Report from Burn The Cage activist on Sept 25 program at Revolution Books

The following is an unofficial translation by the IEC of a “Report on the September 25 program of the Revolution Bookstore in Harlem, New York, by a 'Burn the Cage, Free the Birds' campaign activist”, posted in Farsi in the Oct 2021 Fire magazine, CPIMLM.org.

On September 25, Revolution Bookstore in Harlem, New York, and Berkeley, California, as well as the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners, jointly launched a special program entitled "Heroes of Our Time, Free Iran’s Political Prisoners, an Afternoon of Solidarity and Resistance".

The Harlem Bookstore program was attended by a number of in-person participants and was simultaneously broadcast on Facebook and YouTube. Also, with the cooperation of a number of activists in the "Burn the Cage" campaign and the emergency campaign, this program was broadcast through Clubhouse and translated into Persian for the audience at the same time.

Raymond Lotta started the program with a welcome and introduction. "I am the spokesman for Revolution Books," he said. "I am a writer for revcom.us (the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA), and an advocate of the new communism developed by Bob Avakian… We stand with our courageous sisters and who are held in the dungeons of Iran, not for any crime, but for bravely and heroically opposing the brutal and illegitimate regime that is the Islamic Republic of Iran. We are here to raise our voices and to demand their freedom NOW."

After this introduction, Outernational, a revolutionary and internationalist band, performed a beautiful song. "It’s an honor to be here," said the group's singer. “Political prisoners in Iran serve as an inspiration not only to all of those like us who are aware of this struggle, but for all those people out there who need to find out that there is something bigger than themselves to live for, to fight for and to give their lives for.”

After the music, Lotta drew the attention of the audience to the back cover of the New York Review of Books, which was printed as a large placard, and said:

"The photos you see are of a number of Iranian political prisoners who are writers, poets, workers, women's rights activists, human rights activists, lawyers and revolutionaries. Some have been sentenced to long prison terms and lashes. These political prisoners are not bowing to their captors. They are fierce in their determination and resistance. We are here to celebrate them and step up the battle to free them… The campaign was formed in the United States in late 2020 with the release of a statement by Carol Downer and Dolly Veale in response to a call from supporters, friends and families of Iran’s political prisoners, and the Burn the Cage, Free the Birds campaign in Europe," said Comrade Lotta. "Burn The Cage was sparked by a new wave of repression and widespread arrests targeting widths swaths of Iranian society carried out in October 2020."

"The emergency campaign for the release of political prisoners has been endorsed by more than 2,700 people, including Cornell West, Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, Ariel Dorfman, Jody Williams, Dan Ellsberg, Judith Butler, and many others… Some of these prisoners pictured here were given long sentences in late August. Let me be clear: this is not a symbolic campaign. We are building internationalist support, solidarity and action... Let me be clear: we refuse to accept the imprisonment of our Iranian sisters and brothers. We may speak different languages, but ours is a united voice of international solidarity and resistance.”

The next speaker was Larry Everest. He is also a correspondent for revcom.us (the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA) and the author of Oil, Power and Empire. Larry Everest is also an active participant in the emergency campaign. He spoke in detail about the role of the oppressive relationship of US imperialism to Iran and the profound impact it has had on the events and lives of the Iranian people to this day.

An audio message from Ariel Dorfman followed. Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-Argentinian writer, playwright, and human rights activist, rightly says of Iranian political prisoners, "We should not let them down." As part of his message of solidarity, he said:

“This is for my dear friends, whom I have not met personally, but I know about them, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Iranian prisons, serving sentences for exercising their freedom of expression and the freedom to be free. Because I know that words do carry through prison walls and country to country and from poet to those who listen, I just wanted to send you this message which comes from my latest novella, called The Compensation Bureau. In this novella, the guardian angel falls in love with a woman who is dying because of her struggles for the human rights, and especially for the forests. …This is what this guardian angel he hears from her as he watches her life ebbing away… And I thought, this is the way to send you these words, which cross prison walls and they cross from country to country, they cross from my mouth, and my mind, and my love, to you, and I send you, with these words, my solidarity, my certainty that you will prevail against the forces that have you imprisoned but cannot control and silence your voices."

The next speaker was Mariam Claren, the daughter of Nahid Taghavi, a political prisoner imprisoned in Iran. She described the circumstances of her mother since her arrest. She said, in part:

"I learned from my mother that resistance and speaking out against this injustice is the only way to stand against the Islamic Republic of Iran, so I decided to go public with her case at the very beginning of her arrest. I created the Free Nahid Campaign [1] on social media, I start giving media interviews with German but also and international newspapers like The Guardian. I started working with NGOs like Amnesty International and most important part is building networks with other families of political prisoners… This solidarity is so important to the prisoners. Going public with their cases protects the prisoners... The prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran are full of people like my mother Nahid Taghavi. These people are all in jail because they cared for other people, they were fighting for a better world... They deserve awards and not bars."

The next speaker was Kave Milani, the spokesperson for the "Burn the Cage" campaign. He said in part:

“Anyone in Iran can be arrested. You may be arrested because of your religion or nationality. Or as a human rights activist, the fight against forced veiling and the oppression of women, writers, poets, relatives of prisoners, teachers and even the prisoners' own lawyers… You can be arrested because of who you love, even the shape of your T-shirt, your hairstyle, the color of your shoes. Any decent citizen in Iran is a potential threat to them… This horrible situation has recently been exacerbated by the recent appointment of Ebrahim Ra'isi as President of Iran. At the age of 27, Ibrahim Ra'isi was the youngest member of the Death Commission responsible for the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. He played a pivotal role in this massacre... Burn the Cage campaign strives to be the voice of the voiceless… we open our arms to everyone who has a dream of a better world. Let us unite and burn all the cages in which our loved ones are imprisoned, from Evin to the prisons of Guatemala and Abu Ghraib."

Raymond Lotta then spoke about internationalism and the way forward for humanity, and how the campaign relates to the future world we want to build. Due to the importance of this part of his speech, a translation of an excerpt is given at the end of this report.

Anahita Rahmani, a former political prisoner in the 1980s, spoke. She spent eight years in prison, and her husband, Behrouz Fathi, died in prison under torture. In a short speech, she referred to her experience at the time of the massacre of 1988 and said: “At that time I was in solitary confinement awaiting execution, and every night the guard would come to my cell and tell me, Anahita, tonight is your last night… It was at this time that Montazeri ordered an end to the executions, and that is why I am here tonight. After this massacre, communist women who refused to pray were flogged five times a day, 5 lashes each time, but the prisoners resisted."

Following Anahita's speeches, messages of solidarity were played by a retired professor who was a local coordinator with Amnesty International and Darius Atefat, a young American-Iranian poet. In the next part of the program, a part of Mansoureh Behkish's message was read. Mansoureh is a well-known member of the Mothers of Khavaran who lost five members of her family to executions or torture in the 1980s. In part, her message reads:

“Undoubtedly, the United States and other dominating countries have only their own interests at stake, and I strongly oppose sanctions against Iran and other countries, but I urge the United Nations and UN member states to NOT turn a blind eye to systematic human rights and abuses and other crimes of this OPPRESSIVE regime, that is tantamount to crimes against humanity.  It is unfortunate that we are not only harmed by the tyrannical and domineering government of Iran, but also by the domination of other governments OVER US THAT HAS DARKENED our lives, and the United Nations should be held accountable for this. Just as recent events in Afghanistan reveal, for years the hegemonic governments have plundered the lives of Afghanistan’s people, and now the Taliban has seized power in line with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Taliban's first action was an immediate targeting of and attacking women. This is exactly what the Islamic Republic of Iran did immediately after seizing political power.”

In the end, Raymond Lotta thanked everyone and said that those who participated in the program today and those who helped broadcast it, we all stand by the political prisoners of Iran. We should try to spread the message of this campaign among more people and in different spaces. We learned a lot today and got energy from the speakers.

Link to the program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgab7ftQG6I&t=6928s

The website of the Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now: https://www.freeiranspoliticalprisonersnow.org

Posted October 2021