3.1 First period – From inception to activism
In February 2006, a small group of Iranian activists gathered together to organize their protests against violations of human rights in the country. That effort laid the foundation for a larger vision that ultimately led to the establishment of the organization that would come to be HRA. In those days, our members’ common interests were largely centered around defending political prisoners, and the group lacked any resources beyond those available for free to the general public.
HRA continued to thrive by relying on its young members’ energy, commitment and enthusiasm while operating in an ad-hoc, trial-and-error fashion. But that small group eventually flourished into one of the biggest and most enduring rights organizations in the country. From those humble beginnings, the group quickly expanded its efforts beyond defending prisoners of conscience and attracted talented individuals to that end.
In the following two years, HRA members met with the families of victims affected by human rights violations and provided financial and moral support to political prisoners and their loved ones. Our members attended gatherings and actively collected information which was compiled into a handbook used by everyone in the organization to further their knowledge. HRA also staged several peaceful street campaigns, distributing handouts to educate the public.
This period of our history lasted through February 2009. By that time, HRA had succeed in establishing itself in the eyes of the public as a new organization committed to equality while opposing discrimination and autocracy in Iran. But before long, the first wave of arrests began to sweep over the organization.
3.2 Second period – From activism to March 2, 2010
As HRA continued to grow, a large number of new members and partners joined the organization, and the public’s need to interact and communicate with us increased. During a short period of time when the country’s political atmosphere was relatively calm, and activism was somewhat tolerated by the Islamic government, we officially registered our organization in Iran through legal means. This act brought about a series of fundamental changes to our infrastructure and policies, transforming HRA from a semi-secret organization into one which openly operated in Iran.
During this time, new committees were formed, and HRA members began to take on specific responsibilities that allowed them to specialize in specific areas. Partly because of the relaxed political environment that dominated the country at the time, HRA decided to disclose its leaders’ names publicly and expand its activities throughout the country. This decision was also a tactical maneuver designed to counteract the prevalent suspicion Iranian authorities have always had towards secret and semi-secret societies. By publicly disclosing the names of our leaders, we hoped to neutralize such suspicions that had historically led to brutal government crackdowns.
By the time we were operating in the open, the organization was run by 30 managers and consisted of more than 25 committees and sub-committees. Our members’ bold approach together with their ingenuity and sense of purpose contributed to a series of actions that were, without a doubt, unprecedented in our history. Some of our efforts during this stage included the following activities which spread from one end of the country to another:
- We organized cultural events such as competitions among bloggers focused on defending human rights.
- We began publishing Peace Line which became the first human rights journal in the country.
- We published and distributed numerous books all of which were free of charge, including several thousand copies of principles advocated by CEDAW addressing women’s rights.
- We continued to distribute more handouts, brochures and CDs during various campaigns.
- We reached out to victims and their next of kin to obtain the necessary legal consent in order to save juvenile offenders from execution.
- The Committee for the Right to Education organized numerous meetings throughout the country to condemn the expulsion of college students as a form of punishment for their political beliefs. Our news agency, HRANA, was established and began to operate as the country’s first press association exclusively addressing issues related to human rights.
- We organized a worldwide campaign to save Farzad Kamangar from execution and staged peaceful demonstrations and protests in several cities including Sanadaj.
- We published thousands of reports and documents about human rights violations in Iran.
- We wrote and released several books on human rights issues.
- We reached out to religious and ethnic minorities throughout the country and established an unprecedented tie with them that has allowed us to pool our resources together as equal partners.
- We began addressing environmental issues and civic duties and rights in the society.
- We sought out children in the labor force and provided them with the opportunity to get an education.
By the time the country was swept up in the highly-contested presidential elections of 2009, HRA was a well-organized group focused on its operations and ready to expand its reach even further. Given the relaxed political environment during the election and relative freedom of the time, we staged more campaigns to inform and educate the public on our mission to defend human rights. However, the temporary freedom soon came to an end as security forces began to brutally crack down on the demonstrators after the election results were announced.
3.3 Third period – From March 2, 2010 till today
The military-style crackdown of our organization on March 2, 2010 left our members even more determined than before to regroup and ultimately rebuild the necessary infrastructure needed to continue our work despite the security risks that threatened each and every one of us.
This period of reconstruction moved forward according to our plans as we drew strength from our firm beliefs, knowledge and experiences that guided us through those tumultuous times. Shortly after this crackdown, HRA successfully registered itself in the United States of America as a non-profit and charitable organization. During this period, the organization also focused on attracting and retaining talented individuals, employing technology efficiently in its daily operations, and obtaining appropriate sources of financial support.
As a direct result of such efforts, HRA was invited to join the annual Non-governmental Organizations Conference sponsored by the United Nations. Subsequently, HRAI representatives attended two conferences held in Geneva and New York City. The organization was also invited to join the World Movement for Democracy and participated in various events sponsored by the Parliament of Canada, the United States Congress and the European Parliament.
Alongside the efforts to rebuild the organization, HRA strengthened its news agency and expanded the publication and distribution of HRANA Newspaper. We also began printing our monthly journal, Peace Line, again and resumed distributing pamphlets and handouts to the public. During this period, the establishment of the Fourth Pillar became another one of our accomplishments which allowed us to fight against censorship and Internet filtering imposed by the Islamic government in Iran. Furthermore, we painstakingly developed an online statistical database to document human rights abuses in our country and have begun efforts to build an online library for our members.
Today, while continuing to draw from its past experiences, HRA operates as a human rights organization managed democratically by its members.