On April 3, 2012, human rights activist and Mourning Mothers (Laleh Park Mothers) supporter, Mansoureh Behkish, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, on charges of assembly and collusion against national security through propaganda against the establishment.
On her conviction, Mansoureh Behkish told Jaras, “On 3rd of April they informed me of my sentence, I am now waiting for the Court of Appeals ruling. As you know, they do not allow proper defense in court but I did speak in court and defended myself. The Prosecution’s representative was in court also, he was eating snacks and repeatedly asking for maximum penalty.”
Behkish adds, “They asked, what were you doing at Neda Agha Soltan’s grave site? I told them is it a crime to visit someone’s grave site? This is not something new for me, I have been visiting my loved ones graves for thirty years.
It is my civil right to be able to visit the grave site of my loved ones. These are all excuses, I am under a lot of pressure and harassment not to visit my brothers’ and sister’s grave sites. We are not even allowed to hold memorial ceremonies for our loved ones.”
Mansoureh Behkish was arrested twice, in November and December of 2009. She was again arrested June of 2011 at the intersection of Yousef Abbad and Fatemi in Tehran and was taken to Evin prison. She was released on bail July of 2011.
This supporter of the Mourning Mothers explains about her arrests, “I was arrested November 2099 at Laleh Park, there were thirty of us. I was arrested again in December of the same year. My next arrest was in 2011 when they arrested me on the street.
During one of my arrests, they came to my work place to arrest me. They treated me very harshly and handcuffed me as though they were arresting a thief. I lost my job after that incident.
I was interrogated during long sessions. Most of their interrogations were about my writings. My writings were only about human rights.
During interrogations, I spoke my mind and asked them questions. I told them about all the atrocities they had committed against us. I told them they had killed many of our loved ones, they had even killed two of my brothers.
My brothers had fought against the Shah’s regime but after the Revolution you arrested them and convicted them and after spending some years in prison you executed them in 1988……One of the interrogators said, “We made some mistakes then, why don’t you just let it go?”.”
Mansoureh Behkish has lost six family members to the mass executions of the 80’s.
She continues, “Why should we just let it go? They have killed six members of my family and no one is accountable. They should at least admit that they have made a mistake. This is the least they can do for a bereaved sister.
Give us the reason why they were killed. They not only did not return their bodies to us, they didn’t even tell us where they were buried nor did they give us their wills…..you still won’t leave Khavaran alone (Translators note: The cemetery where victims of mass executions of the 80’s were buried in mass graves), you bulldozed Khavaran. In 2007 you again bulldozed Khavaran and planted trees there.
This year before the New Year I took my mother to Khavaran to visit the place her children are buried. Every year you closed the road entering Khavaran. This year the road was open but many security forces were stationed inside.
My mother is 91 years old and walks with difficulty. We took her hand and helped her trying to go inside, but they didn’t allow us to enter the cemetery.
They are even afraid of us placing flowers on the burial site. We tell them these are only flowers. They tell us your flowers are even more dangerous than hand grenades and guns.”
Mansoureh Behkish, stating that her mother is aware of her sentence, says, “She is very dependent on me and is very worried. They are putting pressure on me in a thousand ways. I am banned from leaving the country….they arrested me at my work place, and for what? Only because I want to go to the grave sites of my sister and brothers. I want to know why they were executed? How they were killed? Where are they buried?
We didn’t find about Khavaran that easy. My mother went to Evin for one year. They would refer her to Behesht-e-Zahra (Tehran cemetery). From there, they would refer her back to Evin. Finally someone gave us Khavaran’s address.
We found my sister’s grave with much difficulty. They have broken my brother’s tomb stone three times. They have harassed us so much that these are only but a sliver of their harassments.
All the families do is to place few flowers on the graves and then leave. What are all these pressures they placed on us for.”
She stresses that she will continue with her human rights activism and says, “Through out these years they have put so much pressure on me that it was worse then being imprisoned. But I will continue with the pursuit of my human rights work. These verdicts will not make me retreat from my path.
I believe that these harsh sentences will only cause those who sit on the sidelines as spectators to break their silence. How much can people endure? When people care no longer able to endure and lose patience, it can result in serious consequences.
I have told them many times that their conduct will only harm themselves. You have even made enemies of your supporters.
Therefore, this is not the right way, those who are under pressure will not stay silent and by then it will be too late.”
It should be noted that the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) issued a statement condemning the sentencing of Mansoureh Behkish and called for an end to her judicial harassment.
The Observatory believes that Mansoureh Behkish’s stiff sentence is only to frighten her to not continue with her human rights activism. Furthermore, the purpose of this harsh sentence is to intimidate all human rights defenders in Iran.