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Ardeshir Zarezadeh, is an Iranian-Canadian award winning human rights and political activist, who lives in Toronto. He is the executive director of the Toronto-based human rights organization "The International Center for Human Rights". He is a former political prisoner in Iran and founder of first student human rights organization "The Student Committee for the Defense of political Prisoners" in 1998 in Tehran. He is also the spokesperson for the Abroad Division of the Iran Democratic Front, a secular democratic opposition Front to the ruling religious regime in Iran. He recently published a blog in the Huffington Post Canada and in it he referred to an article which was also recently published in this diary, talking about a man who is still little known to the world but one day, hopefully soon, he may capture the headlines. That man is Heshmat Tabarzadi.

"Mr. Mandela's struggles as a political activist and prisoner, only after being amplified by the pressures from the International community, resulted in his freedom and abolition of apartheid in South Africa. Today, women, who represent 50 per cent of the Iranian population are facing gender apartheid; not to mention the violation of the basic rights of minorities, ethnicities and many others." -- Heshmat Tabarzadi

By Aredeshir Zarezadeh

It really took me a few months before I could start writing for Huffington Post. I was always wondering how to start my first piece and what to write. But when I learned the death of one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela, I couldn't wait any more and posted my first blog piece about how Mandela, a great leader for democracy, inspired me to fight for democracy in Iran.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Heshmat Tabarzadi, an Iranian democracy leader, is an inspiration for my fight as well. Tabarzadi is another great leader, who spent more than ten years in prison and was arrested again last week in Iran.

The above quote is from Mr. Tabarzadi's article, which was written shortly before his arrest. I would like to talk about him and how Tabarzadi's voice is an echo of the Iranian people's voice. Heshmat is one of the most respected figures in contemporary Iran because of his long fight for human rights and democracy. The Iranian regime prefers to keep him in jail like the green movement leaders Mousavi, Rahnavard and Karroubi.

Tabarzadi is not just a secular democracy leader, but a voice for Iranian dissidents and their demands. He is known as the leader of secular democracy movement in Iran. He declared that the regime is not reformable and has been promoting secular democracy since 1999.

In 1998 I was a student and joined his fight for secular democracy. He bravely helped the student movement take shape independently. With few other student activists, we started the first independent organized student movement in Iran and formed the "United Student Front" in 1998, after president Khatami came to power.

Before the 2009 post-election protests, the student uprising in July 1999 was the most widespread protest that occurred in Iran since the early years of the Iranian Revolution. These one-week protests were violently suppressed by Iranian regime and activists of "United Student Front" were put in solitary confinements under torture. Tabarzadi was jailed prior to protests but his name appeared on Intelligence service's public statement as a leader of protests. I spent 60 days in solitary confinement in an unknown detention center where we found out later that it was the intelligence ministry's most-used detention center for torturing and obtaining confessions from political prisoners, called "Toohid prison."

Toohid prison was shot down after we publicly exposed its whereabouts and conditions. Tabarzadi had a major role in exposing this place by speaking out for detainees and publishing the news of tortures and mistreatment that occurred inside that facility. Then "The Student Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners" was founded to gather information about prisoners, secret detentions and to defend their rights. Through this committee we worked together to campaign for political prisoners publicly after years of silence due to repressions.

Since 1999, Tabarzadi had a major role in advancing and organizing the democracy movements in Iran. Every year, he spent part of the year in prison and solitary confinements and was tortured on several occasions. Meanwhile, his different popular publications were shut down and he was denied the right to peaceful participation in non-governmental organizations and prohibited from any social activities for 10 years.

Tabarzadi truly unveiled the real face of Iranian regime during his fight for democracy in public events, publications and interviews. He warns us that Iranian regime which treats its own citizens in such a brutish way is not reliable. The increasing number of executions since the election of the so-called "moderate" Hassan Rouhani to the presidency is a confirmation of this mistrust. He also supported smart and well-targeted sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran which led to president Rouhani's deal with 5+1 Powers on its nuclear deal. Tabarzadi hopes that this deal does not make 5+1 blind to human rights situation.

Despite all the difficulties, Tabarzadi aimed to unite the opposition groups from the inside of the country and founded the "Iranian Democratic Front" of which thousands of activists became members and supporters. Tabarzadi and other members of "Iranian Democratic Front" started a widespread dialogue with the representatives of other groups which resulted in creation of "Solidarity Council for Human Rights and Democracy in Iran" in late 2008, only a few months before June 2009 post-election protests -- called the "green movement."

Members of this council, such as the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, were arrested following the post-election protests. Tabarzadi himself was again arrested in October 2010 and sentenced to eight years in prison, convicted of five charges of "insulting the Supreme Leader," "insulting the President," "propaganda against the regime," "gathering and colluding with intent to harm the state security," and "disturbing public order."

Last year, after spending four years of his verdict, Tabarzadi was released on a temporary leave with the condition of remaining silent. However, he broke his silence recently and called for a united campaign demanding "no to executions and freedom of all political prisoners."

Shortly after, he received a phone call from the prosecutor's office, demanding him to report back to the prison. Tabarzadi engaged in civil disobedience and did not surrender himself to the authorities. He declared that if anyone should stand trial, it should be those who are in violation of my rights and many other political prisoners who have been denied their most basic legal, civil and human rights.

On January 15, 2014 Heshmat Tabarzadi was once again arrested and incarcerated. It is the responsibility of anyone who really cares about human rights to condemn his imprisonment. He is an important voice for the Iranian people and I hope that international community pay careful attention to his words and actions.

It was an honor for me to present ICHR 2011 Human Rights Award to Tabarzadi at ICHR annual gala as he was in prison.

 

Poll

Do you think president Obama is doing enough to support the Secular Democracy Movement and Human Rights in Iran?

22%4 votes
61%11 votes
16%3 votes

| 18 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, I don't really know much (4+ / 0-)

    …about this or you.

    But, I am very pro secular (which would be especially nice if it were to happen the US) vs. guaranteed Mutual Assured Destruction in a global confrontation with Iran. (At least, during my lifetime.)

    So, do keep posting so we can learn more.


    “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” ― Eric Schmidt

    by Pluto on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 06:39:55 PM PST

  •  A secular country in the Middle East... (5+ / 0-)

    ...would be admirable.

    It will be a long struggle and I admire those who try something.

    Even in America we need to confront those who, IMO, are Christian totalitarians.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 06:40:08 PM PST

    •  There was one. Ib Iran. We overthrew it. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave, Pluto, Sandino, Bob Love

      I notice this parking lot concession-seeker makes no mention at all of the name Mohammed Mossadegh.  Wonder why not?  Agendas at the ready!

      "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." ~Frederick Douglass

      by ActivistGuy on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 07:34:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have no idea what this means n/t (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shockwave, Sandino, Sharon Wraight

        There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

        by oldpotsmuggler on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 07:52:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Indeed a secular democrat (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sharon Wraight

        Indeed Prime Minister Mossadegh was a secular democrat leader who nationalized Iran's oil and unfortunately at a time that US had much respect post WWII, he was toppled via a CIA sponsored coup, even though he was not anti-American! But we all know that and as a reader mentioned here, that was in the 50's.

        But what have we learned since then? That US should not topple democratic regimes? That too has been established.

        However what US has not learned after promoting Talibanism to fight the soviets in Afghanistan, After handshakes with Saddam , the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war,.... , is that dealing with the devil in exchange for turning a blind eye on our true friends, the oppressed civil societies,  will not necessarily make anyone safer in the long run.

        I am afraid that might be the final tipping point that will be granted to the Mullahs by 5+1.

        Oil business continues to lucrative and "sexy", 60 years after toppling Mossadegh.

  •  Its not for us to decide (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sandino

    I want the Iranian People to be able to choose their course via free and fair elections.  These have not happened under the present government.  

    The only way for us to help in the US is to reduce external political pressure on the Iranian Government.  The last time there were significant protests was in 2011-2012 during a period of reduced American-Iranian Tensions.  

    I hope that resolving the outstanding nuclear issues while affirming the Iranian right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and domestic production of radioisotopes for medical and industural uses will promote an environment where freer and fairer elections can take place.  

    I'm a 4 Freedoms Democrat.

    by DavidMS on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 07:26:12 PM PST

  •  Secular democracy in Iran (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, Sandino, iransecular

    His name was Mossadegh.  Mohammed Mossadegh.  He was the secular, democratic leader of Iran. You can look up what happened to him.

    "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." ~Frederick Douglass

    by ActivistGuy on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 07:26:14 PM PST

  •  In the struggle I root for the secularists (0+ / 0-)

    but would place my bets on the Islamists. The problem is that a) they have no problem killing secularists (and their families too) and b) they have no problem dying themselves (and their families too). Secularists are basically decent people who are rational and humanitarian. They would prefer to be alive and are reluctant to kill. That's why they'll likely lose.

    •  Power of "The People" (0+ / 0-)

      Today more than ever, Iranians want Mullahs to go back to their Mosques.

      Europe came through the dark ages, so will Iran ... , But the question is on which side of the history, US is and will be standing?

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