“Thank you so much for doing this. You are risking your life helping me with this report, for a prisoner you don’t even know.”
“It’s my duty.”
And that is when I went from being suspicious to being trusting. I was assisting a political prisoner with a life-threatening illness; I needed to show the importance of political intervention by raising the prisoner’s profile in the media, but I had no idea where to get him published. And then I remembered that Kaveh Taheri, a human rights journalist who regularly posted his reports on Movements.org (a social media platform that connects human rights assistance seekers and helpers, run by Advancing Human Rights) worked for a human rights group which regularly profiles political prisoners.
I was hesitant to ask for Kaveh’s assistance for a number of reasons. I had a very limited-to-nonexistent interaction with Kaveh prior to this situation, and asking him to risk his life — with no compensation, for unclear reasons, and for complete strangers — was kind of awkward.
Kaveh resides in Ankara, and as I found out shortly prior to this conversation, was himself a refugee from Iran. To my surprise, Kaveh agreed immediately and without hesitation. He produced an excellent medical report in record time, which ended up being republished in various media outlets and perhaps contributed to the eventual release of the prisoner.
That was my first introduction to Kaveh — he came across as incredibly courageous and not afraid of exposing Erdogan’s evil regime, despite living in Turkey as a refugee with no protections whatsoever. I could not guarantee him anything, could not give him anything, and as I later learned, he had gone through hell himself.
He helped anyway.
Kaveh’s story drew my attention at first as a matter of gratitude for his timely and invaluable assistance, but also because I was impressed by his bravery and steadfast work. He exposes gross human rights violations in Iran and elsewhere, advocates for refugees in danger of being deported back to torture and certain death, and assists others in his situation in whatever ways he can.
Kaveh was born on February 23, 1982, in Shiraz. His family came from a leftist background. His grandfather was involved in the Tudeh Party; his father was a student activist in Al Ahwaz who was expelled for his activities. Kaveh followed the secularist tradition of his family and withdrew from the university Payame Noor, where he was studying law. He realized that he was only being taught Shari’a, nothing that would be applicable outside the confines of the Muslim world.
Kaveh had traveled to Dubai for work and had picked up several languages, including English, easily. He is an energetic, passionately outspoken mischief-maker who would not let the Iranian regime’s dogma stand in the way of exposing the truth to whomever could be reached.
While working in a shop and working on procuring press credentials, Kaveh started writing blogs critiquing various aspects of the regime’s reality: the educational system, the media, the vast human rights violations. Unlike the Reformists, Kaveh did not discriminate against the type of political dissident. He did not have an agenda beyond exposing the violations of rights common to everyone, regardless of background and creed.
He spent his free time with his family, making wine (illegally) as part of an annual Shiraz wine festival, and soon he acquired expertise in winemaking. He enjoyed spending time with his sister Laleh, whom he described as a strong, independent-minded woman. In 2011 she left to study IT in Malaysia; Kaveh continued with his work.
Despite the continuous crackdown on critics of the regime, Kaveh insisted on being forthright in his writings:
I was named after Kaveh the Blacksmith, a mythical figure in Iranian mythology who leads a popular uprising against a ruthless foreign ruler, Zahhak. The choice of this name, inspired by the events in this story, makes me want to rise up against any oppression and injustice, in all aspects of my life, personal and social.
Kaveh lived up to his name by leading a personal rebellion against a totalitarian system, comprising a mixture of fundamentalist Shi’a regime with elements of Soviet dictatorial influence. It tolerates no dissent, and uses fear-mongering, terror, and torture to keep the population silent and under control.
Eventually, Kaveh fell prey to the monster.
In September 2012, Iranian intelligence broke into his workplace and dragged him away. He spent the next several months unable to communicate with the outside, and facing brutal interrogations. Fellow human rights activists remained silent as to his fate, though his family campaigned courageously for his release.
His blogs were destroyed; most of his writing erased. Everything he had worked so hard for seemed to be coming undone.
In detention, the officers used a variety of physical and psychological methods to pressure Kaveh into incriminating himself. He would stay in solitary confinement in a cell without a bathroom or bed, forced to sit on the floor facing the wall in absolute silence for many hours.
The agents would threaten to hurt his family, fabricating stories about having arrested his sister.
Beatings and threats were par for the course, but he felt the psychological pressure to be the worst torture. In November he was forced to confess in an interview in front of TV cameras, as Kaveh related in Ahmed Shahid’s report for the United Nations Security Council.
The trial phase brought the journalist face-to-face with the notoriously heartless Islamic Revolutionary Court judge Mahmoud Sadati. Kaveh was facing vague charges common to political cases in Iran: “propaganda against the regime in Iran,” “acting against national security,” “blasphemy,” “insulting Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” etc.
Sadati’s courtroom proceeded with a ten-minute kangaroo trial, at the end of which Sadati lashed out at Kaveh and another prisoner. He sentenced Kaveh to three years in the infamous Adel Abad prison in Shiraz, ironically known as “the paradise.”
(A hanging at Adel Abad prison)
Kaveh served out many months of his sentence housed among some of the most violent criminals in terrible conditions. Torture against prisoners was common and diabolically diverse. Kaveh would be threatened with sexual violence/rape, and the guards would ignore such happenstances. Abuse by the guards and the prisoners alike was rampant. In the winter the prisoners froze; hygienic conditions were terrible and the prisoners frequently got sick. By the end of his time in prison, Kaveh had been sick with a chronic flu for four months with no access to medical treatment. Food was scarce and terrible. The prisoners would find roaches and mice mixed in with the almost inedible scraps that they were served. Kaveh would leave the prison painfully sick, weak from illness, starvation, and abuse, and depressed from physical and psychological torture.
He was suddenly released on bail in June 2013 after serving 10 months; however, not before being administered the 40 lashes which Sadati included as part of his sentence. Although, as Kaveh tells me, lashes are a frequent criminal punishment, they can also be suspended. In his case, however, they were not. As brutal as such a measure is against a helpless imprisoned journalist, Kaveh perceived the silence by his fellow Iranian human rights activist, in light of what he had faced, as equally despicable.
When he was finally released Kaveh received no recognition from the international community.
Only one website issued a brief, clinical update to his case. Kaveh knew that the regime would not relent until he ended up back in prison, so he fled to Turkey. Indeed, soon enough officers were calling his parents’ home to call Kaveh back for a “meeting.”
Upon coming to Turkey, Kaveh registered as a UNHCR refugee in 2013. Since then, he has been living in a hopeless situation.
His Iranian passport has expired, and he has still not heard from UNHCR with regards to his request for a third country resettlement. With no rights, he has been living, as he describes it, “hand to mouth,” working for scraps as a Middle East Bureau journalist for the Oslo Times and working with assorted human rights organizations and activists in media to publish human rights reports.
Frequently he forgets to eat; Kaveh suffers from nightmares and bouts of chronic depression that make any sort of activity a feat in itself. Still he persists, writing about the horrible stories that the world would otherwise never hear of. During his time in Turkey, Kaveh bravely revealed President Rouhani’s hypocrisy, invisible to Western nuclear deal proponents, protested the beatings of refugee demonstrators in Turkey in front of the UNHCR office, exposed the horrors of refugee life in Turkey, and brought attention to the human tragedy in Syria. He remains an inconvenient figure for schemers and Iranian agents of influence who have infiltrated human rights organizations, mainstream media, and even the immigration process to the West.
Kaveh’s voice remains unheard in mainstream media. His report about the spike in human rights violations after the signing of the nuclear deal was published by an Israeli activist, and although the factual allegations made in the report spread quickly, Kaveh continued finding resistance among fellow journalists in larger publications.
He now needs to support his parents, who moved to Turkey. The issues are taking a toll on him, Yet, in our conversations, he continues to face his troubles with his characteristic sense of humor. Kindness of friends, frequently in other countries, strengthens his spirits: he says Jutta Koebernick and Mercedeh Mohseni are indispensable sources of support. His family, likewise, is always encouraging and supportive.
Today Kaveh is continuing his work, and getting to know him personally has moved me to offer him assistance. Read the links above, give him the voice in international media that he deserves, and maybe change the course of his painful journey. He stands for truth in a landscape where fabrications and deceptive agendas steer current events.
It is with the highest respect for Kaveh and everything he does that I very strongly ask the United States government to move past endless bureaucratic obstacles and open its doors to him, and for the international community to finally give him the opportunity to share his important work.