One hundred and fifty plus dissidents who need a voice. Men and women who fight in Iran for the defense of women's rights, minorities, the environment, labor, freedom of teaching and expression. Lawyers, teachers, journalists, artists, workers, environmentalists, family members of activists imprisoned or killed during the protests of the Women, Life, and Freedom movement. The latest report "150+ Iran Human Rights Defenders 2023", published by the well-known organization Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO), is a meticulous work that allows us to learn about the names, faces, stories, and conditions of over 150 human rights defenders. Unknown names alongside those better known in the West, embodying the struggle of an entire people against the Iranian regime. GariwoMag interviewed the director of Iran Human Rights, neuroscientist Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, to discuss the latest report and the commitment of IHRNGO, which has been one of the main sources of information during the protests that erupted after the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini. It is crucial not to turn off the spotlight on Iran now that the escalation of the war in the Middle East seems to have strengthened the theocracy of the mullahs compared to the epochal battle for democracy.
You are a professor at the University of Medicine in Oslo, you direct the molecular neuroscience laboratory, you have been awarded as one of the ten brightest minds in scientific field in Norway, and you co-founded Iran Human Rights. How did it all start?
I left Iran with my family in 1981. We went to Pakistan and then, thanks to the United Nations, to Norway, where I arrived at the age of 15 in 1985. I was born in Kerman and in Oslo, I became a neuroscientist, researcher, professor, and human rights defender.
The report mentions more than 150 human rights defenders: is this a small number of activists?
It includes human rights defenders who have been imprisoned or have faced legal proceedings between December 2022 and the end of 2023. It is a partial list and does not include those who have experienced harassment, summons, or threats. Many others have not been mentioned due to a lack of accurate information or because they do not want to appear, but through protests, hunger strikes inside prisons, letters, or voice messages, they continue to make their voices heard and defend human rights. However, let's not forget that today, in Iran, any citizen is a human rights defender and an opponent of the regime.
How do you obtain all the information from the prisons?
Like any dictatorship, the Iranian regime is highly corrupt.
What is the purpose of this report?
By publishing this report, IHRNGO aims to provide a detailed overview of the deterioration of human rights and accurate information to researchers, journalists, and anyone who wants to support human rights defenders so that the international community and all states that have diplomatic relations with Iran demand their release. Furthermore, we would like the global public opinion to be able to read their stories, know their names, join us in demanding their freedom, and amplify their voices.
Indeed, alongside well-known figures like Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi, there are many unknown names in the West, starting with environmentalists.
Environmental defense is a very sensitive issue. The ruling class is made up of billionaires who destroy the ecosystem, divert rivers, set fires, and sell natural resources. Therefore, we have decided to also highlight the activists from environmental organizations, such as several members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) who were arrested on January 25, 2018, by the intelligence forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. On February 9, 2018, the executive director of PWHF, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died under suspicious circumstances while in detention. The organization, among other things, has accused the government of setting fires in the mountains of Kurdistan and represents an important educational example for the new generations.
The report also includes the families of the protesters from the Women, Life, Freedom movement.
In the section dedicated to families seeking justice, we have included those of the protesters who were killed or arrested during the protests that erupted after the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini. These families have been systematically threatened and pressured to keep silent, forced to confirm prepackaged versions of false suicides or illnesses, and hide state crimes. However, like all families seeking justice in the past 44 years, many have refused to be silenced. Some of the most iconic scenes of the protest movement have taken place at burial sites, where many people have gathered to stand alongside grieving families, victims of the regime.
Has the war in the Middle East stopped the protests?
Iran is a fierce dictatorship that is strengthened by war. Just as Khomeini did during the war with Iraq, now the regime draws strength from the escalation of the war in Gaza. The West should understand that the true enemy of the Islamic Republic is not the United States or Israel, as the propaganda wants, but the Iranian people who continue to work for its downfall. Iran will seek to prolong conflicts to maintain its power, and it will do so indirectly. It will only intervene directly if its leadership is seriously threatened.
And what scenarios do you foresee for the battle for democracy?
I am confident. Amidst poverty, inflation, incompetence, corruption, and economic crisis, the regime has the entire population against it, and sooner or later it will fall. Following the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini, the protesters spontaneously united. It won't be the same after the brutal repression, the killings, and the death sentences. The next time, everyone will be more prepared.