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Campaign
Update
April 7, 2024

From Behind Iran’s Prison Walls—Taking Political Responsibility, Leading Resistance

According to reports from human rights groups, Iran’s theocrats have executed at least 834 to 853 people in 2023, deemed to be the highest number of official executions per capita in the world. At least eight protesters from the historic 2022 Women, Life, Freedom uprising were among those executed by hanging, with at least seven more sentenced to death. Amnesty International April 4, 2024 reports at least 95 recorded executions so far this year. Their report notes that the “…surge in executions … saw Iran’s prisons transformed into sites of mass killings in 2023…”[1]

Organized resistance to executions began in January 2024 among Iran’s prisoners and spread in the ensuing weeks. A statement came from a group of prisoners taking part in the “Black Tuesday No to Execution” hunger strikes from behind the walls of Ghezel Hesar, Evin, Karaj, Mashhad and Khorramabad prisons:

We have been on a hunger strike every Tuesday for the past seven weeks to protest the execution of death sentences and to stop this killing machine….Our aim with this weekly “Black Tuesday” [hunger] strike has been to draw the attention to the role of executions as a key tool in the [IRI] government’s tyrannical rule by repression and intimidation…We are sure that the day is not far off when … no citizen will be held captive and oppressed for their opinions or ideas. But until that day, we will continue what we know to be our moral duty – to protest from inside the prisons…It will take unity and collective action to Stop the Execution Machine…We extend our hands to all people of conscience in Iran and the world and ask for their support.
From @burnthecage post on March 19 (excerpted and translated by IEC)

On March 26, the first Tuesday of the Persian New Year, prisoners in Khoy and Naghadeh in northwest Iran also joined the escalating “Black Tuesday” weekly hunger strikes that were initiated in late January 2024 by death row prisoners in Iran’s largest prison, Ghezel (Qezel) Hesar. They selected Tuesday as a day to strike because the authorities often carry out their gruesome preparations for hangings at dawn on Wednesdays. Whether these hunger strikers were imprisoned as political prisoners or not, all of them have joined its ranks by taking this courageous action under horrific conditions.

The statement of the striking prisoners "Black Tuesdays, No to Execution.”  Graphic: Burn the Cage Instagram

Immediately after the announcement of the first hunger strike, the entire women’s ward of Evin Prison in Tehran (61 women) announced their participation. Since January, more prisons in Iran’s far-flung regions have joined the weekly strikes. Think about the difficult conditions in which these prisoners are organizing and giving political leadership to others inside and outside prison to stand together to fight the repressive regime. They are issuing larger social demands on the direction of society and not simply for improving each of their own dire conditions, as justified as that would be. They are taking great risks in organizing collective forms of resistance to demand an end to a key element of the theocratic fascist regime while inside its draconian clutches. The regime holds the power of life and death over all of them, with women prisoners facing a variety of added abuses in Iran’s misogynistic system based on Sharia/religious rule. The spirit of collective, organized, disciplined resistance is notable as the weekly strikes are reported to be continuing.

As former political prisoner Somayeh Kargar put it in her Instagram post in January, “Execution is a crime that must be stopped, no execution of anyone, anywhere, for any reason! The fight to end executions and the intertwined fight to immediately and unconditionally free all political prisoners is an important part of our fight against the Islamic Republic.” She makes clear her own perspective as stated in her Instagram post “…the struggle [that] has arisen inside women’s prison…should be transformed into our public resolve to overthrow the system” in Iran. She had written an important letter to 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner and political prisoner Narges Mohammadi which the IEC translated and published.

Political Prisoners Challenge People in Iran and the World to Stand with Gaza

The shared humanity of Iran’s political prisoners comes through in the political fight to stop state executions. It is even more strikingly expressed in a joint letter issued by nine of Evin’s political prisoners in November 2023. In it, they called for people in Iran to stand against the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide in Gaza. This letter goes against the popular tide in Iran of Persian nationalism and ideologically challenges the narrow-minded poison in the thinking of many of the masses. Even as Iran’s reactionary regime works to capitalize on being “anti-Western imperialism” by its support of forces like Hamas, they brutally oppress ethnic minorities inside Iran including Arabs, Kurds, Baluchi and others.

Seven men and two women managed to organize across the wards of notorious Evin Prison to issue this appeal: “Our Responsibility Concerning the Suffering of Others.” As the genocide in Gaza has become more horrific by the hour going into seven months, it is more than ever that this significant letter be shared and debated. This is a global dividing line and still a hotly contended question among the masses inside and outside Iran (and worldwide) with severe repression of pro-Palestinian voices and protests in the U.S. and other NATO countries (e.g., Germany).

See the full letter. Here are some key excerpts:

We simply cannot cover over this complex and unequal war being waged against the Palestinian people, with the justification of our resentment against the government [of Iran] and its destructive policies and wars [in the region]. ….The dichotomy presented to us —Hamas or Israel, military intervention or the current situation going on and on— offer only a choice between bad and worse. As long as we look only at options the rulers give us, rather than creating our own way forward, the result can only be bad or worse...as if war-mongering and slaughtering are only bad when the bombs fall on me [with thinking of]: “I don't care what happens to Gaza!” “I don't care what is happening to Baluchistan and Kurdistan!” “Whatever happens to the immigrants from Afghanistan, to women, to workers and the semi-unemployed, to the people who live in the slums and shanty towns!... I only protest when I and people in my own circle get attacked.”
Governments are indifferent to the suffering of the people, and wars can divert and become an obstacle to popular and revolutionary movements. Therefore, our approach is to actively bring forward an antiwar wing in the heart of the “Woman, Life, Freedom" revolutionary movement — while simultaneously condemning Israel's genocide and dehumanization of the Palestinian people, condemning the reactionary nature of Hamas and how it treats these very same people [as tools to achieve its goals], condemning the regional governments that support [Hamas], and condemning the imperialist sponsors that benefit from this brutal war.
Top row, L-R: Arash Johari, Reza Shahabi, Keyvan Mohtadi, Mehran Raouf. Bottom, L-R: Fouad Fathi, Omid Mosyer, Mazyar Seyednejad, Anisha Asadollahi, Golrokh Iraee.     Graphic: Composite from social media recreated by IEC

Iran’s political prisoners have continuously issued collective protest statements over several years. What they are modeling, from diverse political viewpoints, is that the collective struggle for a better future does not stop at the prison gates. There is the urgent need to fight Iran’s oppressive and repressive regime, but also to struggle to transform the thinking of the people to take responsibility for people all over the world to break free. This is more so in light of recent developments with U.S. war threats against Iran.

In all this, we continue to reiterate the political stand of the IEC as it is ever more relevant and needs to be urgently taken up by all justice loving people worldwide:

The governments of the U.S. and Iran act from their national interests. And, in this instance, we the people of the U.S. and Iran, along with the people of the world, have OUR shared interests, as part of getting to a better world: to unite to defend the political prisoners of Iran. In the U.S., we have a special responsibility to unite very broadly against this vile repression by the IRI, and to actively oppose any war moves by the U.S. government that would bring even more unbearable suffering to the people of Iran. We demand of the Islamic Republic of Iran: FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS NOW! We say to the U.S government: NO THREATS OR WAR MOVES AGAINST IRAN, LIFT U.S. SANCTIONS!

Campaign
Update
March 28, 2024

“Here’s to mighty and better days, with hopes for a brighter future" - Toomaj Nowruz Greeting

In an Instagram video, rows of trees were planted by supporters of Toomaj, with demands for his freedom attached.  @ToomajOfficial post

Persian New Year, “New Day” (Nowruz), began this past week on the spring equinox. A traditional part of the 13-day celebration is the exchange of greetings and wishes for the coming year. A number of Iran’s political prisoners, including Toomaj Salehi, were able to send inspiring Nowruz greetings from behind bars that supporters posted on social media.

In his message, posted March 19 by @ToomajOfficial, Toomaj continues to emphasize the importance of the global support for him (and all Iran’s political prisoners) in his issuance of these courageous dispatches from behind Iran’s prison walls. Notably, he calls on all to carry forward the seeds of hope in the historic Woman, Life, Freedom uprising of 2022. His insistence to stand up against women’s oppression is precious in the world today. His messages help answer those who ask, “what can we do from here?” to impact the situation of Toomaj and other prisoners in Iran from afar. He wrote:

Here, in my heart, I feel the warmth of the hands that planted trees in my name, that wrote on the walls of cities to keep my memory alive. Even now, I am warmed by the voices of those who celebrated my birthday on the Yalda [winter] solstice. Because you did not leave me alone, I am not alone in here. I am here, but with you.
Here’s to mighty and better days, with hopes for a future that is brighter than the years that are behind us. With a smile of pride and courage, I am still with you in resistance, as I celebrate this Nowruz a bit early. May your Nowruz be glorious!
Long Live the 552 days of glorious resistance in the Woman, Life, Freedom revolution! [1]
~Toomaj Salehi, Isfahan, Dastgerd Prison (translated from Farsi by IEC volunteers)

For more on the significance of the fight to free Toomaj Salehi, how it concentrates the fierce struggle to free ALL of Iran’s political prisoners, read and share IEC’s #FreeToomaj Resources page.[2]

[1] When people speak of the “Woman, Life, Freedom revolution” as Toomaj does here, they do so with many divergent understandings of what “revolution” is. While we do not know what Toomaj meant by “revolution” here, we think that examination and discussion of the different paths forward is urgent for the people of Iran, in that region (e.g., Gaza) and worldwide. A defined view and program for a revolution in Iran is set out by the CPIMLM (Communist Party of Iran, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) such as in its September 2022 Communiqué, “The Burial of the Compulsory Hijab, the Burial of the Integration of Religion with the State Has Begun! Let's Finish It!” Read it in English here and in Farsi here.

[2] According to his lawyer, Toomaj appeared in court via video on March 16, 2024 on new trumped-up charges of “encouraging acts of violence” online and “spreading lies.” He had been kidnapped and held incognito by the state in October 2022 at the height of the Woman, Life, Freedom uprising which he defiantly supported in the streets and in his powerful lyrical rap. For this political activity, he was sentenced in July 2023 to six years and three months in prison. He was released on bail on November 18, 2023 based on an appeal that showed “flaws in the original sentence.” Less than two weeks later, he was violently rearrested shortly after releasing a video in which he exposed his brutal torture in prison by the authorities—this being the basis for the charge against him for “spreading lies.” He has been imprisoned since.  

Updates from the Campaign

Past Year

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December 18, 2022
Update

Week 13 of Iran Uprising:

October 10, 2022
Update

Iran Uprising Enters 4th Week:

June 1, 2022
Update

Save the Date: June 10

December 2, 2021
Press Release

Eyes of World on Iran as JPCOA Talks Resume

October 3, 2021
Update

Now Available Online – Watch

September 22, 2021
Update

UN Press Conference Photos and Video

September 17, 2021
Update

Heroism for Our Times

May 20, 2021
Update

Letter to Signatories

Prisoner News