Prison walls continue to divide Iranian families during New Year festivities
GVF — On Tuesday, Iranians around the globe celebrated Nowruz (meaning “New Day”) marking the start of spring.
While it is custom to celebrate the Iranian New Year alongside family, some chose to spend the early moments of spring next to Iran’s notorious Evin prison.
The image below shows former chancellor of Tehran University Mohammad Maleki (right), filmmaker and blogger Mohammad Nourizad and the family of political prisoner Ehsan Houshmand sitting close to the towering walls of Evin prison. Both Nourizad and Maleki have been imprisoned for their dissident views in recent years.
The little girl in the picture is Houshmand’s eight-year old daughter, who had written, “I love you dad. Come home” on a piece of paper she carried with her. The elderly man in the photo is the imprisoned journalist's father.
Ehsan Houshmand, a writer for the political magazine Cheshm-Andaaze Iran, was arrested on 7 January by six plain-clothed security forces who, according to opposition website Kaleme, posed as drug enforcement police.
Under the watchful eyes of the guard in the watchtower, the group initially set up a Nowruz Haft Seen in front of the prison’s main gate. They were then told by Evin officials to pack up and leave, after which they relocated to a nearby bridge.
Shortly afterwards, they were forced to leave the area.
Like many of their comrades, the leaders of the Green Movement also spent Nowruz within the confines of prison. Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and Mahdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since mid-February 2011 after they called for opposition demonstrations in support of the Arab Spring. Human rights groups believe their continued detention is not only in violation of international conventions, but are also in breach of Iran’s own constitution.
On Wednesday, Karroubi’s son Mohammad Hosein Karroubi announced that on the first day of spring his father was allowed a twelve-hour visitation with the family, the first meeting in almost four months.
“Along with my mother, brothers and [the rest of] the family, we went to the house where my father is under house arrest. This reunion lasted for about twelve hours … it was the first visit that took place without the physical presence of intelligence agents,” he said in a Facebook post.
According to Karroubi’s son, his father congratulated the Iranian people on the New Year and added, “I am in good spirits. Having said that, solitude has its own difficulties. However, as I believe in what I do and the path I’ve chosen … I do not feel fatigue or despair, and have never been this grateful to God. I have full hope that this path will bear results.”
On 16 March, the Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope said that the Green Movement’s slogan for the New Iranian Year would be “the expansion of civil struggles and standing up to warmongering.”
“For more than a hundred years, the Iranian nation has been struggling to achieve freedom and justice. If we have not been successful, we must find the reason in ourselves. Justice and freedom must turn into a culture in [each and every one of] us. Only then will we realise these ideals.”
The Council, an important body within the opposition Green Movement, said that Haft Seen symbolised the “diversity of outlooks on life and beliefs” that existed in the country. “Our travels during the Nowruz period are a reminder of the vastness of our country, the diversity of its people, and the long path we have ahead of us before we come to respect these differences.”
“Nowruz is a symbol of the national and religious identity shared by Iranians across the country and the world,” the members continued.
“We want a free, prosperous and independent Iran with a just government. We want an Iran where the forceful elimination of those who think differently comes to an end; We want an Iran where its best and brightest are not forced to emigrate to other parts of the world against their own will; An Iran where all benefit from freedom and rights, [an Iran where] their creativity flourishes and they see peace and security in their everyday lives; An Iran where ethnic, religious, sectarian and sexual discrimination are not obstacles in the way of success. An Iran that, instead of enmity with the rest of the world, establishes relations with other [countries] based on mutual respect, dialogue, and constructive collaboration while safeguarding her national interests, territorial integrity and security.”
The Coordination Council warned that the country’s moral, social, economic and cultural foundations were on the verge of “collapse” due to the policies of the hardliners currently in power. “We must not wait for the government [to act]. This government thinks of no one but itself and [it thinks of] nothing other than sacrificing national interests in order to prolong its own life.”
The Islamic Republic’s behaviour, the statement went on to add, had become “predictable” for the population. It argued that despite the relentless crackdown on press freedoms, the Green Movement’s media had experienced a “quantitative and qualitative” growth.
“At the same time, those who until yesterday would not criticise the regime out of good will, are increasingly jumping ship. Rifts and differences in dealing with the country’s issues are evident within the most important military and security bodies. In the year that went by, it became clear that not all Revolutionary Guards members and Basijis are to be viewed through the same lens.”
In January, former IRGC Navy Chief & Brigadier General Hossein Alaei compared Iran’s Supreme Leader with the late Shah who was ousted from power following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“The wrongful behaviour of the Shah’s security forces had amplified the people’s dissatisfaction with the monarchy and helped maintain it,” the retired admiral wrote in an article that appeared in the Ettelaat daily. “As the number of people killed on the streets, imprisonments and political prisoners rose, the Shah’s regime essentially lost its grandeur too.”
The article infuriated Iran’s hardliners. One pro-government website called Alaei a “hyena” who had attempted to discredit the Islamic Revolution by comparing it to the Pahlavi Dynasty. A letter signed by twelve current commanders of the IRGC accused the admiral of having ungraciously “insulted” Khamenei.
Many saw Alaei’s comments as a sign of growing divisions within Iran’s security and military establishment.
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