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Mr. Rouhani, please hear our voices!



Mansoureh Behkish’s open letter to Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani

On Saturday, August 3, 2013, you were confirmed as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and subsequently were sworn into the office. During the inaugural ceremonies, you stated that the president represented everyone in the country. As an Iranian, I find it necessary to point out that you don’t represent those of us who didn’t participate in the presidential election. We believe that elections aren’t free in Iran because the basic process of nominating and selecting a candidate is not democratic; there is no freedom of speech in the country, and people are not free to form and participate in political organizations. Nonetheless, we hold that as the chief executive officer, the president has the duty to be responsive to people’s demands whether they have voted for him or not.

As you faced the nation, you took an oath and then stated that locked doors could be opened only when everything was transparent. How wonderful! Transparency is one of the pillars of effective management. We hope that you’re committed to transparency in practice. It is what we haven’t seen during the last 34 years and need it so much. However, transparency isn’t enough. There are other important aspects to effective management. Government officials must be held responsible for their actions. Accountability and social justice are other principles upon which effective management of the country relies.

After the referendum of 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, people faced numerous problems throughout the country, but government officials asked everyone to be patient. We were told to hope for a better future since peace, prosperity and freedom for everyone were just around the corner. But there was a vast difference between what was said and what was done. In Neauphle-le-Château, Ayatollah Khomeini had said that everyone even communists would be free in Iran. Once he came back, though, the best and the brightest of our people were executed during 1980s. In the summer of 1988 alone, thousands of political prisoners were hanged following a direct order issued by none but the Ayatollah himself.

Instead of the bright future promised to our people, all of a sudden, raids, arrests, tortures, forced confessions and killings of dissidents began. Then, the war came along, followed by its devastating aftermath, mandatory hijab, the closure of universities, the expulsion of college students, and finally the mass killings of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. In less than a month, thousands of dissidents who were serving their prison sentences behind bars were executed and buried in mass graves. Their families were neither notified of the trials nor were present at the time of burials. The bodies of political prisoners while fully dressed were simply thrown into channel-like mass graves without proper burial ceremonies.

Still, there was more to come. Our nation then endured the chain killings of writers throughout 1998. Although those crimes were exposed, but the murder cases were never solved. Then, student protesters were brutally attacked in their dormitories on campus in 1999, and several of them were killed or injured. In 2009, the country witnessed again the crackdown on street protesters, followed by numerous arrests, torture, rapes and eventually silent, mysterious deaths in prisons. Once again, the regime failed to address any grievances, providing no explanations to shed any light on why and how these events had occurred.

Mr. Rouhani, during the last 34 years, you and your brethren have done all you could to harm our nation. The very same people who overthrow Shah’s government in search of freedom and in pursuit of a better life worthy of human beings have been oppressed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. But no one takes the responsibility for what has been done to us. Each and every one of you points his figure at others and blames someone else for what has conspired during this time.

A lot of people including me have lost our loved ones simply because there is no freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although systematic and gross violations of human rights is still wide-spread in the country, the circumstances are different today as it was in the ’80s. Today, oppressors no long can eliminate their defenseless opponents quietly and get away with it. Now, the regime is facing a restless nation tired of social and political pressures as well as economic hardship, unemployment and inflation. The majority of people who voted for you did so simply because they had no other choice. They are neither fond of the Islamic Republic of Iran nor the likes of you. They simply want to live decent lives without discrimination, war and bloodshed.

The families and relatives of the fallen want nothing but to build a better world for everyone, but we have been oppressed brutally and forced to live in the worst possible conditions. The Islamic Republic of Iran not only took the lives of our loved ones, but it also brought about the demise of their mothers, fathers and other family members, denying everyone a normal life. Even worse, our children have been haunted too. Generation after generations have been subjected to continuous threats and denied an opportunities to live as productive members of the society.

The account of what’s been done to me is an example of how the regime has treated the families of the fallen. I have been arrested numerous times just because I have been after the truth, sought justice and demanded answers. I have been summoned to the Intelligence Agency many times and have lost my job. In February 2008, my passport was confiscated at the airport. I have been tried and sentenced to four years in prison with three and a half years suspended. These days, I live my life, fearing the moment when I must return to prison to serve the remainder of my term. On February 3, 2013, I was ordered to report to Evin Prison but was sent back home. My suitcase still sits in a corner of the house, remaining there until the next summon arrives. Now that I have written this letter to describe the bitter truth of what has conspired against us, I honestly don’t know what is going to happen to me next.

The greatest tragedy is that no government official has ever given the families of the fallen any answers. The Islamic Republic of Iran hasn’t told us what was done to our loved ones behind bars. Since you are after transparency in government, we ask you to address, at a minimum, the following questions:

1. How were the executions of political prisoners in the 1980s, especially those killed during 1988, carried out?

2. Why were prisoners who were serving their terms behind bars executed without notifying their families?

3. Why were the political prisoners retried behind closed doors in secret by the Execution Commission?

4. Why haven’t government officials formally answered any of our questions to clarify why and how these mass killings occurred?

5. Why doesn’t the regime tell us where exactly the executed political prisoners are buried?

6. Why doesn’t the regime give the prisoners’ last words and testaments to their families?

7. Why does the government continue to torment and harass the families who wish to gather in Khavaran?

8. Why doesn’t the regime let us freely commemorate the fallen in our homes and at Khavaran or other cemeteries?

9. Why did the regime attempt to destroy Khavaran once more in 2008 and failed to address our complaints?

10. Why has the main entrance to Khavaran been blocked for the last five years? What is to be achieved by forcing elderly parents to walk a considerable distance to reach the unmarked graves of their loved ones?

11. Why doesn’t the regime let the family of the fallen to mark their graves, plant flowers and trees, and irrigate and clean the cemeteries?

12. Why has the regime denied us the right to petition the government for redress of our grievances?

Mr. Rouhani, are you aware of the fact that the minister of “justice” chosen by you to fill this post in your cabinet was a member of the Execution Commission 25 years ago? Do you know that he was the one who issued death sentences for thousands of innocent human beings including two of my own darling brothers? Do you know that they were serving prison terms at the time when they were retried and sentenced to death?

Among those who voted for you are lots of people who are the families of the fallen. They are individuals whose fathers, mothers, spouses, siblings and children have been killed by the Islamic regime. They are from families who have persevered through tough times, surviving in the face of adversity despite constant pressure. Only because they’ve been left without any other alternatives, they participated in the elections which resulted in nothing but the shifting of the same players along the political spectrum. However, if this time around nothing changes, and their needs and demands are ignored, without a doubt, they will seek other alternatives.

If you and other government officials truly understand the current conditions and comprehend the bitter truth, you know that you must do something if for no other reason than saving yourselves. You must do something today because tomorrow, it will be too late.

Mr. President, this year coincides with the 25th anniversary of the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. We are still seeking to find the truth about what happened; we are still waiting for government officials to answer our questions. Until such time as the truth comes out, our grief and sense of loss linger, and our commitment to follow through continues.

We ask you to stop tormenting and harassing the families of the executed dissidents. Open the doors of Khavaran to us and stop interfering with our ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the fallen. We demand to know exactly where our loved ones have been buried. We would like to care for their graves as we see fit. At a bare minimum, we are entitled to these rights. So we ask you to acknowledge and respect them.

Those of us who seek justice have strived to build a better life worthy of human beings, hoping that the world will never witness such crimes repeated again.

Mansoureh Behkish

Translated by Laleh Gillani © 2013

August 7, 2013


Mrs. Mansoureh Behkish is a human rights activist, whose 6 family members were killed by Islamic Republic Regime of Iran as political prisoners in 1980’s.

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