Saturday, December 10, 2005

How Britain treats the Iranian regime's opponents

IRAN'S hardline President Ahmadinejad has declared doubts in the Nazi Holocaust and suggested that if it were true, the Jewish state should have been set up in Austria and Germany.
"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

This followed earlier talk about "wiping Israel off the map".
Palestinians have already rejected the Iranian leader's belligerent speeches. Iran's own diplomats abroad have tried to play down their significance. Iranian left-wingers and democrats say the president's demagoguy is a desperate effort to divert attention from economic failures and working-class unrest in Iran. Ahmadinejad's muddled speeches may enthuse his crowds, but they give far more delight to Iran's imperialist enemies, as well as the Zionists. Falsely designating Iran part of the "Arab world", an Israeli Foreign Office spokesman referred to the latter supporting Holocaust denial. Anything to divert attention from what Israel is doing, and depict the occupier as once more threatened with annihilation.

For Bush and Blair, whose peoples are fed up with the lies that took them to war in Iraq, and the bloody cost of occupation, it is much easier to prepare for the next war if the other side's leader keeps making the warlike speeches. But while the British and US governments are admonsihing Iran, what are they doing to the Iranian regime's opponents?

I recently received this appeal from a London teacher:

"As Refugee Coordinator at a London secondary school, I am dealing with an urgent case involving one of our sixth form students, Behnam, his younger brother, also a student at the school, and their mother, under threat of deportation to Iran.What they actually face is deportation to prison, torture and possible death.
I have known Behnam for almost 3 years since his arrival at the school. He is a delightful, popular young man, an exceptionally talented artist, much of whose work reflects his open-minded approach to matters such as politics and religion.
In April this year two of Behnam's friends were arrested at Behnam's family's home in Iran. They had been printing and distributing anti-regime literature. Three days later Behnam's father was arrested on arrival at Teheran Airport. After being interrogated and beaten Behnam's father was released following the payment of money. He phoned his wife in London, warning her that she and Behnam were wanted by the authorities and could not return to Iran. He was subsequently re-arrested and his present whereabouts are unknown. The family claimed asylum in the UK, but, despite evidence that included authenticated documents from the Iranian court, their story was not believed and their claim was rejected. It again failed on appeal.

A further appeal has been lodged to a tribunal but it is not yet known if this will even be heard.Their position is now one of great danger. Both Behnam and his mother, Masoumeh, have been tried and sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Iran on charges of association with an illegal group. Behnam has been sentenced to prison for 5 years, Massoumeh to 7 years. Even more shocking is that they have been warned that they will receive lashes, believed to be 70 in Behnam's case and 100 in Massoumeh's. Knowing the people concerned I cannot see how they could undergo such a brutal ordeal.

The family are at real risk of deportation to Iran. A campaign is being launched to stop this. As a first step please sign the attached petition and circulate. It should be returned asap to the address at the bottom. I have also attached an example of Behnam's art for you to see. He was only 16 when he painted this striking representaion of freedom.I am competely dismayed and outraged by the suffering this lovely family are going through at the hands, not only, of the Iranian authorities, but also of the British Home Office whose motto is "BUILDING A SAFE, JUST AND TOLERANT SOCIETY".

If you would like to get involved in the campaign please let me know.On behalf of the family, thanks for your support.
Pauline Levis
Refugee & Asylum-seeker Coordinator
Quintin Kynaston School, Westminster

I have forwarded this appeal to various people. Meanwhile, I am pleased to see that some 150 sixth-form students at Quintin Kynaston, which is near Swiss Cottage, walked out during their lunch break one day last week to hoist a big banner saying: "Behnam Must Stay!"
"I think it is the brutal treatment he awaits if he is forced to leave that has shocked the students into action," said Sixth Form head Lindsay Rolfe, adding that Behnam had already been offered a place at St.Martin's Art college. Holding the banner, Aya Chenaim, 17, said news of the deportation threat had come "like a smack in the face".
"The whole school is going to help him - this is just the first demonstration".
(Camden New Journal, 8 December).

Maybe it's time for a school trip to the House of Commons and the Home Office. That way the protest over Behnam and his family might get just a bit of media coverage, on television, to counter the daily diet of attacks on asylum seekers which is served to the British public in tabloid newspapers.

Now another case, brought to my attention by anti-racist (and ant-Zionist) campaigner and socialist Tony Greenstein, in Brighton, and here reported courtesy of SchNews, a Brighton-based alternative news source:

Amir Hassan, an Iranian web journalist, was arrested in a dawn raid on November 15th by Police and Immigration Officers, after the failure of his initial asylum application. He was served deportation papers and taken to Colnbrook, the brand new privatised detention centre near Heathrow.
Amir has been in Brighton for a year and in that time has made many friends and connections. As soon as he was arrested a campaign started. Over thirty people attended the first meeting. "Friends of Amir" includes supporters from the Migrant English Project, where Amir was studying, and the Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers' Centre.
A campaigner for Friends of Amir told SchNEWS, "The Home Office illegally abused Amir's rights. They totally ignored the evidence which showed that Amir would be imprisoned on his return to Iran. They claimed that deportation papers had been served on Amir and his solicitor five days before his arrest. This was totally untrue on both counts."
The Home Office refused to believe that Amir faced perseceution in Iran despite evidence showing that one person was sentenced to six months imprisonment simply for helping him to escape. Amir's case exposes the hypocrisy of Neo Labour which condemns the regime in Iran on the one hand and then happily returns those who flees its clutches back to the claws of that very same regime.
Journalism in Iran is a risky business, especially for using the Internet to disseminate news the regime doesn't like. This October, an article from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) reported that 20 European news agencies had protested the arrest of 5 Iranian journalists, all of whom had been savagely tortured and whipped with electric cables before being paraded on television to announce that their jailors had been "as gentle as kittens". Since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005, repression of journalists and web bloggers has increased. RWB also details how the Iranian regime is intensifying its attempts to control the Internet and using a private company to develop sophisticated software to ban unapproved sites. Those who seek to find ways around these bans are the subject of fierce persecution.
Amir ran the first private Internet company and web service in Iran. When the State decided to clamp down on Internet use and confiscate his company's equipment, Amir protested; the result was his arrest on two occasions and an assault by a state employee and threats to his life.
In December 2004 Amir sought refuge in Britain. Once in the UK, the Home Office denied Amir protection at his asylum hearing despite him being wanted in Iran and in grave danger of being incarcerated for his activities as a liberal journalist. Given that the use of torture, execution and maiming are common in the Iranian judicial system, especially when the offence is deemed political, his life is in real danger.
Campaigners got Amir decent legal representation and petitioned his MP Celia Barlow. She contacted the Home Office and secured a three day stay while the case was reviewed. Despite this, an attempt was made to deport Amir at 4.00 am on Thursday 17th November. This was prevented only by the intervention of one of his neighbours, a teacher at Brighton & Hove City College, who drove to Heathrow in the middle of the night to intervene and literally thrust the relevant papers on the Immigration Service. In a letter to supporters Celia Barlow said, "Either intentionally or unintentionally I have been misled by the Home Office..."
Another honest mistake from the Home Office then.
Pressure was sustained with pickets outside the Home Office as Amir was shuttled between three detention centres, eventually arriving at Dungavel in Scotland last Saturday. Finally on Tuesday 29th, Amir was released without bail until his second application for asylum is considered. He still faces the legal battle for refugee status, is still at risk of being detained and deported, but is at least back in Brighton with his friends and supporters.

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