Oak Institute for Human Rights
The Oak Institute for Human Rights, established in 1997, annually brings a prominent human rights activist to campus. While in residence, the Oak Fellow gets a chance to reflect, recuperate, and educate the Colby community about their work.
The 2023 Oak Human Rights Fellow is Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani, an Iranian journalist, activist, and researcher. Currently, Isfahani writes for BBC Monitoring, the Atlantic Council, and ARTICLE 19, focusing on health and human rights violations.
He was based in Tehran during the violent November 2019 protests in Iran, in which security forces were estimated to have murdered more than 1,500 protesters. During the internet shutdown, he risked his own personal safety in order to give a voice to the people of Iran.
Isfahani’s work includes articles on Iran’s violence against protestors; persecution of ethnic, religious, and LGBTQ+ minorities; response to Covid-19: and other health crises such as medicine shortages and the lack of medical care for minority groups. Isfahani, who identifies as queer and non-binary (he/they), has focused most recently on LGBTQ+ issues in Iran. In the past and under different pen names, he has created materials for young LGBTQ+ adults on health, gender, and sexual orientation, and he was involved in suicide prevention work for the LGBTQ+ community. Despite all the obstacles he has faced, he continues to be one of the main voices highlighting human rights issues in Iran.
During the recent and ongoing Iranian protests, Isfahani has played a crucial role not only reporting the protests, but also identifying Iranians killed in the demonstrations. He helped verify the identity of 75 slain Iranians for the BBC, and international human rights organizations around the globe have recognized this work. He still documents the continued repression and brutal execution of protesters. This is but one example of Isfahani’s intense commitment to journalism and human rights. As he has said: “To record human suffering, you need to wallow in a sea of pain and absorb the raw unfiltered emotions like a sponge, you have to weave pain into your soul and then carve your heart out and hold it before the eyes of the world.” This is exactly what Isfahani does every day and has been doing for more than decade. Colby College will provide him with needed respite from the trauma he has lived and continues to live as a journalist in exile, away from his family, and always fearing for his life.