Bahai News - Mandela betrayed Iran prisoners
Nelson Mandela's long walk for freedom appears to have come to a
halt at the gates of the Islamic Republic's courts. In response to
intense international concern about the trial of 13 Iranian Jews and
eight Muslims on charges of espionage for Israel, Mandela expressed his
satisfaction with assurances from Iranian leaders that their trial would
be "free and fair."
On May 1, the first day of the trial, the former South African
president issued the following statement: " The trial is a purely
domestic affair in which citizens of the Islamic Republic are being
tried. Foreigner should avoid any action that may be regarded rightly
or wrongly as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign
state." During the recent visit of the Iranian minister of science and
technology to Pretoria, Mandela added: " I told those who criticized
the reial fo the spy suspects in Iran that your have not been to Iran.
I have not been to Iran, and your criticism has no foundation."
Mandela, one of the most distinguished human rights advocates of
the 20th century, is advancing a conception of justice that cuts against
the grain of his own thoughts in the struggle against apartheid.
Speaking in his own defense at Pretoria's Old Synagogue in October 1962,
Mandela challenged the legal authority of the South African judiciary by
subjecting the discriminatory racial policies of the South African state
to an alternative conception of justice.
As recounted in his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," he asked
the court: " Why is it that in this courtroom I am facing a white
magistrate, congronted by a white prosecutor, and escorted by white
orderlies? I will tell Your Worship why: The real purpose of this rigid
color bar is to ensure that the justice dispensed by the courts should
conform to the policy of the country, however much that policy may be in
conflict with the norms of justice accepted in judiciares throughout the
Mandela explained how as a lawyer he had chosen to accommodate his
conscience rather than comply with the law: "Our consciences dictate
that we must protest against it, that we must oppose it, and that we
must attempt to alter it .... Men, I think, are not capable of doing
nothing, of saying nothing, of not reacting to injustice, of not
protesting against oppression, of not striving for the good society and
the good life in the ways they see it."
Iran is not South Africa. However, Madela cannot expect to waive
the legitimacy of unjust laws by appealing to consience and
international standards of justice in his own legal defense only to deny
that same right to Iranians. Ot os a grave error of judgment for a
statesman of Mandela's standing to assume that the trial of 13 Iranian
Jews takes place in a legal, moral, and political vacuum. Their trial
sheds light on the constitutional ordeal of millions of Iranians and
exposes the atrocious human rights violations of the Islamic Republic.
Over the past 20 years, the Iranian judiciary has served as the official
organ of a modern inquisition. Revolutionary judges have sentenced
thousands of political prisoners to death in trials that have been
neither free nor fair. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a prejudicial
legal order whose discriminatory and inhumane practices toward the
Iranian people, particularly its assumptions about the inferior status
of women, minorities, and dissidents, are comparable to the policies of
Mandela cannot, in good conscience, dismiss the Islamic Republic's
systematic persecution of religious minorities such as the Baha'i and
Sunni Muslims. He cannot claim that the secret trials, forced
confessions, and torture of pro-democracy students do not concern him.
He cannot claim he is unaware of the arrest of reformist clerics,
journalists, publishers, and editors, unaware of the imprisonment of
Akbar Ganki, the investigative journalist responsible for exposing the
state's role in the serial killing of political dissidents. And he
cannot hear about the arrest of Mehrangiz Kar, a leading women's rights
activist, and fail the make the connection between discrimination based
on race and discrimination based on gender. Against this judicial
background, it is hard to understand how Mandela can issue a statement
expressing his satisfaction with the political reassurances of Iranian
leaders about the trial of Iranina Jews. Harder still to understand how
one of the moral beacons of the 20th century can permit the wardens of
Iran's Evil Prison to hide their criminal history behind the shield of
his moral authority.
Foreigners could have accepted the assurances of South African
leaders about the free and fair nature of Mandela's trial in the Old
Synagogue. They could have accepted the legitimacy of apartheid by
accepting the political labels and criminal charges brought against
Mandela and others. Instead of striving for the good society and good
life as they saw it, they could have avoided any action that - rightly
or wrongly - could have been perceived by the white authorities as
interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. They could
have done nothing and said nothing before the oppression and injustice
of the South African state. And they could do the same in the case of
the Islamic Republic's judicial violations of Iranian citizens. But
such foreigners would fall short of Mandela's definition of man.
Distilling the lessons of his long years as a political prisoner on
Robben Island, Mandela wrote, " There is nothing so encouraging in
prison as learning that people outside are supporting the cause for
which you are inside." And for Iranian prisoners of conscience, there
is nothing more discouraging than learning that Nelson Mandela is not
with them. Inside or outside Africa, wherever, whenever, and however
there is discrimination and injustice, people will look for Mandela's
guidance and leadership - the Mandela magic.
The long walk to freedom is not about standing firm; it is about
taking the next step.
-Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami
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