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.
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.
- 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.