INTERVIEW: ALI AFSHARI
By: Filip Đukić
Photo: A. A.
Four hundred days in prison & isolation – interview with Iranian human right activist Ali Afshari
Ali Afshari is an Iranian human rights activist. Although he no longer lives in Iran, he is a man who has fought, and is still fighting for human rights that are deeply threatened.
Due to his activities, attempts to introduce a democratic society, he was often imprisoned, and spent 400 days in a dungeon. For ten years, Afshari campaigned for reform-minded leaders and was the member of the Central Council of the Office for Strengthening Unity and the member of the Central Council of the Islamic Student Association at the Amirkabir University of Technology. Disagreeing with the regime and the attitude towards the people, Mr. Afshari was driven to get involved in the democratization of society.
Because of the overall situation in Iran that is little heard about in the media, we asked Mr. Afsharai for an interview.
From 2000 to 2003 you were arrested many times, on charges of threatening national security even though the Islamic State government supported pro-democracy events in colleges. What exactly preceded it and what were the real reasons for your arrest, if any?
My imprisonment in those years was related to my activities and thoughts which implied to organize peaceful movements and campaigns for promoting democracy in forms of freedom of expression, demanding release of political and conscious prisoners, freedom of assembly, women rights, free press, and accountability of government, Islamic State government. The dominant part (Not-elected body) under supervision of supreme leader (Velayat Faghih Institute) opposed severely to democracy in theory and practice. I criticized Khamenei aggressive approach to keep current situation and not allowing reformist movement advancing, therefore I was arrested, tortured and was forced to TV confession because the government thought I broke the image they tried to show of Khamenehi that whatever he says is right and should be followed without doubt and considerations. I challenged what Khamenei expressed against press freedom and accused the reformist daily news as agents of US administration and intelligent system in a public event and said he is wrong and should apologize because there is no proof for that.
You were in solitary confinement for 400 days, where you were tortured in all possible ways. Can you describe that period and what you went through as well as the public response to your closure?
I attached my letter to head of judiciary at that time which described what I faced in prison, the reaction of public was very well, people from different groups appreciated me and supported me even though I had a forced confession on TV but most of people did not believe I said my true thoughts in that interview. Also, it should be noted I was able to regain my resistance after breaking and before releasing from prison I illustrated and disclosed how the interrogators broke my resistance with placing very tough physical and psychological pressure.
What is the situation now, in 2020 in Iran in terms of human rights and how much activism is possible at all?
The human rights situation is as bad as in the past and even worse because the intelligent system has been able to suppress systematically civil society forces and weaken them, now the price of disobedience and rejecting policy of Islamic Republic of Iran is remarkably higher than in the past. Currently political and social activists who challenge the official policies and want to practice their fundamental rights can be easily detained and condemned to long term jail. The public sphere is under more restrictions.
What are your views and how do today’s young activists view the period of Prince Mohammed Reza Pahlavi who modernized Iran?
There are different views about this. I am personally critic of both systems. Mohammad Reza Shah’s government relatively was better or say less worse than Islamic Republic of Iran buy that government was also authoritarian and not democratic. Also, there were inequality and poverty in most parts of society. I oppose those who are seeking to return to pre-revolution in Iran, we need a new system of government based on democracy, sustainable development and good governance which is not dependent to a charismatic person or any old institution like monarchy or Velayat (Theocrasy), we need democracy and good system of governance like secular republic in Western countries customized with Iran society special features.
What is the position of women in Iran today compared to ten years ago? How degraded are they and what are their rights?
The women rights situation in Iran has two faces, in official level situation is worse than 10 years ago, more restrictions were applied and the intelligent system shot down most of Women rights advocacy groups and media, but in unofficial level and inside the society women have become more powerful and influential, nowadays there is more educated women, more female directors in industry, banks, health affaire, commerce, and local governments. The number of women in recent protests has been increased and they are engaged in leading and organizing uprising.
Do you think that the United Nations and the rest of the world, in general, are doing enough to help change the situation in your country?
Of course not, UN has been deadlocked for many years, veto rights in the security council caused UN became ineffective, unfortunately the western states pay attention more to security and stability concerns and democracy in Iran has not been priority for them.
You completed and obtained the title of Master of Science in Industrial Engineering at Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) in 2004. Can you describe the study conditions in the period when you graduated, and what is higher and general education like today?
Study conditions in terms of academic was good while I was studying and now it is improved but the political things have deteriorated.In my time ideological criteria did not take effective role in admission, but from Ahmadinejad presidency one requirement for study at graduate level is signing a commitment to promise avoiding political activity and academic freedom which are considered not-permitted from the security system.
Although it’s hard to say, what are your predictions for Iran in the next 10 years?
It is very difficult to predict precisely the future of Iran, but I guess a big change is coming, Islamic Republic of Iran is weaker than in the past and its reliance to suppress apparatus is stronger than in the past, there is no legitimacy at all, the discontent in various part of society is growing, the decline of oil prices and increasing tension with US government, all of these factors caused intensifying of political instability. However, I hope the outcome of this change will be good for Iran’s society and nation, since there are other form of treats against democracy transition in Iran from non-governmental actors which promote intentionally or not-intentionally a non-democratic idea that has potential for right or left forms of authoritarian regime as an alternative for the Islamic Rpublic of Iran.