Introduction

Human Rights Activists in Iran, also known as Human Rights Activists, the HRA, and HRAI, is a non-political and non-governmental organization active in defending human rights within Iran’s legal jurisdiction. This organization was founded by Keyvan Rafiee in 2005

2005-2007
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Phase One: From Declaration to Public Activity

In December 2005, the activities of Keyvan Rafiee and the joining of Seyed Jamal Hosseini led to the formal announcement of the group’s existence under the initial name “Human Rights Activists in Iran.” Focused on prisons and prisoners of conscience, the group lacked specific facilities and financial backing, even in the realm of information dissemination. Despite these constraints, the newly founded organization quickly expanded its activities to other human rights areas, leveraging its young force and innovative spirit. Over the next two years, the group’s activities, including meetings with victims’ families, increased support for prisoners of conscience, active participation in various protests, the publication of the group’s first educational booklet, and several phases of street awareness campaigns like distributing and posting leaflets, demonstrated the group’s determination, seriousness, and rapidly growing momentum.
This phase continued until the end of 2007, during which time the group managed to present itself as a young, united, and determined organization that stood for equality and fought against discrimination and monopoly. This image was strongly communicated to society, highlighting the group’s foundational principles and objectives.

This phase saw a significant influx of members and collaborators, alongside the expanding activities of the group, on one hand. On the other hand, there was a public demand for more interaction with the group during a time when Iranian civil society and its activities were somewhat tolerated by the government. This led the organization to attempt official registration within the country’s legal framework, using defined legal capacities, bringing about significant and fundamental changes in its policies and management. The group transitioned from a semi-public congregation to a fully public movement, establishing numerous committees and subgroups to specialize and expand its activities both in scope and quality. In light of the relatively open political climate mentioned and aiming to reduce security risks, the group publicly introduced some of its members and officials. During this period, the organization publicly announced more than 30 of its officials and over 25 committees and subgroups, marking a significant quantitative and qualitative growth. The courage, creativity, and faith of its members led to unprecedented activities in the history of post-revolutionary Iranian human rights efforts, including cultural competitions like bloggers defending human rights, launching the “Peace Mark” monthly as the first specialized human rights publication in Iran, printing and distributing thousands of copies of human rights books such as the Women’s Rights Book (CEDAW) for free within the country, enhancing street awareness activities, distributing flyers, brochures, and CDs, meeting with victims’ families, and efforts to save condemned prisoners, especially children facing the death penalty. The group also organized nationwide “Right to Education” meetings in various cities with students deprived of education, particularly Bahá’í youth, launched HRANA as the first specialized human rights news agency in Iran, initiated and managed a global campaign to save Farzad Kamangar, a teacher condemned to death, organized and coordinated peaceful street protests in several Iranian cities including a large gathering in Sanandaj, published thousands of reports and documents including classified ones on human rights violations, authored several educational and research books, and achieved unprecedented cooperation with religious and ethenics minorities through serious, non-discriminatory, and apolitical activities and trust-building, addressing new issues such as environmental and cultural rights, providing educational opportunities for working children and those deprived of education, among other activities. This range of activities covered from the northern shores to the southern ports of Iran and from east to west.
The controversial tenth presidential election in Iran arrived in June 2009, with the group in an optimistic state and making remarkable progress towards an endless horizon. The Human Rights Activists in Iran even utilized the relatively greater freedoms, albeit temporary, during the tenth presidential election campaign to expand its activities, particularly street awareness efforts. However, the post-election storm rapidly transformed the Iranian civil society and the conditions for activism following public protests and the security and military forces’ confrontations with protesters. Given the nature of the post-election protests, civil society played a special role in initiating, organizing, and continuing the mentioned protests, and naturally, human rights organizations, as the watchdogs of civil society, held a special position. Consequently, confronting social organizations and human rights defenders became a priority for security apparatuses. This wave of confrontations encompassed various organizations and groups, reaching the Human Rights Activists in Iran on March 1, 2010. Although the organization had faced multiple arrests of its members throughout its active phases, the significance of the March 1 crackdown lay in its scale and organization, aiming to dismantle the entirety of the group and terminate its activities. From the early hours of March 1 and in the days following, over forty-eight active members or officials were arrested in different cities across Iran and mostly transferred to Tehran, while dozens of domains, websites, emails, etc., of the organization were hacked or destroyed by the cyber units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Security forces, feeling a need to showcase power during this period, targeted this group, which had been operating openly and extensively for a long time, with widespread destructive attacks, publishing mainly false content against the group in affiliated publications and newspapers, organizing numerous television programs in various languages showcased on state television for extended periods, and using forced televised confessions from group members followed by issuing harsh sentences for the detained members, in an ultimate effort to halt the organization. Considering the volume of arrests and the severity of the issued sentences, which collectively amounted to more than a century of imprisonment, this group can be regarded as having paid one of the highest prices in the contemporary history of organized efforts to improve human rights conditions in Iran; yet, the pressures mentioned did not halt the organization’s activities.

2010

Second Phase: From Public Activity to March 1
2010-Present
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Third Phase: From March 1, 2010, to the Present

Following the damage inflicted on the organization on March 1, 2010, the surviving members and forces quickly regrouped and initiated a period of reconstruction despite the challenging security conditions in Iranian society. This tough and demanding phase of rebuilding progressed through the dedication and faith of its members, leveraging the vast amount of work, human effort, and time based on the experience gained. Shortly before the setback of March 1, the group had managed to legally register itself in the United States as a non-profit and public charity organization; it succeeded in reducing quantities while enhancing the quality of its work, focusing on the reconstruction and resumption of its major damaged sections.

During this period, the group’s strategy was to attract quality forces, make optimal and increased use of technology, find suitable financial resources, and utilize the international community’s capacity more effectively. Through this approach, it joined several international coalitions, including the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, composed of 150 international organizations; participated in meetings in Geneva and New York; and collaborated with the Global Movement for Democracy. The Human Rights Activists group also engaged in various international forums, such as the Canadian Parliament, the U.S. Congress, and the European Parliament, marking notable participation in this phase.

Additionally, alongside the reconstruction and strengthening of its reporting sections, the creation and distribution of the HRANA newspaper, and the publication and distribution of the “Peace Mark” monthly magazine within the country, the group expanded street awareness activities like distributing flyers and banners. It established the Fourth Pillar Committee to combat internet censorship and filtering by the Iranian government and created an online human rights statics database in Iran, leading to more precise analysis and intelligent archiving, along with launching an online library, among other initiatives. Currently, the group operates through collective management, relying on its past experiences to continue its activities. Javid Rahman, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, in his 2014 report to the UN General Assembly, recognized this organization as one of the three prominent human rights defenders organization in Iran.

In 2014 and 2019, the organization published a book in both Persian and English based on statements from its founders, members, and external individuals, aiming to provide a detailed introduction to the history of this institution.