Unlock Iran: Campaign Launches to Help Imprisoned Activists

A new social media campaign called “Unlock Iran” has been launched by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center to support 830 “prisoners of rights” – those imprisoned for their beliefs, politics or profession.

The campaign comes in the wake of the hanging of two men by the Iranian regime Sunday, who were convicted for the crime of “perversion” (homosexuality). The hangings follow the executions of 40 individuals killed by the regime over a two-week period beginning since the first of the year.

In addition, the Iranian Judiciary upheld the execution order for another individual for the crime of “insulting the prophet.” Iranian agents arrested 34-year-old Rouhollah Tavana in 2011 after confiscating a private video recording he had made on his personal computer while drunk. A judge interpreted the recording as being insulting to the prophet and sentenced Tavana to death, even though Iranian law specifically stipulates that a crime committed while drunk is not punishable by death.

The rate of executions in Iran has skyrocketed since President Hassan Rouhani took over the office from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August 2013.

The current “Unlock Iran” campaign centers around human rights prisoners ranging from lawyers to artist, scientists, journalists, pastor, students and activists as well as members of religious and ethnic minority groups.

Basic freedoms of speech, religion, assembly — even choosing one's own profession — freedoms that those in the West take for granted, have garnered these individuals prison terms, often accompanied by torture.

The “Unlock Iran” campaign has established an interactive website that direct readers how to take action.

Featured in the campaign are 10 “prisoners of conscience” including:

Majid Tavakoli, 28, a student activist from Shiraz. Tavakoli was arrested in 2007 after a cartoon of the Ayatollah Khaenei was published in a student newspaper. He was eventually acquitted of the charges but re-arrested in February 2009 while participating in a memorial service for Medhi Bazargan, a liberal, democratic activist appointed as a figurehead Prime Minister by Ayatollah Khomeini after the 1979 revolution. After spending 115 days in solitary confinement, he was released on bail, but re-arrested after speaking to a crowd of students in December, 2009. Tavakoli was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison and sent to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Due to hunger strikes and lack of medical attention, Tavakoli suffers from a deteriorating state of health.

The Baha’i Seven are all community leaders of the Baha’i faith in Iran. Each are  middle-aged professionals with families and each have been sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to “Unlock Iran,” following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, 200 members of the Baha’i community were killed. Thousands more were arrested, harassed, monitored and dismissed from the jobs and/or had their finances and property confiscated. Members of the Baha’i faith are prohibited from holding government jobs and their children are not allowed to attend university.

The Baha’i Seven were held in solitary confinement for the first four months of their arrest. Nearly two years after their arrest, in January 2010, they were finally put on trial with limited access to counsel. They were convicted of charges including disturbing national security, spreading propaganda against the Islamic State on Iran and espionage.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Freedom, “The conditions in which they are being held are severe. They have neither beds nor bedding, simply blankets and a mat placed over the concrete. They are permitted to have fresh air for only two hours each week.”

Omid Kokabee, 32, is a brilliant and gifted scientist who was pursuing his second PhD at the University of Texas in Austin. Kokabee says he was "invited several times to work as a scientist and technical manager for military and intelligence projects." He was also offered admission to a PhD program with full sponsorship by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. He declined all invitations.

In January 2011, while travelling back to Iran to visit his family during a study break, Kokabee was arrested at the Imam Khomeini International Airport. After being held in solitary confinement, he was initially charged with "colluding and conspiring against national security."

The charges were later changed to "communicating with a hostile government." Kokabee reportedly faced trial along with 13 other people who were charged with "collaborating with Israeli authorities" and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The American Physical Society addressed the allegations in a letter written in August 2011 which stated:  "Mr. Kokabee has no training in nuclear physics, is not politically active, and is not associated with any political movement in Iran. Rather his primary concerns were his science studies in the field of optics. This area of physics has essentially no overlap with nuclear technology."

Bahareh Hedaya, 33, was a human rights and women’s rights activist at Tehran University. After being admitted to an undergraduate program in science and economics, Hedayat become the spokeswoman of the Human Rights Committee and helped students facing human rights violations. She also investigated the legal standing of students who had been expelled or arrested. 

In 2005, Hedayat became one of the founding members of the One Million Signatures campaign for women’s equality in Iran. In 2008, shortly after marrying Amin Ahmadian, she was arrested and put in solitary confinement.

Hedayat was eventually sentenced to nine and a half years in prison: five years for "conspiring and colluding against national security," two years for "insulting the Supreme Leader," two years for holding a gathering for women to protest laws discriminating against women and six months for "insulting the President."

Over the course of her imprisonment, Hedayat has been denied basic rights such as visitations with family, in-person visits with her husband, a right to a lawyer and telephone calls. In a letter from prison to her classmates, she wrote, "We are worn out but have neither bent nor broken. We continue to stand erect, although with wounded and restless hearts. We bear witness to the efforts of dictators looting a fertile land nurtured by the selfless sacrifices of past and present generations."

And to her husband, “Amin, I miss everything … every single thing. Every cell in my body is in pain as a result of my longing …” she wrote.