Refugee Voices – Parvaneh From Iran
Protecting the persecuted is a core American ideal. At Human Rights First, we help asylum seekers who fled persecution and violence navigate the complex U.S. legal system by matching them with high-quality pro bono attorneys. Explore Parvaneh inspiring journey from persecution to freedom.
Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP
Parvaneh Vahidmanesh is a human rights activist and journalist from Iran. She had a history of activism, but it was when Parvaneh wrote a book about the lives of Jews in contemporary Iran that she began to fear for her life. Government officials, who must approve all written work before publication, decided that the book was propaganda for Israel—a crime punishable by death—and began a campaign of harassment and intimidation against her. Fortunately, Parvaneh was able to leave Iran to lecture the University of Virginia.
Shortly after she left Iran, protests broke out in Iran in response to the presidential elections, and the Iranian government reacted with violence. Horrified at what was happening in her country, Parvaneh wrote an open letter to Ali Khameini that was published in the Wall Street Journal. She condemned the violence and urged the Supreme Leader to allow freedom of expression in Iran. By the end of the year, Parvaneh was forced to make the difficult decision to apply for asylum in the United States.
Parvaneh’s case was assigned to a team of attorneys at Akin, Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP. The team was led by Steve Schulman and Juliet Gray, who represented Parvaneh before the Arlington Asylum Office. Thanks to Juliet’s excellent work, Parvaneh was successfully granted asylum, and is now a lawful permanent resident. Parvaneh is still fighting for human rights, as a program officer for Freedom House in Washington DC.
“I WAS VERY SCARED. I WAS A LONE WOMAN HERE IN THE U.S. WHEN HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST ACCEPTED MY CASE, I REALLY FELT THAT NOW I HAVE SOMETHING FOR THE FUTURE.”
— PARVANEH VAHIDMANESH
HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic established in 1979. The constitution, amended in 1989, created a political system based on the concept of a “Supreme Leader,” and mandated that political leaders be vetted by clergy-dominated power structures. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
While mechanisms for popular election exist within the structure of the state, the supreme leader directly controls the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government as well as the armed forces.
In spite of the work of activists like Parvaneh, The U.S. Department of State Human Rights report for 2013 found that in Iran, “the most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections.”
LAWYERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
“I felt that she is my friend, and she is my attorney and lawyer. When I was approved, it was a new life for me, and both of us cried.”
Human Rights First has been working with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP for more than twenty years. In that time, the firm has taken and won more than eighty asylum cases, in both New York and Washington DC.
“If you decide to take on an asylum case, neither your law firm nor Human Rights First is going to just let you go it alone…there are plenty of people to go to for guidance. I had never done an asylum case before this one and at the end, I felt amazing.” –Juliet Gray
In 2007, Akin Gump’s Washington, D.C. office was honored with a Marvin Frankel Award for its outstanding contribution to Human Rights First’s asylum program.