On January 9, the Social Forum of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco (UUSF) and the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners NOW (IEC) held a meaningful and impactful online forum—"Heroism for Our Time: An Afternoon of Solidarity to Free Iran's Political Prisoners."
Through presentations, solidarity statements, videos, music, lively discussion, and the involvement of new forces who helped build the program, the January 9 forum spread the IEC campaign to new audiences worldwide. Radio Pooya, a Farsi-language online radio station, broadcast the program in English and reported some 30,000 listeners in 43 countries, including over 5,000 in Iran itself.
The program came at a very important juncture and sounded an important alarm about the growing urgency of this life-and-death struggle. IEC spokesperson Dolly Veale opened the event stating, “Our campaign’s Emergency Appeal (EA) is appropriately titled ‘The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance—We Must ACT Now! It critically and uniquely calls on people in the U.S. and globally to stand against the Iranian regime’s brutal repression, while also opposing U.S. threats or aggression on Iran. It has crossed borders and forged a community of people from all walks of life fighting for Iran’s political prisoners.”
Indeed, on January 8, imprisoned poet Baktash Abtin died—a death tantamount to murder at the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Abtin, a courageous resister and filmmaker, as well as renowned writer, was remembered and honored at the beginning of the program and also by Mariam Claren, whose mother, German-Iranian dual citizen Nahid Taghavi, has been imprisoned since October 2020.
Abtin’s death sparked widespread outrage across the world and inside Iran. There are also growing concerns for the lives and health of other prisoners, and fears the regime is planning to reactivate dormant cases and drag other dissidents back into its deadly dungeons. All this makes the battle to free Iran’s political prisoners—and spreading the message of this afternoon of solidarity—all the more urgent.
Free Iran’s Political Prisoners—No U.S. Threats or War Moves, Lift Sanctions!
Four substantive talks delved into the brutal campaign of arrests, torture, and executions now taking place in Iran and the urgent campaign to free Iran's political prisoners. They brought to life its importance for Iran's people and for humanity, and why all who stand for justice and a better world should rally to this cause—while also opposing U.S. threats, sanctions, or aggression. As stated in the theme of the event, the defiance and heroism of Iran’s political prisoners was an inspiring thread that ran through the entire afternoon.
Mariam Claren described how her mother had been arbitrarily arrested in October 2020, repeatedly interrogated and tortured. “The prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran are full of people like my mother,” she said, “such as lawyers, poets, filmmakers, environmentalists and human rights activists, who have dared to speak the truth, stand up to injustice or simply have an opinion that challenges the authority of those in charge. These people deserve awards not bars.”
Former political prisoner Lawdan Bazargan exposed the gruesome 1988 massacre of thousands of Iranian political prisoners—a crime administered by key members in the top leadership of the current regime in Iran. She conveyed the painful loss of her own brother who was executed by the regime in that massacre.
Dr. Azam Niroomand-Rad, emeritus professor, Georgetown University, Washington, DC and a longtime human rights campaigner, presented an informative PowerPoint presentation on the history and crimes of the IRI going back to its founding. She traced its brutal history under Khomeini, which has been carried forward down to the current president, Ebrahim Raisi. She pointed to Amnesty International’s report that in 2021 alone, human rights defenders in Iran were subjected to a combined 479 years of imprisonment and 907 lashes.
Larry Everest, a spokesperson for the IEC, author and contributor to revcom.us, noted the heroism exemplified by political prisoners like Narges Mohammadi and Sepideh Gholian, and pointed to the real need to emulate such heroism today. He dug into the possibility of actually freeing Iran's political prisoners, and why people here “in the belly of the imperialist beast” need to stop thinking about America first and start thinking about humanity first, face the horrors the U.S. has visited on Iran, and take up the prisoners’ cause—“especially now, when the drums of war are sounding once again, with the U.S. and Israel debating whether to attack if nuclear talks with Iran fail.”
Vital Role Played by the UUSF and Other Activists
The First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco (UUSF) co-sponsored the program and played an active role in the event’s success. Weekly Zoom meetings organized by UUSF Social Forum members drew in new forces who helped spread the word and open up avenues to the media, including a number of radio interviews leading into January 9. The program began with Senior Minister Vanessa Southern’s heartfelt welcome and was co-moderated by the UUSF Social Forum’s Bruce Neuberger, with Melvin Starks giving a moving reading of Taghi Rahmani’s solidarity statement about political prisoner Narges Mohammadi.
Solidarity statements were presented from Kave Milani, spokesperson of the Burn the Cage, Free the Birds movement in Europe, and from Monireh Baradaran and Saeid Pourabdollah, as well as Pouran Nazemi and Asghar Amirzadegan. Former political prisoner Anahita Rahmani delivered a fundraising message.
Music videos by artists Shekib Mosadeq and Marjan Farsad powerfully bookended the program. All in all, the program was a fitting kick-off for taking the campaign to free Iran's political prisoners to a new level in 2022.
The program was informed by the International Campaign’s Emergency Appeal: The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance—We Must ACT Now! which has been endorsed by over 3,000 people from 40 countries globally, including Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, Ariel Dorfman, Jody Williams, Daniel Ellsberg, Judith Butler, and Raymond Lotta, and appeared as an ad on the back cover of the Summer issue of the New York Review of Books.
Recently, Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2003, John Buehrens, past President, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Peter Phillips, former director of Project Censored, along with others, added their signatures and moral authority to the Emergency Appeal.