Demonstrating the Iranian authorities’ continued intolerance for peaceful dissent, two open letters written since June 2019 by 28 political and civil rights activists urging Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step down have led to the arrest of at least 13 of the signers by the security establishment. No information regarding the charges, their status or whereabouts is as of yet available.
The first letter on June 11, was signed by 14 political and civil rights activists in Tehran, Iran’s capital, and in Mashhad, one of the country’s most important religious centers and second largest city in Khorasan Razavi Province, calling on Khamenei to resign and demanding constitutional changes.
The letter said in part, “The time has come for the people, thinkers, and caring individuals to lead a national movement by setting aside conciliatory tendencies that have facilitated the destruction of our culture, civilization and national wealth and with all honesty step into the ring and demand fundamental changes to the Constitution and the resignation of the Leader who is unjustly extending his authority on a daily basis.”
It added: “There is not only a lack of will to be accountable to the Iranian people, but actually an insistence by the ruling regime to remain irreformable and wrongful under a singular dictatorship.”
The letter was signed by Mohammad Nourizad (filmmaker and social media critic), Gohar Eshghi (the mother of Sattar Beheshti, a political blogger who died under torture in police custody), Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi (author and civil rights activist), Kamal Jafari Yazdi (professor of strategic management), Mohammad Mahdavifar (political poet), Hoorieh Farajzadeh (the sister of Shahram Farajzadeh, who was killed during Iran’s 2009 presidential election results protests), Javad La’l Mohammadi (teachers’ rights advocate), Reza Mehregan (civil rights activist), Mohammad Reza Bayat (civil rights activist), Mohammad Hossein Sepehri (teachers’ rights advocate), Hashem Khastar (teachers’ rights advocate), Mohammad Karimbeigi (the father of Mostafa Karimbeigi, a protester killed in 2009) and Zartosht Ahmadi Ragheb (civil rights activist).
So far six of them have been arrested since the letter was published: Hashem Khastar, Mohammad Nourizad, Mohammad Hossein Sepehri, Hoorieh Farajzadeh, Javad La’al Mohammadi and Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi.
Some of the signatories posted videos on social media explaining why they hoped for a different form of government.
In one video message, teacher Mohammad Hossein Sepehri said, “If the regime shows tolerance toward us for signing this letter, it would be respecting our rights as citizens. But if it mistreats us, it would prove that the Ruler wants to enslave the people.”
On August 11, two months after he signed the letter, Kamal Jafari Yazdi’s 13-year prison sentence was upheld by the Appeals Court. He had been charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “contact with anti-state organizations” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.”
Yazdi, who is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), has to serve at least 10 years behind bars to become eligible for parole.
Letter from 14 Women Activists
The second open letter, on August 9, was signed by “14 women activists in the fields of civil and women’s rights,” declaring support for the earlier letter and stating: “As vanguards seeking to free the country, we are determined to say no to the Islamic Republic and continue our struggle in a civil non-violent manner until we achieve all our demands.”
The signatories described the state as an “anti-women regime” and condemned “four decades of totalitarian Islamic rule, which has led to the inhuman exclusion of half of the population.”
It added: “We rise against this anti-woman regime that has wiped out our human values and demand a complete passage from the Islamic Republic and drafting of a new constitution for the establishment of a state in which women’s dignity, identity and equal rights are recognized in all areas.”
The letter was signed by Shahla Entesari (labor women’s rights activist), Nosrat Beheshti (retired teacher and women’s rights activist), Fereshteh Tasvibi (women’s rights activist), Parva Pachideh (author, poet and women’s rights activist), Giti Pourfazel (attorney and central committee member of the secular National Front party), Zahra Jamali (women’s rights activist), Shahla Jahanbin (women’s rights activist), Fatemeh Sepehri (women’s rights activist), Maryam Soleimani (women’s rights activist), Sousan Taherkhani (women’s rights activist), Farangis Mazloom (mother of prisoner of conscience Soheil Arabi), Narges Mansouri (labor and women’s rights activist), Ezzar Javadi Hessar (women’s rights activist) and Kimia Norouzi (women’s rights activist).
To date seven of the fourteen women have been arrested by the security forces: Shahla Entesari, Shahla Jahanbin, Fatemeh Sepehri, Narges Mansouri, Farangis Mazloom and Giti Pourfazel.
Giti Pourfazel, who was the lawyer for the late blogger Sattar Beheshti as well as US-based women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, said in an interview with Prague-based Radio Farda on August 25, “The goal is the same as the slogans in the beginning of the (1979) Revolution when we were seeking democracy, as the most important foundation for free thought and expression, which we have been denied for years. The people’s rights are really being trampled. They tricked the people with the word ‘republic’ and added ‘Islamic’ to it and then said now Islamic law has to be enforced.”
The interview was aired a day after her arrest.
Official Reaction: the Signers are “Troublemakers”
On August 23, Hassan Jafari, the assistant governor for political, security and social affairs in Khorasan Razavi Province, confirmed the arrest of activists in the provincial capital, Mashhad, who had signed the first letter.
He accused them of being “troublemakers” working for “anti-state groups” but denied their arrest was due to their demand for Khamenei’s resignation.
“The reason those people were arrested in Mashhad last week was because of their contacts with foreign groups seeking the overthrow of the state. It had nothing to do with their letter to the Leader,” he said.
On August 11, the province’s director general for security affairs, Hossein Sherafati, mentioned the arrests without identifying the signatories by name.
“The people who had gathered illegally outside the Khorasan Razavi judiciary building were anti-revolutionaries with foreign connections who had come here from different provinces to ignite protests and instigate the public against the Islamic Republic of Iran and create insecurity in Mashhad.”