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'Free Panahi! Free all political prisoners!'
rights, freedoms and repression |
Friday February 11, 2011 19:04 by Yassamine Mather - Hands Off The People of Iran
Given the events in Tunisia and Egypt the campaign in support of Iranian political prisoners has taken on a new urgency. So has the campaign for democracy in Iran. Iranians are just as entitled to freely choose their own leaders as Egyptians and Tunisians. Any change must come from within Iran and from below. John McDonnell MP will launch a new campaign at the Hands Off the People of Iran (GB) annual conference this coming Saturday (February 12).
The 'Free Panahi! Free all political prisoners!' initiative is expected to pick up significant international support. Renowned film director Jafar Panahi has had a savage six-year jail sentence imposed on him, plus a 20-year ban on making films and travelling abroad, for the 'crime' of planning to make a film about the mass movement for democracy that spilled onto the streets of major Iranian cities in 2009.
The conference will also feature an important session on the latest imperialist threats against Iran in the context of the global economic crisis and the dynamic situation across the whole Middle East. It will discuss solidarity with Iranian workers and commemorate the 40th anniversary of a key act in the rebellion against the shah's regime.
According to information compiled by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 121 individuals were hanged between December 20 2010 and January 31 2011. Amongst them were at least four political prisoners. We must do all we can to stop this wave of terror, and the campaign to end all executions and free all political prisoners will be a crucial part of Hopi's activities this year.
The new wave of oppression unleashed in Iran has been directed against all opponents of the regime - including trade unionists, democracy campaigners and students.
But there have been stirrings of rebellion from below. Last week workers in Iran Khodro, the country's main car manufacturer, reported a major accident. Four workers died and 13 were injured when a worker who was unwell and exhausted after repeated shifts had been forced to come to work. The truck he was driving ran into a group of workers in the transport section of the plant during the night shift.
This sparked a protest by workers in every section of the plant. Rattled managers tried to remove the bodies, but angry workers stopped them. They got hold of the body of one of their dead colleagues and carried him around the plant shouting, "Death to Najmodin" (Iran Khodro's CEO). This is not the first time that workers in Iran Khodro have lost their lives at work - far from it. A large, spontaneous demonstration took place outside the factory and workers were involved in scuffles with both company security and the regime's revolutionary guards, and the protest spread rapidly to other plants.
Also this week workers at Iran's Alborz tyre factory resumed a strike over the non-payment of their wages - they had only received 50% of their back pay - and more than 5,000 workers at the Haft-Tapeh sugar cane factory in the southern province of Khuzistan were also on strike. Vahed Bus workers demonstrated in front of the prison where their leaders are detained, including Mansour Osanloo, who is serving a five-year sentence for union activities. Meanwhile, truck drivers blocked main roads and ports in protest at price rises. Following the abolition of subsidies, including for fuel, the price of diesel has gone up by 25%. At the same time, according to the Islamic government's ministry of labour, the Iranian economy is shedding an average of 3,000 jobs a day.
These types of protests are not new, but what has changed over the last few weeks is the slogan, "Death to the dictator!", which has become the standard cry of workers' protests all over Iran. Ruben Markarian from the executive committee of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar) will speak about workers' struggles in Iran and what we can do to support them at the Hopi conference.
Staking a claim
Both factions of the Islamic regime have claimed that the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen mark some kind of continuity with past events in Iran.
The leaders of the 'reformist' wing, Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were quick off the mark, describing the protests in Tunisia and later in Cairo as an extension of Iran's massive demonstrations of 2009, which challenged the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency. Former 'reformist' president Hashemi Rafsanjani, not usually known for his outspokenness, also claimed affinity with protest movements in the Arab world. He stated that the people want to see the "bad elites" behind bars: "No dictator can stop popular movements ... People want democracy," he said.
However, last week Iran's supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Friday worshippers that the protests are an "Islamic uprising" in line with the principles of Iran's 1979 revolution. Khamenei's remarks immediately sparked rebuttals from Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt, where 12 Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood itself, issued statements denouncing the comparison.
While the 'reformist' green movement has called for demonstrations in support of Egyptian protests on February 14, it is not clear that they will go ahead if the ministry of interior refuses them permission.
Mike Macnair and Moshé Machover will lead a session on Iran and the international situation at the Hopi event.
War and sanctions
The world's attention might be turned to events in north Africa, but the threat of war on Iran (be it at the level of cyber war, sanctions or propaganda) has not gone away. On February 1 Defence secretary Liam Fox told MPs that it is "entirely possible" that Iran may develop a nuclear weapon by next year. During questions in the Commons Fox appeared to ratchet up the threats by stating it "would be worse for Iran to have a nuclear weapon" than for the west to organise an Iraq-style invasion of the country.
Following the failure of discussions between the six international mediators (Britain, China, Russia, USA, France and Germany) in the negotiations with Iran, the Iranian representatives are being accused of putting forward "unrealistic" proposals. Ominously, the French foreign minister and German chancellor have warned that western countries will tighten sanctions further if Iran does not comply with their demands.
Sanctions are clearly just one of a number of weapons used by the US and its allies. We now have confirmation that the Stuxnet virus was the product of US-Israeli intelligence cooperation. And interestingly, on the propaganda front, a controversial film - Iranium - about Iran's 'nuclear threat' was launched in US this week. The hour-long 'documentary' will be screened in cinemas across the United States and Canada and is also available on the internet. It is produced by Clarion Fund, an organisation founded by Canadian-Israeli film producer Raphael Store, whose self-proclaimed mission is to "educate Americans about issues of national security and the most urgent threat of radical Islam".
Iranium allegedly reveals Iran's plans to acquire nuclear weapons with the intention of using them against the west. It gives a brief history of Iran, from the Islamic Revolution up to the present day. It is an over-dramatised, neo-conservative view of the current conflict, based on material from the rabidly rightwing Fox News and featuring commentary from James Woolsey, an ex-CIA director who has long advocated bombing Iran. The film advocates pre-emptive strikes against what it labels the "sponsor of Islamic terrorism" to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons.
Of course, despite the regime's own claims, Tehran is nowhere near nuclear capability. It is true that it is continuing to upgrade its conventional weaponry, however. On February 8, for example, the revolutionary guards test-fired a ballistic surface-to-sea missile capable of hitting targets within a 300km range. According to the chief commander of the revolutionary guards, general Mohammad Ali Jafari, the missile, called Persian Gulf, is supersonic, immune to interception and features high-precision systems. It is ironic that a country that cannot feed its population, a country where basic health and safety standards do not apply in workplaces like the Khodro plant, claims to have produced such a sophisticated weapon. Of course, this assumes that some of the images shown to the world media were not Photoshop-manufactured, as was the case with Iran's previous aerospace claims.
However, the regime's hyperbole does not excuse the continuing imperialist threats and we in Hopi are clear that we must keep our focus on the campaign's dual themes: No to imperialist war and sanctions. No to the theocratic regime.
February 8 was the 40th anniversary of the 1971 Siahkal uprising. In a forest in the north of Iran, a dozen or so young revolutionaries took up arms, having taken over a gendarmerie. They were rebelling not just against the shah's regime, but also against the Tudeh Party, the traditional 'official communist' party in Iran, whose name had become synonymous with compromise and betrayal.
Of course, it was suicidal for so few comrades to launch an armed struggle against the regime and inevitably a large number of those who did would be killed - 13 out of the 19 of what was the original cell of the Fedayeen died in the fighting and a number of members and supporters were executed later. Nevertheless, Siahkal had a considerable impact on the youth and student movements in Iran subsequently. It marked the birth of the new left - not just politically, but culturally too. Many of Iran's prominent contemporary poets have written extensively about the event.
Siahkal's historic significance cannot be ignored and at Hopi's AGM we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of this insurrection.