“We are worn out but [are] neither bent nor broken. We continue to stand erect, although with wounded and restless hearts. We bear witness to the efforts of dictators looting a fertile land nurtured by the selfless sacrifices of past and present generations.”
Meet BAHAREH HEDAYAT.
Bahareh is a 31-year-old Iranian women’s and student rights activist. She is currently serving a nine and a half year prison sentence for speaking out against the violations of the rights of students following the 2009 presidential elections in Iran.
Bahareh is part of the generation of Iranians born after the Revolution of 1979—who now constitute the majority of the population. Like many in her generation, she came of age at a time when there was a promise of reform, with a high value on personal freedoms and rights. After being admitted to the University of Tehran in 2001, Bahareh became active in the student union to improve the plight of the students and to advocate for political change during the ‘reform’ movement surfacing across the country.
A year into her education, Bahareh was elected as a committee member of the student union. Shortly after, she joined the national student organization called the ‘Office for Strengthening Unity’ to advocate for political reform. In 2003 Bahareh was an active member of the student movement protesting against the execution of a university instructor.
Bahareh united her student activism with her women’s rights activism in the creation of the Women’s Commission in the ‘Office for Strengthening Unity’. The Commission was set up with the aim of increasing female student participation in campus union and student organizations. She was determined to amplify the voice of female students, who comprise 65% of all university students in Iran. She also worked for improving women’s rights as a member of the Campaign for 1 Million Signatures to Change Discriminatory Laws Against Women.
Her fearless activism put her on the frontlines of a violent crackdown. Following the disputed national elections in 2009, security officials stormed the student dormitories. Many students were beaten, arrested, and reportedly killed. Bahareh was outspoken in demanding accountability from the government for these human rights violations. Bahareh was arrested for the third time on December 31, 2009 and sentenced to almost a decade in prison. This is one of the heaviest sentences ever given to a women’s rights activist or student activist.
Prior to her arrest, Bahareh was a newlywed with dreams of starting a family. Bahareh has sacrificed that dream, and now faces years in prison for the simple act of advocating for the rights of her fellow Iranians. Like many young Iranians, she strives for a just world that ensures the respect of rights of all people.
Bahareh is a remarkable woman who—despite her imprisonment—remains hopeful for the future: “Sadness and loneliness have no place in my heart because our empathy for each other is untainted. These perpetual, sad and cold days and nights will surely end… There is no doubt in my mind that [we have a] bright future; we will breathe in a free country while celebrating our liberty together. We must believe in this and stand up like before, informed and hopeful.”
Join the global campaign to Free Bahareh Hedayat, launched by a group of Iranian women and student activists to commemorate Bahareh’s 30th Birthday.
Learn about the Campaign for One Million Signatures to Change Discriminatory Laws Against Women.
Learn about United4Iran, the global network of Iranian and non-Iranian individuals and human rights activists working to promote fundamental human and civil rights in Iran.
Read the Amnesty International Report “Iran: Amnesty International’s submission to the Commission on the Status of Women regarding concerns about the harassment and imprisonment of women, including rights defenders and members of minorities,” 10 August 2011.