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Visiting fellow takes stand for Iran

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo was a member of Iran's parliament

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of Iran's parliament who is now a visiting fellow at MIT's Center for International Studies (CIS), has joined other reformist Iranians and human rights advocates in a multicity demonstration to demand the release of three prominent Iranian activists from prison in Iran.

Haghighatjoo, 38, helped coordinate the demonstration, which includes a hunger strike. Events will be held July 14 through July 16 simultaneously in front of the U.N. building in New York City, in Los Angeles and in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Sydney and Tehran.

Haghighatjoo will participate in the New York event. She said she hopes the "Iranian diaspora and human rights advocates will gather freely to protest the growing repressiveness of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime and its vicious attacks on demonstrators; arrests and imprisonment of intellectuals, students and labor leaders; and silencing of journalists."

The protesters' specific demands are for the release of Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeni, a student leader and former member of parliament; Ramin Jahanbegloo, a professor and philosopher; and Mansour Osanloo, a labor leader, bus driver and director of the Worker's Syndicated Union in Tehran.

Known in her native Iran as a tireless advocate for women's rights and human rights, Haghighatjoo has a doctorate in psychology. She has worked as a professor and was a reformist member of parliament from 2000 to 2004. She resigned in 2004 to protest election fraud and rights violations by Iran's Islamic Republic.

By that time, she had long been under attack for speeches critical of the regime; in 2000, during her parliamentary term, she was arrested and given a 22-month prison sentence for anti-government activities. Her sentence was reduced to 10 months.

Despite her own experience and the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, Haghighatjoo maintains high hopes for the reform movement there -- a movement, she noted, that needs support from other governments but must develop within Iran to be sustainable.

"Iranians want reform, but demands for democracy must come from inside, not as a gift from a foreign power. Attack for the purpose of regime change -- any war at all -- is the wrong decision," she said.

As part of her commitment to the Iranian diaspora and to widening world awareness of human rights violations inside Iran, Haghighatjoo maintains a wide network of reform movement activists there and speaks frequently to advocate reforms on such media as Persian Radio and Radio Free Europe.

She has also written widely on the development of Iran's reform movement as well as on the obstacles to reform there.

In her 2006 essay, "Is Iran's Reform Movement Dead?" Haghighatjoo wrote, "Reform is Iran's only way out of dictatorship and corruption."

She credited Iran's former president, reformist Mohammad Khatami, with raising awareness about "civil rights, patience, tolerance, dialogue, mutual respect and democratic family relations," thus laying the foundation for later achievements, including promoting the rights, health, education and political participation of women; creating civil institutions and organizations for students, press and labor; and eliminating judicial sentences like stoning.

Obstacles to development of an effective reform movement in Iran include the nation's political structure (ultimate power rests with Iran's supreme leader, not the constitution); its reliance on Shariah (Islamic law); the official status of the Shi'a sect; and conflict among reformists and Iran's "authoritarian culture," a product of thousands of years of monarchy and dictatorship.

Despite recent history and these obstacles, Haghighatjoo writes, she still believes the reform movement can form a "strong party inclusive of all groups that are demanding democracy and human rights, regardless of their faith and ideology and pressure the regime to submit to public demand and change the constitution."

Iran's leading dissident intellectual, Akbar Ganji, recently freed after 2,222 days (more than six years) in prison in Iran, inspired Haghighatjoo to work on organizing the protest, she said. Ganji is expected to join the demonstration in New York.

Haghighatjoo's essay on Iran's reform movement was translated from Farsi and published by the Center for International Studies in its foreign policy series, Audits of the Conventional Wisdom, in January.

To read the complete text, download "Is Iran's Reform Movement Dead?"

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