Monthly Archives: November 2013

Solidarity with political prisoners

prisonerThe thawing of the relations between the Iran and the west has resulted in an intensification on the repression bearing down on activists domestically and a flurry of executions of prisoners, some of them long term. Urgent solidarity is required in particular with the following activists

  • Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, a member of the Committee for the Establishment of Workers’ Organisations in Iran (CEWO), who has served three years of a six-year sentence.
  • Reza Shahabi, member of the coordinating committee of Vahed bus workers, still in jail for his part in the 2006 strike and for organising workers in this sector. We note that Shahabi is very ill and his condition is deteriorating daily.
  • Shahrokh Zamani, a Painters Union militant and another CEWO member. He is currently serving an 11-year sentence and has been tortured on a number of occasions. Zamani is held in Rajaei Shahr prison, one of the worst detention centres in Iran, because he is accused of “insulting the leader”, a charge that was added six months into his sentence.
  • CEWO member Mohammad Jarahi, who was arrested in January 2012. He, like fellow-prisoners, has had a number of serious health issues, but has been refused release on health grounds.
  • Worker activists Pedram Nasrollahi, Mohammad Mohammadi and Abdolreza Ghanbari are also in prison and their lives are in danger.
  • In Kurdistan province, in addition to nationalist prisoners, worker activists Vafa Ghaderi, Khaled Hosseini and Ghader Hosseini all face jail sentences and on November 4, hours after the execution of the Kurdish prisoners, Vafa Ghaderi was arrested.

Iran: End sanctions now

kerry-zarif

Details of Iran’s proposals at the much heralded negotiations with the P5+1 powers that took place last weekend in Geneva were supposed to be secret. However, rumours about what has or has not been agreed have filled the Iranian and international press. The destiny of 75 million Iranians, if not the entire population of the Middle East, is at stake, yet they, like the rest of the world, have to rely on media leaks or unofficial briefings from one side or the other to know whether life-threatening sanctions will be reduced or the conflict will continue or even escalate.

In fact, for all the claims of secrecy we now know what the interim concessions made by Iran are:

  •  to stop the 20% enrichment of uranium for three months, until regular International Atomic Energy Agency inspections can resume, and in the long term reduce uranium enrichment to 3.5%;
  •  to reduce its stockpiles of 20% uranium through oxidisation;
  •  to halt the installation of new centrifuges at the Arak facility and allow full inspection there.

That amounts to a complete reversal of Iran’s nuclear policies for most of the last two decades. No wonder the five foreign ministers, including John Kerry and William Hague, changed their plans and hurried to Geneva. In return Iran will get access to government funds frozen in Asia, estimated at around $20 billion, plus the end of sanctions on the sale of gold, some petrochemical goods and aeroplane spare parts.

Not much to boast about in exchange for what are major concessions by the Islamic Republic – and definitely not the “sale of the century” for Iran, as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was claiming even before the talks started. On November 9 supreme leader Ali Khamenei called on Iranians to pray for the delegation in Geneva and newspapers in Tehran were generally welcoming the deal that seemed to have been reached.

But by all accounts France withheld its signature at the 11th hour on November 10. The ‘socialist’ government in Paris was clearly acting as Israel’s representative – any deal requires the signatures of all the P5+1 powers or it cannot proceed. According to the Financial Times, “By blocking a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, France has achieved the unusual feat of annoying the American and Iranian governments simultaneously.”1

The Times of Israel elaborates: “French members of parliament telephoned foreign minister Laurent Fabius in Geneva at the weekend to warn him that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if the P5+1 nations did not stiffen their terms on a deal with Iran … Netanyahu’s angry public criticism of the emerging deal, and his phone conversations with world leaders … had played a crucial role in stalling the deal.”2

The next round of talks is due to start on November 20, but 10 days is a long time in politics and even longer in the Middle East. Israel started its campaign against any deal even before the last round had begun and is clearly using every minute of those 10 days to add to what John Kerry refers to as “fear tactics”. On the very day the talks broke down, Netanyahu was warning American Jewish leaders that “an Iranian nuclear weapon is coming to a theatre near you”. Of course, the elephant in the room amongst all this is Israel’s own semi-secret nuclear programme.

By November 12 Republican Senator Mark Kirk was echoing Israel’s position and proposing new sanctions: “The American people should not be forced to choose between military action and a bad deal that accepts a nuclear Iran.” This prompted the White House to warn the US Senate and Congress that tightening the sanctions on Iran could “box America into a march to war” and derail current negotiations.

So if France did raise objections in the last minutes before the signing of the agreement, what were the reasons?

The French economy has been adversely affected by sanctions on Iran – car makers Peugeot and Citroen have practically closed their respective plants in Iran as a result. But France still considers itself the colonial guardian of Lebanon and Syria (a French mandate following the demise of the Ottoman empire). It has a history of supporting the Maronite Christians in Lebanon and has very much resented Iran’s role in that country since the early 1980s. Paris also wants the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad removed and is unhappy that there has been no military intervention to achieve that. Last but not least, the French government is very unpopular at home and thinks it can regain popularity by acting as a major world power.

What about Israel? As Moshé Machover explained in a recent Weekly Worker article, “A war with Iran would present a golden opportunity for large-scale expulsion of Palestinians, precisely because (unlike the Iraq invasion of 2003) fighting would not be over too soon, and major protests and disturbances are likely to occur among the masses throughout the region, including the Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule. What better way to pacify such disturbances than to ‘expel many people’?”3

Two Irans

Of course, the negotiations have shown a different image of the Iranian government. Its ‘moderate’ foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, gave an interview to the BBC, the very organisation accused of being an integral part of British intelligence by various factions of the regime until a couple of weeks ago. During this interview he denied that sanctions had played any role in moderating the nuclear stance of the Islamic Republic – after all, Iran has managed to produce 35,000 centrifuges.

Whatever the truth of this claim, it is certainly the case that some Iranian institutions seem to have been unaffected by sanctions. For example, a Reuters investigation has discovered that a major foundation controlled by ayatollah Khamenei, Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam (literally the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam), despite running a $95 billion empire, has escaped scot free. The $95 billion refers to official holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and official assets, but in fact the recent revelations do not show all of Setad’s assets and it largely remains a clandestine financial organisation.

The foundation was created in the aftermath of 1979 revolution, selling the expropriated properties abandoned by allies of the ancien régime. However, its more recent wealth comes from the privatisations carried out under former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making it one of the richest financial groups in the Middle East. It is amazing that Setad, with major interests in Iran’s industrial and financial sector, in petrochemicals, oil and telecommunications, has not been hit by sanctions.

Western governments clearly knew that Setad had gained control of large chunks of the Iranian economy and were aware that it was directly controlled by the supreme leader. Yet for some unknown reason Setad seemed to be exempt from sanctions. In July 2010, the European Union included Mohammad Mokhber, president of Setad, in a list of individuals and entities it was sanctioning for alleged involvement in “nuclear or ballistic missiles activities”. But two years later, it mysteriously removed him.

This summer, as another 37 companies were added to the list of companies facing sanctions, treasury officials reminded the US Senate committee overseeing them that Setad was under the direct control of the supreme leader, yet the US decided to exempt it from sanctions. During recent revelations, when Reuters asked officials to explain the rationale behind this decision, they replied that they did not want to be accused of “attempts to topple the government”.

The Reuters exposé confirms what we in Hands Off the People of Iran and other opponents of sanctions have always said: the Iranian people are the real victims. Sanctions, heralded as ‘targeted’ and ‘intelligent’, have had little effect on the nuclear programme – and certainly not on the accumulation of wealth by Islamic foundations controlled or owned by senior clerics.

Meanwhile millions of Iranians are suffering because of the unavailability of essential medication. Although drugs are not on the sanctions lists, restrictions on Iranian banks and financial institutions have produced such a drastic devaluation of the currency that Iranian pharmacies and hospitals have not been able to buy western medication for years. As stocks have run out, patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, thyroid malfunction and asthma have developed major complications or even died, having been forced to reduce the dosage of the drugs they need or use cheaper equivalents made in Asia or Africa. Thousands of cancer patients have died in the absence of medication that saves patients’ lives daily in the rest of the world.

Operating theatres have been making do with faulty devices, because some types of surgical equipment have been deemed to be ‘dual use’ (ie, having a potentially military purpose), and this has caused fatalities, according to medics in Tehran and other major cities. Iranian babies have become ill as a result of the injection of out-of-date vaccines.

So next time we hear talk of ‘intelligent’ sanctions that will only affect the rulers of this or that country, let us remind them of the horrible consequences of the undeclared war between the west and the reactionary rulers of the Islamic Republic.

Even if the talks due to resume on November 20 end in the signing of an agreement, the three-stage negotiation will take at least another year to complete. In the meantime, most of the existing sanctions will remain in place. Iranians will still die as a result, but the multi-billion dollar institutions under the patronage of the supreme leader will continue to flourish.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.org.uk

Notes

1. Financial Times November 11.

2. www.timesofisrael.com/israel-will-attack-if-you-sign-the-deal-french-mp-told-fabius.

3. ‘Netanyahu’s war wishWeekly Worker Febru­ary 9 2012.

Iran executions: Brutal signal to opponents

shahabi

Iranian Workers: “we don’t want nuclear energy”

_______________________________________________

Iran’s Islamic government might be taking a more ‘moderate’ approach regarding nuclear negotiations, but as far as internal repression is concerned its stance is as bad as ever before – as bad as the worst periods of the rule of the last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the last week of October alone, Iran’s judicial system ordered the execution by hanging of at least 20 political opponents, all from national minorities (16 Baluchis and four Kurds), and the regime banned the ‘reformist’ daily, Bahar, for publishing an article questioning the historical veracity of events involving the first Shia imam.

The Baluchi separatists were executed in retaliation for an attack by a group of armed men on a border post that took the lives of 14 government soldiers in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan. Meanwhile, in West Azerbaijan province two Kurds who had been sentenced to death following brief trials were executed. But two other Kurdish political prisoners, both serving 30-year prison sentences for opposition to the regime and membership of an illegal organisation, suffered the same fate. The family of one, summoned to collect his body, were told he was executed in the prison’s visitors area.

The brutal hanging of those prisoners carried a deliberate message for all the regime’s opponents. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei might have ‘drunk the poison’ when he made his U-turn as far as international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear facilities are concerned, but he has no intention of tolerating any opposition or dissent. On the contrary, it appears that political prisoners and the opposition in general will be made to pay the price for the failure of the regime’s foreign policy.

Opposition groups have warned that last week’s terror reprisals have all the signs of the type of repression the regime imposed immediately after the end of Iran-Iraq war in 1987. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s version of ‘drinking the poison’ (peace with Iraq) was followed by the execution of tens of thousands of political prisoners, some nearing the end of their jail sentences. Such measures are intended to demonstrate that, just because the Islamic republic has been forced to make foreign policy concessions, that does not mean it is weakening in its attitude to its internal opponents.

A number of leftwing political prisoners in Evin prison have started a hunger strike in protest at this new wave of terror. In September, just before president Hassan Rowhani’s trip to New York, the supreme leader ordered the release of more than 80 ‘prisoners of conscience’. However, only 42, many of them approaching the completion of their prison terms, were freed. Hundreds remain behind bars.

The ‘moderate’ Rowhani has said nothing. It is clear that the new president does not want to jeopardise his relationship with the conservative factions of the regime, and the security forces they control. Of course, we should not forget that while in New York Rowhani spent a considerable amount of time discussing Iran’s economy with the International Monetary Fund and, as the latest ‘economic restructuring programme’ takes shape, control of the working class and the population at large remains high on the government’s agenda.

In another attack on freedom of expression, the authorities shut down Bahar on October 28, five days after the publication of a controversial article that cast doubts on whether the prophet Mohammed had appointed a successor. The newspaper’s punishment was predictable, since the article contradicted one of the fundamental beliefs of Shia Muslims. The head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, warned that any publication taking up an “unacceptable stance” would face suspension or a ban.

This venture into theological history was something of an exception for the ‘reformist’ media, which has been mainly concentrating on the continuing house arrest of the leaders of the green movement. However, the victims of the worst aspects of the regime’s repression are not under house arrest and their families are not allowed regular prison visits. Although no-one can justify the continued house arrest of the ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi (especially when you consider that Rowhani was supposed to be their ally), for us in Hands Off the People of Iran the urgent task is to save political prisoners whose life is in danger – incarcerated labour activists whose only crime is defending their fellow workers; national and religious minority activists, whose only crime is not to be Shia.

We also need to publicise and support the struggles of thousands of workers who have had the courage to protest outside their factories, outside the Islamic majles (parliament) or in front of provincial offices, demanding payment of their withheld wages; workers at the Qazvin car manufacturing plant, workers in the petro-chemical industries, workers who have demonstrated in their tens of thousands against the drying up of the river Karoun in Khuzestan province.

Not surprisingly Iran’s new-found allies within the ‘international community’ are not condemning this wave of repression and the Iranian organisations tied to (at times dependent on) US and European money are not in a position to do much. As we have said time and time again, UN institutions, and imperialist-funded ‘human rights’ NGOs do not campaign for these imprisoned Iranian workers. If last year they were queuing up to support women’s rights, and to try leaders of the Islamic regime for crimes committed in the past, they are showing no interest in the recent executions up and down the country. That is why we need a different kind of solidarity: workers’ solidarity from trade unionists and labour activists independent of US-sponsored labour organisations and free of any associations with Zionism, Sunni fundamentalists or other reactionary religious or nationalist forces. In this respect we also need to point to the illusions of large sections of the Iranian left in ‘international law’, the United Nations and its institutions.

Our solidarity

All in all, not a good week for Iran’s new government both internally and internationally. However, the question many comrades ask is, what can we in Hopi do?

The answers are neither simple nor straightforward. Our numbers are few and our resources limited. However, we have been able to give a comprehensive analysis of the current nuclear negotiations, explaining the obstacles and the loopholes of the process, and we have continued our adherence to revolutionary principles when it comes to building solidarity with the Iranian working class. As uncertainty and political change have provoked increased protests against the regime, as state repression is stepped up, we need to do a lot more in building support from trade unionists and workers’ organisations, keeping in mind the damage already done by those who have failed to take a clear line on imperialism and indeed global capitalism.

More than ever before, supporters of the Iranian working class must take a principled stance in opposition to imperialist intervention. But campaigns in solidarity with Iranian workers should not be tarnished by association with pro-imperialists, such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations, which have a history of collaboration with successive US administrations.

In the last few weeks during various discussions with labour activists inside and outside Iran, these comrades have expressed their continued concerns about irresponsible attitudes regarding solidarity with Iranian workers. On the one hand, we must do all we can to help incarcerated comrades. On the other hand, at no time can we afford to lower our guard vis-à-vis institutions and organisations associated with US and European powers. It is not an easy task, but we must be aware that anything else endangers the very lives we want to save. So let us concentrate on finding allies amongst activists and organisations that share our concerns about imperialist intervention, who like us understand Iran’s complicated politician landscape.

Support for the Iranian working class must include a call for the immediate, unconditional release of labour activists held in prison. In the current climate their lives are in danger.

These include:

  •   Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, a member of the Committee for the Establishment of Workers’ Organisations in Iran (CEWO), who has served three years of a six-year sentence.
  •   Reza Shahabi, member of the coordinating committee of Vahed bus workers, still in jail for his part in the 2006 strike and for organising workers in this sector. Shahabi is very ill and his condition is deteriorating daily.
  •   Shahrokh Zamani, a Painters Union militant and another CEWO member. He is currently serving an 11-year sentence and has been tortured on a number of occasions. Zamani is held in Rajaei Shahr prison, one of the worst detention centres in Iran, because he is accused of “insulting the leader”, a charge that was added six months into his sentence.
  •   CEWO member Mohammad Jarahi, who was arrested in January 2012. He, like fellow-prisoners, has had a number of serious health issues, but has been refused release on health grounds.
  •   Worker activists Pedram Nasrollahi, Mohammad Mohammadi and Abdolreza Ghanbari are also in prison and their lives are in danger.
  •   In Kurdistan province, in addition to nationalist prisoners, worker activists Vafa Ghaderi, Khaled Hosseini and Ghader Hosseini all face jail sentences and on November 4, hours after the execution of the Kurdish prisoners, Vafa Ghaderi was arrested.