By Joanne Michele - Middle East Correspondent for Safeworld
On 11th August, 2012 a series of powerful earthquakes struck the East Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran. Although over 90 percent of the country falls within an active seismic zoneand therefore experiences earthquakes on a regular, near-daily basis, the August earthquakes were particularly devastating.
The death toll, as reported by official government sources, is over 300 and over 2,000 were reported injured. That those numbers have not been updated since several days after the quake, coupled with the initial denial of international aid, has led activists to criticize and question official accounts of the destruction.
In response to the denial [by the Iranian regime] of international aid, Iranian activists and ordinary citizens took it upon themselves to travel to the region to distribute aid, support and also to document the destruction.
Ten of the activists were later released on bail but the rest were transferred to the Central Prison of Tabriz, the capital of the province.
There are additional reports that some have since been taken from that prison by Intelligence Ministry official, and their whereabouts and condition remain unknown.
Despite the danger, including that of aftershocks and additional small quakes that continue to be felt in the region, Iranians remain dedicated to telling the stories of the quake victims.
In response to public pressure and the opening of international aid channels, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a general license to NGOs, allowing them to collect and distribute donations despite U.S. sanctions.
In view of the ongoing impact of the devastation, the licence has recently been extended to November 19th 2012.