Is it imaginable that in the 21st century a modern woman and outstanding actress receives lashes for her art? Sadly such brutality is common in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The most recent victim is the wonderful actress Marzieh Vafamehr. She received a jail sentence of one year and 90 lashes in a court trial last Saturday. Vafamehr had been arrested in July and held in Evin prison until the end of the month, when she was released on an unspecified bail. The Islamic Republic accuses her of violating the hijab -- the Islamic veiling forced on Iran's women for 32 long years.
The Iranian regime has a long and sad history of the most barbaric human rights abuses, and most tragic are explanations by regime officials that they are defending moral values and the security of their country. Crimes like flogging, amputations, executions and other forms of severe torture have nothing to do with defending moral values, but do all represent one thing: insanity.
The Iranian regime has lost legitimacy to defend the security of Iran and its citizens -- to be more precise, it never had any legitimacy in the first place. How could they when all that they can do is hijack the home of over 70 million Iranians and take them as hostages? One recent hostage is Marzieh Vafamehr.
Her "guilt" was to portray how the theater work of an actress was banned in Iran in the film titled My Tehran for Sale two years ago. What has happened to the figure she presented in this film is now happening to Marzieh herself. The actress Vafamehr portrays flees to Australia after being persecuted in Iran. It is a step that Marzieh might be facing now as well -- leaving her country after being targeted by the Iranian regime.
The gravity of current human rights abuses becomes more visible and shocking as just before Marzieh's sentence, a young student and activist was lashed over 70 times for expressing his criticism of Ahmadinejad. This barbaric act has left severe wounds on his back. While the international community is usually very quick in condemning these grave human rights violations, it is unfortunately also very slow in transforming public condemnation into concrete action to prevent further human rights abuses. This is not an issue that can be solved through negotiations and engagement -- there is only one language that this regime understands well: pressure.
Through political and economic pressure, the international community can use its power to make the regime's isolation complete and by that reaching out to the Iranian people. Those in Iran who care so much about democracy, freedom and respect for human rights -- and Marzieh Vafamehr is one brave example -- are in grave danger. Public condemnation by all democracies around the globe is a great step, but it can only be the first step and should immediately be followed by powerful measures to limit the Iranian regimes financial and logistical assets. Courageous voices like Marzieh Vafamehr are not only the Iranian society's talented artists, but also very visibly Iran's democratic future. To make this future become reality soon is something the international community can influence immensely.
As for Marzieh and Iran's brave civil society, every day counts.