Category Archives: Reports

John McDonnell: honorary president of HOPI now shadow chancellor

Hands Off the People of Iran congratulates Labour’s John McDonnell on his appointment as shadow chancellor. The MP for Hayes and Harlington was a founding member of HOPI and is honorary president of the organisation. He has consistently opposed imperialist intervention in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as supporting movements for democracy from below.

We feature below a video of John addressing a day school held by HOPI in 2008.

 

 

The masses bear the brunt

Yassamine Mather assesses the latest extension of negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 powers

John Kerry: to the deadline and beyond
John Kerry: to the deadline and beyond

On November 24, for the second time in a year, Iran and the 5+1 world powers failed to reach an agreement over Tehran’s nuclear programme, and the deadline for finding a ‘comprehensive’ deal had to be extended yet again.

Continue reading

Free Reza Shahabi now!

ShahabiReza Shahabi – an Iranian labour activist member of the executive committee of the VAHED Bus Union – has been on hunger strike for almost 40 days in prison in Iran. According to the latest reports from Tehran, his protest is now having grave physical effects on him and he has become paralysed down the left side of his body.

Shahabi has spent the last four years in prison, accused by the Islamic state in Iran of “gathering information and colluding against state security, spreading propaganda against the system and ‘Moharebeh’” (translated as “enmity against god”). Over the last few years, his state of health has deteriorated markedly. Vindictively however, the authorities have not allowed him access to appropriate medical treatment.

Shahabi is an anti-war, anti-imperialist worker activist. In his defence, Hands Off the People of Iran is joining forces with the veteran labour activist, Ali Pichgah (a former leader of Iran’s oil workers’ strike) to call for his immediate, unconditional release.

As a matter of urgency, Reza Shahabi now needs hospital treatment. His life is being endangered by the Iranian authorities’ refusal to allow him proper medical care. We hold the government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani directly responsible for Reza Shahabi’s life. This brave working class leader has taken a stand against capitalist exploitation and oppression in Iran – as well as any attack on the country by the west or Israel – and it is incumbent on all anti-imperialist/anti-war activists to support Shahabi in these extremely difficult days, when he is putting his life on the line for his beliefs.

What you can do:

  • Support the demand of Hopi and Ali Pichgah for the immediate release of Reza Shahabi! Publicise this protest widely!
  • Email your name/your organisation to Hopi at office@hopoi.info and we will add your details to the protests we are coordinating (please indicate whether personal capacity or not)
  • Invite a speaker from Hopi to a meeting of your organisation to explain our anti-war/anti-imperialist work and the situation of the working people in Iran
  • Write to the European embassy for Iran (notify us if you do):
    Ambassade de la Republique Islamique d’Iran
    4 avenue d’iena
    75116 Paris, France
  • Or email the newly opened UK embassy (copy us in): iranemb.lon@mfa.gov.ir

Behind the liberal facade of Rowhani

Despite the easing of sanctions and the mixed messages in Tehran, writes Yassamine Mather, the Islamic regime is thoroughly committed to the capitalist free market, not the welfare of the masses

Revolutionary Guards: guardians of counter-revolution
Revolutionary Guards: guardians of counter-revolution

In the early hours of Monday January 19, centrifuges used for the enrichment of uranium up to 20% were switched off in Natanz nuclear plant as part of Iran’s agreement to halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity, and the ‘neutralising’ of its stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium was begun. These were the first steps towards disposing of all the country’s stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium within six months.

Continue reading

Video: Yassamine Mather on Rowhani in Davos, Iran sanctions, and HOPI Conference

The uneasy agreement between the 5+1 powers and Iran over the country’s nuclear programme has provoked controversy in both countries and an almost hysterically hostile campaign from Israel. In the confusion, some clear facts emerge.

HOPI

University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY

Registration: 10am

10.30-12.45
1) Imperialism, nuclear negotiations and US -Iran relations: Mike Macnair.
Israel and the need for war: Moshe Machover

13.30-15.00
2) Workers’ struggles before and after 1979: Torab Saleth
The Rouhani government, sanctions and workers’ struggles: Yassamine Mather

15.15-16.15
3) Iran’s national minorities: Nasrollah Ghazi

On Facebook 

This event will be broadcast on Livestream

Continue reading

Vazir Fathi ( Rahyaab)

rahyab20132007
A Brief Personal History and poem

Translated from Farsi by: Ali Atash.

*****

 Vazir Fathi ( Rahyaab) was born in April 1963. He was a political prisoner during “the Decade of Sixties”- 1980’s- and is a survivor of the massacre of “sixty seven”. He was arrested in February of 1983 and was formally released in July of 1992.Vazir started writing poetry in the “Eveen ” prison in 1986 and he wrote his first poem in the solitary cell.

 The experience of the struggles, imprisonments, tortures, hangings, executions and resistance of those years and specially the experience of the horrible massacre of his comrades in the year of 67 left an indelible and lasting effect on his poetry. the manifestations of this are visibly demonstrated in all his work. Vazir, even after his release from prison, maintained a direct presence in the industrial areas populated by workers. He worked along side of workers, technicians and engineers. By participating in their struggles, he shared in their successes and defeats, happiness and misery and was able to experience true workers poetry and literature in their authentic format. He has integrated and reflected this experience in his poems.

 

Rahyaab’s  poems were not published before 2008, with one or two exceptions that got him in trouble with the Ministry of Information. During this period, some of his poems were ,occasionally, circulated in closed circles. In 2008, he adopted the pen name “Rahyaab” on the recommendation of some friends and to facilitate wide access to his work. Consequently, he began publishing some of his poems on the internet abroad and received broad notice and acceptance.

 

Vazir Fathi, after 16 years of dealing with the tight control of the Islamic Republic and bearing the difficulties of recurrent arrests and interrogations and living under the Sword of Damocles, finally in August 2010 opted to enter on the path of immigration and sough political asylum in Turkey. His family, being  placed on the list of those restricted from leaving the country and undergoing a lot of legal harassment by the Ministries of Information and Investigation for 9 months, was finally able to join him there.

 

Rahyaab’s poetry was regularly and on related occasions published in various places and received wide attention from various readers; as their comments and emails reflected.  Moreover, an extensive review on the poem ” darafsh ma” by M. Hejri  was published on some Internet sites. This review represents a valuable attempt to appreciate this poem: as well, it is an analysis of the contents and concepts contained in it which reveals the literary orientation and viewpoint of the poet.

 

Aside from his literary work, Vazir Fathi has published numerous political writings about the conditions and massacre of political prisoners in Iran.

 

“Camomile in the Desert” is his collection of poems that is now available in print under his name. It contains some of his newest poems, as well as new-style and old forms of poetry such as Lyrics, Couplets and Quatrains.  As well, he conducted a radio interview with Mr. Michael Slate from Radio KPfK, in September 2012, reviewing the infamous massacre of political prisoners of 1988 in Iran. The link for this interview is attached below:

 

Link to poem :                                                      http://hopoi.org/commune.html
 

Iran: Boycott sham elections

 Yassamine Mather advocates a boycott and stresses the need for regime change from below

 

candidates

On May 22, the US moved closer to imposing a full trade embargo against Iran, as the Senate reaffirmed US support for Israel – should it be “compelled to attack Tehran’s nuclear programme in self-defence”.

The Senate voted unanimously to adopt a non-binding resolution urging Barack Obama to fully enforce existing economic sanctions against Iran and to “provide diplomatic, military and economic support” to Israel “in its defence of its territory, people and existence”.

On the same day the Republican-dominated foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives unanimously approved new proposals for sanctions. If passed into law, these would blacklist all countries or companies that fail to reduce their oil imports from Iran to virtually nil in the next 180 days. In other words, it aims to close off Iran’s main source of income.

All this is happening in the middle of an election farce in Tehran. A day before the Senate resolutions, Iran’s religious supervisory body, the Guardian Council, announced the final list of eight candidates it deemed acceptable to contest the presidential elections on June 14. It did not include either the former president and main hope of the ‘reformists’, Hashemi Rafsanjani, or the outgoing president’s chosen successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Although the remaining candidates all promise to ‘resolve the nuclear issue’, the US administration has made up its mind: bar a miracle, conflict with Iran, most likely in the form of Israeli air attacks, is now inevitable. Even if one of the remaining centrist or ‘reformist’ candidates gets elected, Washington does not believe such an individual will be strong enough to convince the country’s supreme leader of the need to compromise. By all accounts, Rafsanjani was the only candidate capable of arguing the case for ayatollah Ali Khamenei to ‘drink the poison’ and make a U-turn either on the nuclear programme or on Syria.

Whoever gets elected on June 14, Iranians are resigning themselves to the fact that confrontation with the west will continue, and so crippling sanctions and devastating economic hardship will persist. The supreme leader had promised an ‘epic year’, when massive participation in the elections would prove the nation’s tenacity in confronting the foreign enemy. But the final list of mediocre candidates will make it difficult for even the most hard-line supporters of the regime to muster any enthusiasm.

No-one should underestimate the severity of the current situation. Iran is completely isolated internationally and regionally, while its support for the Syrian government has brought it into direct conflict with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to the usual suspects. Economically the country is bankrupt.

Life is getting excruciatingly hard for most Iranians – even some among the middle classes are finding the price of basic goods beyond their means, and one can only imagine the hardship faced by the increasingly unemployed working class.

When ‘targeted’ sanctions were proposed by the US, its supporters claimed only the rulers of the regime would suffer and ordinary Iranians would hardly notice the effects. Reality could not be further from this pledge. For example, in theory medicines were exempt from sanctions. However, the current rate of exchange means that many are beyond Iran’s means. In addition most pharmaceutical companies have stopped exporting to Iran. The consequence is that Iranians are dying because of acute shortage of medicine and surgical equipment – not to mention dangerous black market fakes and imitations. The US war against Iran has long started.

Candidates

Now that the TV debates and official campaigning have begun, all the candidates claim they will deal with the country’s economic problems. Speaking at an election conference at the University of Tehran, Ali Akbar Velayati, who is one of the supreme leader’s senior advisors, said if he wins the election he will prioritise the resolution of economic issues.

Mohsen Rezai, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, brags about a new system of “economic federalism”. He will “fight poverty and unemployment” by empowering the provinces to manage their own economy.1 Mohammad Qalibaf, who is appealing to the middle classes and the private sector, is defending “positive competition” and “better integration into the global economy” through “expertise-oriented” economic management.2

Ayatollah Khamenei keeps saying he has no favourite candidate – it must be difficult to choose from amongst all those trusted nominees. The final list of presidential candidates includes not only Velayati, but Haddad Adel, who is Khamenei’s son’s father-in-law, and two of Khamenei’s personal appointees to the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili and Hassan Rohani. Qalibaf is a former police chief appointed by Khamenei, who is currently mayor of Tehran, while Rezai was the longest serving head of the Revolutionary Guards (1981-97).

All the presidential candidates except one, Jalili (ironically Iran’s main negotiator in the current talks with the 5+1 countries), claim they will resolve the nuclear issue. Jalili, who is said by some to be the supreme leader’s favourite and did his PhD thesis on “the foreign policy of the prophet Muhammad”, is himself a ‘living martyr’ (having lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war) and his supporters’ slogan is: “No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.” Clearly Iran’s chief negotiator is a master of diplomatic language, but at least Iranians now know why negotiations are going nowhere.

None of these candidates explain how, in the absence of a political solution and an end to sanctions, they will achieve the promised economic miracles. Iran cannot get payment for the limited oil it sells and the country’s banks have been excluded from the global banking system. Swift, which facilitates the majority of global payments, has disconnected Iranian financial firms from its messaging system. Food prices have gone up by 60% compared to last year, while factories are closing down every day, as transnationals move out of Iran (Peugeot, Saipa and Citroen have all closed down or reduced production); smaller service and spare parts suppliers are going bankrupt and do not pay their workers. The slogan dominating recent workers’ protests sums up the situation: “We are hungry”.

Of course, it would be wrong to blame all Iran’s economic problems on sanctions. For all the promises of moving away from a single-product economy, 34 years after the Islamic regime came into being, Iran remains a rentier state relying solely on oil exports. For many years Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank, has used all the country’s income from oil exports to prop up the currency, the rial, causing hyperinflation, so it comes as no surprise that the oil embargo, combined with unprecedented increases in food prices, has brought Iran’s economy to its knees.

However, as I mentioned earlier, Iran’s economic problems are completely intertwined with its international political relations and here lies the problem.

Boycott

Of course any conflict has two sides and there are many reasons why the United States is committed to regime change in Iran: revenge for the overthrow of the shah, the US embassy hostage seizure, punishing a rogue state, the benefits of a rumbling conflict at a time of economic crises.

However, most Iranians, struggling to feed their families, are desperate to see the end of the current conflict and expect more from their ‘negotiators’. In this context it is understandable that sections of the Iranian opposition, mainly amongst the ‘reformist’ left, were tempted by Rafsanjani’s claims that he would start serious negotiations and ‘save the nation’. It is inevitable that sections of the population will ignore calls for a boycott of these elections and vote for Mohammad Aref or Hassan Rohani (the two remaining ‘reformists’). But ‘reformist’ leaders, including Rafsanjani and another former president, Mohammad Khatami, have yet to make up their mind if they will recommend a vote for any of the vetted candidates. They are considering running a poll amongst members/supporters of the green movement on whether they should stage a boycott.

There are a number of issues to consider when coming to that decision. First of all, there is no reason to believe that the US and its western allies would compromise. Supporters of participation would look pretty stupid if air raids or regime-change attempts happened under Aref or Rohani.

The second consideration relates to the left. Surely it would be completely compromised if it recommended voting for one of the above. This does not mean we should fall into the blind alley of always calling for a boycott when there is no working class candidate, irrespective of circumstances. The Bolsheviks debated and indeed participated in electoral processes where the choices were limited and the processes entirely undemocratic. However, choosing from amongst a religious dictator’s close advisors and nominees would certainly bring the left into disrepute.

The deteriorating situation has persuaded sections of the Iranian left to openly support regime change from above. In early May the Canadian government held a two-day ‘global dialogue conference’ at the University of Toronto, where foreign minister John Baird said: “The people of Iran deserve free and fair elections. Not another version of ayatollah Khamenei’s never-ending shell game of presidential puppets. Not the rise of a regressive clerical military dictatorship.”3 Also attending was Iran Tribunal prosecutor Payam Akhavan, who was quoted as saying: “Canada should continue to explore every avenue of assistance to civil society with a view to facilitating non-violent change.”4 Last weekend “republicans, leftists, constitutional monarchists and the green movement”5 joined forces to hold a two-day conference in Stockholm, at the invitation of the Swedish Democratic Party. They decided to form an umbrella organisation: United for Democracy in Iran.

In Hands Off the People of Iran we have always maintained that the Iranian people have to confront simultaneously two enemies: imperialism and their own rulers. Any compromise with either of these camps will tarnish the left and represent a betrayal of the interests of the working class. Adherence to this principle is as important today as it was in 2007, when Hopi was founded.

 

Notes

1. www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/05/28/305892/rezaei-to-turn-hormozgan-into-trade-zone.

2. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/iran-private-sector-options.html#ixzz2UVDbYjYa.

3. http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/10/john-baird-reaches-out-directly-to-iranians-encouraging-them-to-end-clerical-military-dictatorship; http://munkschool.utoronto.ca/blog/gdfi-opening-statement-from-john-baird.

4. www2.macleans.ca/2013/05/28/the-islamic-republic-of-gangster-capitalism-payam-akhavan-on-iran.

5. The Guardian May 28

Iran: Election farce exposes regime’s crisis

The Iranian elections are a travesty

vote

Supporters and apologists of Iran’s Islamic Republic in Respect,1 Counterfire2 and the Socialist Workers Party3 have in the past told us that Iran is not a dictatorship. It has democratic elections to determine the president and the composition of its parliament …

The regime’s 11th presidential elections have demonstrated how far removed this is from reality. Having arrested and imprisoned all serious opposition, including the regime’s own ‘reformists’, the remaining factions, despite being at each other’s throats, are all agreed that only those candidates for president who completely uphold the line of the supreme leader may be permitted to stand. So not only has the favourite of outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, been barred. So too has the moderate centrist and former president, ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The omens were not good from the beginning. The supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had disowned his chosen candidate of 2009. Ahmadinejad, who came to power following a controversial vote in elections many Iranians believed to be rigged, is now considered an enemy. In fact, despite the careful vetting of candidates for this and other elected posts on religious grounds, as determined by the constitution, Iran’s clerical dictators, in the form of two supreme leaders, have ended up falling out with almost everyone who has occupied the presidency, beginning with ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who famously turned his back on the regime’s first president, Abulhassan Banisadr.

Rafsanjani, who was Khamenei’s first president, fell out with the supreme leader. So did Mohammad Khatami, a vetted, obedient servant of the regime – he was out of favour by the end of his first term and definitely an enemy by the end of his second. Last but not least, for all his earlier support for Ahmadinejad against leaders of the green ‘reformist’ movement, the supreme leader fell out with his chosen president in the first months of his second term and in the end it could hardly be any worse.

What is different this year is that the entire electoral process has become a joke even before the election campaign has started. Because Khamenei was determined to reduce electioneering from months to only three weeks, it was not until May 21, just 24 days before the polls, that Iranians got to know the final list of candidates. However, Khamenei had apparently been concerned that the absence of any known figure, never mind a controversial one, might lead to a lacklustre campaign and no doubt this played a part in the supreme leader’s quiet encouragement of Rafsanjani to enter the foray.

His candidacy was hailed by both ‘reformists’ and opponents of the regime as a sign of ‘hope’ – the ‘saviour’ had come out of retirement. Even sections of the left believed he was therefore worthy of critical support. No-one was clear about how exactly Rafsanjani would save the nation – except by lengthening the rule of the religious dictatorship, that is – but in the euphoria that followed his registration as a candidate, none of this mattered. In fact it could well be that the unprecedented support for Rafsanjani by sections of the ‘reformist’ opposition convinced the Guardian Council to rule him out of the electoral process.

Clerical cars

The Guardian Council is supposed to make its deliberations in private. However, while the vetting process was going on, one of its leading figures, ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, commented: “Iranians do not want to elect a president whose car is a Mercedes Benz” – the model Rafsanjani arrived in to register his candidacy.

Rafsanjani’s supporters hit back by arguing that Jannati’s own modern Peugeot is far more expensive than Rafsanjani’s old Mercedes. BBC Persian service produced a short video of the cars used by several of Iran’s Islamic rulers, which shows Khamenei himself getting out of a bullet-proof BMW. It should be pointed out that Iran’s supreme leader and his family are embroiled in a scandal regarding the BMW dealership in Iran.

The issue of luxury cars is a touchy subject for Shia rulers. When young Iranians were asked in a telephone and internet poll what they associated with the phrase, ‘Islamic clerics’, a considerable number said “Mercedes Benz” or “BMW” (although the sons of the ayatollahs have long since preferred Maseratis and Porsches).

Once the car issue became just too embarrassing, the Guardian Council changed its tactics and focussed instead on the question of age. A candidate over 75 was apparently too old to occupy the presidency and, had the council been aware that a 78-year-old would put himself forward, they would have introduced an age bar.

However, this too was easy to counter by Rafsanjani supporters and others. A TV station listed the age of the Islamic regime’s current and previous leaders, starting with Khomeini, who became head of state aged 81, and the current supreme leader, who is 73. Jannati is 87 – the same age as one of his senior colleagues on the Guardian Council, ayatollah Mahdavi Kani …

Rafsanjani’s daughter has informed the world’s press and media that on May 21 senior figures of the regime had been trying to persuade her father to withdraw his nomination. But he had refused, saying he could not “betray the people’s trust”. However, earlier that day, as the Guardian Council was preparing to make its final announcement, security forces moved into action. Supporters of Mashaei and Ahmadinejad were arrested as a “precautionary measure”, and the offices of a ‘reformist’ youth organisation were ransacked and closed down.

Then the daughter of the founder of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Khomeini, issued an open letter to Khamenei, declaring that her father had considered Hashemi Rafsanjani to possess all the qualities necessary to be not just president, but supreme leader. This was the first time anyone had quoted Khomeini’s thoughts concerning a possible successor to himself and obviously implied a serious criticism of the current supreme leader.

Once it became clear that Mashaei had been barred, Ahmadinejad absurdly announced he would contest the decision by asking the supreme leader to intervene. Apparently Ahmadinejad was the only person who did not know that it was Khamenei’s decision to bar both Mashaei and Rafsanjani.

There is a big difference between electoral cheating, such as ballot-rigging (as happened in 2009) and barring a very senior cleric like Rafsanjani, the man who is considered alongside Khomeini as a founder of the Islamic regime, the man who played a crucial part in writing the constitution of the clerical state, who has been one of the regime’s most powerful figures. As many have commented in Tweets and on Facebook, the ayatollah who chairs the expediency convention – a body answerable to the supreme leader with supervisory powers over all branches of government – is not considered fit to run for president!

This whole farce says everything about the crisis gripping the Islamic regime. It is true that some of Rafsanjani’s supporters might now switch support to a lesser known ‘reformist’, Mohammad Aref, or the centrist, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, but this is now a doomed electoral process. In many ways the events of the last few days have shown how pinning one’s hopes on the pseudo-dictatorial electoral process in Iran was a disaster.

The US might have considered negotiations with Iran under a Rafsanjani presidency, but the Obama administration is unlikely to take seriously whoever wins from the remaining, vetted candidates, however conciliatory the tone of those candidates may be. Ayatollah Khamenei and his Guardian Council might end up regretting the path they have taken.

As for the Iranian working class, it has two enemies: imperialism and its own rulers. The latter are not only remote from ordinary people, but so very clearly engulfed in personal struggles for wealth and power. When it comes to the presidential elections, any tactic other than a boycott is tantamount to offering support to this retrograde, reactionary regime.

Yassamine Mather

Notes

1. George Galloway commends the 2009 Iran elections 2009: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL3yhzV2wWU

2. Press TV interview with John Rees: www.counterfire.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4198&Itemid=81

3. See report of 2007 Stop the War Coalition conference: ‘Lies cannot stop imperialists’ Weekly Worker November 8 2007.

A Fistful of Tomans

There's money to be made in a place like this
There’s money to be made in a place like this

Kevan Harris in the London Review of Books:

A Tehran restaurant owner recently told me the advice he’d been giving his friends for the last year: ‘Sell your car. Buy dollars.’ Sound counsel, I thought. Exchanging Iranian rials for dollars at the end of 2011 and converting them back nine months later would have yielded enough profit to buy two new cars. Waiting another month would have got you a cheap motorbike too. This sort of ‘street maths’ filters into every conversation. In September a waiter told me he had just sold his stash of $10,000 for a hefty profit. A young woman took her pay cheque to the bank every month and bought dollars with it. In this unofficial currency market the value of the rial dropped nearly 70 per cent in ten months. The frenzied speculation began early last year, after the EU announced it was going to restrict imports of Iranian oil. Government attempts to stem the flight only pushed the rial’s value down further. ‘The Central Bank governor promises on Tuesday to take action, and the dollar goes up on Wednesday,’ a businessman joked. ‘So he reverses his position on Saturday, and the dollar goes up on Sunday.’