Farzad Kamangar, a 33-year-old teacher, journalist and human rights activist, is awaiting execution in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. The Islamic regime calls him a terrorist, but his real crime is being a Kurd.
Mr. Kamangar taught at an elementary school in the northwestern Iranian city of Kamyaran, where he was a member of the Kurdistan Teachers Union and wrote for various underground human rights publications. He secretly taught his Kurdish students their banned language and told stories about their culture and history. He was detained by Iranian police in Tehran in July 2006 when traveling to visit his brother, a Kurdish activist. He disappeared into the Iranian prison system with no word to his family or friends.
After many months, a horror story emerged. In a November 2007 letter smuggled from prison, Mr. Kamangar detailed the many forms of torture to which he had been subjected, including beatings, whippings, electric shocks and solitary confinement in cold, squalid cells. He was deprived of sleep, denied clean clothes and given barely edible food. At one prison, he was subjected to something called “the chicken kebab” administered by the warden, which involved being trussed up and whipped. He was denied medical care to treat his broken body until he was near the point of death.
“They hated me very much because of my Kurdish ethnicity, my journalism and human rights work,” he wrote. “They would also not stop torturing me.” His cries of torment were drowned out by loud tapes playing passages from the Koran.
Mr. Kamangar attempted to resist by going on a hunger strike. When the authorities hauled his wife and family into court, he attempted suicide out of despair and fear for their safety.
On Feb. 25, 2008, after 21 months of ceaseless abuse, Mr. Kamangar finally was given a perfunctory, secret trial before a revolutionary tribunal. In a five-minute proceeding, he was found guilty of “endangering national security and being a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party,” or PKK, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist groups. The sentence was death. His lawyer, Khalil Bahramian, told us by phone from Iran that “there is absolutely no evidence against Farzad that connects him to a terrorist group or activity. Farzad is a teacher, a poet, journalist, a human rights activist and a special person. He is not a member of any [terrorist] group.” Indeed, no such evidence was offered before the court.
On Feb. 24, Iran’s chief judge, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, denied Mr. Kamangar’s appeal for a stay of execution. We asked Mr. Bahramian if there was any hope. “At this point, things do not seem to be moving in that direction,” he said. “But a lawyer can only cling to a glimpse of hope. … We will do what we can and hope things change. I have not lost hope, but am not optimistic either.” Then the phone line went dead.
In a brief final letter to his students, Mr. Kamangar said thoughts of them have helped him survive his travails. “Here, night and day, I write the poem of life with thoughts and sweet memories of you,” he wrote. He implored them not to give up hope for their futures, even as the boys grow to a manhood in which they would face crushing discrimination, and the girls would be forced into arranged marriages at the age of 13.
Above all, he wanted them to hold on to thoughts of the innocence of their childhood. “Remember not to turn your back on your poems, songs and dreams,” he wrote. “Teach your children to be children made of poems and rain for their homeland. I send you to a near future not far from tomorrow to sing the lessons of love and honesty for our homeland in the hands of wind and sun.”
Mr. Kamangar could be executed at any moment. We bear witness to his imprisonment, torture and unjust sentence and to the others the Islamic regime has victimized. Tehran should be on notice that the world is watching. Its crimes against humanity will not be ignored and will never be forgotten.