The papers today spoke about the release of Fereshteh Halimi, wife of the Iranian lawyer Mohammed Mostafaei. Mostafaei, who has fled the country and is currently seeking asylum in Norway, fears arrest for defending and publicising the case of mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who allegedly committed adultery and now faces execution despite already having suffered 99 lashes and 5 years imprisonment for her crime. Halimi was arrested and imprisoned in an attempt to find out her husband’s whereabouts but has been released as he arrived in Norway after gaining a visa from Turkey. Fereshteh’s father and brother had also been arrested for talking to Western media. Fereshteh Halimi and her seven-year-old daughter may never be reunited with Mohammed Mostafaei.
Paints a lovely image of my home country doesn’t it?
I googled ‘Iran’ and it broke my heart to see that the second picture that the search found, after a map of the country, was a number of men being hanged to death. This was followed by another image of a teenage hanging, a man receiving lashes, nuclear weapons and a woman being stoned. This just isn’t Iran, yet it is what the rest of the world sees.
Iranian politics has splattered a horde of putrid colours onto a canvas which was once gleaming and has presented it to the rest of the globe. What is never portrayed is the warmness of the Iranian people, the beautiful sights and rich culture which dates back centuries.
It is hard for these factors to take precedence over the negative information relayed via the news and human rights organisations, spouting statistics like 400 people being executed in 2009 alone and facts including that there are some women in prison solely because a man’s evidence is worth double that of a woman’s and there are women being raped in order to be able to execute them for their crimes as virgins cannot be killed. Of course it is difficult to think of the millions of individual Iranian citizens who do not agree with the system that they are a part of when we are informed that after China, Iran carries out the highest number of executions in the world. However, it is paramount that people understand that there are thousands of dissidents, some of whom bravely speak out and endure the consequences but the majority of which cannot for fear of imprisonment.
But again I emphasise that this is not Iran. A country should be defined by its people, not its fraudulent politics and fatal blend of religion and the state.
Iran is its kind-hearted people; the sofreh that is laid out at breakfast, lunch and dinner; the chelo kebab; the ghormeh sabzi; Googoosh; Dariush; Hafez; Saadi; Omar Khayyam; the chador and manteau; noon e sangak; the advanced scientists; tradition; the importance of family; the ever constant desire for revolution; the students; the elderly; the children; the young generation who dominate society in figures; the scorching summers and snowy winters; the stunning mountains and deserts; the paradoxes of the city; Farsi; red, white and green; Persepolis and the rich history of being the greatest empire in the world.
An anonymous Iranian journalist, now residing in the United Kingdom, has spoken to the BBC about the Iranian government’s ‘schizophrenic’ approach to the Western perception of its country. This seems exactly right. The decision to suspend Ashtiani’s sentence of stoning to death following pressure and publicity from Mr Mostafaei and also her children to Western media, including The Times newspaper, illustrates a mild consciousness of the western world’s resolute disapproval of this medieval method. What the government have failed to address is the staunch disapproval of a failure to exercise fundamental human rights. No doubt she will be murdered by another brutal method but, to quote Fereshteh Halimi, the bridge has been ‘crossed already’ and the fact that the Iranian government have been forced to listen to the voice of humanity, even if this is the slightest step, gives us hope for a direction of gradual change. In the meanwhile, those who are privileged to do so must give the world a proper education.