Asieh’s eyes

When the Islamic Republic of Iran assured the western countries that stoning was not practiced anymore, Asieh Amini dared to defy the state by writing about the covert stoning of two people, Mahboubeh M. and Abbas H., for adultery in Mashhad, in 2006.

This courageous act of defiance eventually led to launch of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign which has gained international attention and saved the lives of 4 people and halted the stoning of another 10. Asieh, a main organizer of the campaign, has identified, documented, and closely followed up many of the stoning cases; she is even providing shelter for one of them after her release from prison.

Asieh Amini, an accomplished journalist and a published poet, is a young courageous activist whose vocal opposition to death penalty has been instrumental in drawing national attention to death sentence for women in cases of self defense. Leila Moafi, Nazanin Fatehi, and Maryam Abedi are some of the women who have been released from prison after Asieh told their stories to the public.

The case of Delaram Darabi, a young artist sentenced to death for wrongful confession to save her boyfriend, was exposed to the world when Asieh organized exhibitions of her paintings in Tehran and Amsterdam.

Asieh also has broken the news about the execution of 16 year old Atefeh Sahaleh in public in Neka, in 2003, for the “offense” of sexual misconduct. The British network BBC made a 40 minute documentary based on Asieh’s work which was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK on July 27, 2006.

In Iran, children under 18 who commit murder, even if by accident, are sentenced to death and kept in prison just to be executed when they turn 18. When a mother cries around her son’s scaffold, it is Asieh who stays around but not as a journalist to write a report, but simply as a human to defend the sanctity of life. She works hard to obtain forgiveness instead of “Qesas”* to save the young man’s life.

When the campaign’s efforts could not stop the stoning of Jafar Kiani in Takistan in 2007, it was Asieh who went there and took pictures of the pit where Jafar was stoned to death. She wrote to me later, “There were bloody stones on the ground. I touched one, and when I came home, I could not move for hours.”

About two months ago, Asieh started feeling sever headaches and pain in her eyes. Consequently, she became severely ill and almost went blind. Although she is feeling much better now, she is still under treatment. Here is the story of her eyes as she wrote in her blog translated into English:

The Island
I am back in Tehran, trying to get back to my normal life – although it may not be. My eyes have been seriously damaged in the past two months. The final diagnosis by two neurologists is that continuous stress has caused this mess. I have to go on with the treatment for the next few months to prevent a relapse.

The most difficulty [I currently have] is with my eyes which do not allow me to come here [by the computer] to read and write. I used to be proud of my memory which contained the entire phone directory. Now I cannot even remember my own home phone number or the password to my email account! Alas!

But there are other things to say, too. I am writing this note because I think it is important for those working in the field of human rights to know that we all need training for the work we are doing. We have had none for this type of volunteer work.

I am a case study. A not so pleasant one. I have not had any training and had never thought that I would need any. I used to think that I had to earn the knowledge by myself, in the field, and through personal experience. Perhaps I did not even do this much thinking, either, because the situation never allowed us to think about the possible training we might need.

I would go town to town, following the cases, victim by victim. Very simple cases. Cases that would each be the subject of a print report. And I followed them as a reporter. But when I got close to them, I could not separate myself from them. I have got involved emotionally, followed them closely, and found defense lawyers for some of them. I wrote about them. And they have become a part of my awareness and my dreams.

But who is to teach us what distance to keep from our cases and what to do when you get involved? When you go along with a mother sitting by his son’s scaffold you don’t think about these issues at all! Who is to teach us that if you get involved here, you should then at least sit home for a week, do nothing else, take a vacation, go on a trip. Sit at home. Turn off your phone. Don’t write. Who is to teach us about our personal and social behavior with respect to the cases that we get involved with? Nobody. I don’t know how it is in other parts of the world. My guess is that it cannot be as chaotic as we have been working.

Who is to teach us that we should constantly be in touch with a counselor? That we need to have ourselves checked? That we should not ignore our physical and behavioral symptoms? I have seen various symptoms in myself during different periods that could have been warnings. But I did not take them seriously. I even once had a fever and chill similar to this case which was due to stress. But I thought it would end and go away.

The truth is that we work on a remote island. We are alone. I realized this while I was staring at the ceiling for two months with painful eyes. We are fine and full of energy when we work. When you are well and full of energy others applaud you and cheer you up. And you go on. And on. But you don’t know for how long and to where. Not just work. In everything. Even in friendship. But you stop at some point. You are out of fuel. You’re only a human, not a monster.

We need training. We need reflections. We need to practice. I am writing this for those who work and live, like me, without taking care of themselves and then suddenly collapse. As a warning – and as my own memento of these bad days – I am attaching two pictures for you to see that it is no joke when I say a human rights defender needs to first learn how take care of her/himself, [then the rest of the world].

Asieh’s weblog in Farsi

* Qesas is death penalty by retribution in a murder case and it is up to the murder victim’s family to forgive the murderer, or have him hanged by the government.

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