One year ago, on a dire morning “Jamal is not breathing anymore” was the sentence being communicated through the telephone lines. Since then we have faced a sad contradiction, the contradiction of presenting somebody who always refused to be public.
What we never doubted about was the necessity of presenting Seyed Jamal Hosseini comprehensively and throwing light on different aspects of his activities. We believe that presenting the devoted, diligent, creative character of Seyed Jamal Hosseini and his faithfulness in his ideals would help the other activists to learn from the previous experiences and their empowerment. All those who knew Jamal confirm that he was a great man with a short life, however, his activities in accordance with his creativity, perseverance, and faith have had effects which go beyond a single organization.
To present him, I begin with a simple question: Who was Seyed Jamal Hosseini?
Seyed Jamal Hosseini was born in 1982 in Zanjan, also known with nicknames such as “Esfandiar Baharmas” and “Nader Bazargan”. A simple worker who faced daily injustice and atrocities and as an answer to his conscience began his activities in order to improve the situation of human rights in Iran.
His first direct experience of human rights violations in Iran might have been the execution of his uncle in the mass-executions of the 1980s. He was influenced by this incident and as he himself said, to remember it on a daily basis made him an opposing and demanding person. Despite the loss of his father as a teenager, he continued his individual, social and self-generated activities such as participating in demonstrations, reporting, and blogging. He was arrested several times for short periods and because being known to the Ministry of Intelligence and their effort to arrest him had to flee. As a 22-year-old young man, he went to Turkey in 2004 and began a long procedure of asylum there. The UNHCR recognized him as a refugee whose life and safety were in danger but failed to transfer him to a third country or the so-called safe countries.
Seyed Jamal Hosseini’s Activities
As already mentioned, because of not finding the right landscape of activities inside Iran, he was often active in a self-generated way. After leaving the country he was blogging and established some small committees to defend the political prisoners until 2006 when we met and our mutual concerns of the necessity of human rights-oriented activities led to the establishment of Human Rights Activists in Iran. In fact, in the beginning, I was responsible for the actual work inside Iran and Jamal had the responsibility of supporting and communication. The group grew up as hundreds of activists joined us and went through many ups and downs because of the detention of many of its members which is still going on.
In the early years, we as some inexperienced youth had to go through many trying and errors to pave the way. We had to solve the problems on our own and find our way through complicated situations. Among us, people like Jamal were known as “Jake of all trades” who naturally were under pressure. They had to learn journalism, website designing, and other cyber issues in accordance with the requirements of the group. He had to learn how to repair a computer, management, accounting, etc. besides finding new ways of activities. Jamal was one of those who with no academic education and without joining any courses were educated in a practical process and taught these to the new members, too.
The 24-hour-work with no expectation, untiring, with a strong spirit, creativity, kindness, and bravery of Jamal and others like him was our only capital in moving forward in all these years. Although since 2009 and after the establishment of HRANA News Agency as a branch of the Human Rights Activists in Iran he was in charge of the editorial of the website but that never stopped him from being active in other branches. He was indeed a permanent and important part of any decision and management process.
As a non-political and independent character, he was targeted to a propaganda campaign by security forces and naïve people. Besides his patience and perseverance, because of protecting the whole group and avoiding personalizing the matters he refused to defend himself. For us, this is another example of his sacrifices. Just as an example, when he died all that remained from him was not more than some thousand Tomans whereas the IRGC always accused us of having millions of Dollars.
During the last decade, he worked an average of 18 hours a day. The sun rose for him with the telephone of a victim of human rights violations and set when he was not able to work anymore. He ate behind his computer and even that when he could find a chance between different works. I do not remember him to postpone anything because of taking rest or eating a meal. He slept many nights with just eating once a day or even hungry. Indeed he looked for his humanitarian ideals in his daily activities. Many of former or current political prisoners in Iran have talked with him and Jamal used to report their problems without them even knowing him. Many of them do not know yet that the voice talking to them then was Jamal.
Jamal’s dead body was found at his home some hours after our last conversation of August 5th. The forensics estimated that he was dead 3 to 9 hours before the body was found. The prosecutor of Nevshehir stated that the death was suspicious and asked for investigations. His body was examined in Ankara and Istanbul and the forensics finally said that there were no reasons for murder or suicide nevertheless it could not recognize the main cause of the death because the body was delivered to them with a delay of 3 days despite the very hot weather. The delay had caused harm to inner organs and made the histological examination impossible. So in the lack of histological examination, there has been no ultimate outcome for the case of Seyed Jamal Hosseini’s death announced by the prosecutor.
As it has already been announced Jamal was threatened several times by the Iranian security forces so the Turkish police had recommended him to live in Nevshehir instead of Van which was closer to the Iranian border. However, there is no evidence of a terror or murder operation so we do not accuse any government and have to wait until the truth becomes clear.
We believe that Jamal worked hardly for years without caring about his own health. Therefore even if he has died in the third decade of his life because of the way of his life while not having a especial record of any illness it is a direct consequence of his daily activities and sacrifices. It is enough to imagine the circumstances that his body was found in. Everything, specifically his computer showed that he was working until the last moments of his life. So we understand that to discover the main reason for death is only essential for law enforcement and does not indicate the value of his work.
What Could Be Learned?
The first lesson that we could learn from him is in his character and the way he was active. He used to work with no expectations, he was brave, willing to sacrifice, patient and loyal. These besides being able to work well in a team made him an outstanding character who tried to reach his ideals without any personal interests and anonymously. There is no doubt that the Iranian Civil Society needs to have such characters to be able to continue and improve its effectiveness. Jamal can be an example for all human rights defenders.
The second lesson that I believe could be learned of Jamal’s life is to be grateful to the real human rights defenders. Those who work in hard conditions while sacrificing their personal interests deserve the attention and support of civil society. These people usually have no interest in being in the media but the interests of a movement are to highlight them, who can be trusted and relied on. It is important to recognize these people as long as they are still alive.
The last lesson is in his dramatic death as a political refugee. A person who was recognized by the UNHCR as a person in danger, however, had to wait for 9 years in an insecure country. There is no doubt that the UNHCR is to be mostly blamed. Jamal’s death is a shame for this organization. In such circumstances the situation of the Iranian refugees specifically those who are active and in danger must be taken seriously. The UNHCR must not be allowed to put these lives in danger by its ignorance.
In the end, I would like to point out that the “Human Rights Activists in Iran” is honored to have hundreds of members and co-workers during all these years. There are definitely those who could be named as the symbols of sacrifice and perseverance in the process of forming and activities of the group. Because of the theme of this article, I did not mention them. The aim of this brief was not to describe the history of the group but to explain the life and death of Seyed Jamal Hosseini very briefly. We will always be proud of him.
May he rest in peace
Secretary-General of Human Rights Activists in Iran