Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Group of Scholars Formed to Bridge the Jewish Religion with Science

Newswise — An international group of natural and social scientists, philosophers, historians, physicians, rabbis, theologians and educators is working together to promote and facilitate a close relationship between the Jewish religion, its cultures and values, and the sciences, for the mutual benefit of all.

The Judaism, Science and Medicine Group was established and organized by the Center for Jewish Studies at Arizona State University in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Today there is a growing gulf between Judaism and the sciences. Although many scientists are Jews by birth, they do not consider Judaism relevant to their scientific work,” says Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, director of the center and ASU’s Jewish studies program.

“Conversely, religious Jews are either uninformed about or uninterested in recent developments in the sciences that have significant implications for their Jewish world view,” Tirosh-Samuelson says. “The Judaism, Science and Medicine Group considers this state of affairs to be detrimental to the intellectual wellbeing of Judaism in the 21st century and wishes to bridge the gap between Judaism and the sciences.”

To achieve their mission, the group will create forums for dialogue among scientists, health care professionals and scholars of Judaism, while fostering interdisciplinary, collaborative research projects and developing educational materials about the interrelation of Judaism and the sciences....[Story continued here]


Hundreds Participate in Minsk, Belarus Gay Rights Conference – Resolution on LGBT Rights in Belarus Adopted

Last Saturday 26 September, Minsk leading 5 star hotel Crowne Plaza hosted the largest ever LGBT conference in Belarus history. According to a diplomat who attended the event, “this hotel is known as the last place where a little bit of freedom is possible”.

Over 100 participants attended one day event, “LGBT Movement and NGOs: Prospects for Cooperation with active civil society to overcome homophobia in Belarus”, and 23 reports were presented.

Activists travelled from all across the country to attend the event, representing 9 different cities of Belarus. They were joined by delegates from several European countries such as Poland, Ukraine, France, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, United Kingdom and Russia.

More than 30 organizations from the civil society and the LGBT community were represented. Among them, the main human rights organisations, Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Centre “Vesna”, the Green Party, the Association of Belarusian Journalists and the Movement for the future.

The conference aimed to be a forum representing the diversity of the civil society and the LGBT community in addressing the issue of homophobia.

Participants expressed a large extend of views on the necessity and strategy to address the issue of homophobia. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee reminded that gay rights are part of human rights and thus emphasized on the importance that human rights NGOs and LGBT activists work together.

Belarusian Social Democratic Party and the Green Party explained the necessity for their political movements to include LGBT Rights in their program. The Green Party reminded that it already set-up its LGBT Commission.

Activists from GayRussia.Ru insisted on the importance for homosexuals to come out to fight for their rights giving example of the campaigns of Harvey Milk. Other delegates discussed the issues of LGBT identity, psychological aspects of homophobia, history of homosexuality in Belarus, homophobia in politics, education of journalists on gay issues, gay business, homosexuality and religion.

The conference, held under the patronage of the International Day Against Homophobia – IDAHO Committee was co-organized by the LGBT Human Rights Projects GayBelarus.By and GayRussia.Ru.

During his welcome speech to the participants, Louis-Georges Tin, the President of the IDAHO Committee, explained that activists are making history, reminding that in Belarus, the Day against homophobia is regularly celebrated. “You are making history today” said Mr Tin.

Sergey Androsenko, head of GayBelarus.By and co-organizer of the event, urged the Belarusian LGBT activists to show solidarity: “Even if we hold sometimes different views, we have a common goal”.

Nikolai Alekseev, head of GayRussia.Ru and organiser of Moscow Pride, noted that exactly on the same day, 9 years ago, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved historical recommendation on the rights of gays and lesbians in the member states of the Council of Europe. “Belarus as a European state can not remain cut from the processes taking place on the continent” said Mr Alekseev.

The delegation of the European Commission to Belarus gave its political support to the event. Mr Jean-Eric Holzapfel, head of the delegation, insisted in his opening speech on the necessity to fight homophobia in Europe and in Belarus in particular. Mr. Holzapfel noted in his speech that “As our immediate eastern neighbour, the human rights situation in Belarus is of particular interest to us. This applies of course to the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”.

Representatives of the Swedish, French and Hungarian Embassies as well as a representative of the NGO “Global Rights Defenders” (ex-Swedish Helsinki Committee) were present as observers.

During the conference the participants watched a documentary produced by a French TV channel France 4 showing the cooperation of Belarusian and Russian LGBT movement in staging the first Slavic Pride last May in Moscow.

In conclusion, the conference delegates discussed and adopted a joint resolution on the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons in Belarus. The text, which will be sent to the President, the government and the parliament, is calling for the ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the prosecution of hate speech, the recognition of equal rights of same-sex couples, the recognition of May 17th as the Day Against Homophobia. It furthers asks the authorities to provide support in organizing Slavic Pride in Minsk next May.

At the closing of the conference Nikolai Alekseev stressed to the participants that “today we made an important step to establish rights for LGBT people in Belarus”. He reminded that “we could not dream when we started our cooperation 10 months ago that we could achieve so much together”.

Late on Saturday the Swedish Embassy hosted a reception for the participants of the conference in one of Minsk restaurants.

The LGBT community plans to stage Slavic Gay Pride in Minsk on May 15, 2010.

On Saturday night a local club hosted the Grand Finale of the election of “Miss Trans Diva Belarus”. The crown was won by Belarus diva Lika Milovski.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The 5 Things Bill Clinton Should Do to Take a Firm Stand on Gay Marriage

By Michael A. Jones

Bill Clinton made a bit of history last night, when on Anderson Cooper 360, he finally admitted he was wrong to not support marriage equality while President of the United States. While not a full on retraction of his support for policies like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the former President now admits that he was wrong to be hung up on the word marriage.

"Me, Bill Clinton personally, I changed my position. I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it," Clinton told Cooper. He then cited his support for gay adoption and the fact that he grew up in a different time period and realized he needed to evolve as reasons for his change in position.

This is great news, albeit thirteen years too late to save DOMA from becoming law. Still, history is history, and this frankly is a bit of history. And the best part is that now there's time left for Clinton to take a stand for marriage equality and really help change this country. Here are five ways how he can do this:

1. Go to Maine and campaign for marriage equality. Maine, as well all know, is in the midst of a ballot initiative that could repeal the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. The No on 1 campaign needs all the support it can get to beat down this ballot initiative (vote no on 1!), and Clinton's voice could certainly help lend a hand. Poll numbers show that the race is neck-and-neck. Clinton's voice could make a huge difference.

2. Go to Washington and campaign for Referendum 71. Washington state is also in the thick of a battle to keep very good domestic partnership benefits in place. Anti-gay activists have put a ballot measure forward that could repeal these benefits for same-sex couples. Clinton's voice in Washington -- a state he carried twice with relative ease, and a blue state in almost every part of the word -- could be a huge boon for folks working for the Approve Referendum 71 campaign.

3. Lend his voice in support of the recently introduced Respect for Marriage Act. The bill, introduced in the U.S. House earlier this month by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. It would be the ultimate apology from Clinton to the LGBT world, and signify that he's not only changed his position on marriage equality, but he's also able to admit that sometimes politicians can screw up and put into law really bad pieces of legislation.

4. Endorse candidates who support full marriage equality. Clinton's endorsement powers are huge. Note the huge stink raised when he decided to throw his hat into the California 2010 Governor's race by endorsing pro-marriage equality candidate Gavin Newsom. That move is huge for Newsom, and certainly a welcome sign. It's dicey to place a litmus test on candidates, but on this issue, it's a real test of where a politician stands on equal rights. Endorsing candidates that don't support marriage equality -- if ever justified -- should be the exception, not the rule.

For the 5th, your going to have to go to Michael's blogging page at

Photo: DNCC/Jackson Solway


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gratitude and Financial Virtue

Newswise — When it comes to money, the more grateful we are, the more likely we are to give on behalf of the greater good, according to new research conducted by Northeastern University associate professor of psychology David DeSteno.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that grateful people act virtuously by giving financially—and not just to the people who caused them to feel grateful in the first place.

A long-standing view has held that individuals tend to act out of self-interest and a drive for personal profit. Under this thinking, a financial decision that favors the greater good requires individuals to “tame” their emotions.

DeSteno argues, conversely, that emotions actually equip individuals to make decisions that foster long-term communal financial gain, even over immediate self-interest. [Article continues here]

Newswise — When it comes to money, the more grateful we are, the more likely we are to give on behalf of the greater good, according to new research conducted by Northeastern University associate professor of psychology David DeSteno.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that grateful people act virtuously by giving financially—and not just to the people who caused them to feel grateful in the first place.

A long-standing view has held that individuals tend to act out of self-interest and a drive for personal profit. Under this thinking, a financial decision that favors the greater good requires individuals to “tame” their emotions.

DeSteno argues, conversely, that emotions actually equip individuals to make decisions that foster long-term communal financial gain, even over immediate self-interest. [Article continues here]


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roman Catholic declaration in support of same-sex marriage

Sign the Catholic Declaration in Support of Marriage Equality

As faithful Roman Catholics and citizens of the State of Maine, we believe that the right of every citizen to practice freedom of religion is based on the principle of respect for the dignity of each individual. Without that guarantee, the danger of one religious tradition or doctrine dominating another threatens all and protects none. Making the equality of citizens not only an ideal but a living truth, we affirm the May 6, 2009 act of the Maine Legislature to end marriage discrimination by granting civil marriage for same-sex couples. Our declaration of conscience is based on the following:

The American principle of the separation of Church and State was enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that no particular religious perspective would be imposed on our pluralistic society.

Catholic teaching on social justice has been central to the building of a just society, creating awareness of diversity in the human family, calling us to lives of respect for one another, and not only tolerance.

We remember that Roman Catholics were once denied civil rights, treated with suspicion, ridiculed because of our sacred rituals, and questioned as to our allegiance to “foreign authorities.” Memory challenges us to remain vigilant whenever bigotry and injustice enters into public discourse.

Same-sex civil marriage does not in any way coerce any religious faith or tradition to change its beliefs or doctrine or alter its traditional marriage practices.

We know that God is a most gracious and wonderful Creator. Many of us have gay and lesbian relatives and friends. We value the love and commitment we witness in their relationships; their devotion to each other and their children. Civil marriage bestows the dignity and equality called for in our nation’s highest ideals, “the inherent natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As Roman Catholics, we differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage. Therefore, we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church. While we respect the authority and integrity of the Church in matters of faith, our prayers and discernment have brought us to a new openness on this issue. We do not ask the Church to perform same-sex marriages. We do implore the Church to honor the State’s prerogative to authorize civil marriages for our gay and lesbian family and friends.

Grateful for the gift of our faith and the ways that we have been nourished by faith throughout our lives, and also grateful for our citizenship in America and in this State, we sign this statement as Roman Catholic citizens of Maine.

Please Click Here to Sign the Catholic Declaration in Support of Marriage Equality


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Influential Ukrainians warn Obama, West of rising Russian threat

By Peter Byrne

After the Duma approved law on use of Russian armed forces overseas, several dozen Ukrainian intellectuals ask the West for security guarantees.

More than two dozen Ukrainian intellectuals are appealing to U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, warning of a greater Kremlin threat. Specifically, the group of influential Ukrainians is calling for stronger security guarantees to protect Ukraine from Russia, whose leaders they accuse of meddling in Ukrainian affairs.

In an open letter made public on Sept. 10, the authors expressed fears that Russia could use military force against Ukraine. They called on Western leaders to hold an international conference to provide guarantees for Ukraine’s security.

“The Russian leadership has consciously chosen a path to destroy existing security systems, a main aim of which is to subjugate Ukraine within the geopolitical interests of Russia. There are signs that the Kremlin is not ruling out using its arsenal and military methods. The informational war against Ukraine has reached unprecedented levels. A picture of Ukraine as the enemy is being formed within Russian society,” the letter reads. [Story continued at the Kyiv Post]


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pee goes green: Human urine advocated for larger, tastier tomatoes

In a recent Finnish study, tomatoes fertilized with human urine produced crops that yielded 4.2 times more tomatoes than those without pee.

By Rebecca Boyle

You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

You say Miracle-Gro, I say ... pee.

Apparently, human urine works remarkably well as a fertilizer for tomatoes, according to a new study out of Finland.

Plants fertilized with a mixture of stored human urine and wood ash produced 4.2 times more fruit than plants without the pee, the study found. The urine-fertilized tomatoes had more beta-carotene than unfertilized ones, and much more protein than traditionally fertilized plants. And the tomatoes were just as good as those grown with traditional fertilizer, according to a panel of 20 brave tasters.

Healthy human urine is rich in nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, all key ingredients for healthy plants. As long as the pee doesn't contain any fecal matter, it's usually free of any microorganisms.

Surendra K. Pradhan, K. Holopainen and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski of the University of Kuopio in Finland collected human urine during the winter of 2007-2008 from several eco-toilets in private homes. The urine was stored for about six months at 45 degrees F and tested for microbes and bacteria. The team mixed it with wood ash collected from a household furnace, and found the mixture was just as good as -- or better than -- conventional chemical fertilizer.

In taste tests, the urine-fertilized tomatoes tasted different from those fertilized with urine and ash, but tasters didn't have a preference -- "all tomato samples were evaluated as being equally good by the tasters," the study says. The results are reported in the latest Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The same team had previously tested human pee as a fertilizer for cucumber and cabbage, and a South African team reported last year that urine had successfully fertilized maize. The Finnish team said they tried tomatoes because they're grown all over the world and are a staple ingredient in many recipes.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Persecuted Uyghur's of East Turkestan express condolences to the American People for the September 11 Tragedy

Eight years after the September 11 terror attacks, the Uyghur American Association (UAA) mourns the loss of thousands of lives that took place on that tragic day. UAA offers its support and condolences to the friends and loved ones of the victims of September 11, and to all people around the world who have been affected by terrorism.

“Uyghur people around the world remain steadfast in their support of the United States, the American people and the global fight against terrorism,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Acts of violence and terror can never bring positive change, only sorrow. The international community must continue to work together to strive peacefully for democracy and human rights in every corner of the world.”

Since the events of September 11, the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has manipulated the “global war on terror” to persecute Uyghurs in East Turkestan. September 11 marked the beginning of a new wave of oppression and injustice at the hands of the Chinese regime, which re-branded its repressive actions against peaceful Uyghurs as “anti-terror” efforts. The Chinese government has manipulated the “anti-terror” label to persecute and harass Uyghur refugees who have fled the PRC for other countries. The Chinese government also frequently attempts to influence overseas Uyghur activists by harassing family members who remain in East Turkestan.

The Chinese regime continues to attempt to portray the Uyghur people’s struggle for the recognition and protection of their fundamental human rights as being motivated by violent and ‘terrorist’ intent. In the wake of serious unrest in the regional capital of Urumchi in early July of this year, which has resurged in recent days, the Chinese government has actively sought to inflame ethnic tensions between the Han Chinese and Uyghur residents of Urumchi. An already deteriorating human rights situation in East Turkestan has drastically worsened since July, as untold numbers of Uyghurs have been arbitrarily jailed and tortured, and executions loom for those detained in an environment lacking any form of judicial transparency or accountability.

“The Chinese government must end its exploitation of the anti-terror label to persecute Uyghurs, especially those who have been arbitrarily detained since July 5,” said Ms. Kadeer. “Instead of fanning the flames of fear, nationalism and hatred in East Turkestan, Chinese officials should work to promote true harmony in the region, and address the legitimate concerns of the Uyghur people. The Chinese government should end its misuse of a very sad occasion, the tragedy of September 11, to carry out political persecution.”

Since East Turkestan was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Uyghurs, who make up the region’s largest ethnic group, have lived without the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion, and without the freedom to use and develop their language, all rights that are guaranteed under PRC law and in the PRC Constitution.

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) works to promote the preservation and flourishing of a rich, humanistic and diverse Uyghur culture, and to support the right of the Uyghur people to use peaceful, democratic means to determine their own political future.

The UAA has undertaken the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) for the purpose of promoting improved human rights conditions for Uyghurs and other indigenous groups in East Turkestan, on the premise that the assurance of basic human rights will facilitate the realization of the community’s democratic aspirations.

Uyghur Human Rights Project
Uyghur American Association
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20006
Tel: +1 (202) 349 1496
Fax: +1 (202) 349 1491


Satan's Plan: About a conference of demons and their plan to pull Christians away from Jesus


Physically Challenged Woman Searching for Stolen Best Friend

By Tony Rutherford Reporter

Huntington, WV (HNN) – You know that a dog is known as a man or woman’s best friend. But, in the case of one physically impaired woman living near Ninth Avenue, Scooby may be one of the woman’s only friends. That is, until someone stole the leash out of her hand across from the YMCA.

Madison Reed, owner of New Earth Resource Company, 826 10th Street, told HNN that his friend, Trisha Thompson always comes into his shop with her part Chihuahua and part Jack Russell terrier. However, Wednesday morning, September 9, she came alone into the shop crying. Ms. Thompson told Reed that while walking Scooby on a leash someone grabbed the leash from her hand and took the dog.

A police report has been made of the incident. Ms. Thompson, whose right leg is shorter than the left and wears a thick soled shoe, has called the animal control center.

According to Reed this is not the first time she nearly lost Scooby. Several months ago while walking on Ninth Avenue a man turned a pit bull loose on her and her dog. She fell to the ground, but the man pulled the pit bull off of her and Scooby. The two did not require medical treatment.

“This is why West Virginia needs [an enforced] hate crime law,” Reed said. “She’s handicapped and some people get a thrill out of harming people who are different.”

Reed’s particularly hopeful that someone will find --- or bring back with no questions asked --- the little dog. Due to her impairment, Reed said the dog is likely not only the traditional best friend, but her only true friend.

Original story:

See also:

"Hate Crime" (
"West Virginia's Hate Crime Law: A Primer (
"Hate Crimes Legislation Needed Now More than Ever" (


Thursday, September 10, 2009

DNA pioneer Alec Jeffreys appeals for cuts to criminal database

By Jill Lawless, Associated Press

LONDON – Like so many great discoveries, it was an accident.

British scientist Alec Jeffreys realized 25 years ago Thursday that individuals have "DNA fingerprints," unique patterns of genetic material that can be used to identify them. The discovery has solved thousands of crimes, put murderers behind bars, split and reunited families — and launched a fierce debate about privacy and human rights.

On the anniversary of his discovery, Jeffreys worried that police are using a database of DNA samples taken from suspects to brand innocent people "future criminals."

Britain's DNA database is the largest in the world, containing genetic profiles of more than 5 million people. Samples are taken from everyone arrested for a crime — and the information is usually retained even if the person is acquitted or freed without charge.

Jeffreys, 59, said about 800,000 innocent people were on the database, raising fears of "discrimination, breach of genetic privacy, stigmatization — there's a whole host of issues here."

"Innocent people do not belong on that database," Jeffreys, a geneticist at the University of Leicester in central England, told the BBC. "Branding them as future criminals is not a proportionate response in the fight against crime."

British police can take DNA samples from anyone who is arrested, and keep the profiles even if the suspect is never charged — although the original blood, saliva or other genetic material is destroyed. The information is stored on one of the world's largest DNA databases, which was set up in 1995 and now holds information on 8 percent of the country's population. The FBI's national U.S. database, although larger, has information on about 0.5 percent of Americans.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain's "blanket and indiscriminate" policy of retaining genetic information breached the right to privacy.

In response, Britain agreed to remove hundreds of thousands of innocent people from the database, but said it would still keep the profiles of those cleared of serious crimes for up to 12 years. Critics, including Jeffreys, say the decision flouts the spirit of the court ruling.

Jeffreys and his colleagues made their discovery by accident on the morning of Sept. 10, 1984, while researching inherited diseases. They developed a way of isolating bits of DNA and turning them into X-ray images. Looking at the first such images, from three members of one family, Jeffreys realized the individual patterns were different, but also that parent-child relationships could clearly be seen.

In effect they were genetic bar codes, maps of sequences within the strands of DNA that are unique to each individual — except identical twins, who share the same pattern.

"Within seconds it was obvious that we'd stumbled upon a DNA-based method not only for biological identification, but also for sorting out family relationships," he told the BBC. "It really was an extraordinary moment."

Within a couple of years the knowledge was being used to convict murderers and clear the wrongly accused, to identify the victims of war and settle paternity disputes.

It also proved that Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, really was a genetic copy of another sheep.

The government says that last year DNA matches solved more than 17,000 crimes in Britain, including 83 killings and 184 rapes.

Jeffreys said the discovery — which brought him fame and, in 1994, a knighthood — showed that scientists must be given freedom to conduct research driven by nothing but curiosity. He said "unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven" research was just as important as science aimed at solving specific problems.

"I am saying you have to have a mixed economy," Jeffreys said in an interview released by the university to mark the anniversary of the discovery.

"You don't have to put all your eggs into this great common basket that will deliver answers to questions that you can define, because the far more exciting thing is that it delivers questions that you never knew existed — and that to me is infinitely more valuable because that sets the future agenda."

And what discovery would Jeffreys most like to see in the next 25 years?

"No-brainer," he said. "Extraterrestrial life. I would love to see that before I die."

See also:

University welcomes "Father" of DNA fingerprinting to give public lecture (

DNA fingerprinting Sparks fresh worries (

Photo: University of Huddersfield


Letter to my Representatives urging the repeal of DOMA

September 9, 2009

President Barack Obama
Senator Jay D. Rockefeller III
Senator Robert Byrd
Congressman Nick J. Rahall II

Dear Representatives of our Great Republic:

I'm writing to urge you to push forward legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a hurtful and discriminatory law that is denying tens of thousands of legally married lesbian and gay couples across the country more than 1,000 federal protections they deserve. An important first step in this effort is to support Representative Nadler's legislation to repeal DOMA.

The federal protections of marriage include Social Security survivors' benefits, family and medical leave, equal compensation as federal employees, and immigration rights, among others.

DOMA and other anti-gay discriminatory federal laws, force the USCIS to deny any kind of visa to my same-gender foreign partner if we tell the truth about our relationship, could punish us if we lie about it, and forces us, because we're gay, to bear living in two separate countries. A couple years ago Chris Bentley, spokesman for Department of Homeland Security Citizen and Immigration Services, said:

"There are no immigration benefits available to [gays] based on their relationship. With that said, there's certainly nothing that says a U.S. citizen cannot move to another country." (See "Exiled by Love: Immigration Law Snubs Gay Partners")

This is a TOTAL OUTRAGE to me, to my parents and to all Americans of good conscience. We are sick and tired of our Constitution being trampled by hate cults and hypocrites who have no clue what Equality and Freedom mean!

All across this country, same-sex couples are living the same lives that heterosexual couples live -- raising children and trying to save for their educations; committing to each other emotionally and financially, paying taxes, serving on the PTA, and struggling to balance work and family.

It's time to do away with DOMA once and for all and I look to you to lead the fight on this important issue.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Madison Reed

My blog:

Join with me. Go to "Repeal DOMA Now!" and send your letter to your Representatives.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

California Republican State Assemblyman Michael Duvall cheats on his wife and likes his mistress dripping wet

Orange County California state assemblyman Michael Duvall was all about the family values during last year campaign to push California’s Prop 8, and he was out there working hard to make sure “the gay” did not have the right to marry in the Golden State, as it would just really screw up families in California beyond belief.

And because of all his hard work, the Capitol Resource Institute, who’s mission it is “to protect and strengthen families through public policy advocacy,” gave Duvall a 100% score.

CPI’s Executive Director Karen England said, “For the last two years he (Duvall) has voted, time and time again, to protect and preserve family values in California. We are grateful for his support of California families and will continue to look for it in the upcoming session.”

Well he is probably not going to be getting a rating from CPI that will be quite as good as he got last year…

Because Duvall, who is married with two children had one of those Internet moments the other day when his dais microphone became live just before the start of a cable-televised committee hearing… and he was talking with one of his fellow committee members about cheating on his wife with a lobbyist for Sempra Energy, one of the state’s largest utilities....[Story continues at Lez Get Real]


Sunday, September 6, 2009

A place called Evin

For over four decades Iran’s most notorious prison has been home to hundreds of political prisoners.

By Fariba Amini

This report is dedicated to the brave men and women of Iran who have sacrificed with their blood and their courage to uphold freedom for their homeland and continue to do so….To Neda and Sohrab who only wanted to see their votes counted and whose voice was silenced forever…

Evin, which derives its name from a village in the northern Alborz Mountains of Tehran, was built in 1971 during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Previously, it had been the home of Seyyed Zia’eddin Tabatabee, a pro-British politician who was a PM under Ahmad Shah, the last Qajar Shah. After his death, the ownership of his property was transferred over to SAVAK and was then converted into what is today known as Evin Prison. It is a large compound of a few acres and has a wall built all around it. If you go to northern Tehran from the center of the city there is a good chance you will pass by Evin Prison. There are always guards outside, and families waiting to see their loved ones.

Evin is known as a prison for political prisoners especially its 209 ward is notorious for that reason. But it is also a prison for many regular offenders and common criminals. In many instances, political prisoners are kept in the same block as others. The prison originally housed 320 inmates and there were 20 solitary cells and close to 300 communal cells. By 1977, it had more than 100 solitary cells especially designed for more famous political prisoners. At that time, there were close to 1500 prisoners in Evin.

During the Shah, Evin was a detention center for many revolutionary groups such as the Mojahedin, Fedyayeen, and Peykar, whether Marxist or Islamic alike. Members and sympathizers of Iran’s pro-Soviet communist party (the Tudeh) were also incarcerated there. Many prominent clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Montazeri and Ayatollah Taleghani were also imprisoned in Evin before 1979. Hashemi Rafsanjani was a detainee there at one time. Ali Khamenei, the “supreme leader”, was another captive who spent time in Evin. Even Assadollah Lajervadi, who later became the warden of Evin, (given the title of the butcher of Evin) had spent some time there prior to 1979 for allegedly trying to bomb the El-Al office in Tehran.

The most famous/tragic incident before the 1979 revolution occurred on the hills of Evin on April 19, 1975 when Bijan Jazani and his group (8 people) were taken and shot to death from the back. It was alleged that they were trying to escape.

“We took the prisoners to the high hills above Evin. They were blind-folded and their hands were tied. We got them off the minibus and had them sit on the ground. Then, Attarpour told them that, just as your friends have killed our comrades, we have decided to execute you - he was the brain behind those executions. Jazani and the others began protesting. I do not know whether it was Attarpour or Colonel Vaziri who first pulled out a machine gun and started shooting them. I do not remember whether I was the 4th or 5th person to whom they gave the machine gun. I had never done that before. At the end, Sa'di Jalil Esfahani [another SAVAK agent, known as Babak] shot them in their heads [to make sure that they were dead.” (From the account of a former Savak agent, Bahman Naderipour)

In his book, Tortured Confessions, Dr. Ervand Abrahamian claims that after the revolution, the population of Evin expanded to nearly 15,000 detainees, many waiting for their trial. “In theory, Evin was itself a detention center of those awaiting trial. After trial, those with long sentences were transferred to Qesel Hesar; those with shorter ones, to Gohar Dasht. In reality, Evin served as a regular prison as many waited years before being brought to trial. Moreover, prominent prisoners often served their entire sentences in Evin.”

Among those detained in Evin, many famous prisoners come to mind such as Masoud Rajavi (the leader of Mojadehin Khalgh) Shokrollah Paknejad and Saeid Soltanpour. All three were released after the revolution but the last two were executed during the Islamic Republic. According to a report in one of Iran’s newspapers,“Shokrollah Paknejad, an Iranian opposition leader, condemned by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has been executed, an official at Teheran's Evin Prison said today.” Paknejad was executed in 1982. Shortly after the Revolution, Saeid Soltanbpour who was a poet was taken to the gallows on his wedding night at the orders of the new regime in Tehran and Qom. “I can still hear the words of Saeed Soltanpour (the executed Iranian poet) who once famously ‎asked: What has happened to my country?” writes Housang Asadi, a journalist and a prisoner of consciene himself who was also detained and tortured severely. Asadi was imprisoned for 16 years both under the rule of the last Pahlavi Shah and later under the Islamic regime. In fact, Houshang Asadi was for a period of time the cellmate of the "Supreme Leader."

In 1979, immediately after the revolution, at the direct orders of Dr. Shapur Bakhtiar, who was only Prime Minister for 37 days, the doors of Evin and other prisons were opened and all political prisoners were released. It was a jubilant day both for the prisoners and their families. Bakhtiar wrote: “In the first days of taking office, I ordered the opening of Iran’s prisons and released all the political prisoners, except for the few who had committed murder.” A few years later, Dr. Bakhtiar was stabbed to death by agents of the Islamic Republic in his home in Paris.

It was only a few months later that the IRI, having solidified its base, started arresting and rounding up the same people that had contributed to the success of the revolution. The list of those arrested and later executed is too long to recount here. (Many were members or sympathizers of the revolutionary organizations or simply bystanders.)

Among the most notable of Iran’s political prisoners in Evin is Abbas Amirentezam, deputy Prime Minister under Mehdi Bazargan, who was arrested upon his return from Sweden in December 1979. He was tried and jailed on a fabricated charge of espionage, as many have been over the last 30 years. Amirentezam is the longest serving political prisoner of Iran. He has been on a leave of absence after spending 27 years in Evin.

Abbas Amirentezam recounts of his days in Evin: “The worst time of my life was when I was with other prisoners and witnessed many of my cell mates being taken and executed one-by-one, without any trials or jury. In the year 1367(1989), we were 350 people in our ward (band-e zendan), 342 of them were executed; their ages ranged between 20 -70 years.”

Mr. Amirentezam smuggled a series of letters in 1994-95 in which he described the conditions in Evin that he had personally witnessed. “For months on end, prisoners were put in small 50x80x140 cm coffins. In 1984, 30 were in such coffins. Some went mad.” He was taken to the execution chamber two times awaiting the Imam’s order and placed in solitary for 555 days. Of the general ward in Evin he said, “The cell was so overcrowded that inmates took turns sleeping on the floor.”

Amirentezam says: “those were the worst days of my life. I will never forget a single moment of that pain. The best time was when after five years, I was allowed to have books and was given both books and newspapers to read and paper to write my notes on. I was finally able to have some contact with the outside world.

Mr. Amirentezam talks of the time the UN delegation headed by Galindo Phohl visited him and other prisoners in Evin. “Mr. Galindo Pohl would take every finished sheet of writing from me and put it in his open briefcase. In the adjacent room they had put out fruits and sweets, as a way to show that we were treated well in prison. It was all deception and lies. After the UN Commission had left, I was put on the open bed of a truck and paraded around from one prison area to another. It was very cold and the wind was blowing very hard (Evin is located outside of Tehran, close to the mountains, thus at night, it becomes very cold). As a result of this grave insult and humiliation, I got a very bad cold and I had an ear infection for months. We often left a note, which indicated what we needed, for the Pasdar (revolutionary guard) behind the door of our locked cell. The Pasdar looked at my note and came back to tell me that Mr. Hossein Pishva, the head of prisons, had specifically ordered that I would not have any access to the hospital ward or to any medication.”

He continues, “as a result, I had an infection in my left ear for three months. The inner ear had ruptured and I lost hearing in my left ear. This was my punishment for having talked to Mr. Galindo Pohl. Eventually, I was taken to the prison doctor who told me that I had to go to go to the emergency room of a hospital outside the prison and be operated on. But this emergency took six months! Unfortunately, the damage was already done.”

The most horrifying incident ever to take place in Evin was the mass executions of nearly 4000 (by some accounts 5000-6000) prisoners- mostly, Fedayeen, Mojahedin and others (many were as young as 14 and 15) This event, which took place between 1981-1988 is from all accounts, the single worst mass execution in the history of any political prison in recent times. According to Shahrnoush Parsipour, one of Iran’s foremost woman playwrights, “the average age in Evin in 1981 was 19 and a half.”

Abrahamian writes: “The prisoners in Evin remained blindfolded throughout the proceedings…They were also ordered to discard such personal belongings as rings, watches, and spectacles. They were then led blindfolded to the gallows. The gallows in Evin were in the secluded Hosseinieyh lecture hall.” The leftists were kept from the Mojahedin and vice versa throughout the execution period. “The first leftists to go before the Evin commission [also called commission of death] were those with light, and even completed, sentences. This gives the death list the appearance of a random lottery. Some who perished on the first day were serving short sentences: some who survived in the following days were serving long, even life, sentences.” According to Abrahamian, Khomeini had personally issued a secret Fatwa to kill the prisoners, leftists and Mojahedin alike. A commission had been set up headed by Ayatollah Eshraqi, (Khomeini’s son-in-law) and his two assistants Hojat al-Islam Nayeri and Hojat al-Islam Mobasheri. “In the next few months, this commission shuttled back and forth from Evin to Gohar Dasht by helicopter. It was to be dubbed ‘the commission of death’.”

In Evin, in those days, the Ta’zir (punishment according to the Shar’ia law) room was where the prisoners would be “rehabilitated.” “After the initial interrogation, the prisoner would be taken to the taz’ir chambers for fuller confessions of crimes-real or imagined –and, most important of all, videotaped interviews.” “By contrast, Evin’s block 6 was reserved for Tudeh members with fifteen year sentences.”

Soudabeh Ardavan, a Fedayee sympathizer and a student in architecture at Tabriz University says when she “for the first time entered a cell, she thought she had entered a girls’ school. The prisoners were all young girls, in their teens. Sometimes, there were older women, as old as one's grandmother. They had apparently aided the prisoners or were family members. Her three famous prison mates were Bijan Jazani's mother; Maryam Taleghani, the daughter of Ayatollah Taleghani, and writer Sharnoush Parsipour.” Soudabeh “was charged with participating in demonstrations against the Islamic Republic. At first, she was detained, interrogated, and finally, blindfolded on the floor, and sentenced to two years in jail. There was no judge nor a jury or a lawyer. "Islamic justice" did not take more than a few minutes.” She writes: “It was the most despicable time in the history of the Islamic regime. Interrogation, torture, execution were the order of the day. For the next 8 years, she would be transferred, from Evin to Ghessel Hessar prison, back and forth, from one unit to another, spending time in between in solitary.”Most of the guards were extremely vicious and used foul language to humiliated us, and destroy us psychologically -- as they had attempted with physical torture. Most of us did not confess and kept our mouth shut. That would make them more furious. Then more floggings and beatings would begin.”

“From time to time, the head guard would come in. They were two women. They looked ugly and big and extremely rude. They were pros. I was told they were there from the Shah's era. Their names were Bakhtiari and Alizadeh. They would kick us real hard. The Bakhtiari woman wore a soldier's outfit and she would constantly curse us and beat us. She barked like a dog!

“Most of the time, in our cell, we did not have to wear our scarves or the chador, only when the male guards would come in. At times, the head of the prison, a man called Haji Rahman would come. He was huge, quite a character, very vicious. We would be ordered to put on our hejab and then he would come in and beat us. I believe he now holds a post in the Ministry of Intelligence.”

Abrahamian writes: “Some were placed in small cubicles, blindfolded and in absolute silence, for seventeen hour stretches with two fifteen-minute breaks for eating and going to the toilet… Others were forced to join firing squads and removed dead bodies. When they returned to their cells with blood dripping from their hands, their roommates surmised what had transpired. In the summer, newcomers to Evin-including women-had to pass the main courtyard and view rows of hanged prisoners.”

Marina Nemat, who was born into a Russian Christian family, spent two years in Evin from 1982, having participated in anti regime protests at her school. She was tortured in Evin prison and sentenced to death. Her sentence was later commuted to life when a prison guard by the name of Ali Mousavi fell in love with her and forced her to marry him. Under pressure, she married him only to leave when he was murdered by other guards. She left Iran for Canada in 1991. Her book, Prisoner of Tehran was published in 2007. (Some women prisoners have questioned her account, though Shahrnoush Parsipour has corroborated her story.

One of the most famous women prisoners in Evin is Mehrangiz Kar, a human rights lawyer, who spent 53 days in solitary. She later shared a small cell with the well known publisher, Shahla Lahiji. Mehrangiz Kar writes: "Like other women who had been handpicked, I tried to get closer to those whom we shared our thoughts with. It was obvious that confinement of a woman for political reasons alongside others who are accused of prostitution or drug addiction is in total disregard of all international laws. But where should we speak of these injustices. Everything and every word have its respective place."

Shahrnoush Parsipour spent four years and seven months in Evin. She had been imprisoned for 54 days under the Shah in the same prison. Monriou Ravanipour, a novelist, was also arrested and imprisoned for a long period.

On June 23, 2003, upon a visit to Iran, the Iranian- Canadian photo journalist who was seen taking photos of Evin, was taken into custody and died while in prison. The Iranian government claimed that she died from a stroke while being interrogated, but doctors examining Kazemi's body found evidence of rape and torture, and a skull fracture. It is said that Saeid Mortazavi, Tehran’s prosecutor, was involved in her torture and murder. (On Aug 11 of that year, Azam Taleghani, Ayatollah Taleghani’s daughter and a candidate for the Iranian Parliament had a sit-in in front of Evin prison to voice her outrage at the arrest and murder of Zahra Kazemi.)

Farhad Behbehani and Habibolah Davaran, both sympathizers of the National Front and Nehazt Azadi (Freedom Movement, were taken into custody for signing a letter to the then President of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani. They were interrogated and tortured. Under severe physical and psychological torture, Behbehani was forced to make false confessions. Later, they wrote their account in prison in a book called “In the Company of Haji Agha”. The following is Behbehani’s account: “In Evin, Siamak Pourzand, Ali Afshari, and Nasser Zarafshan greeted us. Mr. Amir Entezam had gone on a walk in the prison yard. We were so happy that we were at least in the company of our friends. We sat together and had dinner. It was good to see all of them even in the awkward situation in prison. While we were in Evin, rumor was going around that in fact a person by the name of Bakhshi had been involved in the death of Mrs. Zahra Kazemi. I don't know what his exact title was but apparently he is one of the high officials at Evin prison.”

“After the publication of the book, we were arrested again and taken to Evin while waiting for payment of a huge bail sum before our release. We paid for our own transportation to Evin. When we arrived, Dr. Davaran couldn't even walk properly; I had to hold his hand. There were skirmishes around the prison area. Parents of the newly arrested students were there, looking for their sons and daughters. They let us through the crowd who were yelling and looking for their children. We also heard that a few days earlier, Zahra Kazemi had been killed under torture.”

In front of us were other prisoners. The Evin guard started insulting them. Dr. Davaran asked me "Why is he so insulting?" I said, "Don't worry he is not insulting us." As soon as a young guard saw Dr. Davaran, he said, "Father what you are doing here? Did the ministry of intelligence arrest you?" I said no, the Tehran prosecution office. He asked, "What did you guys do anyway?" I replied, we wrote a book and as a result we were arrested." He said, "Didn't you have permission?" Dr. Davaran said, "Yes, we did obtain a permit for the publication of our book, yet they arrested us anyway." He looked around and said in a funny tone, "What a screwed up country!” (Ajab mamlekat khar too kharist)!

He told Davaran, "I am so sorry about this. I am truly sorry that you are here." He said to a guard, "Take them to Section 1." They wanted to handcuff us but the same guy said "no, no handcuffs." I noticed that the prison conditions had changed from 13 years ago. There was TV and AC in every room. I saw that prisoners could call their loved ones and most prison officials were acting more civilized. I attribute this change to the Khatami era as well as international pressure on the conditions of Iran's prisons.

Others at Evin included members of the Hezb- e mellat Iran (Iran’s People’s Party) such as Khosrow Seif, who was arrested shortly after the 1999 July student demonstration. Mr. Seif recounts: “A few days after the bloody incidents at Kouyeh Daneshgah, some of our party members and I were arrested. Eight men came to my house and took everything, even pictures that I had with the Late Forouhar from almost 50 years ago. Without an official warrant, they took me to Towhid prison [formerly Komite prison under the Shah, known for its brutal tortures, closed under Khatami]. Then they arrested Mr Namazi and Mr.Mehran Abdolbaghi at their homes. Mrs. (Dr.) Jeylani was arrested while she was walking in the street. In prison we were tortured, not physical but psychological torture. Sometimes, there was physical torture, sometimes psychological torture, and then the two combined… I was charged with instigating the bloody incidents at Tehran University and condemned to death. Later my sentence was lowered to 14 years. I spent close to a year at Towhid and Evin prisons. During this time, I had heard that they dealt most violently with the arrested students. They had tortured them severely, like Batebi, Mehrdad Lahrebi( who just had a small book stand outside the university) and the Mohammadi brothers.”

In the last decade, political prisoners held at Evin have included Iran’s most celebrated

investigative journalist and human rights activist, Akbar Ganji (held there from 2000 to 2006),

who went on a hunger strike for months and almost died as a result. Ganji was arrested for writing several books exposing the serial murders of 1998. While in prison, he wrote his famous manifestos which question the Islamic regime's legitimacy on political as well as ideological grounds.

Others include, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, head of a student organization, Mohsen Sazegara, a former member of the revolutionary Guards (in 2003), Nasser Zarafshan, a lawyer for many prisoners, Akbar Mohammadi and Ahmad Batebi who were arrested during the 1999 student demonstrations at Tehran University, and Ali Afshari, a student activist and member of the Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (The Student Coordinating Committee) who was arrested in 2000 and held until 2003. Afshari was in solitary confinement for nearly 400 days. Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, Siamak Pourzand (missing in 2002 first, later found at Evin) and Hashem Aghajari (arrested in 2002) were also prisoners in Evin.

“Siamak Pourzand was kept in Ward Three of Evin Prison until he suffered a severe heart attack in April 2004. Later that night Pourzand was hospitalized in the critical care unit of Sa’databad Hospital. The guards accompanying him refused to let reporters speak to him. The Islamic Human Rights Commission of Iran was also refused access to him. Only his sister was allowed to visit him. She later told Peyk-e Iran that during her visit “the guards kept monitoring our conversation.” Pourzand was chained to the hospital bed at both the wrists and ankles.” Kadivar, an enlightened cleric“was convicted by the Special Court for Clergy in 1999, and sentenced to eighteen months in prison on charges of having spread false information about Iran's "sacred system of the Islamic Republic" and of helping enemies of the Islamic revolution. He was released from Evin prison on July 17, 2000.”

Akbar Mohamamadi was one of the prisoners who died in Evin after undergoing severe torture. He was arrested during the 1999 student uprising and spent nearly 5 year in prison. He was released and was re-arrested in 2006 after writing his memoirs (Ideas and Lashes) He died under torture in Evin on July 30, 2006. He was in Evin with Ahmad Batebi. Both were arrested during the July 9, 1999 student demonstration. Ahmad Batebi became a symbol of the student movement. He spent nearly 15 years in prison. In March 2005, Batebi was temporarily released from Evin in order to get married. He failed to report back to prison. On June 23, 2005 a newspaper interview reported him "currently on the run, avoiding the authorities in Iran". Batebi was re-arrested on July 27, 2006 and re-imprisoned. He continued to serve his sentence. He was held in notorious Section 209 of Evin Prison which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence. After finally posting bail, he left Iran clandestinely for the US in 2008. He was later released on bail. He endured harsh interrogation and torture in Evin.

Hassan Zarzadeh (Ardeshir) was among the students arrested during the 1999 July demonstrations. He was the spokesperson for the United Student Front, is a human rights activist and journalist. He was first taken to Towhid and later transferred to Evin. He did not know where he was at the beginning as he was blindfolded but later found out he was in ward 209 of Evin. He was kept there for 5 months. “I was in Evin’s general ward for only three months and was in solitary almost the entire time. He says of the conditions in Evin, “political prisoners have no rights whatsoever and if they object to the existing conditions, they are immediately taken to solitary. The prisoner does not get decent food or medical care. The wards are so overcrowded that you are obliged to sleep in the hallways. Each ward of Evin is connected to one or another wing of the Ministry of Intelligence. The normal rules of prison do not exist; each ward has its own rules. They put enormous psychological and physical pressure on prisoners in order to get confessions. One time, because I would not talk much less confess they brought in a friend of mine and started beating me harshly in order to get me to confess. He had already talked and they wanted to get my reaction.”

The head of Iran’s trade unionists, Mansoor Ossanlou was another detainee. He was in prison several times between 2005 and 2008. “On Tuesday, July 10th 2007, Mansoor Ossanloo was abducted in public by the security forces and was taken by them to an unknown location. Two days later, his wife informed the public that Mansour Osanloo is in Evin prison (in Tehran) but is being kept completely isolated with no visitation rights.”

Iranian American academics who visited Iran or went to live in Iran and were imprisoned at Evin include Dairush Zahedi , a professor at the University of California, Berkeley in (2003), Ramin Jahanbegloo (2006) Ali Shakeri, and Haleh Esfandiari (2008) who spent 100 days in Evin and most recently, Kian Tajbakhsh ( jailed first in 2007 and again arrested in 2009-present.) As one news report said: “Kian Tajbaksh was arrested at his home in Tehran on May 11, 2007, to be incarcerated, detained, and put under house arrest in 2007. He was held without charge in Evin Prison for more than four months.”

Iranian American journalist, Roxana Saberi was arrested in January 2009 and released in May 2009. She was also charged with espionage. She had been living in Iran for many years before her arrest. Nazi Azima of Radio Farda was also held for months before she was released. Maziar Bahari, a reporter for Newsweek, is currently in detention in Evin after he went to Tehran to cover the June 2009 elections.

In the last decade, many of Iran’s notable journalists and bloggers have been sent to Evin. Among them are Masoud Behnoud, Emaddedin Baghi, Mohammad Ghouchani, Fereshteh Ghazi, Soheil Asefi, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Shahram Rafi’zadeh, Javad Gholamtamimi and Omid Memarian. They were arrested at various times, charged and released by paying hefty bails (most had to put up their families’ home as collateral or post large amounts of bail.) They were told by Ayatollah Shahrudi, the current head of Iran’s Judiciary, “don’t tell anyone what happened to you in prison and I promise I will solve the problem!”

Roozbeh Mirebrahimi said of his days in detention: “Most of the time I was in the special secret prison of the security forces connected to the office the prosecutor of Tehran for interrogation. Only the last 6 days I, along with 4 others who were charged with me came to Evin. We were kept in a cell. Our cell was in the 4th ward of Evin prison which is known as the ward for those awaiting executions. In one of our cells there was a professional killer whose name was Mohammad Bijeh; he had abducted dozens of kids, raped and burned them. There was another common criminal who was also waiting to be executed.

The reason they took us to this special ward was to frighten us so that they could go ahead with their plan. The plan of confession and show trials and making us sign confessions that we have repented. The condition in Evin for me who had spent days in that horrific prison blindfolded, and interrogated and tortured was more tolerable. Of course this is my own experience in Evin. I am sure today many are experiencing a different and far worse situation in prison.

I was let out of Evin by putting up a large amount of bail. After 4 years I was sentenced to two years and 84 lashes. Three of my original verdicts have not been carried out.”

A recent report in the Times of London states: “When Mehrnoushe Solouki, a French-Iranian film-maker, was taken there two years ago. She was kept in solitary confinement for a month but each night heard the cries of women and the sound of beatings. She asked her guard whether she was hearing criminals fighting one another. The response was no — these were women who “threatened national security.”

“Ms Solouki, a film student at the University of Quebec, was taken to Evin in February 2007. “It wasn’t Guantánamo Bay, but it seemed to me like the world’s biggest jail for women journalists, female activists and students,” she wrote after her release. She described being in solitary confinement in Evin as “like stepping into a grave.”

Other prisoners who have spent time in Evin include Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi, a renowned journalist and political analyst who was arrested in 2000, 2003 and re- arrested in 2009 (as of this article) Abdollah Mo’meni, Manouchehr Abtahi, Issa Saharkhiz, and Abdolfattah Soltani (a prominent lawyer of many of Iran’s political prisoners), along with many of Iran’s best and most courageous journalists and human rights defenders. (They are in prison at the moment with some 100 others, having undergone torture and put on show trials.)

Since the disputed 2009 elections, Shadi Sadr, a lawyer, (she was released recently) Jila Bani Yaghoub, a woman activist, and many other women civil rights activists are still in detention in Evin.

Other political prisoners of conscience, men and women, who spent time in Evin include: Hassan Yousefi-Eshkevari, Ebrahim Nabavi,Emad-ed-din Baghi, Fariborz Raeiss-Dana, Mahmoud Dolatabadi, Mohammad Ghoochani, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Latif Safari, Khalil Rostamkhani, Manouchehr Mohammadi, Alireza Alavi-Tabar, Mohammad-Reza Jalaïpoor, Saeid Sadr, Mohammad-Ali Sepanloo, Ezatollah Sahabi, Shahla Sherkat, Shahla Lahidji, Jamileh Kadivar and. Khadijeh Hajdini-Moghadam. (Most of the above had attended the Berlin conference and arrested upon their return in 2000).

In August 2005, shortly after Ahmadi Nejad had been elected, I went to Iran. This is what I wrote: “I wanted to take photos from Evin prison. We would pass by there every time we went to Shemiran but I was told not to do it. "Did you forget the fate of Zahra Kazemi?" they would say. But I was determined. Thus, one of the days that I took a cab to go to Tajrish, I asked the cab driver if he would slow down so I could get a photo. It was a day of molaghat (visit) unfortunately the photo didn't show the whole tableau of Evin so on the way back from Tajrish with the same cab driver I asked if he could pass by there again. He didn't refuse, in fact, he was so courageous that he slowed down right in front of it and I took the photo. When the guards saw me and blew their whistles, the cabdriver pushed his gas pedal and zoomed past the prison. He could have been arrested alongside me.”

“Later, that week, I asked another driver, to take me up the hills to view the prison from its outskirts. He, like many of my countrymen was not scared. I took photos of the compound from high above. One could only see the structures from afar. The driver, a young man, told me this is where our best are held. I only sighed in silence”

Recently I visited the first concentration camp under the Hitler regime, Sachsenhausen (Oranienburg), located near Berlin. It was the first detention center of the Nazi regime which held political prisoners-Jews, social democrats and communists. After the war, it became a Soviet detention camp. Today, it is a visitor sight reminding people of what humans are capable of doing to each other. Yet, after sixty- five years, we still have not learned. Crimes against humanity still continue throughout this world.

I only hope that one day, Evin, will become a memorial commemorating those who endured interrogation, torture and murder. In the midst of despair, darkness and terror, they confronted their oppressors with courage and defiance.

May all Iranian political prisoners see freedom soon. May their families embrace them even if their bodies and souls have been shattered. May their captors be held responsible and tried in a court of law, something that they denied others.

# # # # #

*This report is far from being complete. There are numerous men and women whose names have not been cited here, known and unknown ones. I only hope that readers will add to the long excruciating list. All and all the number of those who have been executed or perished under the Islamic Republic is far greater than under both Pahlavi rulers combined.

*Almost all those arrested and prosecuted in the last 30 years have been charged with similar charges: espionage/acting against National security/membership in illegal organizations/ provoking and disrupting the public /propaganda against the state/insulting the leader/engaging in illegal meetings/ and other non-political charges such as having sexual relations/consumption of alcoholic drinks/facilitating corruption by shaking hands with women/improper Islamic dress code (for women)

*The late Akbar Mohammadi writes, “The head of Evin prison’s security, Mr. Bakhshi and Tehran’s attorney general Said Mortazavi had a direct role in the murder of Zahra Kazemi. When I was hospitalized for surgery in Taleghani Hospital, the soldiers who were with me,told me quite openly that when Zahra Kazemi was outside Evin taking video of the prison, Mr. Bakhshi had seen her; he ordered ten soldiers to grab her and bring her inside the prison area. The soldiers said that they had simply done this because orders had come from high up. They said that, when they brought Zahra Kazemi inside, Mr. Bakhshi started to hit her with a bayonet, especially in the head area. But this didn’t suffice. According to the soldiers, Bakhshi wanted to do more harm to her. He took off Zahra Kazemi’s scarf and repeatedly hit her head against the wall, until she lost consciousness. Bakhshi told the soldiers to take her to the hospital prison so she would regain consciousness. When he was hitting her head against the wall, blood was running down. One of our cell mates who had recently been brought to cell block # 350, said, I was in there when Zahra Kazemi woke up and she told one of the agents, a tall man with huge beard, that she would report all their terrible activities to the government of Canada and all the human rights organizations. ‘What are you going to then?’ she said. At this moment they were carrying her on a stretcher to the hospital. The bearded man ordered the soldiers to tie her up. The soldiers were scared and did exactly as they were told. The soldiers told me that they would come to testify against Bakhshi anytime I wanted but that I must protect them, since one cannot mess around with this regime.” (Ideas and Lashes: the Prison Diary of Akbar Mohammadi, Translated by Fariba Amini)

Photo by Fariba Amini, 2005


Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Lady in the Wheelchair

by Melanie Nathan

I was born and raised in South Africa (from 1956 to 1985) and practiced law there during the apartheid era and when I immigrated to the USA, around the time of sanctions, I truly believed that there was no discrimination of any kind in the United States of America.

Safely seated in my US citizenship, I had no reason to doubt that I would have the right to pursue my happiness and that I would be treated as full citizen in every respect of the law. At the time I was thankful to the US for introducing the sanctions that in essence brought the apartheid government to its knees resulting in the release of Madiba Mandela and the end of Apartheid.

Now my once anti-apartheid stance has come full circle in the US, as twenty four years after immigrating, South Africa has not only ditched apartheid, but now boasts a constitution that specifically protects all its citizens, forbidding discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation; while in that same time period America has introduced the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA, ) and DADT – and has had the gall to resist ENDA and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill, failed to secure equality for its LGBT citizens; indeed a sad irony.

Since the enactment of legislation Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that specifically serves to exclude same sex partners from rights that different- gender spouses have, the US has in fact institutionalized discrimination in a manner that stinks very much like apartheid. President Clinton’s stamp of approval will forever emblazon DOMA and so now that we have President Obama and a Democratic majority, something has to be done to right this wrong.

My fellow activists would probably shoot me down for saying this, but if it is not possible to rid us of DOMA, quickly or per se, there must, at the very least be legislation that seeks to remedy its impact. Immigration is the one area where this cannot happen quickly enough; our ‘de facto (existence) is begging for its de jure (validation.)

Of the 1,138 federal rights and benefits that the LGBT community is denied, the worst (I am biased having suffered this particular form of discrimination) is the one that denies us two fundamental prerequisites to our basic freedoms and happiness:

1. The right to fall in love and live with whomever we choose from wherever we choose;
without impacting -

2. Our right to remain in our homes and Country.

This is the plight of our Binational families; – I estimate now with the increasing use of web based social interaction, at least 54,000 – 90,000 couples impacted by this great, where spouses of the same gender are unable to Petition for the a partner who is not a US citizen or legal resident to remain with him/her or join the other in the USA.

On the lips of every Binational I know and I am sure on the lips of those I do not know, is “How can my Country, the United States of America, in all its glory, allow this to happen to its own citizens?” Our country is in effect causing its citizens to go into exile when “in pursuit of happiness” in flagrant disregard of our own constitution and while we are preaching human rights to the rest of the World we are so grossly at fault within.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act provides a privilege to the foreigner when issuing a visa, a green card or conveying citizenship. It is a dispensation and even an indulgence if you will – meaning that there is no ‘constitutional’ obligation until such time as the immigrant receives the benefit. On the other hand, inherent in the ACT is a RIGHT conveyed to the American Spouse to petition for the foreigner.

The fight for equality under the Immigration Law in the United States, is not about the privilege for the foreigner, but rather about the RIGHT denied the American[i] same sex spouse/ partner. It is therefore clearly an Equality issue more than it is an immigration issue per se.

I write regularly on this topic and am probably being somewhat repetitive in my posts, but I cannot let my thoughts dissolve, only to haunt me the following minute, as it tends to day after day. What bothers me is the inaction, the inaction and also the inaction – the fact that days go by, people age ; and while that happens there are those who are either unable to be with their loved one, their spouse, their partner – unable to be with an ageing or ill parent, living where they do not want to live, leaving their homes, careers for foreign shores, and too many hardships to mention in this short post. These are our American family….

Today on TV (Highlighted by Keith Olberman) I saw a woman who was seriously disabled, trying to express her needs regarding health care reform at a town hall meeting. She was heckled and treated in the most disgusting fashion, by her fellow Americans. For some reason it served as a metaphor for my article today; to my way of thinking omission and inaction is as bad as a bad action. Those hecklers overt in their abuse stand in the same row as those of us who refuse to notice the hardship and pain and suffering of our fellows – we are all catalysts and protagonists for each other’s well being and keeping quiet is tantamount to yelling at the woman sitting in the wheelchair.

We need all of our EQUALITY – all of our rights. Although I usually advocate specifically for UAFA (Uniting American Families ACT,) which seeks to include same sex permanent partners in the IMMIGRATION Law, I would be remiss if I did not note that sweeping legislation – a catch all for equality, an Amendment to Civil Rights Act, the repeal of DOMA is the only real way we will truly classify as fully equal. I pray for that day – but in the meantime must continue with the piecemeal Brigade.
[i] When referring to “American Spouse or Partner” – I include US Citizen and Lawful US resident.

*Blogged by MELANIE NATHAN, CEO of Private Courts, Inc. Consulting, mediation & private advocacy; motivated by injustice, I blog about family law/mediation, politics, news and LGBT equality and anything that ‘tickles my fancy.’ Otherwise blogging as O-blog-dee-o-blog-da. Websites and blogs include:;;

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