By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
An Iranian activist and a student of anthropology at Yale University has launched Campaign99 to generate international solidarity with political prisoners in Iran. Ali Abdi is using the Occupy Wall Street movement to "introduce" to Americans and other Westerners those Iranians who have been jailed for their ideas, human rights work, and political activism.
Here is how Campaign99 is being described on its website:
The idea is simple. We decided to talk with 99 people engaged in the Occupy Wall Street Movement around the world. We listen to each person's narrative of why s/he has joined the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Then we narrate the life story of an Iranian prisoner of conscience for that person. After this mutual exchange of stories, we ask the person to send a message to and make a poster for that Iranian prisoner. While s/he is holding the poster, we take a picture.
On the campaign's Facebook page and website, those participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and also in Washington, D.C., provide some background about themselves and describe why they have been touched by the fate of Iranian prisoners of conscience.
Abdi says the campaign allows Iranians to learn about members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. "It also prevents the Occupy Wall Street movement from being confiscated by the Islamic Republic," Abdi told me.
On Persian Letters, we've reported how Iranian officials have been trying to exploit Occupy Wall Street for their own purposes.
Abdi says Iranians inside the country have commented on the Campaign99 Facebook page that they believe it is effective in combating Iranian state propaganda about the movement. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other officials have likened Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring uprisings.
Abdi acknowledges that his campaign might not have a direct impact on the plight of political prisoners in Iranian jails. But he expresses hope that it will raise international awareness about the difficult conditions prisoners in Iran are facing.
He says some of the families of the political prisoners in Iran have expressed support for Campaign99 and have given him details about their loved ones to be publicized.
Occupy Wall Street protesters Paul supports Iranian political prisoner Shabnam Madadzadeh
Arash and Kamiar Alaei, two Iranian experts on HIV and AIDS prevention, who were jailed in Iran on security charges, recently told an audience in Washington, D.C. that for those jailed in Iran for their ideas and activism -- especially those in solitary confinement -- the worst feeling is the sense that they have been forgotten by the outside world.
The two brothers said they were happily surprised when they found out, while in jail, about the international campaign for their release.
Since the crackdown that followed Iran's disputed 2009 presidential vote, Iranian opposition activists have relied heavily on social media to inform others about the plight of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic.
Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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