AMNESTY International Wits has condemned the “unlawful detention of political prisoners” in Iran and have circulated a petition demanding their “immediate and unconditional release”.

Amnesty International Wits President Amir Bagheri said the petition is part of the Free Iran Campaign which aims at creating awareness for the students and general public about human rights violations in Iran.

Bagheri said the petition was targeting up to 2000 signatures from Wits during the week. Once completed, it would be sent to the Iran embassy in Pretoria and the department of foreign affairs.

“The petition will hint to the foreign affairs department that the country [Iran] which they have economic ties with is rated first in terms of human rights violations and has the worst conditions in which political prisoners are detained,” said Bagheri.

Political prisoners have been detained since the disputed 2009 presidential elections in Iran and have been sentenced to “long prison terms” for expressing views which challenge that of the state.

Those detained include human rights activists, teachers, students, film-makers and journalists, all receiving between one and 20 year-long sentences.

Second year BA student Balungile Mbenyane believes the petition can help “change the situation in Iran by informing people”.

“Here in South Africa we are in a lucky position because through democracy we can challenge and change leadership. In Iran they are stuck with a dictator.

“Informing people is helpful because it’s only when you know about a certain issue that you are able to change it,” she said.

Mehdi Bagherioromi, a volunteer in the Free Iran Campaign, was “impressed with the turnout [to sign the petition] from the first day [Monday] and thrilled by the Wits students’ response”.

There were, however, views which saw little effect the petition would have “accounting to the human rights violations encountered in our own backyard [South Africa]”. Such views were shared by 3rd year BA student, Zweli Mdlalose, who said: “The petition has good intentions, hence I signed it. I, however, feel it is strategically futile because it informs people but gives them little in terms of making them active in the fight against injustices.”