Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Ordeal of Mehrnoushe Solouki

On November 17, a French-Iranian filmmaker named Mehrnoushe Solouki went on trial in Tehran. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), she is accused of "intent to commit propaganda against the Iranian government." Her real crime consists of having stumbled upon the aftermath of one of the Islamic Republic of Iran's most infamous atrocities.

This November 7 article from RFE/RL provides the background to Ms. Solouki's arrest:

It all began in December 2006. Solouki arrived in Iran to film a documentary about the burial traditions of Iran's religious minority communities, such as Armenian Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.

Solouki says the Iranian Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted her a research license. She says the authorities were told in advance of the locations where she wanted to film, and that they were aware that the subject dealt with the cemeteries of Iranian minorities.

The authorities therefore had prior knowledge of her planned activities -- they were not taken by surprise. "The bureau in charge of minorities affairs at the Culture Ministry coordinated all this," Solouki said. "[By that] I mean coordination between the ministry's press office and its minorities bureau."

But while filming, Solouki says she stumbled on an area at the Khavaran Cemetery on Tehran's outskirts that caught her attention. She described it as "totally different" from the other parts she had filmed. Asked whether she was referring to a mass grave of people summarily executed in 1988, she said, "Yes."

(emphasis added-DD)

In 1988, the Islamic Republic launched a campaign of mass executions that claimed the lives of at least 2,800 jailed political prisoners. Human Rights Watch describes this campaign as follows:

In 1988, the Iranian government summarily and extrajudicially executed thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian jails. The government has never acknowledged these executions, or provided any information as to how many prisoners were killed. The majority of those executed were serving prison sentences for their political activities after unfair trials in revolutionary courts. Those who had been sentenced, however, had not been sentenced to death. The deliberate and systematic manner in which these extrajudicial executions took place constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.

As pointed out above, the Iranian regime has still never admitted that the massacres of 1988 took place. Apparently, Ms. Solouki's perceived interest in this matter was enough to spur the authorities into action. On February 17, Solouki was arrested by Iranian police, who, according to RFE/RL, told her that "they had learned that she had filmed the mass graves."

While Ms. Solouki was released from prison, Iranian authorities have prevented her from leaving the country. Several human rights activists and organizations are calling for her to be allowed to leave Iran. It is important that the US and French governments join this chorus.


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