Web Site Profiles Iran's Political Victims
SCOTT SIMON host:
A new bilingual website is trying to document human rights abuses committed by the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution. It includes nearly 10,000 cases of men and women who have been executed by the government, not just political dissidents but men and women who've been accused of adultery, theft and other crimes.
Roya and Ladan Bouroumand keep and edit this website. They're in our studios now. Thank you very much for joining us, both of you.
Ms. LADAN BOUROMAND (Founder, Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation): Thank you for having us.
Ms. ROYA BOUROMAND (Founder, Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation): Thank you.
SIMON: And, first, why was it important to you, Ladan Bouromand, to keep this website?
Ms. L. BOUROMAND: I think it is important for the victims to have a place where their memory is kept and for the victims' relatives and survivors it's a way to cope with this tragedy. And for the society it provides a documentation and allows the society to collectively think about what happened and why did we allow this to happen.
SIMON: Roya Bouromand, are there names you know on this website? Family members, perhaps?
Ms. R. BOUROMAND: Yes. My father was a pro-democracy advocate in the '60s and '70s, and in France after the Revolution he was a dissident.
SIMON: Your father was assassinated in Paris.
Ms. R. BOUROMAND: Yes, he was assassinated in Paris, and our younger brother was to discover my father's body, you know, stabbed in a hallway. And to follow up on what Ladan said about our goal here is that there is rage that is caused by this helplessness and the fact the victim is invisible and you are invisible in your pain, and this website we hope will provide a venue that would be other than revenge, that there is other ways to address this grief.
SIMON: Ladan Bouromand, tell us why you have included the names of people who have been executed because they've been charged with, say, adultery, theft or other crimes. Because people hearing that in the United States would think, well, that's, to say the least, unfortunate, to have the death penalty for those kinds of crimes, but that's their legal system.
Ms. L. BOUROMAND: Yes, but the problem with the Iranian judicial system is that there is no due process of law, and in our investigations, we found letters from the family, the husband of one woman executed for adultery, and he says that his wife was flogged and tortured. And the husband, who loved his wife, said, My wife never committed adultery.
SIMON: Roya Bouromand, you wanted to add something.
Ms. R. BOUROUMAND: Yes. And I want to add that it is true that people think this is part of our culture, and this is what the Islamic Republic government always says. The fact of the matter is that Iran had not used Islamic punishment for any criminal behavior since the early days of the 20th century. And we grew up, you know, we were from a provincial town. My family was from a pretty practicing family. We never heard, ever, the good old times when they use to cut hands, or the good old times when they used to stone people. This was never even discussed in our surroundings. So this is just a means to terrorize a population in just every single way.
SIMON: How do you find out about what's happened to some of these people? I mean Iran is a society that can be closed to the West.
Ms. R. BOUROUMAND: It is. And it is, based on the timing, you're working on it becomes harder or easier. In the early days of the revolution, this information is just published. You have communiqués of the prosecutor in the official newspapers, explaining to you who was killed for what reason. And then you had reporters reporting with a lot of pride the violation of due process in a trial. And so this was for the first few years very available. Later on, when the Islamic Republic realized that this could be used by human rights organizations against them, they stopped reporting a lot of the political executions.
However, you know, the criminal executions are reported in the newspapers. And then if they are not, then they will be in some U.N. reports or some Amnesty International reports or sometimes Human Rights Watch reports. And then if not, political parties themselves put out lists of their victims. And it's by putting all this together that we try to have a sense of what's really happened inside Iran.
SIMON: Ladan Bouroumand, I'm guessing you still have family that's in Iran, some friends?
Ms. L. BOUROUMAND: Yes.
SIMON: Could this website put them in danger? Could you be in danger by running this website? Because we know Iranians living in exile, your father very prominently, have been killed.
Ms. L. BOUROUMAND: Yes, it might. When we decided to launch this project, we thought of the risks. But when you go through these kind of tragedies, and our father was not the only case. Since the early '80s we had worked on human rights abuses in Iran. And you always feel as a citizen that you have a duty. If you don't do that, who will do? And if Iranians don't do that, who will do that? But with the tragedy of our father, it became an existential matter. So you can't live properly if you don't do something about it.
SIMON: Roya Bourmanda, will Iranians in Iran be able to see this website?
Ms. R. BOUROUMAND: We hope so. We know that the government is very good at filtering websites. But we know also that the Iranians are technologically savvy enough to go around the filters. And we are hoping that the word of mouth will get this to them. And we were very surprised, actually, that from the very first day we launched the website, we started to get people writing to us about their loved ones and the information that we have there that is wrong, or the missing people. So hopefully the Iranians will be able to access it. And if not, then we will figure out other ways to get this to them.
But this is a symbolic effort to bring attention to due process and the violation of due process, systematic violation of due process.
SIMON: Thank you both very much.
Ms. R. BOUROUMAND: Thank you.
Ms. L. BOUROUMAND: Thank you for having us.
SIMON: Roya and Ladan Bouroumand are the creators of the new bilingual website, Omid, O-M-I-D. That's a database of people who've been executed by the Iranian government.
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