On July 9, 1999, six days of student—led uprising shook the foundations of Iran's ruling fundamentalist regime. If not suppressed, the uprising, which quickly spread to nearly two—dozen other cities, had the potential of sweeping the theocracy from power. With the blessing of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mohammad Khatami, uniformed and plain—clothes security forces brutally cracked down on students and the thousands of other Iranians who had joined them. Several thousands were arrested and hundreds killed or wounded.
The Economist magazine billed it as 'Iran's Second Revolution.' Others described it as a new page in the history of Iranians' two decades of struggle to overthrow the ruling tyranny. While the six—day uprising in Tehran was widely covered by the foreign wire services present only in the capital, reporting on the uprisings in the provincial cities and subsequent state crackdown was minimal if not nil.
What follows is based on one eyewitness account obtained and translated by the US Alliance for Democratic Iran. The report by K.S. (his real name is withheld for his safety) sheds light on how the resistance against tyranny is alive and active in every corner of Iran.
After the 1999 student uprising, many students were missing and many more were arrested and physically ill—treated. But the depth of suppression was so great in Tehran that it overwhelmed the news in other cities, including Ahwaz, a hot and humid southwestern city.
The people of Ahwaz, after learning about the students' brave uprising in Tehran and other cites followed suit. The regime's organs of repression in Ahwaz responded with utmost force.
Among the many youngsters they arrested was the 24—year—old Mehdi Havizi. During the days of uprising, he participated in many anti—regime gatherings and wrote political graffiti on the walls in downtown Ahwaz.
More than a week into the unrest in Ahwaz, Mehdi was arrested and severely beaten by the security agents as he was writing slogans on a wall. They broke his right leg so badly that he had to be taken to a hospital. After three days he was sent to the local branch of the Intelligence Ministry's detention center where he was subjected to torture during his interrogation.
Mehdi was temporary released, but the Revolutionary Court summoned his father, Hoshang Havizi and subjected him to a harsh interrogation and torture. Hoshang was released in the middle of night and returned home, but died several hours later as a result of a brain hemorrhage, very similar to the killing of Zahar Kazemi, the Iranian—Canadian photojournalist who died because of head trauma that she received while being tortured.
During Hoshang's public funeral, the regime's agents were present to prevent any protests. Mehdi was very upset and charged the regime officials with his father's death. He was arrested again and in the detention center, they told him that if he talks to anyone about what had happened to him, he would follow his father's fate. Mehdi was harshly mistreated for three more days before being released in the remote streets of Ahwaz.
The unrepentant Mehdi continued his political activities and was arrested again, this time by the Revolutionary Guards and was sent to solitary confinement. After twenty days of abuse he was released on bail.
Changing his tactics, Mehdi started to secretly film the poor areas of Ahwaz, the cemeteries of political prisoners, and the scenes of the public executions.
With the help of his uncle, Hamid, they prepared photos and documentary movies and made them available to news agencies and Internet—based news sites. His uncle's house became a base for gathering and sending out news about the crimes committed by the Iranian regime.
On the morning of July 21, 2004, Mehdi was filming a public execution in the city's Char Sheer Square. Two plain—clothes government agents grew suspicious and approached him but before they could arrest him, he used the crowd to escape to a friend's house in a nearby village.
The regime's agents went to his uncle's house which was full of incriminating documents, films and photos. Mehdi's uncle was arrested and taken to the notorious detention center in the city where he was subjected to brutal torture and died as a result.
The regime did not return Hamid's remains to his family. Several days later, Hamid's severely beaten and bloodied body was found under Ahwaz's White Bridge.
The story of the Havizi family is similar to the story of many families in Iran. This is what the Iranian regime imposes on our nation. How long must we bear witness to these horrific crimes in our homeland?
As this horrific account shows, five years after the 1999 uprising, the Iranians' resistance against tyranny continues, albeit at great price. The imprisonments, tortures, and executions, public stoning, amputations and floggings have utterly failed to end the opposition. The Iranians are bent on bringing this religious fascism down as a first step toward the establishment of democracy, secularism, and popular sovereignty.
The European Union's shameless appeasement of Iran is empowering the reign of terror there. As Tehran is blatantly defying international will and persists on its nuclear weapons program, the free world has arrived at a historic crossroad: To continue to ineffectually appease the mullahs or to side with Iranian people and their anti—tyranny struggle.
The choice, no doubt, will have strategic reverberations in Iran, the Middle East and the Western world for decades to come. This is our chance to be on the right side of history by supporting Iranians and anti—fundamentalist democratic opposition forces who are indeed the true vehicle of change in Iran.
Roya Johnson is the Vice—President of the US Alliance for Democratic Iran