Poignant comments from former Iranian political prisoner Marina Nemat during the panel on Iran’s Human Rights Record brought a hush to the crowded conference room. Ms. Nemat, whose memoir “Prisoner of Tehran” described her arrest and torture as a 16-year-old in the wake of the 1979 revolution, told the audience that after the revolution, “we had hope… that Iran would become a democracy.” She said she had grown up wearing short skirts and Western hair styles, and suddenly Iran’s religious rulers banned everything that was “fun”. She couldn’t even walk down the street holding hands with her boyfriend.
She wasn’t the only one who was affected, she added.
“How political can a 14-year-old get?” she asked. “If you ban fun, then a 14-year-old can get very political.”
Ms. Nemat now lives and teaches in Canada. Asked if things have gotten any better in Iran since she lived there, she did not hesitate. “No, they are not.” Like others on the panel, she said she was glad to see some focus on the issue of human rights, rather than Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, which gets most of the attention these days. “I’m here,” she declared, “to make sure that the story of Iranian political prisoners is heard.”
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Ali Alfoneh, of the American Enterprise Institute, said the Revolutionary Guards’ use of “show trials” has had a chilling effect on Iranian citizens. When they see even Mir-Hussein Mousavi, the former Iranian Prime Minister who had been a favorite of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, being put on trial, “then all regular Iranian citizens feel at risk.”
Said Ms. Nemat: “I don’t think any Western country can change the behavior of the Iranian regime when it comes to human rights.” But she added that when the United States speaks out on behalf of human rights, it gives political prisoners hope “because news does get into the prisons.”
“All I am interested in is just giving hope,” she said. “If I can save just one life, then I can die in peace.”
Alfoneh joked that no Western country can ever win a negotiation with someone from the Middle East. But the conversation turned serious again when panelist Emanuele Ottolenghi of FDD said recent crackdowns in Iran were evidence that “the regime is increasingly on the defensive.”
Alfoneh criticized U.S. academics — “do-gooders” — who are always calling for the U.S. to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but are silent on the issue of Iran’s notorious prisons. “Where are these good people?” he asked. They have “totally forgotten Iran.”
“The enemy of your enemy,” she said solemnly, “is not necessarily your friend.”
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** Updated **
Career diplomat Robert S. Ford, the current U.S. Ambassador to Syria, spoke about the situation in Syria. The Free Syrian Army, the main opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, has made “substantial gains,” he said, and the regime no longer controls most of Syria’s border with either Turkey or Iraq. “It’s very clear that the regime forces are being ground down and are losing.” But, he added, “they still have some fight in them.”View Entire Story
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