoral slogans about social justice and combating corruption. In all the interviews that I have conducted with women who have voted for Ahmadinejad, not one has referred to his foreign policy and nuclear energy. All unanimously said that they voted for Ahmadinejad because his platform was against corruption and for social justice. Of course many complained that the government had not taken serious steps in this direction, and all complained about the rising prices and other problems, especially drug addiction. They regretted having voted for him.

It seems highly unlikely that the majority of the rural and suburban [poor -- tr.] population would have voted for Ahmadinejad during the last election. Such a vote would be even more questionable in areas populated by ethnic and religious minorities. . .

During these years [2005-2009 tr.] the number of publishers declined. The government has practically set barriers against the publication of useful books. Many books did not receive a publication permit or faced difficulties in receiving republication permits. Many internet sites were blocked. Censorship increased massively in all areas.

The “cultural revolution” that has taken place during the past few years has led to the expulsion of many university students and professors. At all the universities, the government attempted to replace critical professors and students with its own handpicked students and professors. Many students received stars [reference to students who were suspended for being political activists -- tr.]. Some received warnings from national security agencies or were expelled. Many Islamic student councils or other university student councils were closed and many students were arrested or harassed. Another measure taken by the government was to censor textbooks.

The gender quota system for university students was imposed [to limit the number of female students -- tr.] There has been a campaign to limit female university students’ choice of campuses to those in their home province. The government’s ideological machine was backed by institutions such as the Center for Women and Family Affairs which had proposed plans such as the Family Bill [Reference to bill introduced in the Summer of 2007 which made it more convenient for men to take a second wife. This bill also imposed taxes on a woman’s alimony. In September 2008, after much protest by Iranian women’s rights activists, the most controversial aspects of this bill were removed --tr.], the Mercy Plan [introduced in 2006 to teach housewives to be more obedient -- tr.] as well as plans to ban women from work outside the home, and to promote polygamy. Their goal was to force women to stay at home and take care of their husbands for fear that the husband would take another wife.

Furthermore, the government set out to enforce the “Plan to Elevate Public Chastity” which forced all institutions to strictly enforce women’s dress codes and the rule against the mixing of women and men in the workplace. The government reduced women’s working hours [outside the home -- tr.] to allow them to have more time for family chores. Most important was the “social security plan,” the enforcement of which led to harassment and police searches of thousands of women by the Ministry of Culture. Many men were arrested as hooligans and saboteurs, and were taken to unknown places. There are even reports that some were murdered.

The ninth government came to power with the slogans “social justice” and “combating corruption.” It did not even elevate social justice and the battle against corruption. The slogan “social justice” was in many cases limited to distributing money and consumer goods among people, without making them economically self-sufficient.

Workers’ economic status worsened in all these years. Many workers’ organizations were suppressed. Their activists were arrested. The civil rights demands and protests of teachers also faced suppression.

The ninth government set out to dismantle all civil rights organizations by accusing them of getting money from abroad and aiming to create a “soft revolution.” Many non-governmental organizations were closed. Their activities were put under severe limitations. Many civil rights activists landed in prison. Newspapers critical [of the regime -- tr.] were banned one after the other. Many journalists lost their jobs or were subjected to harassment by governmental and judicial institutions in one way or another.

Much evidence attests to the increasing level of social dislocation during the past few years. In many urban areas, drug addiction and unemployment are rampant. Analysts attribute this to the government’s inept efforts to reduce economic problems. The rates of suicide, homicide, and assaults have increased during the past few years. The roots of most of these phenomena can be traced to economic inequality and to social and gender prejudices.

The ninth government has not left any class or social group unharmed. As a result, all social classes blame the ninth government more than any other government. While it is true that some groups such as women or youth have been subjected to a much greater degree of oppression and prejudice, no class, social or minority group has been left untouched by this government. It is not only the middle class that has suffered. Upper and lower classes, the rural population, bazaris [traditional merchants who have tended to support the clergy -- tr.], and ethnic and religious minorities have all suffered in various ways, and many of them are critical of the government.

Many within the ruling establishment have also criticized the [ninth -- tr.] government during its term in office. It seems that the only ones left unharmed by this government are the minority that the government has enriched as security officials, guards for the existing order, or passive voters. However, the dissatisfied and injured majority protests the results of this election. Perhaps [this majority -- tr.] has by now understood why the ninth government acted confidently and without any concern for people’s protests.

June 19, 2009

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Feminist Attorney Speaks Out Against Rape As a Weapon of Torture in Iran

Shadi Sadr is a young feminist attorney and journalist who has been in the forefront of women’s rights struggles in Iran during the past few years. She was abducted by plainclothes police on July 17, and released eleven days later. She was arrested once before at a women’s rights demonstration in 2006. In this article dated August 14, 2009, she responds to Ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi’s open letter to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani about the need to investigate the rapes of young protesters imprisoned after the forged June 2009 election. Sadr begins her article specifically with the case of Taraneh Mussavi, a young victim whose identity has been questioned by the Iranian government.

Rape as Systematic Torture in Iran

By Shadi Sadr


Translated by Frieda Afary

Translator’s Note: Shadi Sadr is a young feminist attorney and journalist who has been in the forefront of women’s rights struggles in Iran during the past few years. She was abducted by plainclothes police on July 17, and released eleven days later. She was arrested once before at a women’s rights demonstration in 2006. In this article dated August 14, 2009, she responds to Ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi’s open letter to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani about the need to investigate the rapes of young protesters imprisoned after the forged June 2009 election. Sadr begins her article specifically with the case of Taraneh Mussavi, a young victim whose identity has been questioned by the Iranian government.


Taraneh Mussavi may or may not be that green-clad girl who was arrested at a demonstration near the Ghaba Mosque on June 27. The girl who was raped, suffered from a torn uterus and a torn anus, landed at a Karaj hospital, and was finally found dead in an unknown cemetery in northern Iran. Regardless, her name is the secret name for all the women who have been raped in prisons since the 1979 Revolution. What I want to say is that Taraneh Mussavi is not just one individual.

Mehdi Karroubi writes: “Some individuals have raped detained girls with such force as to cause tears and injuries to their sexual organs.” His claim may be entirely false, but that does not make any difference. The following are not exceptions: When Azar Al Kanaan (Nina Aghdam) speaks in front of the camera about how she was raped at Sanandaj prison. When Roya Toloui speaks of how she was raped by her interrogator. When Monireh Baradaran writes in her book Simple Truth, about Tahereh, a woman remembered by most prisoners from the 1980s, a beautiful woman who lost her sanity after being raped by a Pasdar [“Revolutionary Guard”]. When [Canadian Iranian Journalist] Zahra Kazemi’s dead body is covered with cement and her attorney, Shirin Ebadi asks the court, “Why the victim’s clothing was torn and bloodied in a particular location.” When the report from the coroner’s office states that Zahra Bani Yaghub was raped in the Basij headquarters’ detention center in Hamadan.

Raping women political prisoners and threats to rape or sexually abuse them are acts which can be committed by those who arrest them or by interrogators, prison wardens or even judicial officials. These acts constitute the most brutal forms of torture, and cause physical and especially psychological effects which are not comparable to other forms of torture.

Published reports are available about these types of torture committed against women political prisoners after the 1979 Revolution. The most systematic type of reported rape has been the rape of virgin girls who were sentenced to death by execution because of political reasons. They were raped on the night before execution. These reports have been substantiated by frequent statements from the relatives of women political prisoners. On the day after the execution, authorities returned their daughter’s dead body to them along with a sum considered to be the alimony. Reports state that in order to lose their virginity, girls were forced to enter into a temporary marriage with men who were in charge of their prison. Otherwise it was feared that the executed prisoner would go to heaven because she was a virgin!

Years later, [Reynaldo] Galindo Pohl, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights, who had been assigned to examine human rights violations in Iran, emphasized the following in his report: “Virgin women who are sentenced to death are forced to enter into a marriage with a man. They lose their virginity before execution. Concerning this matter, the special reporter for the commission on torture would like to emphasize that rape is a form of torture.”*

Nevertheless, up to now, no fatwa [edict] has been issued concerning this systematic torture, and no documentation has been offered regarding its specific cases. As we will see, proving rape is very difficult and often impossible. It is even more [difficult to prove] in prison.

Nevertheless, it is known beyond a shadow of a doubt, that during the 1980s, the rape of women political prisoners was prevalent. It was so prevalent as to make Ayatollah Montazeri, who was Khomeini’s deputy at the time, write the following to Khomeini in a letter dated October 7, 1986: “Did you know that young women are raped in some of the prisons of the Islamic Republic? Did you know that swear words offensive to one’s honor are commonly used during the interrogation of girls?”

This reality contradicts what is inferred from Karroubi’s letter which gives the impression that only those women political prisoners arrested after the post-June 2009 election protests have been raped. As if there is no precedent in the past 30 years of the Islamic Republic. In his letter to Hashemi Rafsanjani dated July 27, 2009, Karroubi writes the following without referring to previous cases of rape in political prisons: “I have heard about this matter from those who have sensitive posts in our country. I can identify these powerful individuals, some of whom were part of our sacred national defense. These individuals have told me that the events which have taken place in our prisons are a catastrophe for the Islamic Republic. This catastrophe can turn the Shia clerics’ brilliant and unblemished history into a black and shameful adventure, and would make many dictatorial regimes including the Shah’s oppressive rule seem fair in comparison. . . . Some of those detained have reported that some individuals have raped detained girls with such force as to cause tears and injuries to their sexual organs. On the other hand, the brutal rape of young boys by some individuals has made these boys depressed and psychologically and physically damaged. They have become recluses in their own homes. . . “

Since [the publication of Karroubi’s letter], interviewees, officials and political activists, who have sought to affirm or deny this issue, have limited the question to the events that have taken place after the election. In this manner, the rape of women political prisoners as a continuing form of sexual torture has been reduced to an “incident.” The fact is that this issue has a long-term history.

It is a fact that proving rape and other forms of sexual abuse has always been difficult. First, these acts take place surreptitiously and without possible witnesses. The victim’s shame or fear prevents her from reporting the case to government officials. While it appears that women have the freedom to act, move and complain to officials, in prison, where government forces and the individual or the collective rapist become one, the victims of rape have no recourse. The issue becomes more complicated when rape is used not only as a means of domination, of satisfying sexual urges and disabling and vanquishing the victim, but also as a means and method of torture in order to demean a political prisoner, break her, extract confession and in sum vanquish her or the organization, party or tendency to which the victim belongs. Under these circumstances, it is incumbent upon independent and mass-based forces to present a precise analysis of the nature of this type of rape/torture. This effort is not possible without assistance from the victims.

It is the responsibility of human rights activist and especially women’s rights activists to review similar experiences in Bosnia and Sudan. We need to learn from the methods by which the perpetrators of systematic rapes have been exposed, and legally prosecuted for their crimes against humanity.

May the names of Taraneh Mussavi, Zahra Bani Yaghub, Zahra Kazemi and other dead victims of rape-torture, come to life in a trial to justly prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.

August 14, 2009

*This paragraph was added a day after the original publication of this piece and was based on a document which I came across in Mehdi Aslani’s prison memoirs, The Crow and the Red Rose.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interview with an Iranian Queer Activist

Hazhir is a young writer/poet/journalist/activist. Soon after the publication of this interview with Cheraq, the online journal of Iranian queers, he was forced into exile. Excerpts from the December 2007 interview follow.

Interview with an Iranian Queer Activist

Hazhir is a young writer/poet/journalist/activist. Soon after the publication of this interview with Cheraq, the online journal of Iranian queers, he was forced into exile. Excerpts from the December 2007 interview follow.

Also see

Translated by Frieda Afary

Cheraq: When we spoke on the phone and you accepted my request for an interview, you responded to my question about the types of concerns which an interview about the rights of queers in Iran would create for you inside the country. You said, “I’m beyond that point.” Are political and human rights activities so needed that you have made a decision to accept all the dangers and fight for these demands?

Hazhir: The U.S. intellectual, Noam Chomsky, says: “Either we give in to global injustice and dictatorship, or we join the struggle for justice, democracy and freedom.” I believe there is no other way. I am not a hero or a vanguard. I do not wish to be martyred in order to awaken the “masses” with my blood. No! The age of this type of literature and fatalist outlook has passed. Like other human beings, I feel fear, cry, laugh, fall in love, experience cowardice, and also show a little courage. I am a human being with all the dimensions of a human being. But I believe that this squalor filled world is not a suitable place for human existence. If I didn’t have the hope that there could be a better world, I would certainly choose death at this moment and would be relieved. Of course it is not simply enough to have hope. History does not automatically lead us to emancipation from the shackles of oppression and exploitation. Hope compels me to actively intervene in my surroundings, in order to have not only a homeland but a world that is worthy of “human” existence.

Cheraq: What is your definition of human rights?

Hazhir: . . . As a socialist, I believe that human “respect and dignity” and “the free development of the human being’s character” are only preserved and guaranteed when she/he is freed from the domination of dictatorship as well as exploitation, patriarchy and racial/ethnic prejudice. As a socialist, I believe that in economic terms, this would mean the abolition of the right to private ownership of the means of production, in favor of public and not state ownership of the means of production. . . .

Cheraq: Do you think that queer rights are a part of human rights?

Hazhir: I consider queer rights to be part and parcel of human rights because Iranian queers are human beings. In human rights terms, when we speak of human beings, we mean human beings regardless of their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, beliefs, class, sexuality or sexual preferences.

Cheraq: You are a member of the Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters. This Committee has on several occasions reported on the violation of the rights of queers. Please tell us more about this Committee and why it decided to defend the rights of queers as well.

Hazhir: I have been a member of this committee for the past few months. It started its activities in March 2005 and has already become a credible and effective organization thanks to the tireless and continuous efforts of its members. Naturally, this credibility was not easily gained. The members of the committee have been placed under pressure by judicial and security forces. For instance, Shiva Nazar Ahari was summoned to the information ministry. Another colleague, Sepideh Pour Aghai has been in detention for the past three months. [In January 2009, she was released after posting bail. tr.} The Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters defends the rights of queers and has reported the violation of their rights because all committee members, regardless of their different or sometimes contradictory beliefs, agree on the following: “When we speak of human beings, we mean human beings regardless of their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, beliefs, class, sexuality or sexual preferences.” On this particular issue, we are clearly only starting to hew out a path. There are still many questions concerning the rights of queers, that have not been addressed. But we have to consider the fact that the committee is reporting on these violations under conditions in which speaking of the rights of queers is considered an obscenity in the eyes of the rulers. The prohibition on speaking of the rights of queers, does not only exist in the public sphere. Even many of our intellectuals and elite thinkers consider the discourse on the rights of queers to be obscene. We have a long road ahead of us and are not afraid of its difficulties.

Cheraq: Somewhere you say that “Understanding the Presence of the Other” which is the title of one of your blogs, constitutes another dimension of your being. It is a struggle for existence, for being different. This is a very profound statement and has preoccupied my thoughts for hours. If we could understand the presence of the other and accept her/him the way she/he is without imposing our standards on her/him, the majority of the problems of minorities in society would be solved. In your opinion, what is the role of minorities in Iranian society today, and how can they be defended?

Hazhir: Before answering your question, I would like to give a brief explanation of the name of my weblog ( I borrowed this name from Mohammad Mokhtari [Iranian writer who was abducted and murdered in the December 1998. After a great public outcry, the Iranian government admitted that the intelligence ministry was involved in his murder. tr.] Although I am not a fan of citing verses from others, or in more political language, citing “facts,” occasionally, one comes across a statement that is exactly what one wanted to say. However, either one’s language is inadequate or at the very least, the person who uttered the statement has been far in advance and has arrived at that statement earlier. In the introduction to his work, The Human Being in Contemporary Poetry, Mokhtari writes: “A human being is precious and respectable in all her/his faces, conditions and differences. Understanding the presence of the other does not mean understanding a specific or stellar part of the presence of the other. No human being is pure angel or pure devil. The angel-like and the devilish persons are both products of our imagination. We are different people with different ranks and different cultural circumstances, weak and strong, cultured and uncultured, small and large. We are all organs of one body. . . Understanding the presence of the other is a collective understanding of the presence of the human being, until the conditions are created for all to develop their characters and not have to remain the way they are.” For me, starting that weblog was a way to test this principle in order to understand the other dimensions of my own presence. I believe that given the unquestioning and dictatorial culture in which Iranians are rooted, the various dimensions of the human soul are suppressed by the self in favor of a higher and more evolved dimension. For the past few years however, I have been trying to let the different dimensions of my being do whatever they want, and I have established a peaceful co-existence among them.

Going back to your question . . . In Iran, there is a violation of the rights of the majority. Within this absolute majority, there are different collective identities which can be called “minorities” such as queers or the followers of religions other than Shia Islam. But our strong point is that we are part of the majority. All of us have been denied our most basic rights in one way or another. To answer the question about defending the rights of the minorities in Iran, I have to say that it can be done when all of us struggle for emancipation and justice alongside that absolute majority, the dispossessed and the suppressed, not apart from them. This is a difficult path that demands participation from all of us. Whether we are women who constitute half the society, or workers who constitute a large part of society, or slum-dwellers or rural folks, whether we are non-Persian speaking ethnicities or queers, we can only achieve emancipation and justice when these goals become a collective ideal and when we discern the universality of our ideal.

Cheraq: Many prominent political, human rights and women’s rights activists etc. who have endured prison and torture in order to defend human rights, do not believe in the rights of queers. In other words, they are not willing to defend those rights openly. In your opinion, why have Iranian activists not paid attention to the rights of queers as a serious human rights issue up to now?

Hazhir: Two important points have to be considered to respond to this question. First, all of us have been raised in an environment in which dictatorship and exploitation and patriarchy have old roots. According to Reza Baraheni [ exiled Iranian novelist, poet and political activist who teaches literature at the University of Toronto. tr.] we live in “masculine history.” If we agree that human behavior and beliefs are the products of the social environment in which humans grow, we have to accept that none of us has been left unscathed by the effects of these conditions. That is why traces of dictatorial, exploitative and patriarchal behavior can be discerned in our daily lives. Even our daily language is not free from traces of this scourge. Nevertheless, the fact that we have been raised in this social milieu should not free us from the responsibility to fight its effects. If one considers opposition to queers to be part of the awe of patriarchal domination, which I do, then one can consider the lack of attention to the issues of queers to be the product of living and growing up in patriarchal history. . . Because that general belief is intertwined with a religious belief, a serious determination to combat it is still not evident among those of us who are a product of this society. Even the most secular among us still live with the doctrines that have been fed us as children, in the family, in school and on the streets. And of course after the revolution and the coming to power of the newcomers, [these doctrines tr.] have been fed us in the form of official propaganda and the so-called national media. That is why I think we have a long road ahead of us in order to break with these taboos.

The above does not apply to a small minority. On many occasions, when I have spoken at various meetings about the rights of queers, I have been told the following: “How much of a priority is this issue?” or “Isn’t it only a small percentage of the population that has this problem?” In truth, I do not accept this sense of priorities. In fact I strongly believe that those who think this way are also opportunists in other areas. Their struggle is an opportunistic struggle for power. I doubt them when they also speak of women’s rights or workers’ rights. I believe that those who dismiss the struggle for queer rights in the above manner, only speak of women’s rights or workers’ rights because they know that women and workers constitute a larger portion of the population. The higher numbers of women and workers make them more suitable instruments for gaining power. In my opinion, even if the above mentioned individuals speak of human rights with a revolutionary tone, their words are nothing more than dirty election promises. But there are also those who defend the rights of workers, women, queers, religious minorities, non-Persian ethnicities, and all the dispossessed and oppressed and the poor. They do so not because of a passion for power. Their humane ideals compel them to stand with those at the bottom during the struggle. I try to be one of them.

Cheraq: Do you think Iran’s academics think like the majority? In other words, how do academics in Iran view Iranian queers?

Hazhir: I cannot comment on the views of the entire society of academics but only on the sector of academics i.e. students with whom I am in touch. . . Something specific has happened to the youth of Iran. Something which has been outside the realm of control of the rulers. Although young people like others are influenced by the ideological doctrines of the rulers, the introduction of the internet in Iran, and the youth’s embrace of this vast virtual space has led to the weakening of some of these religious doctrines. This has compelled some youth to try to view their surrounding world in a new way. I am a prominent example of such a transformed human being. I am ashamed to say that up until the near distant past, that is two years ago, I considered queers to be at best mentally disturbed individuals who needed treatment. Becoming acquainted with the ongoing debates in the virtual world and establishing virtual friendships with several queer activists or queer advocates, and long discussions, led me to accept the human identity of queers. . .

Cheraq: As you mentioned, the bulk of our problems are rooted in a masculine history. In your view, how can the student movement and the women’s movement work in concert with the queer movement to fight against patriarchy? There isn’t much communication between them, and there is a tangible need for enlightenment for the members of these movements.

Hazhir: I think that your question partially contains the answer. You say that there is a tangible need for enlightenment for social movement activists. This is very true. Consider the fact that most of us queers only have two images in mind. The first is the image of the “sinner” which has been created for us by official sources of education. The second is the image of “promiscuity” which we have seen in pornographic movies. Showing a third image can be part of this enlightenment. Allow me to issue a minor critique of the journal Cheraq from this angle. Sometimes Cheraq publishes stories which can not be considered erotic by any standard. These same exact stories can be found in sites that publish stories about mostly heterosexual sex. Such stories can evoke those aforementioned images. If the editors of your journal have a reason for publishing these stories, that has to be explained. Please note that I am not referring to the use of so-called “obscene” words. A non-aesthetic depiction of sex, regardless of its form, is offensive.

On the other hand, I think that paying attention to the events taking place inside Iranian society -- a society that Saqi Qahreman, the author of your editorial in issue # 31 calls the mother society-- and responding appropriately to events inside Iran can have a positive effect on the minds of social movement activists. Up to now, Iranian queers have issued statements in response to events such as the banning of the Tehran Bus Workers Union on Jan. 28, 2005, International Women’s Day and the beating of women participants in Student Park, May Day 2006, the call to protest of the Iranian Writers’ Society, and the defense of the rights of Baha’is. These statements have made a positive impact on social movement activists or at least the sectors of social movement activists with whom I am in touch. These beginnings can show us the pathway forward.

December 2007

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