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12/25/03 - DISSIDENT ARRESTS IN IRAN - 2003-12-24

An Iranian cabdriver faces a lengthy prison term, perhaps even the death penalty, for attaching a sticker to the rear window of his car that said only, “The era of arrogant rulers is over."

Ali Akbar Najafi is charged with acting against national security. His attorney says Mr. Najafi was arrested in Tehran in June and kept blindfolded in solitary confinement for fifty-three days. Mr. Najafi goes on trial December 28th. He has asked Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi to represent him.

As the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates reports, such arrests are on the rise. The Iranian-American human rights group’s president, Haydar Akbari, says the Iranian government is abusing students, women, minorities and anyone who strays from the party line:

"The human rights situation [is] getting worse and worse because the regime is losing its support by the people day by day. That's the reason we're seeing more uprisings from the students and all categories of the society."

Mr. Najafi’s arrest in June coincided with a flood of pro-democracy protests in Iran. Thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the Islamic fundamentalist regime and to call for more political, social, and economic freedom. Some four-thousand people were arrested. One of those was Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

On June 23rd, Ms. Kazemi was arrested while taking photographs of families trying to see relatives being held at Evin prison in Tehran. According to the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates, she was interrogated for seventy-seven hours, then was killed by a blow to the head while still in custody. While charges have been filed in the case and an open trial is to be held, there are still many unanswered concerns about how the case is being handled. Shirin Ebadi, who is representing the Kazemi family, has complained publicly that she has not been given access to the case files.

In the words of President George W. Bush, “In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad. The regime in Iran,” he said, “must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy."