Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Iranian human rights defender Narges Mohammadi released from jail, finally

October 8, 2020

Iranian opposition human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, at the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran (AFP/File photo) By MEE staff

Prominent Iranian human rights defender Narges Mohammadi has been released from prison, her husband confirmed on Thursday 8 October 2020. She had been serving a eight and a half years out of a10-year sentence for ‘forming and managing an illegal group’

Ismail Sadeghi Niaraki, prosecutor in Zanjan province, said a newly passed law reducing prison sentences included the activist and said she had been released on that basis, according to BBC Persian. Mohammadi, who was held in Zanjan Prison in northwestern Iran, was the spokeswoman for the Centre of Human Rights Defenders in Iran.

Originally serving a six-year sentence dating from 2011, she had been released on bail before being arrested again on new charges in 2015.

The mother of two was then sentenced to 16 years in prison for “forming and managing an illegal group” among other charges, with a minimum of 10 years having to be served. Coronavirus: Iran reports record high death numbers as it grapples with third wave

Her husband, Taghi Rahmani, confirmed the news on Twitter. “Narges was released from Zanjan prison at three in the morning,” he tweeted. “Wishing freedom for all prisoners.

UN rights experts in July called for Mohammadi’s release after she reportedly fell ill with Covid-19, warning her life was at stake.(see: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26118&LangID=E

“The Iranian authorities must act now before it is too late,” the 16 independent experts said in a statement.

Iran has released more than 100,000 prisoners since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March, as a way of reducing infection.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/07/un-rights-chief-urges-iran-to-release-jailed-sotoudeh-and-other-human-rights-defenders-citing-covid-19-risk/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/06/exclusion-of-human-rights-defenders-from-covid-release-measures-is-the-norm/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-narges-mohammadi-release-prison-human-rights

https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Iran-frees-rights-activist-after-more-than-8-15630185.php

UN rights chief urges Iran to release jailed Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders, citing COVID-19 risk

October 7, 2020

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According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), conditions in Iranian prisons, suffering from chronic overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, have worsened during the pandemic. Shortage of water and inadequate protective equipment, testing, isolation and treatment have led to a spread of coronavirus among detainees, reportedly resulting in a number of deaths. 

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined the responsibility of States to ensure health and well-being of all individuals under their care, including those in prisons. 

Under international human rights law, States are responsible for the well-being, as well as the physical and mental health, of everyone in their care, including everyone deprived of their liberty,” she said in a news release, on Tuesday 6 October 2020.  

People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk,” she added. 

In February, the Iranian judiciary issued directives on temporary releases to reduce the prison population and avoid further spread of the virus, benefiting some 120,000 inmates, according to official figures, said OHCHR, adding that the measures appear to have been suspended, and prisoners have been required to return in large numbers.  

In addition, people sentenced to more than five years in prison for “national security” offences were excluded from the schemes. 

As a result, most of those who may have been arbitrarily detained – including human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists, and others deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or exercising other rights – have been placed at a heightened risk of contracting the virus, added the Office. 

“I am disturbed to see how measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been used in a discriminatory way against this specific group of prisoners,” said High Commissioner Bachelet. 

One of the most emblematic cases is that of prominent lawyer and women’s rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was given a combined prison sentence of over 30 years on charges related to her human rights work. Her life is believed to be at considerable risk as she suffers from a heart condition, and has been weakened by a long hunger strike.  

Once again, I urge the authorities to immediately release her, and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice,” said Ms. Bachelet 

Over the years, she has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the Government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/]

The High Commissioner also voiced concerns over persistent and systematic targeting of individuals who express any dissenting view, and the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights. 

“It is disheartening to see the use of the criminal justice system as a tool to silence civil society,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1074722

Four well-known human rights defenders are the 2020 Right Livelihood Laureates

October 1, 2020

On 1 October 2020 the Right Livelihood Foundation announced its 2020 Laureates.

The Right Livelihood Award has been honouring courageous changemakers since 1980. [For more on this award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/97238E26-A05A-4A7C-8A98-0D267FDDAD59]

The 2020 Laureates are receiving the Awards for the following:

This year’s Laureates are united in their fight for equality, democracy, justice and freedom,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation. “Defying unjust legal systems and dictatorial political regimes, they successfully strengthen human rights, empower civil societies and denounce institutional abuses. This year’s selection of recipients highlights the increasing threats to democracy globally. It is high time that all of us in favour of democracy around the world stand up and support each other.”

The four Laureates, selected by an international Jury, will each receive a prize money of 1 million SEK. As in previous years, the Laureates were nominated in an open process where anyone could submit individuals and organisations for consideration. The Laureates will be honoured during a virtual Award Presentation on December 3, 2020.

For last year see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/26/right-livelihood-award-2019-lauds-practical-visionaries/

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Nasrin Sotoudeh ends her hunger strike as UN experts write joint letter

September 27, 2020

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Sotoudeh had been on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison since August 11 to protest the risk that political prisoners in Iran face amid the coronavirus pandemic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/german-judges-give-their-human-rights-award-to-iranian-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh/%5D

On September 19, she was taken to hospital for a serious heart condition. But four days later, she was taken back to Evin prison, triggering disbelief from UN independent experts among others.

“It is unfathomable that the Iranian authorities would return Ms. Sotoudeh to prison where she is at heightened risk to COVID-19, as well as with her serious heart condition,” the experts said.

We urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision, accept her requests to recuperate at home before undergoing a heart procedure, and allow her to freely choose her own medical treatment,” they added in a statement.

The experts echoed Sotoudeh’s call for the Iranian authorities to grant temporary release to human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, and all other individuals detained without sufficient legal basis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

47 countries called on Iran to “protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained” in a Friday session of the UN Human Rights Council, according to a German diplomat, Susanne Baumann:

Susanne Baumann
@GERMANYonUN
Joint Statement on the dire human rights situation in Iran today in the Human Rights Council #HRC45, presented by Germany on behalf of 47 countries. We call on Iran to protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners & arbitrarily detained.
———

https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-iranian-human-rights-defender-ends-hunger-strike-as-health-deteriorates/30859117.html

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iran/26092020

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2009/S00203/iran-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-must-be-freed-for-treatment-say-un-experts.htm

German Judges give their human rights award to Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

September 6, 2020

Radio Farda reported that the German Judges Association (DRB) has awarded its Human Rights Prize to the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who is currently on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison in protest to the conditions of political prisoners. For more information on this and other awards see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/german-association-of-judges-human-rights-award

Nasrin Sotoudeh has become a symbol of the Iranian civil rights movement through her courage and tireless commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” the presidents of the German Judges Association said on Wednesday. Barbara Stockinger and Joachim Lüblinghoff stated that now more than ever, Ms. Sotoudeh needs wide international support, and that they wanted to honor her “highly impressive commitment in Iran and to bring her fate to the public attention”.

The 57-year-old lawyer and rights activist began a hunger strike at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on August 11 to protest the “unfair” and “illegal” conditions of political prisoners in Iran. She has demanded the release of political prisoners to protect them from the spread of coronavirus in prisons.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/24/list-of-lawyers-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/. Iranian authorities have freed tens of thousands of prisoners since the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, but have refused to grant furlough to political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience, including Sotoudeh.

Sotoudeh, an international award-winning lawyer and rights activist, was been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison and 148 lashes on several charges, including conspiracy against national security, spreading lies and disturbing public opinion.

Earlier this year, Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike to protest the maltreatment of political prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. She previously staged a 49-day hunger strike in prison in 2012 while she was serving another sentence for her human rights work. On Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde expressed deep concern about Sotoudeh’s health and said she wanted to reiterate the EU’s call for her sentence to be reviewed. In a statement on August 28, the American PEN association called for the immediate release of Sotoudeh and other political prisoners, as well as an end to judicial and legal harassment of her and her family. 

New shocking report by AI re prisoners’ abuse in Iran

September 3, 2020

Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials have committed, with the complicity of judges and prosecutors,  a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, against those detained in connection with the nationwide protests of November 2019, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.

The report, Trampling humanity: Mass arrests, disappearances and torture since Iran’s 2019 November protests, documents the harrowing accounts of dozens of protesters, bystanders and others who were violently arrested, forcibly disappeared or held incommunicado, systemically denied access to their lawyers during interrogations, and repeatedly tortured to “confess”. They are among the 7,000 men, women and children arrested by the Iranian authorities within a matter of days during their brutal repression of the protests.

Victims include children as young as 10 and injured protesters and bystanders arrested from hospitals while seeking medical care for gunshot wounds, as well as human rights defenders including minority rights activists, journalists, and individuals who attended ceremonies to commemorate those killed during the protests. Hundreds have since been sentenced to prison terms and flogging and several to the death penalty following grossly unfair trials which were presided over by biased judges behind closed doors, frequently lasted less than an hour, and systematically relied on torture-tainted “confessions”.

“In the days following the mass protests, videos showing Iran’s security forces deliberately killing and injuring unarmed protesters and bystanders sent shockwaves around the world. Much less visible has been the catalogue of cruelty meted out to detainees and their families by Iranian officials away from the public eye,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown.

Amnesty International has recorded the names and details of more than 500 protesters and others, including journalists and human rights defenders, who have been subjected to unfair criminal proceedings in connection with the protests.

Prison terms meted out to those convicted have ranged from between one month and 10 years for vague or spurious national security charges such as “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, “disrupting public order” and “insulting the Supreme Leader”.

Of these, at least three, Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi, were sentenced to death for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through acts of vandalism, and another, Hossein Reyhani, is awaiting trial on a charge carrying the death penalty.

More than a dozen known to Amnesty International have received flogging sentences, in addition to prison terms, and at least two have had their flogging sentences implemented.

The organization believes that the real number of individuals prosecuted and sentenced in connection with the November 2019 protests is far higher, given the large number of arrests carried out and the patterns of prosecution and sentencing in the country in cases of arbitrary arrests and detention involving intelligence and security bodies.

Amnesty International is urging member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the prolonged, systematic impunity for gross violations of human rights in Iran, including by supporting the establishment of a UN-led inquiry with a view to ensuring accountability and guarantees of non-repetition.

The organization is also urging all UN member states to forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release anyone who continues to be imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in connection with the November 2019 protests; quash all convictions resulting from unfair trials, including those that relied on statements obtained through torture or other ill-treatment; and hold those responsible to account.

Torture epidemic

Amnesty International’s research found that there was widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment by police, intelligence and security agents and prison officials against men, women and children, both during arrest and later in detention.

Prosecution and judicial authorities failed in their legal obligations to conduct independent and impartial inspections of detention facilities, including those run by security and intelligence bodies, and to ensure that legal provisions banning the use of secret detention and torture and other ill-treatment against detainees are respected.

Torture was used to punish, intimidate and humiliate detainees. It was also routinely used to elicit “confessions” and incriminating statements, not just about their involvement in the protests, but also about their alleged associations with opposition groups, human rights defenders, media outside Iran, as well as with foreign governments.

The organization’s research found that victims were frequently hooded or blindfolded; punched, kicked and flogged; beaten with sticks, rubber hosepipes, knives, batons and cables; suspended or forced into holding painful stress positions for prolonged periods; deprived of sufficient food and potable water; placed in prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks or even months; and denied medical care for injuries sustained during the protests or as a result of torture.

Other documented methods of torture included stripping detainees and spraying them with cold water, and subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and/or bombardment of light or sound; forcible extraction of the nails from fingers or toes; pepper spraying; forced administration of chemical substances; using electric shocks; waterboarding; and mock executions.

Information received by Amnesty International from primary sources also reveals that interrogators and prison officials perpetrated sexual violence against male detainees, including through stripping and forced nakedness, sexual verbal abuse, pepper spraying the genital area, and administering electric shocks to the testicles.

One victim from Khorasan Razavi province who was subjected to waterboarding told Amnesty International:

“They [my interrogators] would drench a towel in water and place it over my face. Then they would pour water slowly over the towel, which made me feel like I was suffocating… They would stop… until I started to feel better and then they would start torturing me this way again. They also punched, kicked and flogged me on the soles of my feet with a cable.”

One man who was subjected to electric shocks recounted:

“The electric shocks were the worst form of torture… It felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles. If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body…. The torture has had lasting effects on my mental and physical health. To this day, I still can’t sleep at night.”

A victim from Tehran province who was suspended from his hands and feet from a pole in a painful method his interrogators referred to as “chicken kebab” told the organization:

“The pain was excruciating. There was so much pressure and pain in my body that I would urinate on myself… My family know that I was tortured, but they don’t know how I was tortured. I feel choked with tears because there is no one here I can speak to.”

In all cases documented by Amnesty International, victims reported various forms of psychological torture to give forced “confessions”, including the use of degrading verbal insults and profanities; the intimidation and harassment of their family members; threats to arrest, torture, kill or otherwise harm their family members, including elderly parents or spouses; and threats to rape detainees or their female family members.

Enforced disappearances

Amnesty International’s research shows that many detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or even months while held in undisclosed locations run by the security and intelligence bodies including the ministry of intelligence or the Revolutionary Guards. Other detainees were held in overcrowded prisons or police stations, military barracks, sports venues and schools.

Distressed relatives told the organization that they visited hospitals, morgues, police stations, prosecution offices, courts, prisons and other known detention centres to enquire about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, but the authorities refused to provide them with information and threatened them with arrest if they kept seeking information or publicly spoke out about them.

In one case documented by Amnesty International, the authorities arrested a family member of two people who were forcibly disappeared for enquiring about their fate and whereabouts.

Amnesty International is aware of three ongoing cases of enforced disappearance, where the authorities continue to conceal their fate and whereabouts from their families. They include brothers Mehdi Roodbarian and Mostafa Roodbarian from Mahshahr, Khuzestan province.

On 11 September followed this: https://en.radiofarda.com/a/human-rights-organizations-call-for-un-investigation-into-suppressing-iranian-protesters/30833918.html

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/09/iran-detainees-flogged-sexually-abused-and-given-electric-shocks-in-gruesome-post-protest-crackdown-new-report/

 

Shirin Ebadi biopic: Until We Are Free

August 27, 2020

Harris says, “It’s been an honor to work with many remarkable Nobel Peace Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi, as part of the PeaceJam Nobel Legacy film series and to lend my voice to Shirin’s story of fighting for women and children to be treated with basic human dignities.”

https://www.benzinga.com/pressreleases/20/08/p17263858/award-winning-producer-and-voiceover-actor-laurel-harris-narrates-shirin-ebadi-until-we-are-free-w

Iranian woman wins top award with religious freedom animation

August 26, 2020

An Iranian-born animator has won a top prize for her film about the importance of freedom of religion. Maral Karaee’s “District 18” tells the story of a little girl who lives in a world where people, animals of object of different colours – red, blue, green and yellow – are not allowed to mix. It won the Grand Prize in the Animation category in the Short Film Competition at the Empower Women Media and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. When the girl accidentally breaks the rules, she is fired from her job and made an outcast.

https://www.keepthefaith.co.uk/2020/08/25/iranian-christian-wins-top-award-for-religious-freedom-animation/

Exclusion of human rights defenders from COVID-release measures is the norm

August 6, 2020

Governments who were lauded for releasing prisoners in response to COVID-19 outbreaks have in fact excluded human rights defenders from the measures and continue to make new arrests of activists, journalists and critics.

In a new briefing, “Daring to Stand up for Human Rights in a Pandemic”, which documents attacks on human rights defenders during the pandemic, the organization highlights the hypocrisy of governments including Egypt, India, Iran and Turkey, who have left prisoners of conscience to languish in appalling conditions despite widely publicized prisoner release programmes.

“COVID-19 has been an added punishment for human rights defenders who are unjustly imprisoned, and has also been used as a pretext for further harassment, prosecution and even killings,” said Lisa Maracani, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Human Rights Defenders. “The exclusion of human rights defenders from release measures underscores the political nature of their imprisonment. In Turkey for example, journalists, lawyers, activists and opposition politicians held in pre-trial detention on baseless charges remain behind bars despite government measures that have seen over 100,000 people released since April. It is plain to see that the Turkish government still fears criticism more than the pandemic.”

The new briefing documents attacks on human rights defenders during the COVID-19 period in 46 countries, and shows how “fake news” laws, movement restrictions, reduced police protection and heightened intolerance to criticism have led to new crackdowns around the world, including against whistle-blowers in the health sector and those highlighting inadequate responses to the pandemic.

Amnesty International has identified 131 people who speak up for human rights globally who have been harassed, prosecuted, killed or imprisoned on COVID-19-related pretexts – this figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

On 25 March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, several countries excluded human rights defenders from decongestion measures in prisons and other places of detention. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/30/virutal-human-rights-council-adopts-presidents-statement-on-implications-of-covid-19/]

In India, for example, many students and activists who had participated in peaceful protests against India’s discriminatory citizenship law continue to be unjustly detained.

In Egypt, the government failed to release human rights defenders detained solely for expressing their views, as well as thousands of other pre-trial detainees, many of whom are facing overly vague “terrorism”- related charges amid concerns over breaches of due process.

In Turkey, decongestion measures have explicitly excluded those who are held in pre-trial detention, and those who are on remand for or have been convicted of offences under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws. They include political and human rights activists, journalists, academics, and others who have spoken out against the government.

In Iran, authorities announced that they had temporarily released 85,000 prisoners but many human rights defenders continue to be held on politically motivated charges in appalling conditions.

They include Narges Mohammadi, a human rights defender who suffers from serious pre-existing health conditions and is showing suspected COVID-19 symptoms. The authorities continue to deny Narges Mohammadi health care in prison, and refuse to inform her of the results of a COVID-19 test taken on 8 July. Note that today (6 Augusrt 2020) th Voice of America reported: “in a written message sent to VOA Persian on Tuesday, Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, living in exile in Paris, said the dangerous phase of his wife’s illness had passed. Rahmani said his wife had been at risk of serious health complications if the illness had spread to her lungs, which already had been hobbled by a preexisting disease.”[https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/voa-news-iran/jailed-iranian-journalist-mohammadi-out-danger-coronavirus-husband-says]

Amid the crisis, Iranian authorities have also continued to arbitrarily arrest and imprison human rights defenders. In other countries where prisons are already severely overcrowded, governments have continued to arrest human rights defenders on trumped-up charges, exacerbating the problem and putting more people at risk.  In Azerbaijan for example, the government has mounted a new wave of arrests and prosecutions of dozens of political activists, journalists and human rights defenders, often in response to their criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Among those arrested are opposition activist Tofig Yagublu on bogus charges of hooliganism, and human rights defender Elchin Mammad, who was arrested on theft charges days after he published a report on the human rights situation in the country.

New arrests of human rights defenders have also been reported in Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, Zimbabwe and Angola, among others.

“International cooperation must also include pressuring governments to release people who are in prison simply for peacefully exercising their human rights, and who are now at serious risk of contracting COVID-19.” said AI/

In Honduras, the most serious recent incident includes the possible forced disappearance of five young men, four of whom are activists with the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH). They were taken from their homes on 18 July by men wearing police uniforms and have not been seen since.

In Colombia, civil society organization INDEPAZ has reported 166 killings during the first six months of 2020. Among them was Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez, a women’s rights activist killed outside her home in March. Carlota was a community leader and had been collecting foodstuffs for families in need on the day she was killed.

Now more than ever, the work of human rights defenders is essential in fighting for equal access to healthcare, food and shelter, and informing the public about the virus and ways to protect themselves. Governments who exploit this crisis to attack human rights defenders should know they are being closely watched,” said Lisa Maracani. “It is vital that governments provide effective protection to human rights defenders and ensure they are safe from those attempting to exploit the pandemic and silence them.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/08/attacks-on-hrds-during-pandemic-report/

Profile of Behrouz Boochani who Just Wanted to Be Free

August 5, 2020

The New York Times Magazine of 4 august features a long, substantial and richly illustrated story by Megan K. Stack – an author and a journalist- on Behrouz Boochani the Iranian refugee rescued from Australia’s off shore camps [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/01/behrouz-boochani-gives-interview-in-new-zealand-finally-out-of-manus-island/].

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/

Here follow some long excerpts that give you a flavour of a profile worth reading in full:

Behrouz Boochani’s book, “No Friend but the Mountains,” won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 while he was still detained on Manus Island.
Behrouz Boochani’s book, “No Friend but the Mountains,” won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 while he was still detained on Manus Island.Credit…Birgit Krippner for The New York Times

He fled Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He exposed Australia’s offshore detention camps — from the inside. He survived, stateless, for seven years. What’s next?

..The cellphone was everything on Manus. Boochani and the other detainees hoarded their cigarettes for weeks to barter for phones with the detention center’s local employees. Once acquired, the phones had to be hidden from the guards, who conducted surprise dawn inspections to hunt for contraband. Boochani’s phone was confiscated twice; each time, there was no recourse but to start over again, one sacrificed smoke at a time.

The phones quickly became the only tool successful at breaking through the shroud of secrecy that Australia tried to throw over the migrants’ detention. Locked up in the disused rooms of the old naval base, the asylum seekers were called by serial numbers instead of names. Communications were tightly restricted. Under Australian law, workers who spoke publicly about what they saw or heard at the detention sites faced up to two years in prison. But official documents and accounts from survivors and whistle blowers gradually leaked out, along with accusations of sexual and physical abuse. Asylum seekers sought solace in self-harm as their mental and physical health crumbled under the strain of prolonged and uncertain detention.

Boochani wrote “No Friend but the Mountains” in Persian, sending texts of ideas and descriptive fragments to nonexistent WhatsApp numbers that he used to organize his thoughts. Once satisfied with a passage, he sent it to Moones Mansoubi, a translator in Sydney, who organized the material into chapters before sending it along to Omid Tofighian, an Iranian-Australian philosophy professor. Slowly, haltingly, Boochani and Tofighian texted back and forth about how best to translate and arrange the passages into a draft. Together they blended poetry and prose into a genre Tofighian calls “horrific surrealism.”

First-person narratives that paint historical events from the perspective of the persecuted have proven powerful and enduring. These stories are subversive; the images slip into a reader’s mind and create empathy where there was little before. They can permanently alter the way history is recorded and understood.

Boochani’s book challenges readers to acknowledge that we are living in the age of camps. The camps lie scattered throughout the Middle East, cluster on Greek islands and stretch like an ugly tattoo along the U.S.-Mexican border. Camps sprawl through Bangladesh, Chad and Colombia. People are suspended in a stateless and extralegal limbo on the tiny Pacific island nation Nauru, in Guantánamo and in the Syrian town of al-Hawl. At no time since humans first drew borders have there been more migrants and refugees than today. Countless individual lives weave into a collective panorama of displacement and statelessness and detention. These truncated journeys are a defining experience of our times.

As for Boochani, he refuses to cede the story of his hardships to third-party observers. He criticizes journalists who depict refugees as faceless victims. He bristles at perceived condescension from academics or activists who benefit from what he describes as an industry built around the plight of refugees. When Kristina Keneally, a prominent center-left senator in Australia, sent a tweet supporting Boochani, he tweeted in anger: “Such a rediclilius [sic] and unacceptable statement by Labor Party. You exiled me to Manus and you have supported this exile policy for years…

The miseries of offshore detention were meant to pressure migrants to abandon their asylum claims so they could legally be sent back whence they came and — more crucial — to create a spectacle so chilling that “boat people” would stop coming to Australia altogether. That was the first and last point of this byzantine enterprise.

…After six months of misery and unanswered questions, immigration officials appeared at the camp and warned asylum seekers that they would be stuck in Manus for a long time yet. Enraged detainees rioted that night, lunging at the guards and hurling chairs. Local police and Manus residents rushed into the compound to quell the unrest. Dozens of detainees were injured, some suffering broken bones and severe lacerations. One man lost an eye; another’s throat was slashed, reportedly by a guard. Barati, Boochani’s close friend, was viciously attacked by a group that included an employee of the Salvation Army, which had a $50 million contract from the Australian government to provide counseling to the asylum seekers. The assailants killed Barati by dropping a heavy rock onto his head. He was the first detainee to die on Manus.

In 2019, most of the asylum seekers were moved to motels in Port Moresby because, it seemed, nobody knew what else to do with them.

The first time I saw Boochani, he was still being detained on Manus Island. It was a chilly, wind-scraped morning in 2019. Boochani was discussing his book via video link at the annual writers festival in Byron Bay, Australia. When his face flickered onto the screen, the overflowing crowd that jammed the seaside auditorium gasped and burst into applause. Boochani looked haggard and detached; dangling hair framed his craggy features. “Oh, God,” said a woman near me. “He looks so alone.”…

Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, frequently says the asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea include men “of bad character” — “Labour’s mess” that he has been forced to “clean up.” Pauline Hanson, a right-wing populist senator, called the men “rapists” on the floor of Parliament this past winter. “These people are thugs,” she said. “They don’t belong here in Australia.”..

All told, Australia has locked up thousands of desperate people, including children, in de facto prisons on Manus and Nauru. The detentions have been harsh but effective, officials say: The flow of boats slowed and eventually stopped. Asylum seekers are still stuck on Nauru; until last year, they included children. The Australian government recently spent about $130 million to reopen the detention center on Christmas Island — despite the lack of new arrivals to lock up. In other words, the policy is still unapologetically intact, ready and waiting for any boats that make it to Australian waters.

It was a brilliant January day in Christchurch, New Zealand. Screeching gulls wheeled in off the Pacific; swollen roses bobbed in the breeze. In the hydrangea-fringed garden of a spare, tidy house, Boochani sat smoking. He couldn’t smoke inside because the house wasn’t exactly his; it was on loan from the University of Canterbury. Boochani’s neighborhood looked as if Beatrix Potter had painted it in watercolors: prim, ivy-laced cottages and tidy beds of hollyhocks and lavender. It was nice, Boochani conceded. Too nice, sometimes. “It’s too much, you know?” he said. “It’s too much peace and too much beauty. It’s hard to deal with this. It’s like you go from a very cold place to a very hot place.”

During these early and disorienting weeks, Boochani got word that it was finally time to begin the final steps to resettle in the United States. He’d been awaiting this news for months, but when his chance came, he backed out. Reports of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, immigration crackdowns and political tumult had eroded his eagerness. “I don’t feel safe in America now,” he said simply. “I don’t mean that someone would kill me. But I don’t trust the American system. It’s like chaos there now.”

Instead, Boochani took a bold gamble: He applied for asylum in New Zealand. He accepted a fellowship with the university’s Ngai Tahu Research Center, which specializes in Maori and Indigenous studies — a nod to his Kurdish identity — although the post would remain a secret while his application to stay in New Zealand was pending. Neither his whereabouts nor his plans were public knowledge. Conservative politicians in both New Zealand and Australia were calling for Boochani to be turned out. What would he do then, where would he go? He shrugged; he didn’t answer; instead, he began to roll another cigarette. ..

..This is the complication and the delicacy of Boochani: His most famous work was derived from the considerable suffering he endured at the hands of the state. He is proud, even cocky at times. And yet this pride must wrestle with the dehumanization he has endured. His existence was controlled by a hostile bureaucracy for years; now his days were arranged by benevolent well-wishers.

Then, on July 23, Boochani’s birthday, he finally got word from his lawyer: His application had been accepted. Boochani could stay in New Zealand. He was free. On the phone, he let out a wild and incredulous laugh. Of course! When else? It had been his birthday, too, the day he was lifted from the sea and taken into Australian custody. Hearing him laugh like that, I remembered one of his stories: When he was born, his parents asked a visiting cousin who knew how to read to choose a name for the baby. The cousin opened a book and poked his finger onto the page at random, striking the word “Behrouz” — Farsi for “fortunate.” Literally, “good day.”

Boochani rode his bike from his house to the sea. He looked at the expanse of ocean, these waters that had almost killed him, the sea he suspected of absconding with years of his life, the waves that crashed now on the mineral grains of this new land he called home. He looked at the ocean, at all of that past and all of that future, the churn of time and destiny, and he smoked a cigarette. Just one cigarette. One cigarette and the sea in his eyes. And then he rode home again.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/magazine/behrouz-boochani-australia.html?referringSource=articleShare