Three Iranian human rights activists receive the Lech Walesa Prize
September 29, 2009
On September 29, 2009, Ladan and Roya Boroumand, historians and founders of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, and Shadi Sadr, a lawyer, journalist, and human rights activist, received awards from the Lech Walesa Institute Foundation. The Lech Walesa Prize honored their work to promote human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy in Iran.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation is grateful and honored that its founders, Ladan and Roya, have been selected to receive the prestigious Lech Walesa Prize. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation congratulates Shadi Sadr for her extraordinary work on women’s rights and against stoning in Iran. Ladan and Roya consider this Lech Walesa Prize to be an acknowledgment of – and homage to – all Iranian human rights defenders and activists. As such, they dedicate their award to their "fellow human rights defenders, in particular to those courageous men and women who – at high risk – promote human rights and democracy inside the country, and without whom the work of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation would not be possible."
Lech Walesa award acceptance speech
They arrest, then deny an arrest ever took place. They torture, but they say torture is banned. They kill, but they say their enemies did it. They murder the best of your fellow citizens, and then they try to make you an accomplice after the fact by believing and repeating their lies. They require this complicity from their citizens and want the whole world to echo their falsehoods.
At first one feels lonely, isolated, and empty-handed in the face of Evil, seemingly almighty and invulnerable.
But then one realizes that Evil has a mortal enemy. That enemy is Truth. You understand that you do not need weapons to resist the lies and tell the truth. You only need a strong mind, and a sense of righteous purpose that will not bend or break.
You notice that Evil gets its strength less from raw violence than from the way it tempts us to believe its lies.
You understand that truth is the power of the powerless. Documenting the truth as much as we can is what Roya and I have tried to do, with humility and perseverance, at the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation. In the daunting task of telling the story of the victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have had the privilege of working with a dedicated team of researchers. We have benefited so much from the technical, moral, and financial support of the international human-rights community. We would like to thank them all for their support and commitment.
But more importantly we would like to thank our fellow Iranian citizens who have braved danger and defied the power of the lie by pouring into the streets and squares by the millions to tell the truth about the stolen presidential election this past June. They told their government that they did not believe its lies, and they would not be quiet about it. By refusing to accept those lies, they shook the foundation of its totalitarian rule.
We have no doubt that the award we receive today is honoring not only three human-rights advocates, but a nation’s will to reject lies and live in truth.
Mr. President, today by honoring three Iranian women with the prestigious Lech Walesa prize, you and the honorable members of the award committee are sending a message to our persecutors that the world rejects their lies.
We thank you for this great honor, and for all you have done in the cause of freedom.
Lech Walesa award acceptance speech
I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of all of us at the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation to the Lech Walesa Institute Foundation and to the Award Committee.
Lech Walesa award acceptance speech
September 29th, 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am extremely honoured that the jury at the Lech Walesa Award has chosen me as the recipient of this prize. To be accompanied by the founders of the Boroumand Foundation has added to my delight. To be granted this Prize, not only bears an honour but an importance. It is important not only for myself, but also for the battle going on in Iran for three decades: the battle for freedom and for democracy. The Lech Walesa Prize is given to support those who fight against political and social terrors. In fact, on one hand, this prize is a reminder for those who anxiously follow Iranians’ daily struggle against political and social tyranny through the media and, on the other hand for those who do not know, it can be the beginning of awareness and solidarity. All this is a heart-warming support for those people who face batons, bullets, and knives on the streets of Tehran; for those who spend hard days behind the high walls of Evin prison and other jails in Iran; and for those who carry on the fight for freedom in spite of horror and insecurity. This prize is the recognition of millions of Iranians who are not prepared to tolerate dictatorship and human rights violations anymore; and for this reason it is even more important.
Two months ago, plain clothed agents violently arrested me in one of the streets of Tehran and I ended up in Evin prison for the second time. At that time, I could not dare imagine that one day so soon I would be speaking in an open society against systematic human rights violations in Iran free from the fear of being charged with actions against national security. I was taken to another building, separated from the section 209, and in the control of the Intelligence and Security Ministry with about 15 imprisoned men. The screams of these men being brutally beaten while interrogated were meant to be my torture. At that time, I could not dare imagine that one day so soon I would be speaking about mental and physical torture of prisoners in Iran in order to extract false confessions against themselves and against the protestors. On the days that, blindfolded, I would be taken through the corridors of the Section 209 of Evin prison to the interrogation room to be persuaded that all my activities in defending women’s rights were a part of United States ploy to overthrow the Iranian regime; and that me and others within the women’s movement and human right activists were nothing but puppets in the hands of western countries who taught us change and with their prizes created of us credible social agents of change and that ultimately through us they would introduce secularism and equality to the society at large, I could not dare imagine that I would be standing here and taking advantage of the Lech Walesa Prize as a tribune to expose and discredit their meaningless justifications and deceptions.
Today I am very happy to be here and to talk freely about the lack of freedom in Iran. I am very happy for the opportunity to remind everyone that for thirty years we Iranians have endured systematic human rights violations; but more importantly to stress that for thirty years we have resisted the systematic violations of human rights. In the last ten years, as an advocate of women’s rights movement in Iran, I have witnessed how this movement and other social movements such as that of the students’, workers’, and ethnic minorities’ have tried to take advantage of even the smallest window of opportunity to further their aims publicly. The flames of resistance have been kept alive throughout these years in spite of insecurities, work and travel bans, imprisonments, and activists have not allowed the flames to be extinguished under oppression and tyranny.
However, after the result of the presidential elections in June, millions of Iranians showed that they even if they were not counted in the last thirty years, that despite being humiliated, oppressed, imprisoned, tortured and raped or even killed they have a voice, that they do count and that they are not dead. They came in their thousands upon thousands to the streets to make themselves heard. If until now it appeared that we were just a few who dared to say “No!” publicly, now millions of people have raised their hands as a sign of final victory and have said “No!” to dictatorship and human rights violations.
The response to this multitude of “No’s” was a form of martial law in the streets, beating people, arresting them, mental and physical tortures, rapes, and finally death. For three months this has been the practice in streets and prisons of Iran. These events are reminders of the 1980’s, when thousands of political dissidents were silenced cruelly in prisons. The only difference between the eighties and the post-election events is that in those years, the opponents were affiliated to political organisations. Just like now they were abducted, imprisoned, tortured, raped, and executed. Now, however, although the same treatment is meted out the people are members of the public with no affiliation to any political groups or parties. Another difference is that in the last three months, pictures and news about the daily human rights violations are broadcast so rapidly through internet and citizen journalism that unlike the eighties, the world is conscious and sensitive to Iran. But this is not enough. We need a global action.
As a feminist, I would like to mention once again the issue of rape and sexual tortures of prisoners, particularly women prisoners, and demand international action. Many evidences point to the fact that not only in the post-election events, but all through the last thirty years, rape and other kinds of sexual tortures have not been sporadic but systematic, used to intimidate, humiliate, and break the morale of imprisoned women. For years this kind of torture had been concealed, but now through the public declaration of its victims and also through exposes by authorities of the regime, it has become a topic of social dialogue. But this is only the beginning of a path which cannot be resolved without global solidarity.
Today, all of us share a global responsibility with respect to these systematic violations of rights in the past thirty years, of which rape and torture of imprisoned women is just a part. I remind myself and all others of our collective responsibility to bring to justice the authorities who have been responsible of such acts of systematic violations. The voices of the protesters in Iran have only been heard after the sacrifices of hundreds with their lives, sustained injuries and imprisonments. To hear the voices of this movement, to create a worldwide solidarity with the Iranian people who fight for freedom and democracy and to feel responsible against the abuse of their human rights and to convene a worldwide action to take the perpetrators to the court of law and to seek justice is what we seek. Thinking of the victims and sympathising with those whose body and soul is raped and contaminated is not enough. Let’s think every day as we wake up what can we do to seek justice for the victims and the punishment for the abusers.
Lech Walesa Award Gala Speech
I would like to say a few words about the conception of our project and what motivated my involvement.
Lech Walesa Award Gala Speech
Mr. President, honorable members of the Award Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.
The tyrants who oppress Iran and its people today have learned many a malign lesson from the tyrants who persecuted Poland for almost half a century after the end of the Second World War. The Islamic Republic’s “revolutionary” tribunals and committees, coerced confessions, mass executions, vast purges, cultural revolution, “state security” thugs, cults of the supreme leader, and the pressure on citizens to spy on one another—these tactics all come from the handbook of modern totalitarian ideologies. Certainly they are not found in the tradition of the prophet of Islam. A regime that dares to call itself “Islamic” has confiscated God and perverted the Muslim religion into a totalitarian ideology.
Given the parallels between Poland’s case and Iran’s, it is unsurprising that we, the members of Iranian civil society, should have taken an interest in how, not so very long ago, our Polish brothers and sisters waged their own heroic struggle for freedom in the face of terrible odds. Confronted with totalitarianism in an Islamist guise, we turned to the words and deeds of the Poles Lech Wałesa, Czesław Miłosz, and Leszek Kołakowski—plus such kindred spirits as Vaclav Havel, Tzvetan Todorov, Hannah Arendt, Andrei and Yelena Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn, to name a few—in order to make sense of what was happening to us. They helped us understand the evil that prevailed in our country. It is from them that we learned how ordinary citizens can resist a totalitarian regime by not giving in to its lies. We learned that telling the truth is the subversive power of the powerless, and the revolutionary hope of the hopeless.
We knew that, even as ordinary citizens, we had to face our own share of the responsibility for what had happened in our country. We were well aware that for an evil of such scale to take hold of a country you need not only the evil thought and the executioner, but also all those ordinary people who kept silent when the first crime was committed in 1979, then the second and the third, and so on. All those millions of innocent accomplices and guilty bystanders: us, I mean. From thousands of kilometers away, we felt that we should first make amends ourselves, break our silence, tell the truth, and bring the wickedness and violence of our rulers to light.
Evil, we understood, consists in the eclipse of humanity. What we could do after the fact of evil’s triumph, we realized, was to restore the universal essence of human nature and honor human dignity. The perpetrators kill to eliminate their victims; the victims’ deaths cannot be undone, yet it is possible to bring them back in memory. By violating their victims’ human rights, the perpetrators sought to deny their human dignity. To remedy such an outrage, we could posthumously restore at least a measure of the victims’ humanity by refusing to let them be slipped into the Orwellian “memory hole” down which the tyranny wanted them to vanish. Hence the idea of creating a virtual memorial dedicated to all individuals whose violent death is imputable to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Omid is a memorial in defense of human rights that intends to list and document, insofar as possible, the story of every person killed without due process of law by the Islamic Republic and to create a file in both Persian and English that will serve as a virtual memorial to them, to enshrine their stories and record their ordeals.
Roya said that the story of Solidarnosc was a ray of light in the darkness of our fate in the early eighties. We knew that Solidarnosc’s victory would pave the way for our freedom fighters, and we were right. The collapse of communism was the prelude to the conversion of Iran’s intellectual and political elite to democracy and human rights. The triumph of the Poles and others over communist totalitarianism created intellectual and ideological conditions favorable to the emergence of a new and innovative Iranian civil-rights movement, spearheaded by women.
Tonight, as we gratefully accept the humbling honor of receiving the prestigious Lech Walesa award, we know that through the three of us the award is honoring all the members of Iran’s human-rights community. On this glorious occasion we would like to pay homage to all our fellow defenders of human rights—to those who, like the former political prisoners Monireh Baradaran and Iraj Mesdaghi, have been persistently documenting what happened during the eighties in the prisons of the Islamic Republic; and also to those who, like Mansour Osanloo, suffer imprisonment for doing nothing more than trying to organize a free and independent trade union. We also remember those like 21-year-old Ronak Safarzade, who has been sentenced to six years in jail for peacefully defending women’s rights; and Sadigh Kabudvand and Farzad Kamangar, who have received sentences of eleven years and death, respectively, for trying to safeguard human rights. There are many more like these brave people in our thoughts tonight; we feel that this prestigious award honors them too, and we humbly accept it on their behalf.
When in 1980 our father, after whom our foundation is named, sought asylum in Paris, he lived on l’Avenue Charles Floquet. One day, with a smile on his face, he asked me if I knew who Charles Floquet was. I said I had no idea. Monsieur Floquet, my father explained, had been a premier of France under the Third Republic, in the late 1880s. But more importantly, my father continued, when Floquet had been a young lawyer witnessing the 1867 state visit of Czar Aleksandr II to the Palais de Justice (Court House) in Paris, Floquet was said to have confronted the Russian autocrat with the cry, "Vive la Pologne, monsieur!" (In my father’s telling, this became embellished to, “Vive la Pologne libre!”) How Roya and I wish our father could be here tonight to witness the beautiful sight of a free and democratic Poland honoring the struggle of his people for a free and democratic Iran, the cause for which he gave his life. As it is, we know that he is here in spirit, and we must be content with that.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your support—and long live free Poland!
3. Need for increased moral and financial support
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation is grateful to the Lech Walesa Institute Foundation for the visibility that this award has given to human rights violations in Iran.