Today, Saturday, June 23, I will join thousands of citizens from the US and around the world in Paris at the largest-ever assembly of Iranians calling for and planning for regime change. There has never been a more exciting time to think about a democratic and free Iran. I dream of the day when my family and friends inside Iran will be able to speak out freely, not worry about their religion or dress, have full access to the Internet, and travel abroad.
But why would an ordinary US citizen, like me, travel from my home in Dallas, Texas to join a rally in France calling for such monumental change in a country currently so isolated? While some may think it is an unlikely dream, I owe it to my country of birth to do something about the government of Iran’s great injustices. I cannot sit by and enjoy my freedoms in the United States and do nothing for the people of Iran.
My story is all too common in Iran. One day, while living in Iran as a young girl going to high school, government authorities picked up my personal diary and decided to reprimand me for its content. Their punishment was to prevent me from attending university.
It was a harsh rebuke for a dreamer like me. I was ultimately thrown in prison for several months as an additional reprimand. I was given this treatment for personal writings I had done while dreaming of a better life.
By God’s grace, I was released and soon found my way to Texas. After several years of studies, hard work and learning a new way of life, I became a medical physicist treating cancer patients.
I cannot imagine what my life would have been like to have not been privileged with the opportunity of living as a citizen in a country with great individual rights protections and political freedoms.
Today, I am still humbled by how lucky I was and seldom miss an opportunity to remind my husband and children of the benefits and responsibilities that come with being a US citizen.
Indeed, my life in Texas stands in stark contrast to those that live inside Iran and the 3,200 Iranians who survived repression before they made their way across the border and now live in camps inside Iraq.
It is for them that I travel to Paris to rally with others.
Residents of Iran and the two camps in eastern Iraq called Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty yearn for basic freedoms. Inside Iran, the people are repressed by the government, have limited access to information and are unable to speak their mind. And it isn’t much better inside Iraq’s Camps Liberty and Ashraf.
At the behest of the Iranian regime, the Iraqi government has forced these political refugees to live under deteriorating living conditions, has deprived them of freedom of movement and access to their families and lawyers.
Despite the enormous sacrifices made by the US military for the people of Iraq, the Iraqi government has refused to honor the commitments it made to the government of the United States to protect these Iranian dissidents, 1,000 of them women, when it took control of the camps in January 2009.
After six years of US military protection frome 2003 to 2009, residents of Camps Ashraf and Liberty are now left vulnerable.
The long and difficult struggle for freedom from oppression for these refugees, who were recognized by the USas “protected persons” in 2004, can finally come to end if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removes the bureaucratic obstacles that are holding them hostage.
So far, her egregious delay in recognizing that these people deserve to be free has been disappointing.
As a mother, and as someone who has relatives and friends in Camp Ashraf, I appeal to Secretary Clinton to think of the hundreds of other women and children who just want to live in a country where they have the freedom to make something of their lives.
As we approach America’s Independence Day on July 4, I am reminded of the millions of people that would give anything to be free. The thousands of Iranians, committed to establish freedom and democracy in Iran, who are now in Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq deserve to know that after years of hardship and sacrifice, their future and that of their young countrymen and women is filled with hope.
I can’t think of a better way to show the people inside Iran that the world is on their side. Secretary Clinton can give all of them the hope they deserve. The time to act is now.
Homeira Hesami is a cancer researcher who lives in Texas.