Reza 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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): email@example.com
The 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.
A number of members and supporters of the campaign have donated clothes and other items to be sold in aid of HOPI. Amongst the donors are an acclaimed Iranian designer who has given many brand new designer clothes. Plus we have some retro-style punk and rock n’ roll shirts, a few leather biker jackets and some rare punk singles – for all you aging spiky tops out there.
The auction will end on Sunday July 14 between 7pm and 8pm – so please make sure you get bidding before then! All the money raised will be thrown into the work of Hopi as it faces up to the new challenges of solidarity and anti-war campaigning.
If none of our stuff takes your fancy, you can always support the work of Hopi in the good old-fashioned way by making a donation. Just follow the link to Paypal on our website.
Ben Lewis reports on comrades running the Nottingham half-marathon in support of Workers Fund Iran
On Sunday September 30, six bright-eyed and bushy-tailed runners from Workers Fund Iran lined up with around 6,600 other competitors to take part in the Ikano Robin Hood half-marathon in Nottingham. The event was billed as a “fast and scenic route through the city” and “an ideal course for beginners and faster runners looking for a personal best”.
For the WFI team, the event was a key part of our training for the Florence marathon on November 25 (more on this below), as well as a way of publicising the charity and recruiting new runners. While some of us were wondering whether going for a team curry the night before was the optimal form of pre-race nutrition, all of our runners – old and new – did WFI proud.
Having previously crossed the finish line together at the Vienna marathon, Jamie Tedford and I ran separately this time around. In the end I beat him by a mere six seconds, with a time of 1 hour, 27 minutes and 46 seconds. (I can only explain this six-second victory by the fact that a bloke dressed as Robin Hood was closing down on me in the back straight, so I somehow managed a bit of a sprint to ensure that he did not pass!) Jamie and I finished, probably in a much worse state than in Vienna, 205th and 200th respectively.
Particular credit must go to two of our new runners, Natalya and Melissa. Having heard about the fund from their two brothers, who have both taken part in WFI solidarity cricket matches, they decided to join us in Nottingham. Sporting the swish WFI T-shirts, they finished 33rd and 42nd in the women’s race, clocking up seriously impressive times of 1:34.14 and 1:36.03.
Our two Iranian comrades, Nasrollah and Ali, did not exactly trouble the leaders, but their efforts to even get to the race perhaps embody the dedication involved in solidarity running. Ali, without doubt WFI’s best runner, has almost 60 marathons under his belt. Although 13 miles is little more than a stroll in the park for him, he came all the way from Italy to run and say hello to his WFI comrades in Britain.
Up until recently, Nasrollah has mainly concentrated on the organisational side of things for WFI. But of late he has subjected himself to a strict dietary regime in order to prepare for Florence. Chocolate and beer were the first casualties, he assures me. He has not run in a long time, so decided to mainly walk around Nottingham, battling through in a time of 3:40.26. He was joined over the line by his faithful comrade, Ali, who probably accumulated something close to 35 kilometres along the way. (He would run little stretches ahead of his co-runner, come back to join him and then set off again!)
Despite all the runners noting how hard the race was, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and the seeds have been very much sown for Italy in November. The WFI team is starting to diversify – while most of our runners are Iranian exiles, there are several non-Iranians in Europe who have been recruited.
Quite frankly, the more people that can be attracted to WFI and its message, the better: the situation in Iran is now spiralling out of control. Iran’s currency, the rial, has fallen in value by 60% in just over a week, which will bring nothing but desperation and hardship for the Iranian people. If they get paid at all, wages can drop in value within the space of just a day. Basic foodstuffs and life necessities can shoot up in price in a very small time.
Regardless of what some of the more unhinged elements of the far left may think, these conditions are not exactly propitious to some kind of democratic and progressive change in Iran. When people are struggling to even put food on the table, then this does not bode well for the cause of human liberation.
This is where Workers Fund Iran steps in, raising much-needed funds to ensure that those suffering the most under the burden of International Monetary Fund ‘reforms’, sanctions and a brutal theocratic regime are not simply left to rot.
Obviously, for all the hard work and dedication of our small number of activists and runners, the funds that we raise through our sporting events, social meals and film/music nights are very limited. For the time being at least, we cannot compete with the slick machinery of charities like Macmillan or Unicef, let alone the funds of the Central Intelligence Agency and its heinous operations. But such basic solidarity work is also an act of great symbolic importance: there is an alternative, however embryonic, to both the imperialist war drive against Iran and the mullahs’ regime: working class solidarity.
And this is the message we will be taking to the streets of Florence, where we are expecting around 30 runners to fly the flag. With so many, and with your support, we can easily raise thousands of euros for Workers Fund Iran. But don’t wait to be asked to donate. Go to workersfund.org and transfer some cash. If you would like to take part, or just fancy a trip to Italy to cheer on our runners, then please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday 26th Sptember 2012 , Take One Action film festival showed the film This is Not a Film, by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi in Edinburgh Filmhouse. Over 100 people attended the film show which was Followed by discussion with Yassamine Mather (Chair of Hands Off The People of Iran) and Film/Theatre director Jeremy Raison.
Jeremy Raison spoke passionately about his meeting with Panahi and tried to explain some of the complexities of the film, Panahi’s satirical look at his own house arrest, the frustration of facing a 6 years jail sentence, ban of twenty years from making films, directing films for his support for the protests of 2009 . The film was rated as the number one film of 2011 by Rotten Tomatoes (considered a reliable film review aggregator.
Raison explained the significance of some of the hidden messages in the film shot on Panahi’s iPhone and a cheap DV camera and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes.
Yassamine Mather responded to questions about repression in Iran and emphasised that political activists face much harsher sentences , including long prison sentences and execution however highlighting the plight of this famous director gives a glimpse of the intolerance of the Islamic regime vis a vis any dissent. She also spoke about the economic hardship facing most Iranians, not just because of the corruption and disastrous effects of neoliberal (Islamic ) economic policies of the regime but also crippling sanctions However she reminded the audience that bombing Iran will make the situation far worse , Iranians do want regime change but they are weary of US/Israel/Eu plans for regime change form above , especially as they look at their immediate neighbours Iraq and Afghanistan , where regime change US style has made an already intolerable situation even worse.
Simon Beaston of Take one Action reminded the audience that Ken Loach , one ‘Take one Actions’ Patrons is a supporter of HOPI and reminded the audience to take one action following the film on the basis of what was discussed .
Arab Spring is the theme of this year’s Take One Action festival and the film ½ Revolution, Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim‘s was shown after Panahi’s film to a pcked audience. According to reviewers in US, 1/2 revolution is “a visceral ersonal documentary focusing on 11 days of the 18-day revolution, captures the ground-level events with a gut-churning immediacy and veracity often missing from news reports, as well as amateur footage posted to the Internet”. In the absence of Omar Shargawi who had not been able to travel to Edinburgh, HOPI chair Yassamine Mather responded to questions about the Arab spring, She argued that most of the uprisings had economic as well as political reasons, that the West’s economic crisis is having a devastating effect in the third world. That the success of Islamic fundamentalism has two reasons : decades of severe repression by pro US regime’s against secular, democratic , socialist forces at a time when Islamist benefited from the relative freedom of using mosques, Islamic schools for political agitation. She mentioned vast sums of Saudi and Gulf money given to the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria as reasons for their recent electoral and political ‘success’ . The audience applauded her interpretation of these events and HOPI gained a number of new supporter at the end of this session
Michael Copestake reports on HOPI’s successful weekend school
“The only thing that is certain is uncertainty,” said Labour MP John McDonnell in his talk at the April 21-22 weekend school organised by the Hands Off the People of Iran at the University of London Union.
Given the negotiations between the five members of the United Nations security council plus Germany and Iran that have just completed in Istanbul and are due to resume next month in May in Baghdad (of all the places to talk peace in the Middle East, could there be a more ironic one?) and the decline in the number of those mobilised on demonstrations and marches against war, the truth of this statement should be well noted by all. The continued threat of direct military action against Iran combined with factors such as the US electoral cycle constitute a heady and unpredictable brew.
The weekend school was part of the continued efforts of Hopi to reorientate the left against both the imperialist war drive and the sickening anti-working class regime of the Iranian state itself. Aiming to provide an analysis of the forces driving to war and the general condition of the Iranian state and society, Hopi brought together a range of speakers, including Iranian activists and exiles, National Union of Journalists president Donnacha DeLong, as well as comrade McDonnell himself.
The speaker for the first session on the Saturday was CPGB’s Mike Macnair, who sought to explain what he judged to be the increasingly irrational military adventures of the United States and its imperialist allies. These tend to end in social chaos, as in Iraq, rather than the imposition of some pax Americana, and comrade Macnair linked them to three distinctive cyclical tendencies within capitalism.
The first of these is the business cycle, which in its upswing phase imbues a sense of optimism and belief in progress, while a period of downturn or stagnation provokes attempts, including through war, to distract attention from the ensuing crises of capitalist legitimacy.
The second cycle is much longer-lasting and relates to the rise and decline of the hegemonic capitalist state itself. Giving examples of this process from history, comrade Macnair referred to the Netherlands, the British empire and now, in the present day, the United States itself. Here the qualities which create the success of the new pretender in stealing the crown from the previous declining hegemon breed their own failure over time. These take the form of the loss of previously world-beating industrial production, which provokes the use of brute military force to maintain ‘top dog’ status – irrational adventurism in order to maintain credibility and deter potential successors.
Lastly there is the general decline of capitalism itself, said the comrade. This expresses itself in the fact that United States intervention has not stimulated the significant economic development of capitalism in the states where it has intruded that was seen in the case of previous imperial powers. Taking patterns of immigration as a measuring stick, comrade Macnair noted that previous empires led to an exodus of the population of conquering powers to the new colonies, whereas today the reverse is true – people from the oppressed countries are driven to seek a better life in the core countries.
It is the failure of much of the left to understand these factors that leads it down the dead end of calling for the bourgeoisie, in essence, to act more rationally: it should desist from starting wars and spend the money on the welfare state or whatever. But that fails to grasp the wider – perfectly rational from the point of view of imperialism – imperatives that drive the seemingly crazy waves of destruction.
This interpretation proved controversial for some in the debate that followed, with speakers questioning the category of ‘irrationality’ and suggesting it was lacking in explanatory power. Others pointed out that the war on Iran has been a long time coming, with sanctions going back over 30 years, when capitalism was, presumably, still more ‘rational’. The connection between the business cycle and general political ideology was questioned by one speaker, as was the phenomena of a ‘cyclical hegemon’, while another comrade wondered exactly why China might not be a legitimate rival to the US for this position. During the following exchanges comrade Macnair offered a robust defence of his thesis and expanded on many of its elements in relation to the points being made.
Iran working class
Iranian trade unionist and former political prisoner of the Iranian regime, Majid Tamjidi, gave an illuminating and hard-headed assessment of the plight of the Iranian working class, caught as it is in the vice of imperialist sanctions and neoliberal Islamic despotism.
What came through in comrade Tamjidi’s talk was the nightmarish coincidence of the needs of the US and Iranian states, which serves to push both further down the road towards military conflict. The bluster and bravado with which the Iranian regime responds to sanctions and threats of war feed US portrayals of Iran as intransigent and in need of a swift and harsh remedy. The missing element in the narratives of both the imperialist and Iranian governments is the masses themselves, yet they are being crushed under the weight of both sanctions and the neoliberal policies of the theocratic state, resulting in 60% of Iranians living below the poverty line, 12 million on insecure ‘instant dismissal’ temporary work contracts, and at least 30,000 deaths per annum in workplace accidents.
This focus on the desperate economic situation of Iran and the Iranian working class was picked up in a session on the second day on the political economy of Iran, addressed by Mohamed Shalgouni of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers in Iran and Hopi chair Yassamine Mather.
The audience was straining to hear the words of comrade Shalgouni, not just because he was so quietly spoken, but because of the great interest in the things he had to say. He provided a compelling dissection of the role of the regime in the economy of Iran, of which 70% is directly or indirectly controlled by the state and its related bodies, increasingly under the auspices of utterly phoney privatisations that give ownership of companies to state and military officials technically at ‘arm’s length’ from the government in a kind of pocket-bursting, oligarchic give-away, last seen on a such a scale in the crash privatisations undertaken in the collapsing Soviet Union. That there can be such a bonanza for state bureaucrats and heavies is a legacy of the revolution, which resulted in the expropriation of the holdings of the royal family and a series of nationalisations. This self-interested gangsterism by the state, taken with three decades of increasingly severe sanctions, has led to the ruin of much of what remained of the Iranian economy and, with the possible closure of French car plants under the pressure of the United States, the situation grows more and more dire.
Indeed, the size of the ‘black economy’, much of which is controlled by state, army and militia bureaucrats, and includes imports, currency and the trade in alcohol, is estimated at being worth $60 billion a year: about the same as Iran’s official imports. As comrade Yassamine Mather elaborated, domestic industry, including the production of agricultural staples at a price affordable to the Iranian proletariat, has been deliberately run down by the mercantilist, middle-man interests of the state and bourgeoisie, as it is easier to extort money from the masses when all of the country’s needs are met by imports controlled by the collective state gangster rather than from domestic production.
Aware of the basket-case economy and a desperate, volatile society it has created, the Iranian state, whilst it slashes subsidy and welfare for everyone else, continues to subsidise around five million supposedly grateful economic dependants who can potentially act as extra-military brownshirts against Iranian workers when society inevitably produces explosive protests.
Speakers from the floor wondered how the supposedly deeply religious government of the clerics justified its privatisations, though the answer was provided quickly that this was done with great ease – and was typical of theologians throughout history, whenever god gets in the way of fistfuls of hot cash. Other questions ranged from the role of the military in exploiting the economy and the possibility of conflict between them and the clerical wing of the state.
More focused on the immediate situation facing the wider world and its working class movement was the talk given by comrade Moshé Machover, co-founder of Israeli socialist party Matzpen. This was also the case with the panel discussion led by left-Labour stalwart John McDonnell MP, who humorously referred to himself and Jeremy Corbyn as the “parliamentary wing” of Hopi, Sarah McDonald, a runner in the previous weekend’s Vienna marathon in aid of Workers Fund Iran, and NUJ president Donnacha DeLong.
Comrade Machover focused on the relationship between Israel and Iran. He believed that the recent Istanbul negotiations with Iran had produced a vaguely positive outcome despite Hillary Clinton’s hawkish rhetoric. Attempting to identify exactly why Israel was so pro-war, the comrade identified two main factors. The first was that an Iran with nuclear arms, or nuclear potential within the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, reduces the relative power of Israel in the region and its ability to be the watchdog of the United States.
The second reason was that the Israeli state is seeking a pretext in order to engage in a further ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, thus solving the so-called ‘demographic problem’ of the growing Arab population of Israel. The acceptance by the Israeli military in its own documents and in the words of some of its own leading figures that the ‘Iranian bomb’ is not a serious threat disproves the notion that this issue is about Iran’s nuclear capability. It is more about provoking a situation of such turmoil that the mass expulsion of Palestinians could be more conveniently undertaken.
The panel discussion made up the final session of the weekend, with comrade De Long recounting his experience of the Iranian regime during his time as an Amnesty International worker and gave an example of the power of the social media in spreading cutting criticisms of the regime than can serve as morale boosters and potential incitements to action for ordinary Iranians.
John McDonnell reported that the word in the Westminster village was that, should there be an attack on Iran, it may be around September time, though the Israelis were suffering from an itchy trigger finger and he did not discount them acting alone. Comrade McDonnell emphasised the correctness of Hopi’s line against imperialism, sanctions and the regime itself and that it was essential that these ideas be spread more widely into the labour and trade union movement as a whole. Whether this took the form of meetings with individual trade union general secretaries and MPs, of cultural events and campaigns such as the film screenings in aid of Jafar Panahi, of direct action or of good, old-fashioned marches and demonstrations was not important: what matters is spreading the message.
The comrade also emphasised another part of what Hopi stands for as particularly important: support for working class and progressive forces and for socialism in the Middle East. We absolutely must not, the comrade insisted, ever refrain from stating plainly that the only progressive force in Iran (and elsewhere) capable of combating imperialism and overthrowing the neoliberal clerics is the working class, and that the only way to lasting peace and prosperity in the whole region is through socialism.
Describing her experience of practical solidarity with the Iranian working class was CPGB member Sarah McDonald, fresh back from the Vienna marathon. She, along with others, had raised almost £1,000 for Workers Fund Iran. Comparing the project of transforming the left into a healthy and principled anti-war force to a marathon rather than a sprint, the comrade emphasised how the act of having to ask others for support and sponsorship for the marathon had itself been a very useful form of political activity: it provided the opportunity to explain the aims of Hopi and its stand against any war against the people of Iran.
During the ensuing debate comrade McDonnell was asked what the atmosphere in parliament was like at the moment, given that earlier in the year he had reported that it felt like a rerun of the lead-up to the Iraq war. He replied that the atmosphere had calmed somewhat, but that in the EU Britain remains the most hawkish state. Donnacha DeLong, by this point proudly wearing his cap decorated with anarchist badges, suggested that Hopi might be able to use the Levenson inquiry to expose the collusion between the Murdoch press and the government to bring the Iraq war to bloody fruition.
Others from the floor emphasised that, despite real anti-war sentiment – for example, around the Afghanistan debacle – the conclusion that many had reached from Iraq and the endless ‘numbers are everything’ marches organised by the Stop the War Coalition was that war cannot be stopped. That is why it is so essential to link the struggle against war to a rounded, working class politics and that is what Hopi will continue to do.
Sarah McDonald and other comrades will be running the Vienna marathon to raise money for Iranian Workers, here she explains why you should show support
The threat of war in the Middle East is increasing daily. The drums are beating especially loudly in Israel, and the Iranian people are facing a fight on two fronts: against imperialist intervention and against the Iranian regime. Now, more than ever, we must show active solidarity.
Workers Fund Iran was set up in December 2005. It aims to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (both employed and unemployed), who are victims both of the economic policies of the Iranian regime and the sanctions imposed by imperialism. It aims to put at the centre of its activities the need to rebuild international working class solidarity, directly with the workers of Iran. WFI is involved in many fundraising activities to support its work, ranging from solidarity meals to solidarity cricket (!). Yet another WFI tradition is perhaps the ultimate test: marathon running. The last such event with WFI participation was in Berlin, where well over €500 was raised last September. This year, 40 WFI runners will be pounding the streets of Vienna in the name of international solidarity.
Last August, as I was whiling away another pleasant summer’s day in the CPGB office, I was asked if I’d be up for running a marathon at some point over the next year. “Why not?” I replied. Words I have come to regret uttering on many an occasion over the past eight months or so (normally somewhere around the 18km mark during a training stint). Having been a semi-competent middle-distance runner for the last six or seven years, I wasn’t quite starting from scratch – but going from the concept of running 26.2 miles to the reality of it is … well, painful.
So a small squad of us registered for the Vienna marathon (the point, for me at least, where the idea become a reality). Since then, we’ve battled the weather, training through the winter’s high winds, cold and rain. We’ve sustained injury (all of us have done ourselves damage at some point through running stupid distances). Now, with less than three weeks to go we’re hoping to make it intact to the finishing line (my personal goal is not to get overtaken by a 70-year-old dressed as a chicken), with a pint of Austria’s finest beer glowing in the sky like a Monty Python-style Holy Grail animation. Though we are looking forward to April 15 (albeit with trepidation!), I think it’s a safe assertion that we’re looking forward even more to April 16 when this is all over (as, I’m sure, are our friends, colleagues, family, etc, who we’ve bored to death with our running tales).
There are important lessons to be learned from this experience (not least, don’t mix isotonic sports drinks with energy gels). By taking part in events that involve active solidarity you get a sense of being a part of something, whether that’s through training, competing with each other (in a comradely fashion, of course), organising meals for the runners, putting on meetings and events around the marathon or planning walking tours exploring the history of Red Vienna. It’s fair to say those who are running and those who are flying across to support us are very much immersed in the event. In essence, our comrades have put in blood, sweat and tears (some of us quite literally).
We are now asking for your support. With two and a half weeks to go, we need all the sponsorship we can get. So, comrades, dig deep! Think of those hours of pounding the pavements and parks; though sleet, snow and iliotibial band syndrome.
The most important lesson, of course, is that it is both possible and urgently necessary for the working class to organise solidarity, not charity. The popularity and universality of sport can greatly assist this process. For example, the BBC’s Sport relief recently saw people in this country raise over £50 million. What a shame that these funds will be frittered away, filtered through the corrupt, bureaucratic and undemocratic apparatuses of bourgeois charity. Surely, our goal as the workers’ movement must be to raise this kind of money and beyond – strengthening the cause of working class self-organisation and combativity across the globe. The funds we raise right now will, of course, be much smaller. But they are symbolically important, and point towards what our movement could achieve.
We would also urge comrades to show their support for the Iranian people by attending the Hands Off the People of Iran school in central London over the weekend of the April 21-22. There will also be a full update of how our marathon runners got on in Vienna and you can, of course, buy us a well deserved pint in the pub afterwards.
In his speech to the February 11 solidarity film screening of Hands Off the People of Iran (which raised £180 for Hopi), John McDonnell MP explained how the British government is preparing to step up its intervention in the Middle East:
Bina Darabzand, a leading member of the Consistency Committee to Establish Workers’ Organizations in Iran, and his son Oktai, a journalist and blogger, have recently fled Iran due to threats by the Islamic Republic regime against their lives and security. They have sought refugee status in Turkey; however, they remain under pressure from the Turkish authorities to return to Iran. Given the serious and continuing risk to their lives, we urge UNHCR to expedite the processing of their cases, grant them refugee status as a matter of urgency, and quickly facilitate their resettlement to a safe third country.
Bina Darabzand is a prominent activist who has been politically active from the age of 15, first against the Shah’s dictatorship, and then against the Islamic Republic regime. In addition to being a leading member of the Consistency Committee to Establish Workers’ Organizations in Iran, he has also re-started his political blog, http://salam-democrat.com.
Numerous labor activists with the Consistency Committee to Establish Workers’ Organizations in Iran have faced persecution and imprisonment for exercising their fundamental rights to organize, and for demanding workers’ rights, including unpaid back wages, fair pay, and benefits. Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, a member of the same Committee, is a political prisoner serving a 20-year sentence for his membership in this organization. Nearly all members of the Committee to Establish Workers’ Organizations have been arrested, beaten, or persecuted by regime authorities in Iran including Shahrokh Zamani and Muhammad Jarahi, who are now serving 11- and 10-year prison sentences, respectively, in Tabriz Prison. Others have been released temporarily and only on the basis of having paid multiple hundreds of millions Tomans in bail.
Bina’s son, Oktai Darabzand, is a journalist with a focus on political and human rights issues. Six years ago, Oktai established a weblog called “Aseman Daily News,” which published the news of political prisoners from jail as well as other human rights violations by the Islamic Republic regime. The blog also included social, economic, and foreign news sections. Journalists and bloggers covering human rights news in Iran are routinely persecuted, tortured, sentenced to lengthy prison terms, and even sentenced to execution in Iran; Reporters Without Borders provides an overview of the risk faced by such journalists and bloggers in Iran (link).
During the 2009 uprising, Oktai’s weblog was blocked on the orders of the Judicial Power. Immediately, with funding from his father, Oktai opened a website with the same name (http://asemandailynews.com), continuing with his activities.
However, in April of 2011, Oktai’s website was designated by the regime as “a PMOI site.” Many members of PMOI (Peoples’ Mojahedin of Irani, or Mojahedin-e Khalgh) – and those accused of affiliation – are condemned to brutally harsh prison sentences and execution. Jafar Kazemi, Ali Saremi, and Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei are only 3 recent and well-known examples of those accused of PMOI membership who have been executed on that basis.
Although Oktai has no political affiliation or contact with any organized group; however, because of his journalistic activities, and because the Islamic Republic has designated his site as being affiliated with PMOI, his life is at clear and unquestionable risk in Iran.
Situation in Turkey
Bina and Oktai entered Turkey and registered with the UNHCR. However, they were soon informed by the Ankara Police (Foreign Citizens Bureau) that the Turkish Ministry refused to recognize their status as asylum-seekers; they were given until 8 February 2012 to leave Turkey and return to Iran. Thanks to pressure from Iranian and European supporters, UNHCR accelerated the interview process and contacted the Turkish Interior Ministry and Police, requesting that they respect Bina and Oktai’s status as asylum-seekers whose case is pending review.
The Turkish police demonstrated their anger at the pressure that had been exerted on them to accept the Darabzand’s appeal. Ultimately, Bina and Oktai were required to leave Ankara and go to a small town that has no facilities, not even a bus terminal, 3 hours from any city. They are to wait for a response from UNHCR there, but they remain at elevated risk of deportation at any moment. Should they be illegally deported to Iran by the Turkish authorities, not only would they face certain imprisonment and torture, but both of their lives would be at risk.
TAKE ACTION NOW: There is an urgent need for people to write to UNHCR in Turkey and request that UNHCR expedite the processing of the Darabzand’s cases, grant them refugee status as a matter of urgency, and quickly facilitate their resettlement to a safe third country. A sample letter follows; we ask everyone to use the sample letter, or write a letter of your own, and send it to UNHCR in Turkey, with copies to the Turkish Interior Ministry, asking UNHCR to take urgent action, given the threat to the Darabzands’ lives, and their current insecure situation in Turkey.
Sample Letter and Addresses:
cc: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
To the UNHCR office in Turkey:
I am writing with regard to the urgent cases of Iranian asylum-seekers Bina Darabzand (UNHCR case #385-11C08824 ) and his son Okatai Darabzand (UNHCR case #385-11C08827).
Bina Darabzand is a well-known life-long anti-regime political activist and leading member of the Consistency Committee to Establish Workers’ Organizations in Iran – an organization whose members have all been subjected to beatings, persecution, and lengthy jail sentences. Members who are not currently political prisoners have been forced to flee Iran to save their own lives. Yet leading activists like Bina remain at risk even in Turkey.
Oktai Darabzand is a journalist covering human rights and other news in Iran. He is without political affiliation, yet his website has been designated by the Islamic Republic authorities as belonging to anti-regime organization PMOI. The Islamic Republic regime’s notorious brutal repression of journalists and its ongoing persecution of members of PMOI underscore the need for Oktai Darabzand to be granted to asylum and protection.
Both Bina and Oktai Darabzand have legitimate claims of asylum, and both remain in danger as long as they remain under their current insecure situation in Turkey.
I urge UNHCR to expedite the processing of the Darabzands’ cases, grant them refugee status as a matter of urgency, and quickly facilitate their resettlement to a safe third country.