Foreign Policy Blogs

Sketches of Iran: Putting a Human Face to Human Rights Crisis in Iran


In spite of international hype about Iran, the country’s real stories remain underreported. When it comes to struggles against human rights, for instance, we only hear about the noble work of Iranian activists, lawyers, journalists when they are imprisoned, on hunger strike, exiled or seen in mass protests such as the Green Movement of 2009. But this is not the entire story.

Sketches of Iran: A Glimpse from the Front Lines of Human Rights, edited by Omid Memarian at the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) based in New York, is a collection of cartoons and commentaries about human rights in Iran. It includes personal stories by forty remarkable individuals. Among the contributors are stories from the four-year-old son of imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh; the daughter of Christian pastor Hossein Soodmand, who was executed for converting to Christianity; the daughter of the leader of Green Movement, Mir Hosein Mosavi, who remains under house arrest; the father of Saneh Jaleh, a Kurdish student who was killed at a demonstration; the Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi; renowned human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar and others. The stories are complemented with editorial cartoons such as a portrait featuring twelve political prisoners in Iran.

Omid Memarian spoke with Azadeh Pourzand of Foreign Policy Association about the rationale behind the ICHRI’s publication of Sketches of Iran. Addressing the diverse nature of the stories and cartoons, Mr. Memarian said, “We really wanted to put real human faces and voices to the much discussed human rights situation in Iran.” He added, “Sketches of Iran is a way for us to convey to the world what the people of Iran are facing in their ordinary lives. The human rights crisis in Iran is not only headline news. This crisis impacts real lives in real ways!” A former prisoner of conscious in Iran himself, Mr. Memarian emphasized, “As evident in the stories and cartoons included in this book, we can only forgive, but we cannot forget.” Memarian hopes that by reading Sketches of Iran, the world understands the depth and the impact human rights violations have on many lives.

In order for this book to receive the much deserved attention, it has to be published both in soft and hard copies and widely circulated. Even though ICHRI has paid for the collection, preparation, editing and layout of Sketches of Iran, the cost of publishing goes far beyond the financial capacity of the organization. To publish the book in large numbers with affordable pricing for buyers, ICHRI has prepared a teaser shared with the public through a cloud sourcing venue (Kickstarter) and launched a grassroots fundraising campaign. So far, ICHRI has succeeded in raising over half of the total cost with ten days to go until the Kickstarter campaign comes to a closure.

Taking an innovative approach to fundraising through cloud sourcing, Mr. Memrian and his colleagues at the ICHRI hope to raise both awareness about the human rights situation in Iran and obtain sufficient funding for the publication of the book via the Kickstarter campaign. “The voices gathered in Sketches of Iran ought to be heard by the world and this is only possible if we can widely circulate this book and make it available for purchase with affordable prices,” Mr. Memarian concludes.

To see a brief description of the content of Sketches of Iran click here.

  • Granted, Iran has a nuclear program that refuses to be inspected by the IAEA, has a horrible human rights track record, supports dictators, vehemently expresses its desire to destroy Israel, ignores UN resolutions and sanctions… the list goes on and on. But what’s behind all of those? There’s people, stories, faces, and names–there’s real people and I’m glad that someone’s finally paying attention to them. It’s all to easy to hear on the news “Iran pushes forward its nuclear program” and then a week or so later, “US imposes new sanctions on Iran.” But what we don’t put together is that these sanctions are hurting the people–physically, emotionally, and socially. What’s even worse is that we don’t even hear what Iran is doing to its own people because we can’t get in there. We have a tendency to completely desensitize ourselves from conflict which is why we try to avoid putting the name to the face in the news–we are too scared of what it will show us both about ourselves and the humanitarian conflict at hand. Books like this one need to come out more in order to keep reminding us that wars and actions are not merely against the faceless–they are against real people.

  • Katherine L

    This blog was a strongly needed reminder that there is a person of full consciousness behind every story we hear and then quickly disregard as one of the many. One thing I constantly advocate when referring to war or politics is the importance of remembering that almost every person has someone they love and who loves them as our parents, friends and families love us. Every human is complex with desired and dreams, talents and potential. As Casey said, we can’t desensitize ourselves from the individuals that make up the masses we put labels on. The only way to stop that, since we can’t directly help Iran currently, is to keep having books like this one released so that information will spread and detachment from these situations will disappear. I fear people have lost hope in Iran due to their poor history in human rights, but leaving a nation already struggling without our at least emotional support would be us advocating for the demise of a nation of people. That’s unacceptable. When in doubt, we have a responsibility to protect one thing above any race, gender, ethnicity or relation: humans.We forget that in cases like Iran, but hopefully this book and others of its kind will help turn that fact around.


Azadeh Pourzand
Azadeh Pourzand

Currently a program manager at an international development institution focusing on the Middle East-North Africa region, Azadeh holds a Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) and an MBA from the Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

The editor-in-chief of Women's Policy Journal at Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2009-2010, her writings have appeared in places such as International Herald Tribune, CNN International and the Huffington Post.

Born and raised in Iran, in the past years she has worked and studied in the US, Mexico, Argentina, Bangladesh, China and the Netherlands and India. While in India, she worked at a Mumbai-based foreign policy think-tank, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, where she co-authored a comprehensive policy paper that explored India's view of the Arab uprisings.

Azadeh is the founder and president of a start-up organization (The Siamak Pourzand Foundation), promoting freedom of expression for artists, writers, journalists and creative minds in Iran and beyond.