A Humanitarian Needs Our Help; Political Prisoner Only Assisted with Health Care Concerns

Article excerpt


The world is in need of a little healing right now, a time of change and challenges among nations and cultures. Humanitarians around the planet work in countless communities to help make things better - as aid workers, teachers, journalists and spiritual leaders.

Yet every so often, a humanitarian's relationship with the world gets turned upside down, so instead of helping the world, that good-hearted person needs our support.

Right now, my colleague Silva Harotonian sits in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, innocent of any wrongdoing yet sentenced to three years in jail on political charges. We ask the world to come to her aid by calling for her release. Silva's story will sound familiar. Journalist Roxana Saberi suffered through a similar ordeal during her detainment on political charges, and Ms. Saberi's release on May 11 gives hope to those of us asking for mercy for Silva.

When the same legal basis for Ms. Saberi's discharge is applied to Silva's case, it indicates Silva also should be granted freedom. Additionally, Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, commented on Ms. Saberi's appeal that all the aspects of this case, such as its moral and worldly elements, should be considered in a careful, quick and fair way. As she approaches her second and final appeal, Silva deserves the same.

Silva, an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent, has always been a natural humanitarian. A compassionate soul, she actively served her Armenian Christian church and cared for ailing family members. We at the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) hired then 33-year-old Silva in late 2007 to work on one of our many international, peer-to-peer exchange programs.

As a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization with a 40-year history of international academic and people-to-people exchange initiatives, IREX employs more than 500 people around the world and has touched many thousands without ever being accused of nefarious intentions.

Silva provided administrative support for our Maternal and Child Health Education and Exchange Program, which allowed health care professionals in the United States and Iran to share information on best practices.

Despite her modest role, serving the women and children in her home country of Iran struck a chord with Silva. She worked from our office in Yerevan, Armenia, translating documents, answering phone inquiries and occasionally traveling to Iran to explain program logistics to the health care exchange's participants. …