From IranWire editor Maziar Bahari:
The photograph broke my heart. How could they let this happen to one of the most dignified men in Iran? How could they be so cruel and moronic at the same time? How much more should Alireza suffer?
Integrity. Integrity. Integrity. That would be Alireza Rajaei’s answer to what matters most to him in life. I met Alireza around 1998 when I had just returned to Iran.There was a euphoric atmosphere in the country. The election of reformist Mohammad Khatami as president a year earlier had given Iranians hope that they would come out of isolation and enjoy some freedom. Alireza was one of the most prominent reformist politicians at the time. He was on the editorial board of several newspapers and gave talks regularly at different universities across the country. In his articles and speeches, he always emphasized his love for his country and the necessity of peaceful reforms in Iran. In most countries, Alireza would be an ideal member of the opposition. Someone who never used insulting language to address the problems with the government and always advocated non-violence as the only way forward.
Alireza was an anomaly among Iranian politicians, reformists and conservatives alike. He didn’t think of politics as a way to become wealthy and live a comfortable life, and he didn’t believe in any ideology except for the national interests of Iran and Iranians. Alireza’s reputation as a wholesome and incorruptible person was such that many politicians wanted to be associated with him. In 1999 he and 27 other reformist politicians were elected to Iran’s parliament from Tehran. It was a massive win for the reformists. But in a ridiculously obvious exercise of vote-rigging, 700,000 of votes in Tehran were annulled by the conservative Council of Guardians. Alireza was replaced by the father-in-law of the Supreme Leader’s son, Hadad Adel, an obsequious spineless politician whose only expertise seems to be licking the right boot at the right time.
That disqualification was the beginning of Alireza’s tribulations for the next two decades. Since then he has been summoned, tried and jailed regularly. In 2011, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Three years later, he started to feel a lot of pain around his sinuses, but prison authorities repeatedly ignored doctors’ advice to give him the treatment he needed. The lack of treatment in prison caused cancerous cells to take over half of Alireza’s face, including his left eye. Earlier this month the doctors removed his eye and much of the bone and tissues on the left side of his face.
Among all the prison stories that we have covered in IranWire, the three articles we have on Alireza have been some of the most difficult ones for me to read. Each of these articles reveal part of Alireza’s tragedy. Niusha Saremi talked to our esteemed lawyer Musa Barzin about illegal treatment of Alireza by the authorities since 1999, and Shima Shahrabi spoke to two medical doctors, who emphasize that the stressful prison environment contributed to Alireza’s condition.
Unfortunately, both for the regime and the nation, the Supreme Leader of Iran is a master of creating enemies unnecessarily. He couldn’t have a gentler and kinder critic than Alireza. But he’s turned him into martyr, a symbol of resistance to Khamenei’s tyrannical reign. The ayatollah has a special fear of religious minorities, especially the Sunnis who are treated like second class citizens in the country. Last week Khamenei gave reassurances that Iran promotes unity and that minorities — referring to the country’s Sunnis — would enjoy greater equality. He was responding to prominent Sunni cleric Molavi Abdul Hamid Ismael Zahi’s complaints about discrimination. Molavi Abdul Hamid has been outspoken on a number of sensitive issues, and has been subject to a travel ban because of it. But will all that change now? Just how sincere are the Supreme Leader’s promises?
As always, please let me know if you have any