Hands Off the People of Iran has been accused by some forces in the orbit of the Iran Tribunal of abandoning its central political slogans and effectively becoming an apologist for the Tehran regime. Hopi categorically rejects these accusations. Our opposition to the IT flows precisely from the principles embodied in our founding statement – principles that uphold implacable opposition to both imperialism and the theocratic regime. At the same time we were – and remain – crystal-clear about where change must come from: the struggles of the working class and the social movements.
Our criticism of the Iran Tribunal and the left organisations that have collaborated with it flows from this. The refusal of this body to stand against sanctions and the threat of war against Iran makes its condemnation of the regime’s crimes – accurate though they are in the abstract – an aid to imperialism’s plans and manoeuvres in the region. Quite apart from murky questions to do with the tainting of the IT through funding or indirect support, its silence on US threats and the possibility of an Israeli attack provide a damning indictment of the whole initiative.
Despite protestations to the contrary, some of those on the ‘left’ who have cooperated with the IT have effectively given up on the ability of the working class to win fundamental change in Iran. Their political decay and disorientation is illustrated by the agency they now look to in order to defeat the theocratic regime: the stance of the IT proves that, for these people, that force is now imperialism. Others who have given their support in hope of raising awareness of the crimes committed by the theocratic regime have done so at a political cost that is too high. Whatever media interest has been gained has been placed within the framework of strengthening the imperialist arguments for deeper sanctions and the possibility of a military strike.
In stark contrast, Hopi stands proudly by the founding principles we adopted at our first conference in 2007:
No to any imperialist intervention. The immediate and unconditional end to sanctions on Iran.
No to the theocratic regime.
Opposition to Israeli expansionism and aggression.
Support to all working class and progressive struggles in Iran against poverty and repression.
Support for socialism and democracy in Iran and therefore solidarity with all democratic, working class, socialist and secular movements in that country.
Opposition to Israeli, British and American nuclear weapons. For a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as a step towards worldwide nuclear disarmament.
When is a political tribunal ‘non-political’? Hands Off the People of Iran national secretary Mark Fischer responds to the latest salvo of pro-imperialist apologetics
Hands Off the People of Iran and the Weekly Worker have been sent a document authored by Dariosh Afshar, associate member of the Iran Tribunal’s International Communications Work Group. The Iran Tribunal, set up by exiled anti-regime Iranians, was convened to investigate Tehran’s massacre of some 15,000 political prisoners in the 1980s, but has been shown by Hopi and this paper to be a body that objectively aids the US-led drive to impose – by military or other means – regime change from above on Iran.
The long, rambling and self-contradictory document, entitled ‘What the “friends of the people” are, and how they fight the social power of the people’, is presented as a response to a situation where allegedly “professor Norman Paech, a renowned and well respected German politician of Germany’s ‘Left’ party, who had earlier offered his support to Iran Tribunal, was compelled to withdraw his support …”1 Its stated aim is to refute the criticisms of the IT that soured comrade Paech’s attitude and – pursuing that – the document makes a whole series of counter-accusations against Hopi and one of its leading figures, Yassamine Mather, as well as the Weekly Worker.
We have been challenged to publish the 16,000-word document in our paper, which we have no intention of doing. However, Hopi has reproduced it on its website,2 so comrades can judge its quality for themselves, and we intend – in due course – to comprehensively unpick its amateurish dishonesty and clumsy apologetics. This article will confine itself to presenting some answers to the main political charges that Afshar – presumably with the tacit consent of other members of the IT – has laid against us.
There are other, more involved questions: for example, the funding links of individuals and organisations involved in the IT. These we will take up subsequently in a longer, more detailed reply. Here we will content ourselves with a few observations. For example, the web of influence through which imperialism pursues its global agenda is, naturally, not transparent. It is opaque, highly complex, subtle and circuitous: it is pushed forward financially, through academic patronage, personal pressure/inducement and the ideological cooption of useful dupes. Simply stating that there are no direct, bank-account-to-bank-account transactions that can be highlighted in yellow marker is an idiotic defence – or perhaps, more accurately, a defence that is designed to satisfy no-one but fools.
More often than not, the simplest questions are the most profound. So comrade Paech is to be congratulated for prompting the production of this long, self-contradictory screed with his plainly put request for clarification: “Can the tribunal take a clear position against war and sanctions?” he asked.
No it cannot, Afshar answers. More tellingly, this apologist suggests that its very nature dictates that it should not. This is because the Iran Tribunal is “non-political”, he insists. Comrades who plough through his document online will note that he returns repeatedly to this challenge and – interestingly – provides different definitions of “non-political”.
Most absurdly, he actually suggests in one place that the IT is non-political because “upholding justice and human dignity and values doesn’t mix with politics. This is one of the main elements which Yassamine Mather cannot see or appreciate.”
On two levels, it is a little difficult to respond to something as silly as this. Historically, the notion that categories such as ‘justice’ and ‘human dignity’ have not been rather hotly contested political concepts should not really detain us too long – Liberté,égalité, fraternité anyone …?
The more pertinent point here is the way contemporary imperialism promotes its interventions as ‘humanitarian’ gestures – Afshar asks whether “any war between two or more reactionary forces” has “ever been motivated, or been used as a pretext, to defend or even pretend to defend or protect human rights”. A smarter question would perhaps be – particularly since Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and the second cold war – when have they not?
With this is mind, the recommendations of the IT’s second sitting (ending on October 29) make ominous reading. As others have pointed out, they sound very much like the conclusions reached by the kind of tribunals that preceded the ‘humanitarian’ intervention in the former Yugoslavia – conclusions that conveniently paved the way for the military intervention of Nato. In this context, there is an irony that this final session of the IT was staged in the Hague, where former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić is currently on trial.
Afshar’s insistence that “no-one’s political or ideological views play any role whatsoever” in the IT and that “this is absolute” assumes that his audience are morons. A tribunal – with, rather obviously, no powers whatsoever – is specifically set up to investigate the crimes of a particular regime and we are meant to believe that politics do not come into it?
What is more, the Iran Tribunal takes place against the background of sanctions, warmongering and attempts to impose regime change from above. Meanwhile, the international anti-war movement (for which Afshar consistently expresses contempt throughout his document) is very much weakened, compared to its zenith in 2003, and seems incapable of mounting a serious challenge to imperialism’s plans.
Then in this particular historical moment, the ‘non-political’ IT steps forward with its condemnation of the barbaric Tehran regime and its ear-splitting silence concerning the looming danger of another disastrous war in the region. It ignores the ongoing horror of ‘soft war’ sanctions that are fraying the fabric of Iran’s society and making life hell for ordinary people. The evasions of Afshar are worthless – it is clear whose interests are being served by his tribunal. The “absolute” ban on “political or ideological views” is meaningless: what other conclusion are we supposed to draw from the evidence than ‘something must be done’? Moreover, those participating in the stunt who supported sanctions and war had vast resources deployed daily outside the hall to make their case for them.3
The ban is exclusively directed against the left, against anti-imperialist forces – something that has been documented in some detail. For example, in two highly critical statements the Norwegian IT support committee describes how all tribunal witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing, where they were explicitly asked not to ‘raise any politics’ during their evidence. One witness wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole evidence was excluded from the record.
In the current world context, to remain silent on sanctions and the threat of war is to play the role of willing dupes; it is to constitute yourself as the ‘human rights’ wing of imperialism’s reactionary campaign.
Possibly the most absurd argument is Afshar’s attempt to prove that Hopi generally and Yassamine Mather specifically are in effect supporters of the Islamic regime. It is worthwhile examining his text here. A quote from comrade Mather is cited: “without clear opposition to war and sanctions, the tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran … I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran that have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country.”
Absurdly this is taken to show that “Yassamine simply cannot see through her tunnel vision that there is a third force: ie, the people of Iran. They are the ultimate power who could stop any potential war by overthrowing the regime and establishing their own secular and democratic system. Being ‘a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran’ doesn’t mean that one should see the welfare and democratic aspirations of the people through maintaining the balance of power between two reactionary and warring states.”
At this point, some readers may start to doubt the man’s sanity. It is possible to fill a barn with Hopi and Mather quotes that exactly make the point that the working people of Iran are the focus of our work, our hopes for democracy and socialism – indeed the quote used by Afshar himselfdoes that. However, very quickly it becomes clear that what Afshar actually takes offence to is the anti-war component of Hopi’s work.
“Yassamine only sees the US and the rulers of IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran],” he writes, in contradiction to the words he is actually quoting. “She only worries about weakening or strengthening one or the other. People don’t come into Yassamine’s equation and have no place in her ‘anti-war’ politics. And when people do something collectively and form a social power institution such as Iran Tribunal, she smears it with lies and accusations.”
“[Mather] has focused the main part of her activism on ‘anti-war’ campaigning. Isn’t the balance of power between the USA and [Iran] the main issue with Yassamine? Doesn’t she just want to play ‘anti-war’ games within the ‘anti-imperialist camp’ of some of the mind-twisted so-called ‘Marxists’? Where do the people of Iran come into Yassamine’s active politics?”
Given world politics and relations between Israel, the US and Iran over the last few years, one might have expected that someone like Afshar (who self-defines himself as a ‘Marxist’ in the document) would see anti-war agitation and propaganda in a period like this as rather more than a ‘game’.
In truth, and despite his protestations otherwise, Afshar’s politics lend themselves to, if not active support for sanctions and the war drive, at least indifference. He imagines a scenario where “Yassamine Mather had a successful campaign and not only she prevented the war, but the sanctions were also lifted. Wouldn’t the best achieved outcome and scenario be similar to the time when Khatami or Rafsanjani had the upper hand within the Islamic Republican of Iran factions?”
In contrast, Afshar appears to see the present, dire situation in today’s Iran as preferable. The “country’s disastrous and catastrophic circumstances” mean that “all the right conditions for a revolutionary regime change are ready … The great majority of the Iranian population is faced with unprecedented harsh and unmanageable economic and living conditions, and as far as social unrest is concerned, Iran right now is a massive time bomb waiting to go off at any time …” An important source of the pressure that has produced these apparently propitious conditions for the struggle of the people of Iran is imperialism itself, of course – its vicious sanctions and the threats of a military strike.
In stark contrast, Hopi’s anti-war/anti-sanctions campaign has nothing whatsoever to do with restoring the hegemony of this or that faction in the theocracy, still less a “balance of power” between US-led imperialism and Tehran. (When on earth did that ever exist, by the way? The United States is the world’s policeman, massively more powerful militarily than its main imperialist rivals, let alone Iran). Our fight to remove the crippling sanctions (which disrupt and demoralise the working people primarily) and to stop the drive to war (which would be a disaster for ordinary people and which facilitate oppression in the here and now) is intended to give the working class and its allies the maximum space and opportunity to impose its own progressive democratic agenda.
Finally, Afshar reaches a truly bizarre conclusion about the motivations of Yassamine Mather and Hopi (comrade Mather has by now clearly become the personification of the campaign for him: any accusation he throws against her holds good for the organisation as a whole in his mind):
“Yassamine doesn’t want Iran Tribunal to succeed because she doesn’t want [Iran] to be exposed with yet another one of its horrific scandals on the international scene. The reason for this is that [Iran] has, of course, taken full advantage of the concept of being ‘anti-war’, and has marked its own devious influence by launching organisations … to act as impostors within [the anti-war movement] in order to steer and direct the whole of the ‘anti-war’ movement toward its own political advantage. As far as the ‘anti-war’ movements are concerned, the point to make should be that both the USA and Islamic Republic of Iran are reactionary forces who pursue their own agendas.”
Hopi has always said that Iran’s Islamic Republic must be held accountable for its crimes, including the massacre of political prisoners that the IT was convened to look into. Nor has Hopi ever argued that the threat of war means we should ignore or delay such investigations.4 However, to condemn the Iranian regime for its myriad crimes in the current political situation without making crystal-clear at the same time your implacable opposition to any external interference in the country, either in the form of ‘soft war’ sanctions or a military strike, is to effectively make yourself a dupe of imperialist reaction. There were plenty of them in the war in former Yugoslavia; plenty of them cheered on the assault on Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. So, despite Afshar bleating about the unique and principled nature of the Iran Tribunal, it is actually joining a very long, very disreputable line.
Lastly, two points about the IT’s final report:
1. It seems that the gagging order on the left and anti-imperialists is to be applied retrospectively even to the victims of the Islamic regime’s executions in the 1980s. It is not mentioned that many (if not the majority) of the victims were socialists and communists who would have been appalled by the pro-imperialist use their sacrifice is being put to. Not even an echo of their voices is to be allowed; not even from beyond the grave.
2. The IT’s recommendation “that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation mandate its Independent Permanent Commission of Human Rights to designate these violations a ‘priority human rights issue’ and ‘conduct studies and research’” into it is truly jaw-dropping. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is made up of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – they are being asked to monitor Iran’s human rights record!
Clearly, however, the deciding factor here is not these countries’ own democratic credentials. For example, Saudi Arabia is an undemocratic hell-hole, but it is one of the main allies of imperialism in the region. A coincidence? We think not …
Comrades in Hands Off the People of Iran do not take great pleasure in being proved right about the IT. We took a potentially controversial decision to oppose it so energetically. The only gratifying aspect of the whole affair has been that our stance has been vindicated so quickly and so completely – something rare in leftwing politics. However, the fact that important elements of the Iranian left chose to cooperate with it makes this a sad and worrying ‘victory’ for us.
3.The IT’s ‘chief prosecutor’, Payam Akhavan, is a keen supporter of sanctions on Iran. For many years, 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 US-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy.
Israeli socialist and found of Matzpen, 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.”
Norman Paech, human rights lawyer and member of Die Linke in Germany: “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 be part of a project which is supported by the pro-war Mujahedin.”
John McDonnell MP: This tardy interest in “human rights” in Iran is clearly part of the US, Israeli and British governments’ drive to topple the theocratic regime – just like military threats and the vicious sanctions on the country, which are bleeding ordinary Iranians dry: food prices have rocketed, many workers have to be laid off as contracts with foreign companies are cancelled, hospitals cannot get hold of necessary and life-saving equipment. In this context, the refusal of IT’s steering committee to take a stand against the looming war and the calamitous effects of sanctions is a significant silence.
Mark Fischer, national secretary of Hands Off the People of Iran: “Financially and politically the tribunal is an integral part of the campaign for ‘regime change from above’. This multi-front campaign 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.”
Mohammad Reza Shalgouni,a founder-member of Rahe Kargar, who spent eight years in prison under the shah: “It is inconceivable that a genuine tribunal of victims of the 1988 massacre would be associated with individuals or organisations who have such connections to the United States government.”
Professor Bridget Fowler, Glasgow University: I have read your very disturbing articles and support your anxiety about some of the funders to the Iran Tribunal, including – via the Abdorrahman Borroumand Foundation – the National Endowment for Democracy. I came to learn about the NED through discovering that it was one of the many organisations that had tried to destabilise the present Cuban Govt, so as to reinstate a regime which would back full privatisation as well as pursuing neoliberal demands.
Michael Parenti, US Marxist academic: Anti-imperialists and socialists should not take monetary or promotional support from organizations that are funded and directed by the imperialists. The NED and other such imperial interests are happy to undermine us with dollars as well as with brutal assaults. Never do they give anything that does not have strings attached to it. The imperialists have only their own self-interest in mind. The nectar they offer us is laced with poison. Build your own organizations as best you can, free from the infiltrations and subversion of those who preach democracy but who practice fascism.
Ruben Markarian, a leading member of Rahe Kargar: “The reality is that families of political prisoners who were seeking justice for their relatives have been delivered to the US and its allies.”
Professor Cyrus Bina, University of Minnesota: This so-called Tribunal is indeed a bashful front of US neocons and the Israel lobby in United States. Let’s not kid ourselves by walking on the eggshells on this and when it comes to Mr. Payam Akhavan.
Ashraf Dehghani, a prominent member of the Iranian People’s Fedayeen Guerrillas, has also come out strongly in opposition to the tribunal. “These days, we see that various imperialist powers are concerned about the issue ‘human rights’ and the defense of this or that political prisoner in Iran. One example of such concern by imperialist forces is the so called Iran Tribunal held recently in London.”
Ervand Abrahamian, historian of Middle Eastern and particularly Iranian history: I think this is not a good time to focus on the prison massacres. A better time will come once the nuclear issue subsides. Incidentally, Moussavi had absolutely nothing to do with the killings. There is a vital need to differentiate between different sectors of the regime.
Articles from all over the world, criticising the tribunal and its organisers:
Those who compromise with world capitalism, political dizziness or organise political chantage.
A 3-part-expose on the Iran Tribunal by Farokh Ghahremani (ex-member of Fedayeen (Minority) who currently lives in Sweden http://www.etehad.se/artikel/7188
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.
Hands Off the People of Iran has been criticising the “Iran Tribunal” for its pro-imperialist agenda and links to funds that campaign for “regime change from above”, like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In this video, Yassamine Mather responds to some criticisms leveled against Hopi.
Norman Paech, a prominent member of the German left Party Die Linke, has others his support for the Iran Tribunalafter approache 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 Iranacross 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 criticism.
During the 1980s, tens of thousands of political activists in Iran were arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Many leftists abroad and around 20,000 dissidents were murdered. The worst massacre 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 ? That’s the question that has 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 the crimes and continues . Many of those responsible remain in power.
For many years, we have been fighting for an independent commission 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 US military in Vietnamsays 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 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 – from Germany Norman Paech, a prominent member of Die Linke and respected professor of law.
The first stage of the tribunal from June 18-22 in Amnesty International’s HQ, 60 witnesses (all of them survivors of the massacre or relatives of those murdered) truth commissionand their family members (had 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 the prisons, a list of the names of the torturers and a detailed report of some executions. But the fully published witness statements throw a light on the brutal events. Rapes, beatings and torture were not just common, but the norm.
None of evidence is really new or unknown – but the of that the opposition was systematically exterminated. Thousands of political prisoners were to be released in 1988. Their 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 inconvenient time for the government in Tehran. The and unpopular war against Iraq had come to an end, leaving the theocratic regime weakened. prospect of thousands of left and militant oppositionists and the growing discontent wide 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.
he Iran Tribunal that the prisoners were Muslim, if they prayed to god and if they had changed their political beliefs. If judge didn’t like an answer, the defendant was sentenced to death. The were piled into lorries and hanged or shot – often in intervals of 30 minutes. Many relatives were informed only months laterothers have never been told.
This gruesome report of the truth commission will be handed to a court in a second stage of the . 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 and announce a judgement.
Of course we cannot implement this judgement or the results of the commission, the organisers. But the proceedings give tens of thousands of families a voice for the first time.
So far, so supportable.
However, Yassamine Mather and others when they noticed that the materials the war plans of the US 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 : the workers, women’s groups and social movements in . Without clear opposition to war and sanctions, all those a military attack on Iran, Mather says.
Mather wrote to the committee that many of those killed were socialists who the Iranian regime, but also capitalism and imperialism. Surely, . I never even got a reply
Mather and other Iranians were taken aback by this and took a closer look at the committee and its funding. They the tribunal is supported by the Iran Human Rights Documentation, whose founder Payam Akhavan acts as the chair and spokesperson of the steering committee.
he IHRD has over the years received large from the US government.[ii] Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation) is financed by 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 democracy around the globe.
It is that the US has coup and . The CIA finances, organises and trains local opposition groups. In Chile, Guatemala and many other countries, democratically elected governments were overthrown and replaced by dictators for decades. In 1953 the CIA – with the help of the British government – toppled the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
he US‘ strategy has been refined and regime change
In the Iranian presidential elections of 2009, the West heavily supported presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. e was prime minister of Iran in 1988 and directly responsible for the mass murders and the extermination of the opposition (even if he didn’t order them personally). opposition split; the wave, which brought more than a million people onto the streets of Iran, has largely 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 Hous[iii] In 2009, it was funded $135 million by the US government.
No left activist should accept money from such sourcessays Mark Fischer, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran. , totally . The has become part of the to topple the Islamic government and replace it with a US- and Israel-friendly regime.
is so bad about accepting money from the US government? it possible to receive funds from pigs without to grunt yourself
Of course it Fischer. But only if the financier places no conditions or demands on you. But the NED is an important of US-sponsored foreign policy.” Fischer says it is no coincidence or oversight that the website of the does not come out in opposition to war and sanctions. Or that it does not mention once that many of the victims of the 1988 massacre were communists and socialists.
he is part of the campaign for regime change from abovesays Fischer. This campaign bombs military threats killer commandos by the Israeli Mossad. support of politicians of the opposition is .
“first and foremost the people in Iran. The workers‘ movements and women’s organisations are currently than they have been for many yearseople struggle to get by in worsening economic conditions.”
Comrade Mather also criticises the steering committee of the , whichreads like Who is whoof fight for human rights in a total political vacuumSir 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 he international communithave over the years many dictators and government heads in international courts (turned on their former sponsors in the US).
The government in Tehran was able to dismiss the as part of a Western plot against Iran: the radio stations ‚Voice of America‘ and Radio Free Iran – both financed by – 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.”
number of former political prisoners have been criticising the and its links to the US government. But only the subject of an international when Yassamine Mather to publish research in the Weekly Worker June 2012.
“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.”
Yassamine Mather and Mark Fischer of Hands Off the People of Iran explain why the so-called “Iran Tribunal” that has been taking place in London, should not be supported by socialists and communists: because of its financial support from the US government and its silence on the threat of war it is implicitly acting in a pro-imperialist manner. The tens of thousands of communists and socialists who were murdered by the regime, on the other hand, were always clear that they were opposing two enemies: the theocracy AND imperialism
Debates about the Iran Tribunal – convened to put the Islamic regime in the dock for its massacre of 5,000-10,000 political prisoners in 1988 – continues to occupy a prominent place in the publications and websites of the Iranian left, both in exile and to a lesser extent inside Iran itself.
In a sense it is true that, given the current situation in Iran – not least the disastrous consequences of what the US calls “comprehensive sanctions” – this is a small, irrelevant issue. After all, this week alone another 400 workers lost their jobs in Iran’s main car manufacturer, Iran Khodro, as a direct consequence of sanctions: Malaysia, under pressure from the US, pulled out of a contract. It is also true that sanctions are not the same as cluster bombs, but their effect on the Iranian working class can be devastating nevertheless.
The first round of the tribunal, which took place last month in London, attracted very little publicity and was indeed an insignificant event. So why is Hands Off the People of Iran devoting so much attention to it? We exposed the fact that it was organised and paid for by the CIA-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy as another way of building up the momentum for a military attack on Iran. Yet some conspiracy theorists are saying that Hopi chose to do so because we are “supporters of the Islamic regime” – or alternatively we are part of a sectarian plot to discredit sections of the Iranian left. Well, to deal with the second accusation first, the leftwing cheerleaders of this tribunal have made a pretty good job of discrediting themselves.
In the week before the tribunal Hopi activists had been approached by a number of Iranian comrades (who no doubt were ignorant of the politics of the tribunal’s backers) asking us to help with publicity in the United Kingdom. We were asked to get involved in translating the proceedings and to encourage John McDonnell MP to support the tribunal. These requests forced us to look into the matter more carefully and indeed every page we turned, every piece of information we came across, made us more wary. So let me make it very clear: we had no hidden agenda. Had the supporters of the Iran Tribunal not tried to engage us in the event, we might not have written about it at all. We might not have been alerted to the highly dubious rightwing forces behind it.
However, once we found out what was going on, to have deliberately kept silent would have been totally unprincipled. Indeed, as I have said before, silence would have been a betrayal of the memory of the comrades who died in the dungeons of the Islamic regime. They would have been revolted by the thought of pro-imperialists making use of their deaths to further the aim of imposing regime change from above.
The issues surrounding this affair have a significance far beyond the question of the Iran Tribunal. We are living through a moment which for the radical left in Iran is comparable to the US embassy takeover of 1981. At that time sections of the ‘left’ argued that, as the regime had moved away from the west’s sphere of influence and was adopting an ‘anti-imperialist’ position, its anti-working class, undemocratic political characteristics should be downplayed, overlooked or even tolerated. Groups such as the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party and sections of the Fourth International abandoned working class independence and joined the bandwagon of pro-regime forces.
The taking of hostages in the embassy – itself an attempt by the new religious state in Iran to divert the ongoing struggles of workers, women and national minorities – marked a clear division between revolution and counterrevolution in the Iranian left. Those who fell behind the ‘imam’s line’, as it was called at the time, ended up spying for the regime, participating in repression and justifying it, all in the name of anti-imperialism; those who opposed the theocracy ended up fighting the regime at a colossal price, often losing their lives as a result of their political activities.
Today, the spectre of war hangs over Iran – indeed a form of war (economic siege) is already being conducted, and the Iranian people are facing mass unemployment and hunger as a result of severe sanctions. The US and its allies are committed to regime change, irrespective of whether Iran makes concessions or ends its nuclear programme. None of this is happening because the Iranian regime is ‘anti-imperialist’, but because the reactionary mullahs ruling Iran have dared to defy the US.
US regime-change policy has relied heavily on corrupting the opposition with offers of funding, and sections of the Iranian left have slowly but surely moved in the direction of excusing such financial aid. With or without the left, we have now arrived at a situation where NGOs, acting as torch-bearers for ‘human rights’ in Iran, are key agents of the US foreign policy apparatus – indeed they have become integral parts of the imperialist regime-change drive. Hence the sudden concern of openly rightwing agencies, neoliberal institutions and Conservative politicians about the execution of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s (while, of course, failing to mention the leftwing politics of these prisoners).
So the Iran Tribunal is far more significant than it might first appear and the attacks on those of us who refuse to follow this descent of much of the Iranian ‘left’ into total surrender before imperialism, far from deterring us from speaking out, have made us more determined.
Some of its leftwing supporters have sought to justify the acceptance of imperialist aid by comparing it to Lenin agreeing to board a German sealed train for Petrograd in 1917. This is given as an example of the necessity of pragmatism by deluded sections of the left. It goes without saying that the analogy is ridiculous. Lenin did not meekly allow Germany to dictate the anti-tsarist agenda and act as a tool of German imperialism. He got on that train to Finland station in order to help lead a working class revolution, not to further German war aims.
Over the decades the Iranian left has gradually adopted a complacent attitude towards accepting financial aid from rightwing enemies of the Islamic regime. In fact this is a mirror-image of the position of some on the left in the west, who believe that the enemy of my enemy must be my friend. So if the US considers Iran’s Islamic regime an enemy, we must support it. By contrast, for some on the Iranian left for whom the main enemy is Tehran, all kinds of dubious forces who oppose Iran’s Islamic theocracy can be regarded as allies. Both positions are wrong and unprincipled.
During the 1960s when pro-Soviet parties dominated the political scene in Iran and Kurdistan, financial and material support from the USSR was part and parcel of the existence of the left. In the 60s pro-China Maoists could rely on Chinese funding. However, throughout the shah’s time Iranian left groups such as Fedayeen and Peykar tried to avoid compromising their independent political line by refusing the conditional assistance on offer from the USSR and China, relying instead on their own ability to organise, and financing their activities through bank robberies and other illegal operations. In fact the Fedayeen and Peykar were proud of this independence and the discipline it forced on members and cadres of the organisation.
During and immediately after the revolution of 1979, the left gained massive support. Fundraising at meetings of over 500,000 people was not exactly difficult. Those who worked at the first headquarters of the Fedayeen in Tehran remember how difficult it was to keep up with the sums of money ordinary people donated. Repression, of course, forced the left underground and changed all that. While Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority continued to benefit from extensive Soviet aid, the rest of the left had to rely on much more meagre income or what was saved from the heyday of 1979-80.
Later, in the mid-1980s, the question of the safety of cadres forced many organisations to move their central committee and editorial members to Kurdistan, and by late 1980s they were followed by most of the surviving members of these groups. Kurdistan had its own history of nationalist groups relying on funding from one dictator (Saddam Hussein) to fight another (the shah or ayatollah Khomeini) – and vice versa. Jalal Talebani, the post-occupation Iraqi president, was already accepting financial aid from Iran’s Islamic regime, so Iranian Kurds and later the Iranian left used that to justify their acceptance of support and later finance from Saddam.
When I was sent to Kurdistan to help set up a radio station for the Fedayeen Minority, I was shocked when I was told I had to travel via Iraq. Unknown to me, the Fedayeen had limited relations with the Iraqi regime, includingthe right of passage via Kirkuk to the Iran-Iraq border. As time went on, the assistance became more extensive. First the Fedayeen accepted a house in Kirkuk and later financial support from Baghdad. This at a time when Iran was at war with Iraq and sections of the international left considered the US to be using Iraq as its proxy. Of course, the radical left in Iran maintained that the Iraq-Iran war was a fight between two reactionary regimes and that neither was anti-imperialist.
Yet financial support was accepted from Iraq and this created many problems for the Fedayeen. First of all, it was considered a matter of security, kept secret and divulged only on a ‘need to know’ basis. So, although I travelled via Iraq to get to Iranian Kurdistan, no-one among the hundreds of supporters of the Fedayeen in Europe or the US was aware of this.
On one occasion the student paper Jahan (which was part of my political responsibility) published a cartoon mocking Saddam Hussein. Controlling the political content of the journal (in case younger comrades deviated from the ‘correct political line’) was one of my tasks. On this particular occasion I had been delayed overseas and returned to London the day after the paper had been sent to the printers. The organisation decided that the journal could not be distributed except in Europe and North America. I had the unenviable task of explaining to a bemused editorial group that we could not send the journal to Kurdistan and Iran, as our route was via Baghdad and this would endanger the lives of our militants. The cartoon was removed and we had the ridiculous situation where two versions of the journal were distributed in two parts of the world.
The production team – young comrades who spent countless hours putting together the 68-page monthly – were not told why there were two versions. Some of us broke organisational norms and told them what was what.
However, this incident was only the beginning of the corrupting influence of Iraqi money on the Iranian Fedayeen. It could be said that accepting financial support from Iran’s enemy paved the way for the kind of prostituted approach sections of the left displayed as soon as US regime change funds became available. This, and the understandable hatred of the religious state, have created circumstances where many on the Iranian ‘left’ see nothing wrong in accepting support and direction from the likes of the National Endowment for Democracy, Conservative Party members and the Dutch government.
One should point out, however, that the Islamic regime is so deeply hated by the overwhelming majority in Iran, and its anti-US rhetoric so discredited, that this lends a considerable credence to the west’s propaganda. Eg, ordinary Iranians just switch off when they hear of the latest evil action of the ‘great Satan’.
After 30 years in power the Islamic regime’s ‘anti-imperialism’ has no serious content whatsoever. Here there is a lesson for all those supporting, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: the pro-poor, pro-revolution, anti-Scaf slogans might appear radical, but if they are not accompanied by genuine economic and political change, they are a sure recipe for inoculating the population against all criticisms of the west. Imagine if you were a genuine anti-imperialist with illusions in the MB, what would you think when you saw Mohammed Mursi relaxing with Hillary Clinton and Egypt’s military leaders? Wouldn’t it cause confusion? After a few years, especially once Mursi turns to the repression that any ‘third world’ capitalist state (Islamic or otherwise) finds necessary, might you not end up becoming soft on the US?
Wide sections of ordinary Iranians, including the working class, fail to identify international capital as their enemy. They oppose everything the regime stands for. However, one would assume a radical left that has constantly identified the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as responsible for the Iranian state’s neoliberal economic policies would have no illusions in the National Endowment for Democracy or Tory lawyers fronting the Iran Tribunal.
In defending their unprincipled position, apologists for the tribunal have unleashed personal attacks on those like myself who have opposed this stunt. Yes, it is true, as they say, that I use my English married name. That is because I do not want to increase the dangers faced by members of my family, most of whom still live in Iran and have at times been under pressure because of my opposition to the regime, not to mention my political dossier as a member of the Fedayeen.
It is also true that my maternal family was not working class and that I attended a French private school. But let me respond to such points with an anecdote. Just before the 22nd congress of the Soviet Communist Party Chou En Lai visited Moscow and, as he arrived, Khrushchev told him: “There is a major difference between us – I am from peasant stock and you are from the aristocracy.” Chou said nothing in reply, but on the day he was leaving he turned to Khrushchev and, reminding him of his welcoming comment, said: “You were right about our class origins. However, we also have something in common: we have both betrayed our class.”
I have the same thing in common with those on the Iranian left who see nothing wrong with accepting funds from neoliberal organisations.