“I recall the words Kak (brother) Farzad whispered in my ears in our last phone conversation: ‘human rights have no borders. We have to eliminate borders. This is our duty; me from within prison and you from outside’.”
(Kurdistan Peace ambassadors in Evin, Kaveh Kermanshahi in Farzad Kamangar Memorial website)
Two years have gone by since that terrible morning of May 9, 2010 when the human rights community woke up to the news of the execution of Farzad Kamangar, the 34 year-old Sunni teacher and human rights activist from Iranian Kurdistan and four other political prisoners. Farzad Kamangar had been in detention since 19 August 2006, was secretly hanged and buried in an unknown location. He was executed for his alleged membership in an armed opposition group (PKK) and “enmity with God” following a judicial process that makes a mockery of justice. For a ruling elite that thrives on discrimination, the choice of a member of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority was easy and, it hoped, inexpensive in terms of bad publicity.
On May 9th, many of us in the Iranian human rights community felt overwhelmed and powerless in the face of evil and cruelty. A national and international campaign calling for the release of Kamangar was thought to have succeeded in preventing his execution. The campaign had taken momentum when Kamangar drew attention, in a letter dated 23 November 2007, to the circumstances of his arrest and how he was tortured in various detention centers:
“In July 2006, I came to Tehran to follow upon my brother’s medical treatments. My brother is a Kurdish political activist. I was arrested and immediately transferred to an unknown location. … They also subjected me to foul language, insults, and beatings because of my religious beliefs … They flogged me to a pulp because of the Kurdish ring tone I had on my mobile phone. … My left foot was severely injured during the time I spent in this place. Also, I fell unconscious as a result of being repeatedly hit in the head and subjected to electric shocks, and when I regained consciousness, I had lost my sense of balance. ….”
During his 4 years of detention, various interrogators repeatedly tortured Kamangar in Sanandaj, Tehran, and Kermanshah. A former political prisoner and medical doctor, Dr. Kamiar Ala’i, who spent some time in the same ward with Kamangar in Tehran Evin prison, reported his observations:
“In Kermanshah Dizelabab Prison, they had beaten him a lot. …They had broken his jaw and all his upper teeth were smashed. They had given him electrical shock and he would jump up a meter if anyone got close to him and touched his side.”
It took more than a year for the authorities to formally charge Kamangar, and seven minutes for the Branch 30 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court to read his indictment, assess the evidence, and hear his defense.
Kamangar smuggled several detailed and strongly worded letters out of his prison, reporting on what had happened to him and calling for the respect of his rights. He rejected the charges of membership in a political organization and carrying explosives, stressing that the evidence used against him was fabricated. His lawyer also made statements to the effect that the court had no evidence at all. When Kamangar tried to get legal remedy for the torture he had been subjected to, authorities ignored him. Further, the judiciary informed him that his file was lost.
The death sentence came as a shock to Kamangar and those who knew that he did not support armed action. On 4 February 2010, he appealed to Sadegh Larijani, the Head of the Islamic Republic’s Judiciary, reporting the various breaches of due process of law in his case and reminding him that before his trial, he had been cleared of all charges. “In the seven-minute hearing …,” he wrote, “I was stunned to hear the judge say: ‘The Intelligence Ministry has called for your execution. You should go and appease them.’”
Why such fury against a civil society activist who was known for his peaceful activities? Why do authorities continue to deny his family the right to know where he is buried? Perhaps the Islamic Republic needed to show its might to protesters in the run-up to the anniversary of the 2009 contested presidential election. Kamangar had infuriated his captors by not confessing under repeated torture and by continuing to call for his rights from within his cell. His execution was a clear warning to Kurdish civil society.
The message was heard but those who executed Farzad Kamangar in order to silence him did not succeed. Today, Iran’s civil society sees him as an example of courage and commitment:
“He had a unique softness in his emotions and his writings. He was one of those loveable myths. Someone who liked to help those who were deprived from education; those who could build the future of this region [Kurdistan] of the Country” (Former cellmate Kamiar Alaei)
No doubt, with the loss of Farzad Kamangar, several generations of Kurdish students have lost a dedicated teacher and the human rights community has lost a courageous activist, but Kamangar’s cause and his memory remain strong. A search of his name on the Internet brings up his photos, voice, videos, and letters, none of which were available before his arrest. No doubt, as long as discrimination persists in law and practice in Iran, there will be others like Kamangar.
“Perhaps one of the basic rights that every Iranian, Kurdish or otherwise, feels entitled to is the right to ‘citizenship’; a right that stands against seclusion and exclusion.” (Farzad Kamangar’s letter: We are all people, 10 April 2010)
Kamangar was not the only political prisoner taken to the gallows and secretly and unlawfully hanged on May 9th, 2010. With him, four other political prisoners, Shirin Alamhuli, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, and Mehdi Eslamian were also executed in secret and buried in an unknown location. They were all accused of “enmity against God” for carrying out “terrorist acts”; they had all protested against the violation of due process of law in their cases and the harsh treatment and torture they had been subjected to.