The Human Right Activists in Iran and 10 Years of Experience and Team Work

Peace Line Monthly / Ali Kalaei – Out of the ashes of a great incident something new will always be born; something that perhaps is part of the evolution of that incident itself. A phoenix is born from its own ashes; although the new phoenix might be reborn with a different form each time, yet it will be the continuation and evolution of the same story, which has taken a new shape.

Years ago, at a time when the candle of the reformist government was about to burn out and excitements and hopes of the days after May 1997 (1) were waning to the autumn of a coalesced government structure and fully locked atmosphere, some stood up and stepped in a path that is being walked on till this very day. In the final days of the Reformist Government, which all its strengths and weaknesses a side, had let a generation grow that was taught and believed in civil, civility and modernity, a movement sparkled that consequently in the March of the other year (the year of enthronement of Ahmadinejad and announcement of him as the president to a republic which was still shocked by his presidency), created an organization named “Human Right Activists in Iran, HRAI” with the aim of human rights activism and reflecting the obvious and hidden violations of the human rights in Iran. Despite all the calamity and struggles, HRAI has continued its activism till this very day and in comparison to other independent non-governmental and civil organizations in Iran, has done an amazing job.

HRAI's Members Activities in Iran, 2009
HRAI’s Members Activities in Iran, 2009

The years in office for Ahmadinejad, were the years that the independent civil institutions in Iran were put to test, many were closed down officially with the force of the cudgels of the guardians of the system. Seeing the security atmosphere in the country many organizations closed down on their own and by seeing this atmosphere many others left the field and abandoned their novice institutions and followed other paths and fields. Yet there were a few independent civil institutions that stood and faced the wave of anti-civility which had found a new life by the new government, despite all the suppressions and the now and again encounters with the guardians of the government, these organizations insisted on thriving, transparency and civil continuation of their work.

During those years, there were many independent human rights organizations at the national level, but perhaps in my opinion, three of them have stood out and have had more significant presence in the civil society of Iran. “The Association of Human Rights Defenders” has been an assembly of the great till this very day, however I believe that despite the precious human resources and expertise, it lacked connection to the substratum of the Iranian society. “Committee of Human Rights Reporters, CHRR” which started as the “Students Committee of Human Rights Reporters” and later removed the title of students due to the graduation of its members and based on the principle of honesty with the people, is another example of a human rights organization that despite having a few members was able to provide many services in order to broaden the human rights dialogues and publication of news on the violations of human rights in Iran. “Human Rights Activists in Iran, HRAI” had also grown to become one of the most influential human rights organizations in Iran along with the two previously mentioned organizations and other institutions. These three organizations worked in parallel on human rights discourse, publishing the news on human rights violations in Iran, and defending the victims of human rights violations, sometimes as collaborators and sometimes as competitors.

Shahin Najafi Supports HRAI by Wearing their T-Shirt, 2010
Shahin Najafi Supports HRAI by Wearing their T-Shirt, 2010

Certainly the presence and impact of other independent human rights institutions and organizations is unforgettable, organizations such as  “Association for the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights” which has been funded by our venerable professor Emadeddin Baghi, the “Arbitrary Detention Inquiry Committee” and the “Commission of Human rights at the office for Strengthening Unity” to name a few.  But despite the active presence of these organizations in aiding those prisoners whose rights have been violated (whether political or non-political prisoners), they were either barely or not active at all in reporting. Having a news agency and “being the voice of the silenced and voiceless” is the very feature that distinguishes HRAI and CHRR from other groups and organizations.

In the year leading to the presidential elections of 2009 (2) and the uprising of people, it was as if both groups (HRAI and CHRR) had come to the conclusion at once that transparency had to be their priority, therefore both started publishing the names of their members online; with the idea that with publishing the names of their members and activists, not only they would make an example of transparent human rights organization, but they would also prevent people from misusing the names of their reputable and well-known organizations. But neither, not the fellows at HRAI and not those like me who at the time were working with CHRR, could ever imagine the tempest of 2009 and that the hungry beast of tyranny would show up and slaughter all the opposition and devours all those activists whose names had been published!

The independent human rights groups and organizations that have resisted and stood through all the storms of 2005 to 2009 could be considered amongst the founders of the uprising of 2009. The spreading of discourse on such issues in Iran, is the result of the endless efforts of these young people who had stood tall, around the clock, day in and day out, without budging an inch stood firm, true and committed to their human rights duties, despite all the now and again threats and occasional encounters of the guardians of the government. Indeed by an analytical view, part of the preparation of the social body for such an uprising (informed on time at the public level, yet at the level of the leadership and experts late informed), is the fruit of the efforts of these independent and novice human rights organizations who with publishing the reports on apparent and hidden human rights violations in Iran and giving a voice to the voiceless, had made the society aware of that which was happening within its substratum.

The Rewards of the Blogging Race of HRAI, 2007
The Rewards of the Blogging Race of HRAI, 2007

These organizations greatly insisted on their principles, to the point that for expanding transparency in the social and civil atmosphere they started from themselves, and by publishing the names of their activists they became an example of transparent activism for the public and civil society. Perhaps regarding this impact there needs to be further explanations; if the uprising of 2009 is considered through Hoda Saber’s approach(3), as one of the peaks in the history of liberty, equality and fraternity movements in Iran,  this uprising could be modelled in two ascending and descending curves and a point at the peak of the curve. In the ascending curve and on the acclivity between the previous peak and the peak ahead, the social, civil and political democrats, the harbingers of human rights, equality and fraternity are standing in minority compared to the bulk of the society, yet were leading the rest towards the peak, by bearing the torch and protecting principles and accelerating the society towards the point of liberation. These efforts despite dispersion in a common ground or on a specific incident, were turning the accumulated potential energy in the ascending curve to kinetic energy, and Incident and Event (in this case, elections of 2009) in the descending curve and in declivity of the curve at once brings about the storms of incidents and events in the society. In the course of this descending curve and by the release of this accumulated energy now it’s the duty of the leaders of this movements, uprisings and masses to see if they can alongside and with the convergence of vectors, achieve their demands, or with late awareness and by not focusing this released energy on a specific goal and with dispersing and pointing vectors at different directions decrease the impact of it. The mentioned human rights organizations and groups are one or a few of the carriers of that stone which is supposed to be pushed towards the peak, so that in the declivity brings change to the society.

The Misinformation Published by the Iranian Authorities against HRAI, 2011
The Misinformation Published by the Iranian Authorities against HRAI, 2011

It is by the mentioned analysis and approach that these organizations such as HRAI and CHRR and other groups are considered effective in the background for the uprisings of 2009.

Later the system of Vilayat-e Faqih (4) fully and at the cost of Iranian society tried to entirely disable these human rights organizations. Indeed although after the uprising of 2009, these human rights organization and groups were subjected to violence, conflicts, persecutions, torture and imprisonment etc., the rapid process of 2009 had not made them crippled and vulnerable, but it was the hungry beast of tyranny that by targeting those groups whose activism was leading towards broader human rights, civil and rational discourses in the Iranian society, wanted to nip the uprising in the bud before it would blossom into a movement. In fact the gigantic security apparatus tried to devour and vanish these organizations and groups, but the triumph was for the human rights organizations and not the security apparatus.

March 2010, marks the time when while dealing with the civil rights activists, finally the security forces of the IRGC (5) ran out of patience with HRAI and with harsh and widespread crackdowns, they were arresting all the members and those any how related to HRAI, including all those whose names had been published in the organizations charts regardless of their collaboration levels and ranks. In fact, the IRGC abused the transparency of HRAI and started a full-scale arrest of all its members and activist, series of arrests that indeed were a security and harsh attacks in order to disable HRAI and prevent its activism, which was never achieved and the security forces were defeated against honesty, perseverance, and permanence of HRAI.

After the attacks of March 2010, although that kind of transparency and announcement of the names of the activists is not possible, and perhaps as a general criticism publishing the names of activists by the two organizations that have been attacked in 2010 (HRAI and CHRR) was premature and based on shallow understanding of the surroundings and status quo, but HRAI is still standing strong and firm, despite all the misfortunes, mistrusts, and back-breaking calamities such as loss of the late editor of HRANA, honorable Jamal Hosseini.

Perhaps in a general view a few points could be mentioned as the strengths of this organization.  Certainly the points are not limited to the ones being mentioned, but rather these are the points and strengths crossing my mind, and maybe if this piece was written by a different author, different points would have been mentioned.

In my opinion the most notable strength of HRAI, is its 10 years of existence. The experience of group work with Iranians has shown ten years of standing and working together within Iranian crowd, by having an Iranian mindset, in itself is a great achievement and is almost a miracle. Iranian individualistic traits and our failure to comply with collective work is no secret to anyone. The historical, cultural, and psychological critics of Iranian society, from Seyyed Mohhammad-Ali Jamalzade to Mehdi Bazargan and Hassan Naraghi and “Attempts to Criticize the Collective Conduct in Iran” by Taghi Rahmani (which is an edited series of his online meetings with activists in Malaysia), all have tried to detect the origins of this attribute and habit in collective work in Iran and to learn how in other countries, in the east and west of the world, people come together in a team work and by empowering the collective force they can carry out great results; but in Iran only a few coherent groups have been able to produce a timely, cohesive historically, rationally and procedurally output in a long period of ten years by collective and structured work (not by traditional delegations or individualism),  which is the precious achievement of HRAI. Perhaps it’s a good suggestion to the fellows at HRAI to write and publish as much as it’s permitted security wise, their 10 years of experience in collective activism and vicissitudes. Historiography has been generally an oral act and this nature of Word-of-Mouth of it caused many changes and distortions in it; maybe writing this experiences could help to preserve its authenticity against the eyes of those with presumptions and maybe it is possible to reach a structural model and graph of the possible permanence of a collective structured Iranian work, from the 10 year process and performance of this organization.

“Giving voice to the voiceless” is another strength of this organization which only exists in this organization and couple of other similar organizations (that unfortunately those other organizations have been frozen in time). HRAI has been able to reach and communicate with the prisons or the most rural and far from the capital areas and be the voice to those who haven’t had a voice, due to their distance from the capital (due to the nature of capital oriented media in Iran). Although this strength is slightly decreased with the development of ethnic media (which on one hand is the result of suppressions and pressures on the HRAI by the security forces, and on the other hand the communication of ethnic based media with the local people of that specific region), yet this organization’s reputation and efforts continues in order to communicate and persist on the principle of “giving voice to the voiceless”; within recent years, this very principle has been one of the main reasons behind the hostility of Iranian regime with HRAI and other similar groups.

Seyed Jamal Hosseini's Tomb, Nevshehir, Turkey
Seyed Jamal Hosseini’s Tomb, Nevshehir, Turkey

Another strength of HRAI would be being organized and structured.  The kind of structure and organization that at times might be infected with some bureaucracy infections, yet it gives it an exemplary discipline that helps the organization to move forward on its path as a creative system and not a machinery one. Iranian groups traditionally are authoritarian; where one person has the absolute power and makes all the decisions, and the rest of the members without any specific rank and considerations start working (not based on responsibilities and abilities). The disease of authoritarian management (has been successful before modernism in Iran, and still traditional ceremonies are ran this way and are successful in their field), in modern organizations contradicts the organization’s purpose and at times leads to terrible internal conflicts, and subsequently collapses or paralyzes the organization. In the sense that one person with the mindset that he is the founder of the organization gives out orders that members have to follow and rejection of the order (in a situation where there is no structure and discipline) leads to conflicts which by going public could crush the organization. HRAI despite the vicissitudes, and hardships of times, has relayed on being structured to survive and continues to be creative and progressive.

HRAI has been active for 10 years. The security apparatus of Islamic Republic of Iran has several times attacked HRAI with baseless allegations such as accusations of collaboration with different political groups/parties and attempts to destroy the picture and moral reputation of its members. Unfortunately not only the security forces of the regime, but even some hasty friends were a part of this. However the performance of this organization – despite all the mistakes it certainly have made and will make, based on the saying “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” (Albert Einstein) – is not only defendable but it’s praiseworthy. The development of HRAI not only in its news agency but also in the theoretical aspects (by its monthly publication, Peace Line) and in other levels from their Fourth Column Committee to efforts on fighting filtering, is also promoting and developing human rights discourse and dialogue in Iran.

10 years has passed since the establishment of HRAI. I hope that this organization will stand firm and strong on its principles, and will continue to be creative and effective for another 10 years to come, and that it would be possible to discuss the 20 years of activism of this young human rights and civil organization in Iran. In the Hope that then, there will be no sign of security system’s suppressions so that this organization and other organizations as the contributors to development of the discourse of democracy and civil society, are able to be present and active within Iran.


Translator’s notes:

1. On the 23rd may 1997, the seventh presidential elections of Iran was held, in this election more than 80% of those eligible voted, which marked a new era in Iranian politics because of the unexpected win with nearly 70% of the votes going to the reformist president Mohammad Khatami. This is while in the previous presidential election only 50% of those eligible had participated.

2. Iran’s 10th presidential elections, which created many controversies and surprised the Iranian public by the announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president. Millions of Iranians across Iran and the world took to the streets in the protest, and many Iranian figures directly supported the protesters and declared that the votes were fraudulent. The opposition green movement emerged from this uprisings.

3. Hoda Rezazade Saber was an Iranian intellectual, economic scholar, journalist and social-political activist. He served several prison terms since 2000 and died while on a hunger strike in prison.

4. The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, also called the Governance of the Jurist (Vilayat-e Faqih), is a post-Age-of-Occultation theory in Shia Islam which holds that Islam gives a faqīh (Islamic jurist) custodianship over people. The constitution of Iran calls for a faqih, or Vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist), to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government. In the context of Iran, Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist is often referred to as the “rule of the Islamic jurist”.

5. A coup d’état or simply known as coup, is the illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus. Some of the Iranian political figures, groups and media consider the government of Ahmadinejad after the elections of 2009 a coup government.  As some oppositions believe in this election Ahmadinejad falsely named himself the president of Iran and was supported by Ali Khamenei (the supreme leader) and the guardians of Islam.

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