Documenting Victims Killed by Iran’s Government, NED Grantee Provides Hope

Even before their father—an Iranian lawyer and democracy activist—was assassinated, allegedly by the agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1991, Ladan and Roya Boroumand had dedicated their lives to promoting human rights and democracy in Iran. In 2001, the two sisters co-founded the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy (ABC)—a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—named in his memory, then they launched Omid in 2006, a bilingual website that documents the human rights abuses committed by the Islamic Republic and memorializes its victims.

Today, Omid (meaning “hope” in Persian) includes 25,408 cases of men and women who were executed by the Iranian government—not only political dissidents, but also citizens accused of theft, adultery, and other crimes. In provinces where the population faces extreme poverty, for example, some couriers are killed for smuggling small amounts of goods across borders, such as 19-year-old Mohammad Sanjarzehi, shot Feburary 15, 2021 in Baluchestan on suspicion of illegally transporting fuel. In the current Iranian year (beginning March 20, 2020), the Iranian judiciary, notorious for lack of transparency and contempt for due process, killed at least 229 people, according to data collected by ABC. [Learn more about NED’s work in Middle East and North Africa.]

“We cannot replace the love that was taken away from them,” writes Ladan Boroumand, a historian, activist, and former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at NED. “But, by documenting acts of violence and giving families, friends, and society the chance to tell their stories, we help alleviate their pain and revive their hope for justice.” [Read Ladan Boroumand’s latest writing in NED’s Journal of Democracy.]

Throughout the year, ABC researchers connect with children, parents, family, friends, classmates, neighbors, and cellmates of those who have been executed or assassinated to document their stories, sharing in their pain and frustration.

“In many cases, ABC is the first organization to bring updates about political activists’ arrests and prisoners’ execution to the public, triggering interest from other rights groups to conduct further reporting,” says Khalid Majidyar, a senior manager for the Middle East and North Africa at NED.

“Despite efforts by authorities to limit prisoners’ contacts to the outside world, ABC is able to provide critical information to prisoners and their families who are left to navigate a highly politicized and opaque legal system that fails to notify them of their rights and denies them access to legal counsel.”

By creating this space for reflection and transition, ABC strives to build a democratic future in which all citizens’ rights are respected and crimes against humanity remain in the history books. The comprehensive data on executions and other human rights violations over decades place the organization in a unique position to challenge Iran’s narrative and to advocate for accountability and reform.

“We remind their abusers that their crimes are not forgotten and that they will be held to account,” explains Ms. Boroumand. “We shed light on what went wrong and engage society in thinking about laws and safeguards that protect them from violence and abuses of the state.”

 Watch Ladan Boroumand Speak about the work of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy: