2016 in review: Iran, Shawkan and Poetry

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote an article in which I looked back at the previous year. I thought it would be nice to start 2017 in a similar way. In the following post I will share my thoughts about 2016 and give you an idea about my plans for my blog in 2017. 

1. As last year I want to start this blog post with saying thank you to everyone who read and shared my blog posts. I also want to thank in particular those who participated in the campaigns. I saw that many of you clicked on the links to Amnesty International petitions and urgent actions and also actions by other human rights organisations. Thank you for joining the tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki in January 2016 and for joining the “Sky for Shawkan”-campaign from September 2016 onwards.

2. 2016 was my first full year of blogging. I wrote 16 blog posts during the year. The articles are in six different categories:

  • 11 posts about human rights in countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). Eight posts are about prisoners and activists in Iran, four about Saudi Arabia, two about Egypt and one each about a prisoner in Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates.
  • two posts about poetry (they are both in two categories “human rights” and “poetry”)
  • two posts about Twitter (again both posts are in two categories “human rights” and “Twitter”)
  • three posts about classical music
  • one post about art and
  • one post in the General category.

a) The most popular post in 2016 was Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan” with 457 views. I would like to thank in particular the Australian comedian Wil Anderson who shared my post on Twitter and Facebook which resulted in a large number of visitors to this post, in particular from Australia. Also thanks to Melody Sundberg who shared this post on her website “Untold Stories of the Silenced” in English and in a translation into Swedish. Shawkan is sadly still in prison. Further hearings took place on 8 October, 1 November, 19 November, 10 December and 27 December 2016. The next hearing will be on 17 January 2017. Please continue to share his story and ask for his release.

b) The second most popular post was Tweet Storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki with 298 views. The tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki took place on 18 January 2016, because after a furlough of about 6 months, he was ordered back to prison. Many visited my blog on the day of the tweet storm and it was great that so many of you participated in it. On 19 January 2016 Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki returned to prison. After 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike, he was again given furlough on 4 May 2016. Hossein is currently free, but can be called back to prison at any time.

c) I also want to mention the articles which were my third and fourth most popular ones: Sky for Shawkan with 171 views and Forbidden Poetry: Ashraf Fayadh, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, Mohammed al-Ajami with 166 views.

“Sky for Shawkan” is a Twitter campaign for Shawkan. He mentioned in a letter that he misses the sky in prison and therefore we decided to take photos of the sky and tweeted them with the hashtag #SkyforShakwan to raise awareness for him. My blog post shares a selection of 60 photos which were tweeted by people from all over the world within the first week of the campaign. I am delighted that so many of you participated in it and still tweet photos for him. Please keep doing so. I hope Shawkan will soon be free and I wish he would be able to see the photos from all over the world.

“Forbidden Poetry” was the first of two posts about poets who are punished for their poetry. It tells the stories of Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran) and Mohammed al-Ajami (Qatar). The second post shares one poem of each of the three poets. I would like to thank the editor of “The Wolfian” for publishing this article in Issue 8 of this magazine.

3. I was amazed last year about the number of visitors to my blog and the variety of countries they came from and I am amazed again this year.

During 2016 2,333 people visited my blog and it got 4,522 views. The visitors were from 79 different countries. Most views came from the following three countries: (1) United States (1,063 views), (2) United Kingdom (785 views) and (3) Germany (579 views). I hope for many visitors in 2017.

4. Enough about 2016, I want to share some of my ideas for 2017:

a) Raif Badawi is sadly still in prison and I will certainly again write about him in 2017. I wrote some time ago an article about my Raif Badawi translation project which I mentioned in my post Twitter is great in 2015. I have in the meantime even more languages and I want to republish this article in an amended form in the next days to mark the anniversary of the day on which Raif Badawi was lashed (9 January 2015) and his birthday (13 January 1984). I hope that he will be released soon, but I am afraid that can only happen if he receives a Royal Pardon.

b) I tweeted during 2016 a lot about Bahrain, but I did not write an article about it. Therefore I definitely plan to write articles about Bahrain in 2017. I still want to write about Hussain Jawad’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Parweez. Furthermore I am very impressed by Nabeel Rajab. Nabeel Rajab is currently in prison in Bahrain. He was arrested on 13 June 2016 on several fabricated charges. The trial is still ongoing. In the last hearing on 28 December 2016 the court ordered his release and adjourned the hearing to 23 January 2017. However, the public prosecution refused to release him and decide to keep him in prison on other charges. He is the only activist I mentioned in my first post about whom I have not yet written a blog post.

c) Another topic about which I would like to write this year is art and human rights. During the past year I came across a number of artists who use their art to highlight the fate of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. The prime example of an artist-cum-human rights activist is of course Ai Weiwei, but there are also lesser known artists who paint or make drawings to highlight specific human rights cases. I want to write about some of these artists and want to see what motivates them to use their art in their human rights activism.

d) There will be again blog posts about classical music. I will certainly write about the programmes of our concerts with Highgate Choral Society, but maybe also about other concerts or opera performances I visit.

e) Finally I would like to continue writing about art and exhibitions and also about poetry. We will see what the next year brings.

I hope you like my ideas. There will certainly be many more as the year progresses. If you like them, then please keep an eye on my blog or follow my blog. If you decide to follow my blog, you only need an e-mail address and you will get an e-mail each time I publish a new article.

Let me close this post with my best wishes for 2017 and the hope that 2017 will be a good year for justice, peace and human rights all around the world.

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Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki is free!

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Good news from Iran! Yesterday, the blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was released. 

If you know my previous posts, you might remember that I wrote twice about him. You find my two other articles here and here. I am delighted that the third time it is a post with good news – even though it is currently only a conditional release.

I will recapitulate in this post a little bit of the background of his case and write about the developments which resulted in his release. 

1. Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was arrested in December 2009. One of the reasons was his membership in Proxy Iran, a committee against censorship which helped Iranians to circumvent censorship in the Internet.

He was held in solitary confinement, tortured and forced to confess.

Hossein was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

  • 10 years for his membership in Proxy Iran
  • 4 years for insulting President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader
  • 1 year for propanda against the regime

During his detention and as consequences of torture and medical neglect he developed multiple health problems which lead to the loss of one kidney.

2. On 17 June 2015 Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was given furlough on medical grounds. In January he was ordered back to prison, against the recommendation of the doctors who said that he still required medical treatment outside of the prison. On 20 January 2016 Hossein returned to prison. He did so because otherwise a very large bail would have been confiscated.

3. After Hossein’s return to prison, the authorities refused to provide him with medication or to transfer him to a hospital, even so his health deteriorated further. His mother said in an interview that the prison doctors had stated that the prison hospital did not have the proper equipment for his treatment and that he had to be transferred to a hospital outside the prison. She also mentioned that he did not even receive the medication the family paid for and provided to the authorities.

As protest against his treatment, in particular the refusal to transfer him to a hospital and the unfair imprisonment Hossein started a hunger strike on 26 March 2016. His family and his friends were very worried about this development, because he said he would not stop until his situation changed. Laleh, a very close friend of him, warned him against the possible consequences of a hunger strike. She said to the website “Journalism is not a crime”:

“His response was that the status quo is a slow death sentence anyway. A hunger strike will speed things up, he said, but at least he wouldn’t go without a fight.”

4. On 4 May, after 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was released from prison.

Laleh mentioned in a tweet that he lost a lot of weight after his hunger strike in prison and will soon be taken to hospital. “Journalism is not a crime” reports that it was not an unconditional release, but he was released against a heavy bail pending a review of his case.

Laleh said to the website “Journalism is not a crime”:

“I hope authorities do the right thing and reduce his unjust 15-year sentence so he does not have to serve any more time. … According to the law, he is eligible for a pardon because of his health.”

5. The release of Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki is very good news indeed and I am happy and relieved about this development, but it is not yet time to stop campaigning for him.

Please continue to tweet for him and write to Iran, until they release him unconditionally and without the threat of calling him back whenever they decide to do so.

6. I want to add two additional information (on 17 May 2016):

Hossein clarified in the meantime in a tweet that he is not free, but that he was only released on a 30 day furlough until 4 June. Then he has to return to prison.

I also want to share a link to a post which was again translated by Laleh. The English translation is on her blog: “Hossein Ronaghi expresses concern for teacher Mahmoud Beheshti on hunger strike“. Hossein writes about the Iranian teacher Mahmoud Beheshti Langaroudi who was sentenced to several years in prison, because he tried to improve the conditions for teachers and students. He was sentenced after a trial which lasted less than eight minutes. He started a hunger strike on 20 April 2016 to protest against his sentence. Mahmoud Beheshti was in the meantime released (after 20 days of hunger strike), but Hossein’s post is still moving to read, because he describes in it also his own experience of a hunger strike.

Hossein Ronaghi: Imprisonment is not the answer.

Many of you participated in the Tweet Storm on Monday in support of Hossein Ronaghi Maleki. Thank you very much for that. I am certain it was good for him to see how many take an interest in his case and support him. The memory of this love is hopefully something which will give him strength back in prison.

Here are links to the updated Amnesty Urgent Action and Pen International Action. Here is a link to the Amnesty Urgent Action in German (via Amnesty Deutschland). Please follow the links and write to Iran and ask them to release him and quash the unjust sentence. Please also continue to tweet about him and raise awareness on other social media about him.

He returns to prison today. I am sure many of you are interested in his thoughts before he left to present himself to the prosecutor to be arrested, therefore I reblog his last post on Facebook (in an English translation via Laleh’s blog):

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Oh January 19, 2016 Hossein Ronaghi presented himself at the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office per orders of the IRGC Intelligence Unit to be taken back into custody.
Before leaving he posted on his Facebook page:

I believe that the answer to any opinion is never imprisonment.

This is why I am returning to prison:

My not returning will result in confiscation of the collateral set for my bail, which is morally wrong and unprincipled. Seizing the collateral would be legal only if I was not reachable or my whereabouts were unknown in case of need for arrest. Despite the fact that I provided my address to judicial authorities for my arrest at their will, this did not happen and ultimately I was told per orders of the IRGC Intelligence unit I was to return to prison.

Also as my mother says, “This is our homeland and we are not the ones…

View original post 222 more words

Tweet Storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki

One of the people I have been supporting for some time is the Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki. In this post, I give you some information about him and – more important – invite you to join a Tweet Storm for him on Monday, 18 January 2016.

Please join and share the post. We want as many participants as possible. Please read the post and continue to support him even when the Tweet Storm is over.

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1. Who is Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki?

Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki is a 30 year old blogger from Iran. He was arrested in December 2009, because he had protested earlier in 2009 against the results of the Iranian presidential elections. In addition he was a member of Proxy Iran, a Committee against Censorship.

He and his brother were arrested, they were kept in solitary confinement and both were mistreated and tortured. His brother Hassan was not involved in any protests or political activity, but was only targeted to put pressure on Hossein.

Hossein was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The charges were:

  • Membership in the Committee against Censorship in Iran (10 years)
  • Insulting President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader (4 years)
  • Propaganda against the regime  (1 year)

Hossein is prosecuted because he defended freedom of speech. He is a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International reports that in June 2015 his sentence was reduced to 13 years.

Hossein developed problems with his kidneys. These were a result of the torture he had to endure during interrogations added to long periods in solitary confinement. Because he did not get proper medical care, his condition became worse and he lost a kidney. His health condition is still critical and he cannot get proper medical treatment in prison.

2. Why shall I participate in the Tweet Storm?

On 17 June 2015 Hossain Ronaghi-Maleki was given furlough on medical grounds. Initially the furlough was only given for one week, but then extended. He and his family had to endure constant pressure and harassment during the furlough, because the authorities asked him to return to prison.

On Monday 11 January 2016 he was ordered back to prison. There are serious concerns that his health will  deteriorate further, if he returns to prison. The Medical Examiner has found him unfit to serve his sentence because he has multiple medical problems.

3. When does the Tweet Storm take place?

The Tweet Storm is effectively a Twitter Day and it takes place on Monday 18 January 2016.

You can start sending tweets after midnight in your time zone and tweet during the whole Monday until midnight. Tweet as much as you can, if many people from different time zones take part, we have hopefully tweets during the whole of Monday.

Please join, even if you have only time for a few tweets at a specific time. It is a team effort and we all work together.

4. What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to @HosseinRonaghi with words of support. You can tweet that you stand with him and that you will campaign for him until he is released and similar messages.
  • Send tweets to Iran, in particular to Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran [@HassanRouhani (English account) or @Rouhani_ir (Persian account)] and to Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader @Khamenei_ir and ask them to reverse their decision and to quash the judgement against Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki.
  • You can also tweet to politicians in Europe and the US, e.g. Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language.
  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Hossein Ronaghi Maleki. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to report about him.

5. Is there a special hashtag?

Please use for all your tweets (irrespective of the language in which you tweet)  the special hashtag #NoJail4Hossein. If everyone does, it is easy to find and retweet the tweets of others.

6. Suggested tweets

You can write your own tweets, but if you need some inspiration here are some suggested tweets:

  • #NoJail4Hossein. We ask #Iran to release @HosseinRonaghi immediately. He is a prisoner of conscience and not a criminal.#FreeHosseinRonaghi
  • .@Khamenei_ir quash the unfair sentence against @HosseinRonaghi and don’t send him back to prison. #NoJail4Hossein #FreeHosseinRonaghi #Iran
  • .@HassanRouhani Do everything to impede that @HosseinRonaghi is sent back to jail. He needs medical care outside of jail. #NoJail4Hossein
  • Please @FedericaMog intercede for @HosseinRonaghi #Iran. His health will be at serious risk, if he has to return to prison. #NoJail4Hossein
  • Please @guardian write about @HosseinRonaghi #Iran. His life is at risk, if he has to return to jail. He needs medical care #NoJail4Hossein
  • Please be assured @HosseinRonaghi that we stand with you and will campaign for you until you are free at last. #NoJail4Hossein #Iran
  • We will keep shouting: #NoJail4Hossein #FreeHosseinRonaghi until #Iran finally releases @HosseinRonaghi unconditionally
  • We will not be silent or turn away, but continue to demand #NoJail4Hossein #FreeHosseinRonaghi as long as it takes. @HosseinRonaghi

7. Where can I find more information about Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki?

If you want to know more about Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki there are some useful websites:

a) The website “Journalism is not a crime” has a good summary article about him with links to current articles and an Amnesty Urgent Action.

b) Laleh writes a blog about human rights in Iran. She writes often about Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki. It is also worth following her blog.

c) Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki has also a blog. Most of his posts are in Persian, but some have an English translation.

d) Here is a link to a letter in which Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki describes the actions towards his family and him during the first 24 hours of his detainment in 2009.

e) Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki’s father spoke with IranWire in March 2015. Here you can find the article “I will set myself on fire.”

8.  Can I do anything after 18 January?

Please do not stop supporting Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki when the Tweet Storm on 18 January 2016 is over.

Amnesty International will hopefully update their urgent action for him. If they do, you will find a link here once the updated action is online. PEN International has also actions for him on their website: here a link to the English action and here a link to the German action. Write to Iran on his behalf.

As always, if you are on Twitter or in other Social Media, please continue to raise his case and make other people aware of it. If you like the suggested tweets, just continue to use them.

Show your support and show Iran that we will not forget Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki and will campaign for him until he is free.

9. Addendum (23 January)

In the meantime Amnesty International has updated their urgent action for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki and also Pen International had done so.

Here are the links:

Please follow the links and speak up for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki.