The Mourning Mothers, known in Iran as the Madaran-e Azardar, are women whose family members have been considered by many advocates and activists to be “prisoners of conscience.” They have also been considered by many working for human rights inside and outside of Iran to be those who have been killed, executed, detained or disappeared in the context of political violence since 1981. Over the last three decades the Mothers have publicly called for a government acknowledgement of Iran’s secret political executions. They have also formally asked for the locations of the burial places of the victims. In the aftermath of the post-election violence in June 2009, the Mothers of Laleh organized silent public protests each Saturday evening in Tehran’s Laleh Park, calling for human rights and the release of all political prisoners, as well as the abolition of the death penalty.
In response The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which includes the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) together, have sent out a public statement aimed for the government of Iran. It also aims to inform the world of activists and human rights advocates as the Observatory outlines continuing arbitrary arrests, torture and unfair judicial proceedings happening to those who have been arrested and intimidated inside the country.
“The Observatory therefore urges the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally put an end to the judicial harassment of and drop all the charges against Ms. Mansoureh Behkish and release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained, and more generally to conform to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments ratified by Iran,” says the recent statement by the Observatory aimed to bring the attention of injustice inside Iran’s jurisprudence process to the United Nations and the Iranian government, as well as international partners.
On July 5, 2012, Ms. Mansoureh Behkish received the text of her latest sentence from her Appeals Court ruling in Tehran.
“Consequently, Ms. Behkish is now facing a six-month custodial imprisonment sentence and is at risk of being arrested [at] any time” says the Observatory.
Ms. Behkish had been sentenced on December 25, 2011 to 4 years and 6 months of imprisonment by Branch 15 of the Islamic Revolution Court. The formal legal charges made against her included ”assembly and collusion” against national security through the establishment of the Mourning Mothers with six months on charges of “spreading propaganda against the system.”
The appeals court has now combined two parts of Behkish’s sentence, says the Observatory. As a result, her 6-month imprisonment term has now been included and added to her four-year-six-months imprisonment sentence, making it 5 years in prison. In the process, the appeals court did temporarily suspend an additional sentence of three years and six months. But this means she will have to serve 3.5 additional years in prison if Behkish is convicted on any similar charges over the next 5 years.
Subject of numerous interrogations and arbitrary detentions, Behkish has been chosen for incarceration “in the past as a result of her human rights activities,” adds the Observatory.
Mansoureh Bihkish had previously been arrested on August 29, 2008, December 5, 2009 and then on January 9, 2010 together with more than 30 women supporters of the Mothers of Park Laleh. On March 17, 2010, she was prevented from traveling to Italy to visit her children and her passport was confiscated. She was then banned from travelling abroad.
Losing six members of her family during the executions and prison massacres that took place in the 1980s, Mansoureh has consistently come under great pressure not to visit their graves or otherwise commemorate them. ““I did not do anything illegal. I told my interrogators, too, that everyone is entitled to go to the grave site of whomever he or she chooses and the law has not set any limitations on this activity. It is my minimum citizenship right to choose whose grave I would visit, and I will not give up my minimum right. They know themselves that what I do is not against the law, but, unfortunately, they build cases against individuals in Iran,” she said in a one-on-one interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights Iran in April 2011.
“The Observatory believes that the sentence against Ms. Ms. Mansoureh Behkish merely aims at intimidating her and impeding her from carrying out her human rights activities,” says the FIDH and the OMCT together. “More generally, it also aims at intimidating all human rights defenders in Iran,” they continued.
Several Mourning Mothers, such Jila Karamzadeh Makvandi and Leila Seifollahi, have been arrested and sentenced to prison terms.
“Mansoureh Behkish was targeted for visiting the graves of executed prisoners and for being a supporter of the Mourning Mothers,” says the NWI – Nobel Women’s Initiative, which works for global advocacy for women’s human rights worldwide. “Many of the Mothers’ children are detained, missing or dead,” outlines the NWI. “The [Mourning Mothers] group has been bringing attention to the country’s tortures, massacres and rapes for over thirty-one years. The Iranian authorities have covertly executed hundreds of prisoners and will persecute those who bring attention to the dead,” adds the NWI, which today consists of six of the past Nobel Peace Prize winners, all women Nobel Peace Laureates, including Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire.