On the Death of Haleh Sahabi, Women’s Rights Activist and Member of Mothers for Peace
Tragedy in Tehran
By Fariba Amini
Saturday 4 June 2011
Change for Equality: A father dies after a month in coma following a brain hemorrhage. His daughter is allowed to leave Evin prison to say her goodbyes. The authorities allow for the funeral procession. She stands in front of the crowd holding flowers. The plainclothes men of the Islamic Republic of Iran, trained to be vicious and merciless, attack her and beat her; she falls on the ground and dies. It is unfathomable but it happened just two days ago in plain daylight in Iran’s capital.
Haleh Sahabi who died at the funeral of her father was a member of Mothers for Peace; she had been sentenced to two years of imprisonment for her peaceful activism. She was the daughter of a leading member of Iran’s Freedom Movement, an organization that dated back to the Shah’s time. Her father had been in prison both under the Shah and under the Islamic Republic and tortured. He was eighty three when he died. She was in her mid fifties. They were buried side by side in a cemetery outside Tehran. Three generations of a well- known family-grandfather, father and daughter had fought for freedom and gone to prison for it.
In recent months, Iran’s many prisons and detention centers have been packed with civil right activists, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers, many of them women, Nasrin, Bahareh, Mahdieh, Shabnam, Mahboubeh and many other courageous women are just a few names that come to mind. Haleh was their cellmate.
The Islamic Republic is determined to stifle Iran’s peace movement before crowds gather for any type of demonstration, even a funeral procession. Only a month earlier, a famous journalist and film critic, threw himself from his balcony and died a tragic death, away from his wife and his daughters. Siamak Pourzand was seventy- eight years old. He too had been imprisoned and tortured. He was not allowed to leave Iran.
The Arab spring in the Middle East has overshadowed much of the news from Iran. But we Iranians who are on Facebook or get the news daily or hourly from Iran, only hear the worst news, news that is now rarely reported in the world press. Iran is no more in the limelight. Libya, Yemen, and Syria have taken over, each regime bludgeoning its citizens who want some space, some freedom, a life without dictatorships of any color.
It was only two years ago after the Presidential elections, when Iran’s Democracy Movement was brutally crushed, its rank and file arrested and many of its leaders put under house arrest. The government was adamant to stop the wave of protest and it succeeded, at least temporarily. The government in Iran, wary of the Arab spring, wanted to stop its citizens from accomplishing a similar situation at all costs.
I did not know Haleh but my father knew the Sahabi family. He, as a member of Prime Minister Mosaddeq’s entourage, was imprisoned alongside Haleh’s grandfather and father. They were educated men, of highest integrity who wanted democracy and the rule of law. They did not see the fruit of their struggle and neither did Haleh. But maybe, just maybe, her son and our children will one day see a free and democratic Iran. In her very last interview, Haleh said that revenge is not our guiding light, but compassion is. Haleh’s death will not go in vain. Iran will see the spring of freedom, if not today, tomorrow.
Dear Haleh, rest in peace, on your father’s side. The women of Iran will continue your struggle. We will never forget, but we have to forgive, if only for you.