As Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited New York Wednesday, David Keyes threw a street party in mock celebration of Iran’s egregious record of public hangings for blasphemy, homosexuality and other crimes.
The prank featured an ice cream truck, balloons, Iranian flags and “fun for the whole family,” as well as signs with catchy slogans like “Free political prisoners! Free ice cream!” and the sharply sarcastic “Hang in there!” Attendees also brought symbolic signs renaming the Manhattan cross streets “Majid Tavakoli Plaza” and “Jason Rezaian Park,” after an Iranian student activist and an American journalist imprisoned there. There was no mention of Amir Mirza Hekmati, a former Marine imprisoned in Iran for years for allegedly spying.
According to Keyes, the satirical party marks “Iran’s recent milestone of 1,000 hangings (in the last year and a half)!”
Zarif appeared Wednesday morning to give a speech, cosponsored by a New York University center and the think tank New America. He was scheduled to “focus on the current state of play in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1… as well as a range of pressing issues in the region and the implications for Iran’s relations with the United States.”
Those issues include Tuesday’s unexplained forcible rerouting of a cargo ship with links to a number of Western countries, including the U.S., into an Iranian harbor. (RELATED: Iranian Media Claims Capture Of US Ship, Pentagon Denies)
Iran also faces tensions with countries in the region over its tacit support of Houthis rebels, whose takeover in Yemen pushed Saudi Arabia and its allies to pursue a relentless bombing campaign that has lasted over a month and killed hundreds of civilians. (RELATED: Saudis Ignore US, Ignore Iran, Continue Pulverizing Yemen)
Iran’s record of imprisoning and executing dissenters has also increased during the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, who ran as a reform-minded candidate to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A particularly widespread accusation is “enmity against God,” a catchall charge filed against rabble-rousers.
Keyes, the activist who threw Wednesday’s street party, is executive director of the nonprofit group Advancing Human Rights, which has clashed in the past with Iranian government officials. In 2013, he confronted Zarif at the U.N. General Assembly, asking about the fate of Tavakoli after he was imprisoned for protesting 2009’s presidential election. Zarif told Keyes, “I don’t know him,” sparking a vehement campaign that ended in Tavakoli’s brief release from prison. Tavakoli then quietly returned to government custody after a few short weeks of freedom.
In a statement to the press, Keyes defended his street-party tactic, saying, “Comedy is a profoundly powerful tool against dictators, as we saw with North Korea’s hysterical response to ‘The Interview.’ Tyrants silence and jail satirists because they fear them.”
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