Thursday, 18 June 2009

Iran's uprising - a view from an Iranian human rights activist in exile

As hundreds of thousands of people are taking the streets in Tehran for the fifth straight day of anti-government demonstrations, I’ve asked Babak Emad, one of the founders of the Association of Iranian Political Prisoners in exile (AIPP) for his views on the uprising (see below). AIPP has members in 11 countries including Sweden, Australia, England, Germany and the USA.

I’ve met Babak in London a few years ago, while researching a piece on a mass massacre of political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988. Babak was just 17 when he was first arrested and tortured under the Shah’s rule. Like millions of Iranians, he took part in the 1979 revolution, which overthrew the Shah. They fought for a democratic government, which respected human rights, but their hopes were dashed when Khomeini’s supporters began to impose their strict and punitive vision of an Islamic republic. In 1981, Babak was imprisoned and tortured again, along with thousands of other Iranians, whose opinions were deemed suspect by the new religious regime. He remained in prison for five years and was so severely beaten that one side of his body is permanently damaged.

Here is Babak’s analysis of the uprising (I’ve slightly edited it as English is not Babak’s first nor second language):

The uprising in Iran is the consequence of 30 years of oppressive regime. The people of Iran, the young in particular who made up 70% of the population, are fed up with the regime and the current situation. The Iranian Islamic regime have known for a very long time that the people would soon or later challenge the system. For this reason, they have established the most oppressive system in Iranian history.

In Iran, people are deprived of all their rights. They have no right to organise themselves outside the framework of the regime. There are not free parties nor unions in Iran. Small gatherings and protests are suppressed harshly. So in order to try to change things, people have no choice but to go through the regime, using the available tools which only exist within the regime. By supporting a part of the regime, they have split the regime in two main factions: the reformists and the hardliners. By supporting the reformists, who have promised to bring some small changes, they have split the regime further, making the two parts stand against each other. What we have seen in the last few days, is the logical result of the people’s struggle for change. The people have been able to use the election headquarters of Mousavi to organise themselves and their demonstrations. Indeed, both the people and Mousavi and his fellow reformists have mutual interests in backing each other. The people want changes and Mousavi and the reformists want more power within the regime.

What the outcome will be is not really clear right now, but one thing is sure: Mousavi and his fellow reformists will support the people as long as the protests remain within the regime’s fractional conflict.

People want change and want it soon: this is the main message of the uprising. The situation cannot continue as it has been for the past 30 years. If there are no democratic changes in Iran – and I do not believe it will happen within the existing system - the people will come back again and again, even if they are silenced this time. And they will fight not just for democratic changes, but for a social revolution.

People, the young in particular, are using the rigged election to express their anger against the whole system. There is no doubt that the regime will use any means - if necessary killing thousands of people - to prevent any outcome that would jeopardize the whole system.

The important thing is that the Iranian people now know they have power if they unite and organise.

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