Last Tuesday, the Iranian regime's malicious noose took another innocent life. Political prisoner Ali Saremi, 63, was hanged in Tehran's infamous Evin prison after a lifetime of peacefully espousing human rights and democracy. In a touching letter, one of his daughters, Leila, who was standing outside the prison walls at the time of the execution, wrote, "I was frozen in time, overcome with an indescribable emotion ... Dad, I felt you fly away."
Mr. Saremi was arrested in September 2007 for attending a memorial ceremony for 30,000 political prisoners massacred in 1988. His son, Akbar, is among the 3,400 members of the main opposition People's Mojahedin (PMOI/MEK) in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
The story of Mr. Saremi, a devoted father of four and loving husband, is one that perfectly intertwines some of the most important aspects of Iranian politics.
After a total of 24 years of imprisonment, he displayed extraordinary courage, resolve and political acumen even in his final moments. An eyewitness account reveals he refused to wear blindfolds as he was being taken to the gallows, telling the henchmen, "I want to witness your deeds."
But, beyond his moving personal story, Mr. Saremi lives as an embodiment of the Iranian people's determination to attain liberty even if it means paying the ultimate price. He proved that the Iranian people are ready and more than capable to bring about democratic change.
For their part, western governments should not allow the Iranian regime to commit such crimes with impunity. Mr. Saremi's execution should be categorically condemned and immediate and effective steps should be taken to prevent future executions. According to Amnesty International, six others are currently on death row for having familial ties to the PMOI.
But more permanent measures must be adopted, too. Following Saremi's execution, Tehran hastily summoned a number of western ambassadors to discourage them from censuring the hanging, saying this would count as support for "terrorists." For years, the regime has relied on America's disgraceful terrorist label against the PMOI to justify its crimes against dissidents. It is high time for the State Department to lift this designation, especially after a Federal Appeals Court ruled in the organisation's favour in July 2010 and 113 members of the US House of Representatives in a bi-partisan resolution (H.Res.1431) called for the removal of the label.
As we enter 2011, President Obama should ensure that his foreign policy legacy is not tarnished with the US supplying the justificatory context for the mullahs to commit their heinous crimes. Thousands of lives and much more are at stake.