Iranians go to the polls tomorrow to vote for a president and in a sea of grey, dour male candidates, Zahra's feisty campaign jumps out.
Built on ideals of democracy and justice, she is not afraid to criticize the establishment, blaming them for mismanaging the economy, executing teenagers and throwing into prison anyone who disagrees.
As a mother whose son Mehdi disappeared in the Islamic republic’s prisons while protesting during the last rigged elections in 2009, her pain resonates with millions of ordinary people who tried to stand up to their government in 2009 but were punished severely.
Unfortunately Zahra is a fictional character. She is the protagonist of an online, popular graphic novel called Zahra’s Paradise written by two American-Iranians, Amir and Khalil.
The title itself is a subtle criticism of the current situation in Iran – it refers to a large cemetery outside the capital Tehran where many opponents of the regime are buried, including Neda Agha Soltan.
The virtual candidate's attempt at running for president is a form of protesting tomorrow's vote at a time when the violent crackdown on the 2009 post-election protests are still fresh in people's minds .
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that in the run up to this year's elections authorities have arrested dozens of activists and journalists. Dozens of political prisoners remain in jail since 2009, the organization said.
“The surge in recent violations underlines Iran’s continued and brazen flouting of human rights standards through its persecution of political dissidents and betrays the glaring absence of a meaningful human rights discourse in the election campaign,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme in a statement.
Two former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a political activist have been under house arrest since 2011.
Zahra's anger: A postcard created by authors of the graphic novel featuring Zahra which readers can download and send to the Guardian Council in Tehran which vets presidential candidates. (Courtesy: vote4zahra.org)
Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour