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Citizens of the World “United 4 Iran”

unitedOn Saturday July 25, people around the world will have the opportunity to support Iranians in their struggle for democracy, freedom and basic human rights by attending rallies in dozens of cities around the world.

The organiser is United 4 Iran, a non-partisan collaborative of individuals and human rights organizations. United4Iran says its aim is to condemn the widespread and systematic violations of the Iranian people’s human rights.United4Iran’ site has published several photos (one above), video films and news on this day.

Global voices interviewed Kamran Ashtary, one of the coordinators of this project in the Netherlands and his wife, Tori Egherman, a blogger, artist, and accidental activist with United 4 Iran.

Please describe the “United 4 Iran” project, its goals and where comes the initiative?

There have been so many initiatives to support the struggle for freedom and democracy in Iran. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran spearheaded this effort and brought together groups of supporters and volunteer coordinators all over the world. The full list of supporters are on the site.

How have social networking, the blogosphere and the internet played a role in this moblization?

It’s hard to imagine organizing a demonstration without social networking, the blogosphere, and the internet. My God! How did anyone do it in the old days just three years ago? Basically, if we had to depend on the media to get the word out, no one would know that we were even organizing a global day of action in support of freedom and democracy in Iran. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all starting to hum with information about this coming Saturday.

What’s even more important, is that the internet is also helping us communicate with people in Iran who are becoming more and more aware of the worldwide support for their efforts to secure their democratic rights.

Do you see a convergence between Iranians outside Iran and those inside through the internet?

That’s a great question. Just think, a few years ago, before the earthquake in Bam in 2003, there was very little communication, and even less trust, between the Iranian diaspora and civil society activists within Iran. Since Bam, communication and trust have been growing. Events since the election have really started to eliminate the walls between Iranians inside and outside the country. It’s as though there is one strong community again. Of course, there are still divisions, but the struggle for democracy and free expression can and should accommodate those divisions among Iranians, just as it does in democratic countries all over the world. Since the election we have seen a huge movement to bring the Iranian community together, and that’s why an effort like United 4 Iran is possible for the first time since the revolution.Struggling to solve political issues is the job of those inside Iran. Supporting that struggle and their internationally recognized human rights is the job of those of us around the world.

How has the support been so far, and which Iranian and non-Iranians back this initiative?

At first I thought, Where are my Dutch friends? And then I thought, On vacation. Actually, they are supporting our efforts. IKV Pax Christi, a Dutch organization that works for peace, is our primary financial supporter. Our team is half Dutch-born, with the rest Iranian-Dutch, Iranian, and even Tori, who is American. My Dutch friends are with me and with the people of Iran, and I find that so amazing.

At the event in Amsterdam, the Dutch musician & journalist, Ron Buitenhuis, will even be playing a song he wrote for Neda. He was moved to write this song because of the events in Iran.

This is a non-partisan event. In Amsterdam, we know that all sorts of people with all sorts of political views will be present. It’s about supporting the homegrown, Iranian struggle for human rights, free expression, and democracy.

Action is so important right now! Find a rally on July 25. Go out. Bring friends. Support democratic efforts in Iran.

What are your expectations for the United 4 Iran day?

We expect to send a strong message of support to the people of Iran and to provide an international forum for those arrested, harassed, and struggling to have their voices heard. Here is what we say in our press release:

The global day of action is organized around the following core demands:

1. That member states and civil society organizations of the international community give sustained attention to the Iranian people’s human rights as a matter of international concern, and that the UN should immediately initiate an investigation into grave and systematic human rights violations in Iran, including the fate of prisoners and disappeared persons, unlawful killings, and torture and other ill-treatment;

2. An end to state-sponsored violence, accountability for crimes committed and no recourse to the death penalty.

3. The immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including politicians, journalists, students, and civil society activists; and

4. Freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression (including freedom of the press) as guaranteed by the Iranian constitution and Iran’s obligations under international covenants that it has signed.

How can international citizen media  support Iranian movement?

International citizen media has been supportive in many, many ways. With the limitations on journalists in Iran who are basically under house arrest because they are no longer allowed to report and because there are almost no international journalists left in Iran, citizen media is critical! Look at efforts like the Green Brief by Josh Shahyar and of bloggers like Agha Bahman among many, many others. You know better than anyone at Global Voices just how important citizen media is in Iran.

It is more important than ever for citizen media to keep the voices of Iranians alive. “We have lost our voices: you have to be our voice,” is what a 52-year old teacher in Iran told us.

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