In Amnesty International’s Toronto office there is a bookcase full of 3 inch thick non-descript black binders. Each binder contains 100 Urgent Actions, case files for people around the world at risk of human rights violations – unfair detention or arrest, torture, disappearance, harassment and censorship. Around 350 cases come in every year. They get sent out to letter writers, form online actions, get turned into petitions, spread via social media and power campaigns.
Many of them have been part of successful efforts to change lives, but looking at them all at once it’s hard to see the individuals – the family attacked and harassed in Peru for standing up to a gold mine; the Syrian refugee at risk of deportation from Greece; the Tibetan monk, jailed in China for yelling “Freedom for Tibet”.
That is until the family of one Urgent Action case comes to your office.
Then the individual at the heart of the case is all you can see, through the eyes of their mother, their family and friends.
Mohammad Ali Taheri, an Iranian spiritual leader and practitioner of alternative medicine, has been languishing in Evin Prison for more than five years. Charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities,” he has staged more than 12 hunger strikes in protest of his detention, solitary confinement and ill treatment. Most recently, he began another hunger on September 28 as authorities refused to release him despite his prison term being complete. He has been held incommunicado since October 16 with prison officials refusing to provide information on his ailing health or his whereabouts to his lawyer or family.
Enter Ezat Taheri, Mohammad’s mother, flanked by his sister, and brother-in-law, bearing flowers and gratitude for Amnesty’s work to highlight Mohammad’s case. Initially sentenced to death, his family is convinced that it was Amnesty’s intervention that saved him from the death penalty.
Met by campaigner Gloria Nafziger, they greeted each other like old friends meeting under unfavourable circumstances. Soon 50 more people joined them, members of the Iranian community and supporters of Mohammad. They gathered in the board room, with signs in English and Farsi decrying his imprisonment and torture, posters with his face and Amnesty placards.
Gloria thanked them for their steadfastness and dedication. She said that while we all get to leave the building and go home each night to have dinner with our loved ones, Mohammad does not – and that he won’t until we pressure the Iranian government to release him. Lastly, she encouraged each of them to sign the Amnesty petition that will be delivered to the United Nations calling for his release. She knows they’ve all signed petitions before – but with a case like this you just keep asking until you get what you want.
Over 30,000 people in Canada have demanded Mohammad’s release with Amnesty’s online action and thousands more have flooded the mailbox of the Iranian representative at the United Nations with letters and petitions. You can help Ezat Taheri reunite with her son and add your name to the movement calling for an end to his unfair imprisonment by following the link at the bottom of this post.
After some photos, handshakes, heartfelt thank-yous and tears, the group was off, headed to Mel Lastman Square for a vigil. Rain or shine they gather every single week because they have not given up hope – and while they came to thank Amnesty, when Mohammad Ali Taheri finally walks free it will be because of their efforts and yours.
To read Ezat Taheri’s account of her son’s imprisonment in her own words, please click here.
TAKE ACTION: Send a letter, email or tweet to Iranian authorities to call for Mohammad Ali Taheri’s immediate release