But what very few of these political speakers could place into their speeches was an intimate and personal awareness of the nature of those abuses or their actual effects on the targets of repression or their families. But early in the evening’s proceedings, the stage was devoted to two young Iranians – an 18 year old woman and a 30 year old man – who had each secretly escaped from Iran within the past year, and who have used the opportunity to make people in the West aware of what they witnessed first-hand so very recently.
The young lady, Paria Kohandel was introduced by her fellow NCRI activist as “the flame and the fire under the ashes,” in a reference to a line that would come up later in her eloquent speech about her relationship with a father who has been held in Iran’s prison system since she was eight years old.
“I am here to be the voice of my father,” Kohandel announced, before detailing his experiences in prison and her commitment to carrying on the anti-regime activism for which he was condemned to an apparently endless sentence. Prior to fleeing, the young woman was able to visit her father for only 20 minutes a week, and used the time both to maintain her relationship with him and to gain a deeper understanding of the plight of Iranian prisoners.
Kohandel explained that over the years, her father had seen numerous 17 and 18 year olds sentenced to lengthen prison sentences and even to death for nothing more than peaceful activism. She recalled that he said he saw his daughter in the faces of the condemned, thereby influencing her decision to flee and join the efforts of the NCRI overseas instead.
But in addition to carrying on her own work and in addition to serving as the voice of her father, Kohandel’s portion of the NCRI rally seemed to put her forward as a voice for many more of the people who either suffer alongside her father or place their lives at risk on a daily basis as she had done throughout her teenage activist years.
Kohandel’s speech was prefaced by a video montage gathered from among the supporters and activists of the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, inside their home country. “No one has ever seen the images we are about to see,” the speaker declared before displaying images of Iranians, their faces hidden, stepping forward in a variety of different settings to present a red rose to the camera, each one representing the blood of those who have been tortured or killed by the theocratic dictatorship. “What we are going to watch is the suffering of many Iranians turned into hope.”
At the same time, Kohandel indicated that her presence at the rally this year was to some extent an example of hope turned into reality. She explained that she used to tune into the Iran Freedom rally every year via a banned resistance television network. That network continues to broadcast to this day, and so it carried the latest rally to an audience of Iranian activists who remain behind in their homeland, but who were perhaps more connected to the event than ever, thanks to images being shared between Paris and Tehran, in the presence of refugees who have so recently been on both sides.