Narges Mohammadi: the only thing I demand of You, Mr. President, is that Civil Society be realized


June 21, 2017

Vice President of Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Center Narges Mohammadi, who is currently serving time for her peaceful human rights activism work, has voiced her demands to newly reelected President of the Islamic Republic Hassan Rouhani.

The website of the Defenders of Human Rights Center published the text of Mohammadi’s letter from prison:

Esteemed Mr. Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic,

Greetings to you.

In a society based on law, speech and relations between the people and the government are grounded in law – period.

It is with this outlook and understanding that a great many Iranian citizens seriously critical of the Islamic Republican system – even the political, economic, social, and cultural dealings of your own administration – went to the ballot box in order to express what they want from you: the enforcement of law, which is also the nation’s demand. They will not permit those who violate the law to cloak themselves in it.

The conclusion that the people’s vote is tantamount to an affirmation of the regime is thus incorrect, appropriative, and opportunistic.

The reality is that your respected administration does not, for numerous reasons both practical and theoretical, represent the entirety of the political tendencies interested in freedom, democracy, and human rights which I myself identify with. We went to the ballot box and voted for you not out of a mistaken analysis, a lack of necessary knowledge, or even fear and desperation, but rather with a certain analytical view on the not-so-distant history of our country, grounded in a perspective which seeks change and to limit violent conduct which threatens peace. Appreciating this national action takes a national kind of understanding.

A significant portion of votes were a tool for making demands, a participatory and ultimately challenging effort between us and the government toward securing the nation’s rights.

As a civil activist who has insisted on realizing civil society, I have for just this reason been accused by your administration’s Ministry of Intelligence of charges on which the judiciary sentenced me to 16 years’ prison (10 years of which is to be implemented) in an unfair, illegal, and inhumane verdict. Nonetheless, in just the way I outlined above, I consciously went to the ballot box along with millions of Iranians and furthered the path of making demands through peaceful, civil means.

The demand has not changed: neither quietism nor extremism. If it’s necessary to pay an even higher price, we shall pay it, and we shall move forward on this trajectory.

Civil society is a precondition of democracy and human rights. Until such a time as the people enjoy, in a real sense, active and influential participation in the current affairs of their own society, democracy and human rights will remain under threat and the lowest level of participation – political elections – will leave the people to be degraded, bought, and sold.

Those in power ought to accept that the ray of light which is popular participation does not confine itself to the ballot box. Our right and our limit go beyond this. We have a right to have institutions, a right to have media, a right to have legal associations, and a right to enter an arena of participation which is active, independent, and free of governmental affiliation without being accused of “assembly and collusion against national security.” We want opened once more for civil activists the doors of civil institutions which have been unjustly forced close – whatever their leanings politically or ideologically. Is it acceptable than in a society like Iran, a professional journalist’s organization, the House of Those with Pens in Hand, has been shuttered? In a society where those with pens in their hands are deprived of civil life, is it any cause for wonder that there is an outbreak of people with guns in their hands? In a society where student activists in civil institutions are made to live beside inmates, is it really that amazing that terrorists command the field? Everyone knows that the security organizations – including the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Judiciary, and others – not only lack the nobility required for civil conduct and methods, but regard civil institutions and activists as enemies of the “soft” kind.

In truth, the security institutions have turned into agents for the repression of civil society, and government institutions into agents for threatening it.

Those in power – particularly your own administration – ought to take note of the fact that Iranian citizens are not just here to stand in miles-long lines and cast ballots. We are astute and aware citizens, and we bear the necessary qualifications not only to vote in this country, but also to participate actively in the affairs of our society.

I am reminded that the nation will not always provide this opportunity. It is as someone who has voted for you and ought to be more hardened than others in the field of petitioning that I make my demand. I make my demand as an imprisoned civil society activist; it is not, however, for freedom. My demand is for civil institutions. My demand is that civil society be realized.

Until that time,

Narges Mohammadi

Evin Prison

June 2017

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