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From activism in Iran to take action in Europe
Sat 3 10 2015

Mansoureh Shojaee

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The promising progressiv Iranian Women‘s Movement is revived and boosted again by the open letter of Narges Mohammadi, out ofEvin prison.
The voice of Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian prominent Human Rights activist, this time, speaks up a different language. It is the voice of a mother this time, talks for many other imprisoned mothers, and the additional pain they are enduring since many years. She had not addressed this particular aspect of women prisoners, ever earlier, in order not to be mistaken that it was her personal grief and soft spot as an imprisoned mother, separated for years from her children. But at the end, now and in this Open Letter,she opened the wound that is one of a collective issue, with the scream of many mothers separated from their children that penetrated the dense high walls of Evin prison and reached out to the world.

The Iranian Feminist Movement, silenced by force for a while, was activated by this Open Letter. And Pro and Con writings and statements on the issue followed

Some of those expressed views took the dualistic position of either/or, when the role of women was focused upon; saying that have to choose between being a mother or an activist with regards to their participation in society. Among them voices that advocated the position that women should resume their role as housewives and mothers and avoid activities that are potentially not only a threat to themselves, but also to their families.
In line with the aim of Narges Mohammadi, although not explicitly named in the Open Letter, a number people in Iran, started a campaign in support of demands expressed by Mothers in Prison, an initiative that required energy and enthusiasm to take off. Soon others, who had experienced similar suppression and injustice gathered around this initial group and gave them further support.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian lawyer and activist, herself subjected much and long to prison terms and separation from her beloved ones, delivered a written statements in defence of the Campaign. Reporters Without Borders, The Campaign to abolish Capital Dead Penalty step-by-step, the Nobel prize Women Initiative, the Mothers of Laleh Park * Association, the Secular Moslem groups in Iran, public figures and personalities and some who had themselves experienced imprisonment and suffering, unanimously supported the new born campaign.

Outside Iran, a small group of activist women included Iranian Nobel prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, Humarn rights defender and lawyer Mahnaz Parakand , woman activist Khadijeh Moghadam and me as a woman activist and researcher decided as well to take action. A civil gathering was planned in front of the Peace Palace, in the heart of The Hague, to also support the demands of The Campaign and support Mothers in Prison, in Iran.

This group placed two main issues on the agenda as the immediate goal: To release of imprisoned mothers with long jail sentences, that they had been convicted to based on socio-political activities. And, to acknowledge the right of participation in social and political questions, of activist and feminist mothers, by the government and the society at large.

In other words the discourse brought the question of equality and that of the demand to release imprisoned mothers under one and the same flag.

The public voice of Nargess Mohammadi’s letter coincided with the announcement of the Iran Nuclear deal. There was thus hardly room to get in touch with positive feelings about the deal and to develop feelings for its possible impact ; future international cooperation on equal basis with Iran, and the process of social reconstruction. The incredible and massive streams of refugees with all entailing developments also occupied the space of attention; there was hardly any peace of mind that would have been needed to get the taste of the promising change. One file had to be closed prematurely in order to concentrate on another; the urgent support needed for the release of imprisoned mothers, and other political prisoners.

The group present in the gathering, in the Hague on August 22.2015, was composed of expatriates who had come from all over Europe, Norway, Germany, France and of-course other cities of The Netherlands. They all wanted to tune in with the demands expressed in the open letter of Narges Mohammadi concerning Mothers in Prison.

Most participants remembered, with some nostalgia, those days in 2010, when we first decided to start an activist movement, „Feminist Movement“ abroad.

The group members, presently changed to a certain extent, had decided, then, to organize a sit-in sanctuary in front of UN Headquarters in Geneva. The predominant cause and issue for this action was to publicly demand an end to Nasrin Sotoudeh’s dry hunger-strike, the female lawyer who was spending her prison term herself at the time by the adjustment of the cause of for her hunger-strike, and her release. Most of the participants in the action had left Iran only recently** They all had little experience in organizing such activities in Europe. It was a crash decision to do it any way! There was little information about media contacts but a lot of anxiety about the consequences of the hunger-strike by Nasrin Sotoudeh. With the help of the Iranian Artist and activist, Parastou Forouhar who was in Europe earlier, within a day or two after the decision was final to take the action, ,emails were sent out to all friends. Winter was very hard that year... many flights were cancelled and trains were delayed . Yet we managed to reached Geneva in time. Some like Mina Zand our activist and translator friend coming from Overseas from NY, even made it and joined us directly from the airport.

The presence of the Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi in disguise of a regular activist gave the gathering a special flavour and surprised some of the western media, such a s CNN, deeply.

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This time, in August 2015, we no longer were beginners. There was no anxiety as experienced in 2010. Hope prevailed that the situation would improve. W knew that it was needed to resume and continue our struggle, as part of Civil Society. This time we were more familiar with the social instruments of our battle, in a different geographical space. We used the academic environment ,academic theories related to social movements and the space of civil activism in Europe. Also we were connected with mass media in Europe , had knew how to use the cyberspace. All of this was helpful to take cautious steps to organise a successful event. We chose, The Hague and its Peace Palace front area, the symbol of world peace, as the very site and started to prepare the Gathering. Against the current of absolutely requiring “sponsors” deeply such step, we drew energy from the memory of our allies and our home.

Images belonging to past 20 years of women’s movement were gradually replaced by factual realities of now.

Going to the police headquarters and meeting two friendly female officers to officially obtain permission for the Gathering was in this context like a running slapstick episode to me.

Indeed, entering that office without trembling out of fear about the consequences of what we were up to and being treated like a respected citizen by the security police of The Hague municipality seemed like daydreaming. I was given the permission and instructed about the regulations and requirements that applied to running such an event. All aspects of rules to respectfully use the setting where we were to download our activity, were clearly described.

I was given the written permission with a copy of our primary request that had the impressive signature of our respected Peace Nobel Laureate, Shirin Ebadi.

In order to make sure that I was not in realm of dreams, I immediately contacted the ISS university, Reporters Without Borders and other relevant organisations and the media. The receipt of the permission was communicated to them, as though I needed to do so, in order to be in touch wit the reality of what was about to happen in a peaceful and civil way.

It was now time to start the work. Reporter Without Borders immediately declared their support by publishing in three languages for the event. This went on their website as well. Martin Block, responsible for student affairs at the sociology –department of the Erasmus University agreed to give us a conference hall of the University, for the press conference, even on a holiday. A number of doctoral and master students in ISS volunteered to assist. Amnesty Netherland generously provided all required electronic equipment and the loudspeakers. The Organisation “Lawyers for Lawyers” Holland, declared to support the event and called its members to participate and support. The “ Nobel Women” were of-courseon our side. The “ Dutch Bahahii’s community” accepted to attend and to provide the placards. Our activist friend in Vienna “ Jaleh Gohari” , at the age of 70 + sat in her car to drive at once from Vienna to The Hague with another supporter of the Campaign. After the Gathering she volunteered to take flyers and posters to Vienna and organize a similar event, in the Austrian capital as well. This event is due on September 19th under the Umbrella of Amnesty Austria’ Women’s Network.

The Hague we even had a South American foot print: the Mexican Student Sat Paolina Adrass had initiated, a week before the Gathering, a Facebook page dedicated to the campaign. She also took on the public relation task, in the university setting. Beatriz Campillo, another Mexican student, as though having found the Zapatista Heritage again, took on to loudly announce the Paroles in English and scant repetitively the parole of release of imprisoned mothers which have already translated into English by Sergio Koshergin, an American student, combat-veteran and filmmaker.

There was also an Indonesian student, Riko Naldi who tuned in and encouraged participations. The magic of thís international support stopped the Western blowing wind from tearing apart posters and banners.

Numerous Iranian male participated in the Gathering, who had long histories of very different left political activism. They seemed fascinated by the mighty presence of women demanding equality. They once represented very different political streams and yet they all came, from Munich to Cologne, up to Eindhoven and Amsterdam, and many other places, in order to participate. There was no trace of the barriers that in the past had inhibited these political individuals from any common action. The picture would have been completed, if also their female allies had been among us on that day.

The well known formally convicted in Iran and jailed journalist, Abdolreza Tadjik, now in Paris exile, had hired a car and brought Taghi Rahmani, Narges Mohammadi’s husband, and other journalist friends, all the way from Paris to The Hague. They all landed safely in The Hague, stopped for refreshments after the event and drove back to arrive in “Midnight In Paris”. !

Reza Moeini, Head of the Middle East Desk, Reporters Without Borders who had already opened the umbrella of their Organization over our event, joined us. He reached the Gathering delayed and sweaty tired, as he had been unexpectedly caught in the incredible and “Happy” traffic jam, caused by The Hague’s Annual Fire Festival, the same afternoon.
We wrapped up the event and its many interventions in time and fully cleared the dignified square in front of Peace Palace, The Hague. Our hearts full of hope for a bright future of equal rights and the release of imprisoned mothers and other political prisoners

The “Lessons Learned” on our path to organise this event, were numerous and valuable. Above all: it is possible to materialize a task of this importance, if it is done full-heartedly and out of conviction. The memory and absence of Green features were on the horizon of our afternoon.

With motherly love, we hosted those who had come with enthusiasm and commitment to share our efforts and were present at the gathering, The Hague, August 2015.

translated by: Jaleh Lackner-Gohari



source: Feministschool

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