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Fakhteh Zamani

29 January 2010

All over the world, ordinary women, men, and children are fighting for the rights of their communities to be recognized. Fakhteh Zamani spoke to MRG about her work in support of Iran’s minorities.

A published expert in wireless communications, Canada-based Fakhteh Zamani is better known for her determination to remedy injustices suffered by Iran’s minorities. Fakhteh, an Iranian Azerbaijani, left Iran more than18 years ago but she remains passionate about her homeland and uses modern communications methods to gather and share information about minorities.

Fahkteh’s concern for the numbers of young minority members under arrest and subjected to torture led to her creating the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners, but she condemns Tehran’s abuses against all minorities.

Iran – a nation of concealed minorities

Iran is home to considerable communities of Azerbaijainis, Baluchis, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, who are not all Shia Muslim but also Sunnis, Christians, Bah’ais and Jews. Minorities are jointly estimated by some to make up close to half of Iran’s population, and they constitute a disproportionate element of the prison population.

“Minorities are jointly estimated by some to make up close to half of Iran’s population, and they constitute a disproportionate element of the prison population.”

Fakhteh’s activism started when she realised hardly anyone knew about the abuses against Azerbaijainis in Iran. She later took on cases involving Baluchis when she discovered how many were being executed while the world remained unaware.

Fakhteh Zamani

Disturbingly many were youths under 18 years of age – legally children under UN conventions. By dint of sending emails, making phone calls and asking questions, Fakhteh started receiving information from witnesses and relatives of the oppressed and condemned – and threats from opponents wanting to silence her.

Life in Iran for minorities is complex. There have been charges of voting irregularities and minorities sometimes fall foul of the authorities if they protest against provocative statements and actions. In a country where the media is well controlled, cartoons depicting Azeris as cockroaches in 2006 caused huge offence: the editor of the publication was imprisoned- albeit temporarily – but authorities moved against protestors with such force that hundreds were arrested and Azeri websites reported many deaths.

Repression and control of minorities

Minorities are concentrated in the country’s periphery and contain a wealth of oil, minerals and rich agricultural areas along Iran’s borders. Fakhteh tells how this gives Tehran the excuse for repression of minorities – ostensibly in defence of the nation. She says that in some areas aquifers have been diverted, indigenous peoples removed and Persian families moved in.

One group, the Baluchis, are particularly targeted by repressive measures – Tehran apparently fears that Baluchi unrest in neighbouring Pakistan, may spread over the border. But Fakhteh says hundreds are on death row and well over a thousand estimated to be in prison after trials – many of them young men under 17.

Few minority representatives with any status within Iran risk speak out while Tehran preaches the importance of national unity. Any reports of human rights violations of minorities coming from Washington prompt charges of destabilisation from Tehran against minorities. So Fakteh stresses that support for human rights from other nations is doubly welcome.

Champions such as Fakhteh are vital to Iran’s minorities, and as she notes her email inbox gets fuller every day. While the intricacies of bluetooth communications may no longer be her main focus, it is thanks to technology that Fakhteh is able to fight for minority rights from her base in Canada.