Amnesty International described the charges against Ebrahimi as “ludicrous” and explained that she was “effectively being punished for using her imagination.” But much more attention was focused on her case over the past two months as a result of the actions of her husband, Arash Sadeghi, who had been imprisoned ahead of her, on vague national security charges stemming from his peaceful human rights activism.
Ebrahimi’s release on Tuesday finally prompted Sadeghi to end a hunger strike that had lasted a staggering 71 days. The judiciary’s decision to end her detention may very well have saved his life. Some of Sadeghi’s supporters had emphasized that after more than two months of starvation, just a few hours delay in action could be the difference between life and death. Support for his protest became a top trending topic on Twitter at the start of this week, even though the social network is banned in Iran as part of the theocratic regime’s strict control over social sentiment and the flow of information.
The widespread use of Twitter appears to be one sign that that control is eroding in spite of a recent security crackdown of which Sadeghi and Ebrahimi are almost certainly a part. Another sign of that same trend is the fact that remarkable numbers of Iranian activists are still willing to risk arrest and violent reprisal by gathering in support of causes like the release of Golrokh Ebrahimi and the preservation of her husband’s life.
In all likelihood, the judiciary’s action on Ebrahimi’s case was not motivated by concern for the life of Arash Sadeghi. Rather, it was presumably a response to the outcry from hundreds of activists who had gathered outside of Evin Prison on Monday, and more specifically to the regime’s fear of another popular uprising like that which it dealt with in 2009 after the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Four years after the 2009 uprising was violently suppressed, the election of Hassan Rouhani was heralded by some as a victory for moderation and a partial vindication of that protest. But harsh critics of the Islamic Republic rejected this prospect, including various Western officials and Iran’s domestic resistance movements, chiefly the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. They tended to view Rouhani as an established regime insider and an unlikely agent of change. And more than three years later, the ongoing plight of the Iranian people and of political prisoners like Sadeghi and Ebrahimi gratifies their skepticism.
Sadeghi’s hunger strike is a particularly attention-grabbing activist cause, but the protestors outside of Evin Prison were almost certainly responding to more than just his case. The Iranian people are keenly aware of the persistently criminal behavior of their own government. And more than that, the recent efforts of prominent activists have also made them more aware of the past crimes for which the regime has never been made to answer.
Last summer, an audio recording from a former regime official brought to light new information about a 1988 incident in which as many as 30,000 political prisoners were hanged over the course of just a few months. The massacre, which sought to destroy the People’s Mojahedin, had long been subject to a conspiracy of silence but has lately become a hot-button issue, discussed almost openly across society in spite of the threat of government reprisal.
The activist community has done its part to keep focus on that topic, even as more recent political violence and unjust imprisonment is being added to the catalogue of headlines. For instance, PMOI activist Maryam Akbari Monfared has used her own seven-year imprisonment as a platform for challenging the clerical regime over the death of her siblings in the 1988 massacre. While serving a sentence for “enmity against God” through her membership in the dissident group, she has filed a formal complaint demanding investigation into the nearly three-decade old incident.
According to the PMOI’s parent organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran, several other political prisoners have followed suit. And their actions parallel those that the NCRI itself is taking on the global stage, urging the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry into the 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
This is only one way in which the international community can and should bring human rights issues into the forefront of its dealings with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Apart from the obvious fact that it is the right thing to do, the recent protest actions throughout Iran strongly suggest that such international activity has a high likelihood of being effective.
Western powers and international human rights groups have large numbers of well-organized partners inside the Islamic Republic who are clearly eager for the support they need in taking on a repressive government. Acting virtually on their own, those domestic activists were able to compel a notably fearful regime to release one of its prominent political prisoners and to prevent the death of another. In the wake of that victory, it is inspirational to think of what else they could accomplish if they had the full support of the international community.