CHRI – Unofficial Commemoration Growing in Popularity Despite State Repression
Former political prisoner Heshmatollah Tabarzadi was among several people who were detained on October 29, 2019, for trying to enter the Pasargad archaeological site where the tomb of Cyrus the Great is located.
Security forces had closed the road leading to the ancient Persian king’s final resting place north of Shiraz, Fars Province, to prevent people from attending “Cyrus Day,” an unofficial celebration by Iranian nationalists and monarchists to honor the pre-Islamic ruler’s legacy.
The celebration has been growing in popularity in Iran throughout the past decade despite efforts by the government to repress it.
“Following the invitation of many civil society advocates and organizations for participating in a gathering on Cyrus Day at Pasargad, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi and other members of the Iranian Democratic Front [banned] as well as civil rights activists were arrested on the road to Pasargad,” a tweet posted on Tabarzadi’s Twitter profile said on October 29.
Tabarzadi was released the following day. It remains unclear exactly who else was arrested and whether or not they are still detained.
Tabarzadi’s Twitter account also posted a video on October 30 showing the disheveled state of his home in Tehran after it was searched by security forces while he was detained in the city of Shiraz.
The former leader of the banned Democratic Front opposition group, Tabarzadi was previously detained on several occasions throughout the past three decades for criticizing state policies.
In February 2018, Tabarzadi and 14 other prominent Iranians signed a statement demanding a referendum to determine the country’s political future.
On October 28, defense attorney Mohammad Hossein Aghasi tweeted that he had been summoned to a police station in Tehran after being falsely accused of attending the Cyrus Day celebration.
“They called me and said I have to show up at the security police station,” Aghasi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “When I went there, I saw that other people had also been summoned. I was asked if I had participated in Cyrus Day celebrations in Pasargad in the past. I told them I had not had the honor. They said someone had purchased a SIM card under my name and gone to Pasargad. I told them they should call that person, not me. Then they asked me to sign a pledge that I wouldn’t go to Pasargad.”
Aghasi added: “People like me are not afraid of these things because we are familiar with them. But some of the people [at the station] were really terrified and wondered why the security police were after them. Summoning people and asking them to sign pledges are unlawful. Going to the tomb of Cyrus is not.”
Aghasi added that honoring Cyrus the Great is not illegal.
“There’s nothing in the law that says going to Pasargad on October 29 is a crime,” he said. “They cannot prohibit people from going to the tomb of Cyrus or anyone else and the courts cannot punish anyone for it because it is not a crime.
Formerly imprisoned civil rights activist Bahman Ahmadi Amooei tweeted that he had also been summoned but had refused to comply.
“On Monday [October 28] I got a call from the security police and was told I have to come to the station in Jannatabad [district in Tehran] to answer some questions,” Amouee tweeted.
“I asked why and [the man on the phone] said there was a report that I had made some statement or sent a message about Cyrus,” added Amouee. “He was expecting me to show up right away and obediently sit in front of him. I told him he was obviously new to his job and didn’t know what type of person I am.”
Some Iranian officials are sensitive about public displays of honor for Cyrus the Great because many Iranian critics of the Iranian government describe the ancient king’s legacy as an early defense of human rights while highlighting abuses committed under the current government.
Other state officials argue that the government should not attempt to repress the event.
“We have been dealing with October 29 as a security issue when in fact it’s something that has roots in our culture and therefore we need to find cultural solutions for it,” said Ayatollah Lotfollah Dejkam, the Friday Prayer leader of Shiraz and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in Fars Province, in an interview with the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on October 10, 2019.
He added: “Some people believe that October 29 is the anniversary of Cyrus’s triumphant entry into Babylon when he introduced the charter on human rights. That’s why they named it Cyrus Day in his honor. At the same time, others believe there is no historical evidence for this and blame those abroad for making a big deal out of it.”
Earlier this year, Member of Parliament Bahram Parsaie called for the government to officially recognize Cyrus Day.
“The founder of human rights is a source of great pride for our history and the history of the world. October 29 has been declared Cyrus Day because it can be an opportunity for national solidarity, as well as for attracting tourism and displaying the cultural richness of our country,” Parsaie told Iran’s parliamentary news agency, ICANA, on July 17, 2019.
“We should organize and celebrate this day in a manner that would not only attract tourists but also present our culture and civilization in a secure setting, rather than making it a security issue,” he added.
Read this article in Persian.