In September 2011, Mina Ahadi was invited to give a speech at the TEDxESPM conference in São Paulo, Brazil on her campaign against stoning and execution. In her speech she talks about her work and the campaign to save Iran stoning case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Mina’s first husband was executed in the same prison that Sakineh awaits her death by stoning sentence. Read on…
I am Mina Ahadi from Iran. About 5 years ago a boy called me from Iran. He was 17/18 years old and said: “Is this human rights office?” And I replied: “Yes, I deal with human rights.” He said: “Are you Mina Ahadi?” and I said: “Yes, what can I do to help you?” And he said: “My mother is going to be stoned to death. Mina, you have to help me.” I took a deep breath and said: “Who is your mother?” And he replied: “Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.” I asked: “Where is your mother?” And he answered: “In Tabriz prison.”
I had to take several breaths for Sakineh sits in the prison where my husband was executed. That’s when I said: “Okay, wait, I’m writing down the name, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and I promise you Sajjad, I’ll help you. I won’t allow your mother to be stoned to death.”
He called again on 2nd June 2010. He said: “Mina, now it’s time. In 2 weeks my mother will be stoned to death.” I said: “You and your sister Saideh (17 years old) have to write a letter and we will translate this letter and I’ll ask people all over the world: Are we going to let this woman be stoned to death in Iran? What are we going to do about it?”
They wrote the letter and we at the International Committee against Stoning translated it into German and English and published it on the Internet. After two days, people, ordinary people from all over the world, had translated it into 30 languages and we have reached millions of people through this campaign. We managed to organise demonstrations in 110 cities. All these people stood up and did something against this barbarism.
I want to explain here why my husband was executed in Iran in the very same prison Sakineh languishes in. I was a medical student in Iran; I was born in a small village named Abhar and because of religion I was forced to go out from the age of nine dressed in a chador. I wanted to play. I asked my mother why my brother could and I couldn’t and the answer was always: because we are Muslims, because we are a Muslim family. Then I thought, I’m going to go to a big city, and then I’ll have my freedom. There I was allowed to study medicine at the University of Tabriz. The first day when I entered the university I threw away my chador and wore a mini skirt and went out. And I thought: Okay, now I have my freedom. At the University of Tabriz (back then it was the Shah’s time) I slowly realised that it’s not a free life because we were for example not allowed to discuss many things or to think. We were not allowed to read Maxim Gorky, and of course, reading Marx was also prohibited. I participated in a revolution against the Shah’s regime. Back then, we young people were on the streets but we didn’t have the chance to give reports of our revolution. There was no Facebook or Twitter then. I heard from the BBC that our revolution was an ‘Islamic’ revolution, and I laughed. Our leader was supposed to be a man named Khomeini. When we heard that name from the BBC, we all laughed. But this was no laughing matter, because the Islamists gained power in Iran. From the beginning I was against the Islamic regime of Iran too.
My husband was a student too we were married on 4 July 1979. And he was executed on July 4, 1980 in Tabriz prison. After that, I spent one year in Tehran, living clandestinely without papers, without anything. One can easily imagine what the situation was like there; I had to keep moving from place to place in order to evade arrest. My brother for example allowed me to stay for only one night at his place. I was in real danger because the Islamic regime had issued a death sentence against me too. In 1981 I fled to Kurdistan and spent 10 years there as a guerrilla fighter. When I was there I tried through radio broadcasts and other means to talk to people about what was happening and what could be done.
I remember one time when we were bombed by the Islamic regime and I was working at the radio station. At that time I was supposed to read from a script. I had read the first page; we were in a mountain, between two rocks, and I spoke in Persian and Turkish on the radio. Suddenly the second page went missing. I stood there and did not know what to do. Then I started to speak freely. And somehow I think it’s better if you can speak freely. I explained the situation. So I try to work for human rights using communication and collaboration between people.
Sakineh’s campaign was a very successful campaign. From my perspective, if you want to know me, I’m like this, I explain myself like this. I’ve tried to give people worldwide a chance to stand up against barbarism and to do something about it. That’s my job. I tried to give a platform to all the people in the world who looked at her photo and said: No, this woman must not be stoned. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still in jail right now but I’m sure that no Islamic regime will be able to stone a woman easily ever again. This is the result of our work worldwide. Sakineh’s photo is now a symbol for women’s rights, the fight against stoning and the fight for women’s rights.
I would like to talk about another person’s fate too. In countries under Islamic rule, the women are not only stoned to death but also executed. Another case I worked on was that of Shahla Jahed. She was 32 years old when she was arrested. She was in love with an Iranian football player and was his lover. The man was married and also shared an apartment in Tehran with Shahla. One day the wife of the football player was murdered and the regime arrested Shahla Jahed. Women are very quickly sentenced in Iran. Women have nothing. A woman, particularly in prison, is nothing. She often spoke to me on the phone. She called me from prison. We spoke Turkish, my native language. She sang Turkish songs for me and she said: “Mina, you have to help me.” This is how I raise awareness on cases I work on. I cannot just talk with people and explain to them that this woman is going to be stoned to death or executed; I need a photo. I said you have to send a photo. Somehow a photo has to come. One can look at this photo and see it’s a human being. I try to give people who are in prison, to give people who sit on death row, a face. She’s a person. She was. She was executed. I try to explain what music she likes. What she thinks about politics. And I do an interview with these people who are in prison and we publish it. We are a group and we work like this. But unfortunately, on December 4, 2010 at 6 O’clock they called me from Iran and said: She’ll be executed. Although a film was made about her and a lot was published about Shahla, but the time had come. I spoke to the German Foreign Ministry, phoned the EU parliament, back and forth. All of a sudden my phone rang at 11 O’clock on 4 December. And I heard a voice, Shahla’s voice. Shahla said: “Mina, I want to say goodbye. You have worked very well. You’ve worked a lot. But it was in vain. Today is the day.” I was crying and she said “Stay calm. This is my fate.” At 3am German time I was there on the phone when Shahla’s parents who had gone to Evin prison, and I heard everything up to 4 O’clock. Then they said it was over and she had been executed.
How is a stoning done? Of course people do not like, don’t have the strength to think about something like this. But it is important. Nowadays it is published in the media, that Ms so-and-so is going to be stoned to death tomorrow at 8 or 6 O’clock on such and such street. The regime brings the woman wrapped in a shroud onto the street. All around men are standing and throwing stones until the woman is dead. Who threw the last stone? No one knows. This is a collaboration of some. They are killing a woman and no one has a bad conscience. I think that’s barbaric, inhuman. And when I saw a stoning for the first time when I was 22, I said: Wait Mina, when the world hears about this, the clocks will stand still, the factories will stand still. And humanity will say something or do something about it. I came to Europe in 1990. In 1993 I participated in the human rights conference in Vienna, in 1995 I joined the International Women’s Conference in Beijing with 35000 women, and also 10 years later in New York. I always asked for a resolution against stoning to be passed. That did not happen. Why? Because there was a theory, there was a thesis. Iran, for example, Afghanistan is an ‘Islamic’ country. The people there have a different culture, a different mentality. Maybe it does not hurt when a woman is bei ng beaten there. Maybe it does not hurt if a woman is stoned to death there. If a human rights activist like myself wants to do something against stoning then I had to answer this theory. I have tried to explain that we are all human. Look at me. It’s women like me that are buried in the street and stoned to death. We are all human beings. No matter what religion I have, no matter what hair colour or skin colour. We are human beings. And the humiliation of women hurts. All people should do something, especially against this brutality. I think it worked somehow. We organised demonstrations. We have done a lot of work and in the end it was recognised when I received the Secularist of the Year award in London for my work on human rights and women’s rights.
As I said, I think we’re dealing with a political movement in Iran, or so-called Islamic countries that is trying to work against women and against people. That brings a lot of fear in society. A very important characteristic of political Islam is misogyny. And a very broad movement exists in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, against these misogynistic laws and traditions. I wanted to show this photo here and I wanted to explain that I’m happy about it. Richard Dawkins said of my award: “I have long felt that the key to solving the worldwide menace of Islamic terrorism and oppression would eventually be the awakening of women, and Mina Ahadi is a charismatic leader working to that end.” That was very good and I am very pleased because I think it’s the truth. Women will stand up and haven risen up already. When the Islamists gained power in 1980, we were on the road. Khomeini had said: “Wear headscarves or you’ll be beaten” and we said we didn’t want the veil or nor Islamic laws. This is a photo of that time, my generation that struggled against these misogynistic laws.
We also fought in Europe. And I was named Secularist of the Year because I tried to do something against the influence of Islamic organisations in Europe. This is a photo from when we organised a press conference in Berlin where we said that we are no longer Muslims. That was a campaign against the influence of Islamic organisations.
This is a poster that we used in Germany. I’ve always said that, before, we were foreigners in Europe. Suddenly we all got a label: Muslim. For example I saw a television interview with a man who represents an Islamic organisation and after this Danish cartoon issue, according to him “millions of Muslims are offended.” And I called my mother and I said “Are you offended?” And she said “No”. Then I called the TV and I said we are not offended. So we started this campaign and I want to emphasise here that this movement that is in Iran is also now in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is a movement of people. The people took to the street and now they are trying to declare: We are human beings. We are against dictatorship in the name of the USA or Islamism. We can all unite and work together. I wish for a better world. Really, I am here today and would like to explain: I wish for a better world in which all people live freely, all people have freedom of speech, all people live free from poverty and I wish that the Islamic regime is overthrown, so that I as a person can see my sister, my brother and my mother again after 30 years. I wish for a world in which I won’t get any more calls from a child telling me: “Mina, help me, my mother will be stoned to death.” I don’t want to ever hear that again. Thank you.
Here’s Mina’s speech in German:
If you want to, you can contact Mina Ahadi here:
International Committee against Execution
International Committee against Stoning
Tel: 0049 (0) 1775692413