In Exile, An Iranian “Lion” Keeps Fighting

haghighatjoo

The “Lion Woman” of Iran sits outside her 10th floor office atop the main library of the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus, chaffing with frustration as she talks of the turbulence shaking her homeland.

She knows this story all too well: The upwelling of resistance, the retaliatory fist of state power, the fading sense of hope.

“This government is acting like wild animal”, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo says.

After four years of exile, she has lost none of her quiet ferocity or blunt determination. A visiting scholar at UMass, she has led an appeal to the United Nations secretary general to appoint a special envoy to investigate abuses against activists in Iran, and is pushing for the United States to do more as well.

But while she has come to enjoy some of the peaceful pleasures of life here—like curling up with her 6-year old daughter to watch cartoons—she longs to be back in the boiling center of things.

Haghihatjoo was one of the youngest members of the Iranian Parliament when she took on the power structure the underpins the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. After a clerical crackdown on reformers, 124 members agreed to resign. And when they considered who among them should be first to speak, all eyes turned to her.

Then as now, determined women like her played a key role in demanding democracy in Iran. And what she said seems remarkably prescient today: “By conducting sham elections, the power-drunk opponents of the popular vote have turned their backs on all the achievements of the revolution. They seek to erase republicanism and freedom from the political face of the country forever”.

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