Home is where someone is waiting for you

Human rights reporting rightly concentrate on violations that take place within the country and bring to the public attention those abuses where the victim’s physical safety has been imperilled or is in immediate danger. Nevertheless we should not forget that there is a form of violation that does not physically touch the victims. There are no gallows, no visible bruises on the body, no cells or torture chambers and no bloodstains on the floor of the interrogation rooms. There could be miles or even oceans between the victims and the abusers.

The effects of these abuses are long term and measured in mental scars and deep emotional wounds. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims inter alia to provide a legal obligation on the part of states against this kind of violation. Article 13 of this document states that: ‘Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.’

The rights of thousands of Iranians are constantly violated because they are deprived of this basic right to return to their country without fear of persecution. Many Iranians living abroad, who for one reason or another have run afoul of the regime do not dare go back to pay a visit to their aging parents or relatives. They are denied a parting look and one last embrace with their dear ones. In a cruel tyranny such as the one ruling Iran, one cannot even count on peace beyond the grave. In many instances parents on their deathbed frightened for the safety of their exiled children extract a promise from them not to attempt to attend their funeral.

Haleh Esfandiari was one of those Iranians who risked her life to visit her ailing 93-year-old mother. While on the way to the airport to leave the country after her visit in December 2006, Esfandiari was robbed of her passport at knifepoint by three men. On re-applying for travel documents, she was imprisoned by the regime, branded as an American spy and a harbinger of a velvet revolution designed to bring about regime change in Iran. After spending 110 days in solitary confinement and giving forced ‘confessions’ it was only thanks to international pressure that Haleh Esfandiari was eventually released and was allowed to leave the country in September 2007.

Those who fear for their lives and safety on reaching the borders of Iran are not all scholars like Mrs Esfandiari working for American research institutes. They belong to all sorts of political backgrounds and walks of life. Some of them just a few years ago were part of the political establishment and have impressive revolutionary credentials. It is quite evident now that the circle of trusted allies is getting increasingly tighter in the top echelon of the Islamic Republic. The range of values purportedly defended by the ruling clique is becoming narrower and the number of those who are suspected of plotting for the downfall of the clerical regime indicates a tremendous increase. Iran has turned into a homeland where someone is waiting at the airport not with flowers, but with handcuffs for welcoming those who have dared challenging or questioning the legitimacy of the clerical dictatorship.

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