February 28, 2024

Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani – Head of the Iranian Church organization, a former prisoner of conscience

In the bleak winter of 2007, I met Keyvan Rafiee in Ward 209 of Evin Prison.  He had been transferred to my prison cell from solitary confinement.  He was a young man consumed with a passion for human rights in Iran.  As the cell door opened and he entered, I noticed he was carrying a few paintings that depicted the human rights struggle in which he fought so vigorously and for which he had been imprisoned.

Despite all the dangers of the time, Keyvan Rafiee was determined to let the outside world hear the voices of the political prisoners. Back then, the reach of social media was not as widespread as it is today and those like Keyvan, with the little they had, wanted to ensure that political prisoners would not be forgotten. In the absence of the kind of universal social media influence of modern times, political, civil, and human right activists would often have been imprisoned and nobody would have known. As a result, many were completely forgotten and faced a bitter fate. I believe this is why Keyvan and his friends thought of establishing Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA). This organization has become the neutral voice of numerous groups and various spectrums of people fighting against the pervasive practice executions by the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose methods have often terrified the global society. HRA regularly publishes articles about the cruelty endured by members of various political and ideological groups and details the suppression and pressure on the civil society and its activists in Iran.

In 2007, two groups were active in looking into the conditions of the Christians in Iran. The first group consisted of our friends or other Christians who were mostly non-Iranian; Among the Farsi and non-Christian media, HRA was the only organization exposing the injustices. HRA has been able to channel the voice of the Christian prisoners in Iran to the outside world. In the year that I was arrested, 15 Christian citizens were also arrested across the country. HRA was the only outlet and organization that publicized my and others’ arrests and informed citizens through Farsi media.

It’s fair to say that the key to HRA’s success is that it is only motivated by human rights issues and does not pick sides on political topics. During the Green Movement, for example, many Farsi media outlets were biased regarding certain social and political issues This has often resulted in the omission of human rights discussion. HRA also has been able to, without any discrimination, recognize members of all the ethnic and minority groups as Iranians. It has paid special attention to the rights of all humans in the society. Hence HRA also supports the rights of those who have committed a crime such as drug dealing. In this regard, it is not the case that HRA supports drug dealing; instead, the focus is on creating transparency in judicial rulings and defending the rights of those who have been charged with a crime to a fair trial and if found guilty, just sentencing practices.

This humanistic vision, free of violence and discrimination, is a great success for HRA and I wish HRA, and all those who cooperate with this organization even more success.