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Freedom for Azita & Her Husband
Two Iranian Student Activists
Imprisoned In Turkey.
She and her husband deserve all the help we can bring.
An exclusive report by:Ardeshir Arian January, 2007
Azita Shafaghat and her husband, Ahmad-Reza Shafaghat are being held in a Turkish prison in Edirneh, where they are awaiting a UN decision on their appeal for asylum based on their political activities in Iran that resulted in their arrest and imprisonment following a 1999 student uprising in Tehran.
IRI agents tortured them repeatedly for five months. She never saw their faces but remembers their irritating voices and the sound of their boots and sandals in the notorious Rajayi-Shahr prison west of Tehran. They were released conditionally [under an agreement that stipulated xxxx?].
The couple converted to Christianity about 10 years ago in Tehran at a secret baptism ceremony in a friend’s house that had a swimming pool. At the time of their capture by IRI agents, Azita wore a cross necklace and her husband had a small bible in his pocket. (Although they never admitted that they had converted, under Islamic law conversion from Islam is punishable by death without trial). Under the terms of the agreement they signed they had to promise they would never again demonstrate against the regime or proselytize. If there were to do so, they would be executed immediately.
After nearly being captured in an anti-IRI demonstration in Tehran, they went underground for the next six years, until leaving Iran on foot (in May 2006) via Iranian Kurdistan, into Iraq, and from there to Turkey, where they found shelter in a private home awaiting the final leg of their weeks’ long and terrifying journey to Europe.
Finally they left for Greece, where Azita’s father lives as a temporary refugee.
Passing through the no man’s land of Turkey in the dark, and then crossing a river by inflatable boats before sunset, they finally found themselves in the birthplace of western Democracy.
As they waited for nightfall and safe passage, their dream was shattered when Greek border patrol arrested them, beat them and locked them up in a silo for about 48 Hours, without food, drink or any type of medical attention.
The Greeks also refused to process their request for asylum or investigate their reasons for escaping Iran.
What the Greek Border Patrol did definitely was a breach of international law but has gone unnoticed and unreported until now. Instead of questioning Azita, her husband and seven other refugees (not counting the trafficker), anytime these helpless people tried to explain as why they are in this situation uniformed and plain clothes Greek authorities assaulted them.
In one incident when Azita’s husband, Ahmad-Reza, objected to the beating of his wife by the Greeks and threatened to inform INTERPOL, one of the Greek interrogators grabbed Ahmad-Reza’s long hair, pulling out some of it, and handed it to Ahmad-Reza and told him to show the hair to INTERPOL too.
The Greeks then took the refugees back to the same river they had earlier crossed, put them in small motorized boats and with the engines off, took them back to the Turkish side of the river where they ran in several directions before Azita and Ahmad-Reza were finally arrested by the Turkish authorities.
After being transferred to the infamous Edirneh prison, they applied for refugee status through the UNHCR, where a zealot Muslim case officer named Murad, denied their request. Azita says that he asked them repeatedly why they have converted from Islam.
Recently they were taken for a second interview as required by law and they faced a woman instead.
Although a favorable result is expected but the question remains:
Why have the UN, UNHCR and related agencies with responsibility should leave such life and death decisions makings to biased officials with religious or political agendas?
This is the main reason these refugees are still refugees. Shouldn’t the UN be working on the side of the victims instead of the persecutors?
The “civilized” European Union, European Court of Human Rights, the Greek government, and all human rights organizations in Europe that pride themselves for being democratic and humane, should be implored to take a close look at this matter.
Why is an original member of the EU smuggling refugees back into another country without due process of the law? If this is allowed, can we truly say there is any difference between civilized societies and the ones we call evil?
Azita, a 28-year-old Iranian student activist, has tasted jail, torture, humiliation and life on the run at the age of 21 with a dislocated knee cap and endured physical and psychological abuse at the hands of supposedly civilized governments, as well as the undemocratic government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She tells us she took the actions she did because she dared to think freely. She and her husband deserve all the help we can bring.