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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.

The 7 key arguments against the “Iran Tribunal”

1. Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government
2. The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran
3. Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?
4. The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal
5. Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn
6. Critical voices have been silenced
7. Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The arguments in more detail:

1.    Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government.

He is leading member of Iran Human Rights Documentation. This has received a large amount of funding from the US government.[i]  Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation).This is financed by a variety of American and European foundations, amongst them the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded in 1983 by former US president Ronald Reagan to spread his version of “democracy” around the globe

2.    The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran.

Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, has written to the tribunal’s steering committee, requesting that it takes a stand against the threats of war on Iran and the devastating effect that the sanctions are having on the country. She did not even receive a reply.

Organisers of the tribunal subsequently stated that the tribunal is “non-political.” Yassamine Mather has responded that, “without clear opposition to war and sanctions, the tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran. The danger of war grows every day. I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran who have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country.”

In contrast, Payam Akhavan is a keen supporter of sanctions on Iran. For many years, Payam Akhavan has been pushing his sponsors’ agenda for ever harsher sanctions. He is one of the authors of the International report published by the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which calls for “a comprehensive set of generic remedies – smart sanctions – to combat the critical mass of threat, including threat-specific remedies for each of the nuclear, incitement, terrorist and rights-violating threats”. This 2010 report was, incidentally, also signed by Tory MP Michael Gove and “Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy”.[ii]

(In an interview with a Canadian newspaper, Akhavan boasts: “After years of lobbying, we succeeded in persuading both the US and EU to adopt targeted sanctions against Iranian officials. Canada is far behind in this regard.”).[iii] On March 8 2012, he attended a meeting of the European Union to present a report he had co-authored that contains the proposal to blacklist not just “individuals”, but “the organisations and government bodies that commit these violations”, which “should also be put under sanction”.[iv]

Sanctions are supposed to destabilise the regime and prepare the ground for ‘regime change from above’. In reality, they impact below: first and foremost ordinary working people are harmed by them. There have been clashes on the streets of Tehran over the price of food – even stallholders at the Grand Bazaar are supporting the demonstrators- most Iranians will tell you that the sanctions are the main reason for their misery. In other words, they help deflect anger away from the theocratic regime. They weaken the only force that can deliver real democracy: the workers’, students’ and women’s organisations, who are today weaker than they have been for many years. Clearly, sanctions are a form of war.

3.    Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?

Sir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party; John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. Payam Akhavan was voted “young global leader” at the World Economic Forum in 2005. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers, who in the name of what they dub “the international community” have over the years confronted many dictators and government heads in international courts (generally when these have turned on their former sponsors in the US, of course).

Between 1995 and 2002, Maurice Copithorne acted as UN human rights rapporteur for Iran. “Some Iranians travelled to meet him in 1995 in order to get him to start an investigation of the 1988 massacre,” according to a member of the Norwegian tribunal support committee (which has since withdrawn). “But they weren’t even allowed to meet him. His aide told them that he would only deal with the current situation in Iran and was not interested in things from the past.” Of course, this was at a time when the US was making efforts to stage a rapprochement with Tehran and to enlist it as an ally in the fight against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. It was in this geo-political context that Copithorne’s 1998 annual human rights report was seen as a political whitewash of the theocracy’s oppression. For example, in that report he opines that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is making progress in the field of human rights”.[v].

Why is Copithorne interested in the massacre now? And why have members of the Conservative Party donated their services for free? After all, this is the same Conservative Party that was in government in 1988 and remained ostentatiously silent as leftists and democrats were systematically culled by the theocracy. This is the same Conservative Party that supports harsh sanctions on Iran and continues to rattle the war drums.

Clearly, all these people are ideologically committed to the trial – which explains why the organisers refuse to come out against war and sanctions. This effectively contradicts the tribunal’s claims that they are “non-political”.

4.    The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal

For the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the overthrow of the regime has always been the key objective and it explicitly supports sanctions and war to achieve it. (In the first Gulf War, it famously sided with Saddam Hussein and supported his attacks on Iran, including active participation in military operations). The Mujahedin’s backing for the Iran Tribunal is actually disputed by the tribunal, yet the involvement of people with close MEK links seems to tell a different story. Hardly surprising: after all, the US government has recently announced that it has removed the Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organisations.Leila Ghalehbani (who is featured in a video on the tribunal’s front page) is the sister of a number of Mujahedin prisoners who were killed in 1988. Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of the massacre, describes himself as “a former member” of the organisation. The website of the pro-Mujahedin organisation, Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, has just published a very sympathetic interview with Payam Akhavan, in which he is sympathetically prompted to tell readers how he feels about being “slandered” by the British leftwing paper, Weekly Worker, in its critical coverage of the IT. [vi]

5.    Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn.

The organisations that have withdrawn their witnesses, support for and cooperation with the tribunal include Rahe Kargar (Komitee Ejraai) and the communist organisation Charikhaye Fadai Khalgh (one of the offshoots of the original Fedayeen). Others, like the Communist Party of Iran, have dropped their support. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Iran (Maoist) has split over the issue, as has the Iranian Left Socialist Alliance in the US and Canada. The most ferocious criticism has come from the tribunal’s Norwegian support committee, which has since dissolved because it felt “duped” by the tribunal organisers.

6.    Critical voices have been silenced.

A number of tribunal witnesses have used their statements to condemn the links of the committee to the NED and publicly stated that they are against war and sanctions on Iran. In two highly critical statements the Norwegian support committee describes how all IT witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing session, where they were explicitly asked not to raise any politics during their session. They would not be asked the name of their organisation or their political views, as this was “not a political tribunal”. One witness wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole statement was excluded from the tribunal’s report.

7.    Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The tribunal is part of a campaign that includes sanctions and the threat of war: they are designed to destabilise the theocratic regime, so that it can be easily toppled. But such a regime change from above cannot bring democracy, as the most recent examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove.

Hopi is campaigning for a real tribunal that can investigate the crimes of the Iranian regime – but which at the same time takes an implacable stand against war and sanctions. Democracy in Iran will come from below, from the struggles of its working people themselves; they need solidarity, not the pro-imperialist bleating of Johnny-come-lately ‘democrats’ like Cooper, Nice and Copithorne. 

Iran Tribunal: ‘Impossible to continue support’

Norman Paech, a prominent member of the German left Party Die Linke, has joined others in withdrawing his support for the Iran Tribunal after approaches from supporters of Hands Off the People of Iran, reports Tina Becker

This is an edited version of an article recently published on the website of the German magazine Hintergrund.[i]

The Iran Tribunal continues to divide the left. Yassamine Mather’s articles in the Weekly Worker have been hotly debated in Iran, across Europe and the United States. Since she started to expose the links of the organisers to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a number of organisations and individuals have withdrawn their support. Other groups and parties have split over the issue.

It is therefore timely to take a closer look at the tribunal, its gestation, its corruption – and the fallout from Hopi’s scathing criticism.

Supportable aims

During the 1980s, tens of thousands of political activists in Iran were arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Many leftists fled abroad and around 20,000 dissidents were murdered. The worst massacre was in the summer of 1988, when between 5,000 and 7,000 political prisoners were systematically executed in a matter of weeks, their bodies dumped in anonymous mass graves.

Since then, the relatives and former comrades of those killed have fought for justice. But how to do that in today’s world? That’s the question that has sparked heated debates amongst the Iranian left. They are united in the view that a first, important step should be the publication of the details of the massacre. After all, the government in Teheran has never admitted these crimes and continues its cover-up. Many of those responsible remain in power.

For many years, we have been fighting for an independent commission to examine the horrific murders and name the guilty parties. Our model is the Russell Tribunal, which was established by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1967 and which exposed very effectively the crimes committed by the US military in Vietnam”, says Yassamine Mather, who has been living in exile in London for almost 30 years and today is chair of Hands Off the People of Iran. After dozens of her comrades were executed in the early 80s, Mather and other members of her organisation Fedayeen (minority) fled to Kurdistan to continue their struggle. From exile, she watched in horror as many more of her comrades and political friends were murdered.

Like other exiled Iranians, she initially supported the preparations for the Iran Tribunal. She even supplied it with evidence. An impressive range of international politicians and lawyers were won to the project – for example, from Germany Norman Paech, a prominent member of Die Linke and respected professor of law.

The first stage of the tribunal sat from June 18-22 in Amnesty International’s London HQ, where 60 witnesses (all of them survivors of the massacre or relatives of those murdered) gave 30minute accounts to the “truth commission detailing their experiences and those of their family members (they had also supplied written statements beforehand). A report of 359 pages has since been published on the tribunal’s website. It contains an overview of the horrific conditions in the prisons, a list of the names of the torturers and a detailed report of some executions. But the fully published witness statements in particular throw a harsh light on the brutal events. Rapes, beatings and torture were not just common, but the norm.

None of this evidence is really new or previously unknown – but the sheer volume of testimony underlines the brutal truth that the opposition was systematically exterminated. Thousands of political prisoners were set to be released in 1988. Their original crimes? Some had been arrested for distributing leaflets, others were members of banned organisations, some had helped to organise strikes and demonstrations. Most were arrested in the first wave of oppression in the early 1980s and sentenced to six or seven years in prison.

Their looming release came at a very inconvenient time for the government in Tehran. The exhausting and unpopular war against Iraq had come to an end, leaving the theocratic regime weakened and isolated. The regime was filled with horror at the prospect of thousands of left and militant oppositionists being released to potentially cohere and organise the growing discontent of wide swathes of the population. And so all political prisoners were dragged before makeshift courts, where an Islamic judge, a prosecutor and a representative of the intelligence services judged if they were to live or die. There were no defence lawyers, no evidence, no jury.

The Iran Tribunal heard that these kangaroo courts then demanded to know if the prisoners were Muslim, if they prayed to god and if they had changed their political beliefs. If the judge didn’t like an answer, the defendant was sentenced to death. The condemned were piled into lorries and driven away to be hanged or shot – often in intervals of 30 minutes. Many relatives were informed only months later; others have never been told.

This gruesome report of the truth commission will be handed to a  “court in a second stage of the Tribunal. This court, made up of human rights lawyers from around the world, will meet in The Hague from October 25-27 in order evaluate the material and announce a judgement.

Of course we cannot implement this judgement or the results of the commission, say the organisers. But the proceedings give tens of thousands of families a voice for the first time.

Criticism

So far, so supportable.

However, Yassamine Mather and others withdrew their initial cooperation when they noticed that the Tribunal’s materials totally failed to mention the anti-Iran war plans of the United States and Israel. The danger of war grows every day. I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran who have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country. Without clear opposition to war and sanctions, this Tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran, Yassamine Mather says.

Mather wrote to the Tribunal’s committee to point out the need for a clear statement against war and sanctions. She also reminded them that many of those killed were actually socialists who were implacable not simply in their opposition to the Iranian regime, but also capitalism and imperialism. Surely, given this, it was incumbent on the Tribunal to make its position on the terrible prospect of another disastrous war in the Middle East crystal clear. I never even got a reply”, she notes.

Mather and other Iranians were taken aback by this silence and took a closer look at the committee, its composition and its funding. They soon uncovered the fact that the tribunal is supported by the Iran Human Rights Documentation group, whose founder Payam Akhavan acts as the chair and spokesperson of the Tribunal’s steering committee.

The IHRD has over the years received a large amount of funding from the US government.[ii] Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation). This is financed by a variety of American and European foundations, amongst them the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded in 1983 by former US president Ronald Reagan to spread his version of “democracy around the globe.

It is established fact that the US has destabilised and sponsored coup d’états and proxy wars to rid itself of regimes it regards as hostile to its interests. The CIA finances, organises and trains local pro-US opposition groups. In Chile, Guatemala and many other countries, democratically elected governments were overthrown and replaced by dictators, some of whom went on the oppressed their peoples for decades. In 1953 the CIA – with the help of the British government – toppled the democratically elected prime minister of Iran Mohammad Mossadegh.

While the war drums beating against Tehran make it clear that military force remains on the agenda, the US‘ strategy has been refined and more layers of sophistication added. In particular, in the aftermath of the collapse of USSR and the regimes of eastern Europe, pro-Western regime change from above is pursued under the banner of ‘human rights’ and democracy.

In the Iranian presidential elections of 2009, the West heavily supported presidential Green movement candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. The ‘democratic’ credentials of this man expose the hollowness of all the talk of ‘democracy’ that comes out of Washington and London. Ironically, he was actually prime minister of Iran in 1988 and thus directly responsible for the mass murders and the extermination of the opposition (even if he didn’t order them personally). Unsurprisingly then, the opposition politically differentiated and split; the “Green wave, which brought more than a million people onto the streets of Iran, has largely ebbed away.

“The NED is supposedly a private, non-government, non-profit foundation, but it receives a yearly appropriation from the US Congress”, explains the former CIA agent Philip Agee in an article on the website Clearing House.[iii] In 2009, it was funded to the tune of $135 million by the US government.

No left activist should accept money from such sources, says Mark Fischer, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran. “When they do, what started as a worthy project that originated on the anti-war left – to hold the Iranian regime to account for its crimes – is totally usurped and turned into its opposite. The Tribunal has become part of the drive by Washington to topple the Islamic government and replace it with a US- and Israel-friendly regime.

Hopi has been sharply criticised by some for their ‘purism’ – ‘what is so bad about accepting money from the US government?’, some have asked. After all, it is possible to receive funds from pigs without having to grunt yourself.

Of course it is”, responds Fischer. But only if the financier places no political conditions or demands on you. But the NED is an important arm of US-sponsored foreign policy.” Fischer says it is no coincidence or oversight that the website of the Tribunal does not come out in opposition to war and sanctions. Or that it does not mention even once that many of the victims of the 1988 massacre were communists and socialists.

“Financially and politically the Tribunal is an integral part of the campaign for regime change from above”, says Fischer. This is a multi-front campaign that utilises bombs, military threats, sanctions, killer commandos despatched by the Israeli secret service Mossad … and ‘human rights’ initiatives like the Iran Tribunal. For the sake of legitimacy – especially when it comes to ‘soft war’ initiatives like the IT or sanctions – the support of pliant politicians of the Iranian opposition is vital in this. Indeed, some of these forces have foolishly suggested that the worse the social conditions become in Iran, the weaker the regime.

Yassamine Mather responds: Actually, what is weakened first and foremost are the ordinary people in Iran. The workers‘ movements and women’s organisations are currently more feeble and embattled than they have been for many years. People struggle to get by in worsening economic conditions and simply have no time, space or energy for the political fight.”

Comrade Mather also criticises the composition of the steering committee of the Tribunal, whichreads like a Who is whoof establishment luminaries who fight for human rights in a total political vacuum: eg, Sir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party. Payam Akhavan was voted young global leader at the World Economic Forum in 2005. John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers who in the name of what they dub the international community” have over the years confronted many dictators and government heads in international courts (generally when these have turned on their former sponsors in the US, of course).

The government in Tehran was able to easily dismiss the Tribunal as part of a Western plot against Iran: the radio stations ‚Voice of America‘ and Radio Free Iran – both financed by Washington – broadcast the witness statements uncut and for many hours.

Israeli socialist Moshé Machover believes that some of the organisers and participants have acted with evident good will, but that is not enough. It often happens that people of good intentions lend themselves out of naivety to be exploited by evil forces. This is a danger that we must always guard against. Many good people, out of genuine and justified concern for women’s rights, were duped into lending legitimacy to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; and similarly good people, with genuine horror of Saddam Husain’s atrocities, were duped in 2003 into lending legitimacy to the disastrous invasion of Iraq.”

From as early as 2010, a number of former political prisoners have been criticising the mooted Tribunal and its links to the US government. But the body only became the subject of an international controversy when Yassamine Mather began to publish her damning research in the Weekly Worker from June 2012.

Many Iranians have since added to her critical voice. For example, a number of Tribunal witnesses have used their statements to condemn the links of the committee to the NED and publicly stated that they are against war and sanctions on Iran. Several organisations have withdrawn their witnesses, support for and cooperation with the Tribunal – amongst them Rahe Kargar (Komitee Ejraai) and the communist organisation Charikhaye Fadai Khalgh (one of the offshoots of the original Fedayeen). Others, like the Communist Party of Iran, have dropped their support. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Iran (Maoist) has split over the issue, as has the Iranian Left Socialist Alliance in the US and Canada.

The most ferocious criticism has come from the Tribunal’s Norwegian support committee, which has since dissolved itself because it says it felt “duped” by the tribunal organisers. In two highly critical statements they describe how all IT witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing session where they were explicitly asked not to raise any politics during their session. They would not be asked the name of their organisation or their political views, as this was “not a political tribunal”.

Worse, they then spotted Maurice Copithorne, who was about to chair one of the sessions. Between 1995 and 2002 he acted as UN human rights rapporteur for Iran. “Some Iranians travelled to meet him in 1995 in order to get him to start an investigation of the 1988 massacre”, according to a member of the Norwegian committee. “But they weren’t even allowed to meet him. His aide told them that he would only deal with the current situation in Iran and was not interested in things from the past.”

Of course, this was at a time when the US was making efforts to stage a rapprochement with the regime in Teheran and to enlist it as an ally in the fight against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. It was in this geo-political context that Copithorne’s annual Human rights report was seen as a “political whitewash” of the theocracy’s oppression, explains Yassamine Mather. In his 1998 report, for example, he opines that, “while the Islamic Republic of Iran is making progress in the field of human rights, this progress is uneven and a number of sectors are, at this time, being left behind. The Government needs to broaden its agenda for change and to declare a strong commitment to achieving certain goals within specified time-frames.”[iv] This brand of almost technocratic advice to encourage the Tehran regime’s human rights “progress” reads as surreal when the grim daily reality of poverty, repression and censorship for ordinary Iranians is borne in mind.

Copithorne’s sudden interest in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners (in the new geo-political context of a US-led driven drive to war against Iran, of course) impressed few and most of the witnesses from Norway (as well as a number from Great Britain and Germany) decided at this point to withdraw from the proceedings. In protest at the farce unfolding in London, the Norwegian committee itself decided to dissolve and has since explained that they feel they had been “duped” by the organisers. In their statements, the presence of Copithorne, Sir Nice and John Cooper is criticised, the attempts to depoliticise the witness statements and of course Akhavan’s leading role in the whole initiative and his links to the Broumand Foundation and IHDRC are emphatically rejected.

One witness, however, wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute-session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole statement has been excluded from the tribunal’s report.

Norman Paech

The furore has now started to make waves amongst the non-Iranian left. When Hopi supporters confronted the leading German politician cited at the beginning of this document, Norman Paech of Die Linke, with the evidence gathered by comrade Mather, he immediately cut off his cooperation with the Tribunal. This is his statement in full:

 

Norman Paech

“I have indeed supported the intention and the work of the committee to prepare this tribunal. I still think it is absolutely necessary that all facts about the horrific murders, the torture and the crimes of the 1980s are brought to light. But the background of the funding and the obvious links to the NED, of which I had no knowledge and which have only just been brought to my attention, make it impossible for me to continue this support. I find myself in particularly strong disagreement with the committee when it comes to my resolute opposition to sanctions and the threat of war on Iran. I do not want to part of a project which is supported by the pro-war Mujahedin.”

He has since come under pressure from a number of Iranians in Germany to withdraw his statement. But his political biography suggests he is astute enough to stand firm.

Paech left the then governing Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 2001, when it sent German troops to Afghanistan. He became a member of parliament for Die Linke in Germany in 2005, where he acted as the fraction’s spokesperson for foreign affairs and led the (failed) attempt by the party to declare the despatch of fighter jets to Afghanistan to be illegal. In 2010 he was onboard the ship Mavi Marmara, which attempted to deliver goods and food to Gaza. Famously, it was raided by the Israeli army and nine people were killed. Afterwards, Paech and two other Die Linke members on board were heavily criticised by the German media for their involvement, which “also harboured many extremists and Hamas supporters”. Because of the still strong German ‘collective guilt’ complex over WWII and the holocaust, any kind of criticism is misconstrued as anti-Semitism and Paech was slammed even by right wing sections of his own party.

It is also important to point out that, to his credit, he has been very critical of attempts to charge so-called ‘war criminals’ in international courts. These courts act very much as the courts of the victors who are re-writing history for their own purpose. They are not interested in and cannot deliver “justice”.

We should also have no illusions in the ability of the US, Israel or any Western government to bring democracy to Iran. Iraq and Afghanistan surely serve as horrific examples of imperialist-led ‘regime change from above’.

“In reality, the plan is to rebuild the politically unstable Middle East in a US-friendly way and preserve the regional hegemony of Israel. The biggest obstacle here is the regime in Iran”, says comrade Machover. The Iran Tribunal is now a secondary, but nonetheless important, part of that reactionary project.

Mujahedin

Despite all of this, there are still a number of groups who continue to support the IT as an important element of their opposition to Teheran; for example the Mujahedin. For this organisation the overthrow of the regime in Teheran has always been the key objective and it explicitly supports sanctions and war to achieve it (in the First Gulf War, it famously sided with Saddam Hussein and militarily aided his attacks on Iran). The organisation’s support for the Tribunal is actually disputed by those who run it. Hardly surprising: after all, the US government has only just announced that it is about to delist the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) as a terrorist group. Yet the involvement in the IT of people with close links to the Mujahedin seems to tell a different story.

Leila Ghalehbani (who is featured in a video on the Tribunal’s front page) is the sister of a number of Mujahdin prisoners who were killed in 1988. Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of the massacre, describes himself as “a former member” of the organisation. The website of the pro-Mujahedin organisation ‘Human rights and democracy for Iran’ has just published a very sympathetic interview with Payam Akhavan in which he is sympathetically prompted to tell readers how he feels about being “slandered” by the Weekly Worker.[v]

“For some, the end justifies the means”, concludes Yassamine Mather. “They think that sanctions, the Tribunal, even the threat of war will help to topple the regime in Iran and their day will have come. But they seem to wilfully ignore the fact that the US and Israel have no interest in democracy of any sort for Iran. So, they are playing a dangerous game. I am sure that many of those who were killed in 1988 would turn in their grave if they could now see what has happened to their comrades.“

Hopefully, many other politicians and left activists and organisations follow Norman Paech’s lead and disengage from the Tribunal. What we need is a real, independent tribunal that can investigate the crimes – and at the same time speak out against war and sanctions on Iran.

Notes


[i] http://www.hintergrund.de/201209222250/politik/welt/viele-der-ermordeten-wuerden-sich-im-grab-umdrehen.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+hintergrund%2FZboE+%28hintergrund.de%29

[ii] www.iranhrdc.org/english/news/in-the-news/3085-silencing-the-watchdog.html#.T9RP7NPgyBs.

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Endowment_for_Democracy#Funding_of_foreign_political_candidates

[iv] http://www.iranrights.org/english/document-74.php

[v] http://www.hrd4iran.se/

 

We demand the immediate release of Dr. Fariborz Raisdana!

Fariborz Raisdana

We demand the immediate release of Dr. Fariborz Raisdana!

On Monday the 20th of May, Dr Raisdana – academic, leftwing economist and writer – was arrested and sent to the notorious Evin prison. He is a well known intellectual, economist, social activist and member of the Iranian writers’ association. He has published several books and articles on political economy and sociology. He is well known as a leftist socio-economic expert who always considers the plight of the Iranian working class in his economic analysis. Dr. Raisdana’s field of expertise is econometrics. He has tried hard to disclose how workers and wage earners have been affected by the relations of political economy in the turbulent Iranian society and how they have been increasingly suffering.

He has consistently criticised the Iranian government socio-economic programmes and often points out how social and political oppression is implemented to impose policies such as the unfair plan to abolish/reduce the allocation of national subsidies. There is no doubt that military economic planning has reduced social welfare and added  pressure on the poorer classes. Dr. Raisdana has always been their voice in the society and it is his stance against unfair economic policies that has landed him in jail.

HOPI condemns Dr. Raisdana’s arrest and demands his immediate and unconditional release.

Video: ‘The Arab revolution – back on the agenda’

Video: ‘The Arab revolution – back on the agenda’

Speakers: Mohammad Reza Shalgouni (Founder member of the Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar)) and Moshé Machover (Israeli socialist)

At Communist University 2011, comrade Machover discussed the state of the revolutionary upheaval in the Arab speaking world. While the revolt in each country has its specific characteristics, they all must be seen in the context of the struggle for Arab unity. Comrade Shalgouni looked at the limitations of the current protests and analysed what holds them back. He also discussed the implications of the Arab revolutions for the entire region. Both speakers are experts in their field and have written extensively on the question

Click here to watch the video

February 14: films about the protests in Iran

Tens of thousands of people defied a ban by the Islamic regime and protested on the streets of Iran on February 14 2011. The Iranian people are protesting in solidarity with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt – now they want their own dictator and the whole regime to go.

Some films we have been sent by comrades in Iran:

video.php?v=1573961594956

Dreaming is a crime: Jafar Panahi on his detention

Jafar Panahi after release
Jafar Panahi after release

Jafar Panahi says at the moment he has little hope of making another film, all he can do is produce a film in his head but he adds “I will have to make a film, that is my life.” He is eager to thank all those who called for his release, film directors, actors, theatre directors, artists , festival organsiers but also his friends and compatriots.

He says : “I started the hunger strike when one night they took me for questioning and the interrogators asked: ‘what is the name of your film?’ I thought they were referring to the film I was making when they arrested me in my house on the 1st of March. So I replied ‘that film isn’t finished yet so it hasn’t got a name’. They replied no no, we are asking about the film you are making in prison in your cell.'”

“I said: ‘What film?’ These people really thought someone had smuggled a camera and I was making a film in their jail! The truth is once I told a group of fellow prisoners that I have so far made five films and as a joke I added ‘and here I am making a film of myself’. The jail authorities must have heard this and thought that in my tiny cell I was making a film.”

Panahi adds: “All the pressures imposed by these interrogators are due to their imagination, it shows their fear of cinema. Here (in Iran) it is a crime even to think about making a film! Dreaming about a film is a crime.”

(Translation from Farsi by HOPI)

Solidarity screening of 'Offside'

pic frontWith comedy from Shappi Khorsandi and an introduction by John McDonnell MP. The event is co-sponsored by the Labour Representation Committee (click here to read their letter, urging support for the event). For details of screenings in Glasgow and Manchester, click here)

Wednesday, May 12, 6pm. Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1

Jafar Panahi – the well known Iranian film maker – was arrested on March 1 and is still being held without any charges. He has twice been offered bail, but has refused in solidarity with all those incarcerated for their participation in the mass demonstrations against the regime that have shaken Iran since June 2009.

The Hopi showing of the director’s most popular film in the West – ‘Offside’ – is an important opportunity to raise the profile of Panahi and step up the pressure on the regime in Tehran. We believe that international solidarity of this sort – not the threat of military strikes or sanctions – is the way to deliver effective aid to the struggle of ordinary people in Iran for freedom and social change.

  • Please let us know if you can distribute leaflets and we’ll send you some. Maybe your union branch is planning a mailout soon?
  • Even if you can’t come, perhaps you could sponsor the event by making a donation? You can do so on http://hopoi.org/?p=1195
  • You could also try to get your organisation/trade union branch to sponsor the event.

Tickets: £10 (£20 solidarity, £5 unwaged). All profits go to the charity ‘Workers Fund Iran’. Please buy your ticket via Paypal here or by sending a cheque/postal order to PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE

You can also get a new copy of the film from us – we recommend a donation of £10 to cover all costs. Just add the amount when you’re paying.