Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Organization Against Torture's Appeal for Immediate Release of Esha Momeni

The OMCT has launched an appeal for the immediate release of Esha Momeni. This appeal also calls for the government of Iran to protect other women's activists and human rights defenders, including from judicial harassment. It notes that Iran has an obligation to do so according to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international human rights instruments, all of which Iran has ratified.
Please follow this link if you wish to respond to the OMCT's appeal to free Esha Momeni. The OMCT appeal gives details about her case and provides the contact details of senior figures in the Islamic Republic of Iran to whom your appeal may be addressed. It also offers detailed guidelines for what to include in your letter, fax, or e-mail. You can find the link to the appeal here.

The OMCT or World Organization Against Torture* was founded in 1986 and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. Through a network of organizations and correspondents across the world, this organization aims to promote human rights with particular attention to the prevention of all forms of torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Among its activities is the launching of world-wide appeals designed to protect individuals at risk. It pays particular attention to vulnerable categories of persons such as children, women, and human rights defenders.

* OMCT is the French acronym of this organization, standing for "Organisation mondiale contre la torture".

Esha's Biography

Esha Momeni was born in Los Angeles in 1980 to Iranian parents. Her father had come from Iran to pursue a degree in civil engineering at California State University, Los Angeles in 1977. As Iran began to experience the turmoil of revolution and war with Iraq, her parents decided to take her and her sister and return to Iran in order to be with loved ones and their fellow Iranians through the turbulent times. Despite the masses of people fleeing the hardships of life in Iran during the war and the opportunity for Esha's family to enjoy the comfort of living in the United States, her family remained committed to stay in Iran living in war torn areas of the south where her father directed construction efforts and transportation projects.
Artistic expression and commitment to the welfare of Iranians has been a mainstay of Esha's life since her early childhood. Esha started painting from an early and began studying traditional Iranian music at the age of fourteen (14). She studied traditional music and learned to play the tar (a Persian musical instrument) performing professionally as a member of Chakavak Women's Classical Music Group from 1998 to 2001. She preformed at venues such as Banu Women's Cultural Center in Tehran August 2000 and Fajr Musical Festival in January 2001.
Esha followed her passion to the university and completed a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design from the Arts Faculty at Azad University of Tehran in 2002, where she produced a short movie entitled "Adam and Eve's Banishment from Heaven" and an animation entitled "The Little Prince and Me." She also worked with the Saadabad Art Gallery and the White Wall Art Group. As a university student, she began to become interested in social issues and art. She was a monthly contributor to the student magazine Kalagh o Kalameh, and volunteered at Ameneh Orphanage, where she taught art classes to children to encourage them to express themselves.
However, it was her short but agonizing experience in a marriage tainted by domestic violence that would prove to be a turning point in her life. Rather than allowing the experience to break her, she became determined to use art to redefine her own life and to give a voice to others. Therefore, she decided to come to the United States to continue her education. Esha matriculated into the Masters in Mass Communication program at California State University Northridge and enrolled in photography and film classes. She produced a photo essay and worked on a short film on attitudes towards race in America entitled "N Word" presented at CSUN Showcase.
During her studies Esha was stunned by stereotypes of Iranian women in the United States as weak and passive as well as distressed by the possibility of American military intervention in Iran. Therefore, Esha decided to make her master’s thesis project a personal exploration of the shared experiences of everyday Iranians which included interviews with some members of a grassroots women's rights campaign called the "One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws." The Campaign has made it clear that its activities are peaceful and merely aimed at reforming the Iranian laws in areas that discriminate against women and that it has no political objectives otherwise. Esha is determined to better the lives of her fellow citizens and banish stereotypes of Iranians through photo and film.

"A Different Experience"- By Esha Momeni

Translated by: Sudi Farokhnia

*Note: This article was written by Esha Momeni in the Summer of 2007. Esha Momeni was arrested on October 15, 2008, while on travel to Iran visiting with family. During this trip Esha worked to complete her Masters thesis project on women activists involved in the Campaign. To this end, she conducted a number of video interviews. She was arrested and taken to Evin prison in relation to her masters thesis, where she remains still. Read the news about her arrest.

I am dressed in white, head to toe. I am aware that the serenity and peacefulness of white does not represent my city, but when I am dressed in white I feel like a dove that is free, one that has not been earmarked and was never kept captive. As I stroll along the streets of my city, I feel like a bride, a bride that is walking towards a new promise, the dream of equality.

Iran and all that makes it unique - steep streets, narrow alleys and unmarked homes - is still the land of promise that we hold dear to our hearts. The women of this land are peacefully writing a glorious end to the bitter long story of inequality and injustice. Iran is still the covenant to those hands that would like to wash the mud of distress from the yarns of this land in the stream of peace and unity. Only then we can resurrect equality and knit white wings for the dove that represents unity. Meanwhile, behind every closed door, a young girl dressed in white is making history so that she can embrace the future with pride and honor.

My grandmother everyday practices her signature, as evidence of her existence and her uniqueness. Here in Iran, I, you, and our mothers are all brides dressed all in white, and with our peaceful approach we dance in the alleys from house to house so that our promise of equality and unity transforms the sounds of the chains on our feet to the melodies of an anklet.

Los Angeles, Mehregan Festival, 2007 (1386)

We plan to wear white. I would like to wear a white shawl but then I change my mind. Dressed in white pants and a long white shirt that covers my waist line, I look in the mirror and take account of my imperfections; I should go on a diet.

After a 45 minute drive, I arrived at the OC fairgrounds where the festivities are to take place. The volunteers of the California chapter of the Campaign have raised a small amount of funds and have been able to get a booth in the not-for-profit section of the Bazaar. They want to target the large group of Iranians attending the festival in order to collect signatures for the Campaign’s petition. I volunteered to help.

Next to the Campaign’s booth, an organization offers people the chance to become guardians of orphans and poor children, of course only financially. There is an album of children’s pictures to choose from, like a catalogue for furniture. I am so curious to know how people decide which child to sponsor, is it gender, color, size…? Of course the children return the favor by occasionally sending a letter of appreciation or pictures that can be displayed on the refrigerator. It will remind the sponsor of what a good hearted person they are.

I pick up a few petition forms and step out of the Bazaar in to the main ground. It is very crowded and I can hear a song by the Black Cats playing: “Delo har ja mikhay mibari,…. “ People who are walking away from the music are still dancing and shaking. On the other side is the bridal booth, full of businesses that offer services one would need at their wedding – from limousine rental to Persian threading for hair removal, from hair stylists to belly dancers. Some young women are dressed in wedding gowns and they walk around the booth. I scan the people to see who would be most receptive to what I have to say. A young lady with Channel eye-glasses is standing right outside the bridal booth:

"Excuse me, but may I have a few minutes of your time?"

There is no reaction so I continue.

"Have you heard of the One Million Signatures Campaign?"

She shakes her head as if to indicate “no” (at least I know she understands ¨Persian).

"Would you like to know?"

This time, she doesn’t even move her head so I continue:

"The One Million Signatures Campaign ….. inside Iran..."

She interrupts me: "I don’t travel to Iran."

A couple of meters farther on, a female artist is discussing the work she has for sale. Self-assured, I walk towards her and it doesn’t take long before she says: “bring me the petition that fixes the root of the problems, these things won’t do the job” and then she walks away.

I attempt to talk to a few others, I get some smiles which have various meanings embedded in them: "forgive me I can’t", caution, skepticism, pity…

I walk back to the Campaign booth inside the bazaar. I see my imperfections, I feel as if I have forgotten how to speak Persian or I can’t find the right words, or maybe words don’t have the same meaning in different parts of the world. Of course, I did manage to collect many signatures, and each person had their own personal reasons for signing. However, I couldn’t stop thinking: I, my mother, my sisters, Marjan, Azadeh, Maryam,… we were all just images, just like pictures that one quickly browses through in a furniture catalogue.