May 17, 2024

Endurance and Suppression: The Political and Human Rights Journey of Abdollah Momeni

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From the corridors of student activism to the tumult of advising for opposition leaders, Abdollah Momeni’s journey is a testament to the enduring struggle for human rights in Iran. His story encapsulates the harsh realities faced by those who dare to dissent against the Islamic Republic, where suppression and harassment are common retaliations against criticism.

Momeni, born in 1977 in Koohdasht, Lorestan Province, pursued an education in sociology at Kharazmi University in Tehran and continued his studies through to a master’s degree at Allameh University. His early involvement in the Office of Strengthening Unity, a student organization, marked the beginning of his political activism. He quickly ascended to leadership positions, becoming a prominent voice for reform and student rights during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency. Momeni’s critical stance against the government intensified after the brutal suppression of student protests in 1999, pushing the organization to distance itself from the reformist government it once supported.

The turn of the millennium saw Momeni enduring multiple arrests and trials, stemming from his unwavering commitment to advocacy. His first arrest in 2001 followed protests against the death sentence of Hashem Aghajari, a professor who criticized the clergy and later saw his sentence reduced after significant domestic and international outcry. Momeni’s accounts of the torture he endured during his detainment highlight a gruesome pattern of abuse aimed at extracting forced confessions and breaking the spirit of political prisoners.

In 2005, Momeni faced the judiciary once again, resulting in a five-year suspended sentence and a five-year ban on social rights, later reduced on appeal. The year 2006 brought another wave of repression when Momeni and his colleagues were arrested during a commemoration of the 1999 dormitory attacks—an event that symbolizes state violence against students in Iran.

Momeni’s most significant legal challenge came after the disputed 2009 presidential elections. As an advisor to opposition candidate Mehdi Karroubi, Momeni was arrested amid the crackdown on the Green Movement, receiving a six-year sentence. His letters from prison, detailing the abuse suffered, were met with denial from government officials, exposing the systemic denial of due process and rights for detainees. 

Despite his long imprisonment, Momeni’s academic journey did not halt even when he was behind bars. He studied law at Payame Noor University while imprisoned in Evin. Despite systemic barriers, including being a “starred ” student — a term used in Iran to denote students barred from continuing their education due to political activism — Momeni’s resolve remained unbroken.

After his release in 2014, Momeni did not shy away from the political arena. His attempt to run for the Tehran City Council in 2017 was thwarted when authorities revoked his eligibility, a move that underscored the ongoing restrictions on former political prisoners. Undeterred, Momeni continued to advocate for peaceful, democratic change in Iran, a stance that led to his latest arrest in April 2022 following his participation in the “Save Iran” virtual dialogue , an online conference advocating for a free referendum as a solution to Iran’s authoritarian impasse.

In this meeting, Momeni opened his remarks by honoring the victims of the crackdown against the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, stating, “Unfortunately, whenever any members of our nation have attempted to stand against the destructive policies of the ruling government, they have faced accusations, imprisonment, deprivation, and even assassination.”

He continued, “As a result of the governance of the Islamic Republic, especially in the past two decades, Iran has been left behind, stagnating without a future.”

The activist added, “What compels us to propose a new constitution as a means to save Iran is the reality that the current ruling body in Iran lacks not only the competence and effectiveness to manage the country or develop it slightly but even to handle its day-to-day affairs.”

Using the term “ailing government” to describe the regime, Momeni elaborated, “Today’s Iranian government is like a sick body whose various organs no longer follow its brain. Even if this brain decides to rid itself of the infection of corruption and autocracy, the other organs refuse to comply.”

Momeni emphasized, “The approach to saving Iran, before being a political program, is a natural response by the people to prevent the destruction of their present and their children’s future.”

The sentencing of Abdollah Momeni in November 2023 to one year of imprisonment for his peaceful activism is not just a personal tragedy but a stark reminder of the relentless oppression facing Iran’s civil society.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) condemns in the strongest terms the arrest of Abdollah Momeni, a prominent political activist and advocate for democratic reforms in Iran. Momeni’s unwarranted detention is a stark violation of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a signatory. The Islamic Republic of Iran must adhere to its international obligations by immediately and unconditionally releasing Abdollah Momeni and all other political prisoners who have been unjustly detained for exercising their human rights. The continued suppression of peaceful activists not only contravenes international law but also further isolates Iran on the global stage.

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