Sunday, February 13, 2011

Freedom for the Artist, the Academic and the Trade Unionists!

THOUSANDS of Iranians could be out on the streets in Tehran tomorrow, celebrating the Egyptian people's victory in ousting Mubarak, but with the ominous signal for the Iranian regime that opposition parties have called for this demonstration and made comparisons between their fight and that in Egypt.

Insisting last week that the opposition had no intention of calling off its demonstration, which had been legally and responsibly organised, Ardeshir Amir-Arjomandi , an aide to former prime minister Moussavi, told Deutsche Welle radio that there was no doubt about the "maturity" of the people in Iran, the only question was how level-headed the regime could be.

" Does the state have enough sense to accept the demands of the people and to listen to their peaceful opposition without turning these demands into violent and blind actions?”

Amir-Ariomandi, who is in Europe, added : “in the same way that seekers of freedom follow similar rules and guidelines in the path towards freedom and democracy, dictators employ similar principles and methods in order to stay [in power] and suppress freedom-seekers.”

“Running over protesters using state-owned vehicles began in Vali-Asr Square [in Tehran], and was re-enacted in Al-Tahrir square [in Cairo], the mobilisation of thugs for attacking protesting citizens began in Tehran and was extended to Cairo,” he said, adding “the attitude of Iran’s Pharaoh is more terrifying and immoral than the Pharaoh of Egypt, because he has used religion to suppress and has utilised it as a tool.”

I was at the annual general meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) yesterday. With friends and comrades going to Trafalgar Square to celebrate the Egyptian revolution or attending the People's Convention against the cuts at Euston, I was not expecting a big attendance at our AGM, but besides the 'regulars' we had some new faces, and some veterans of Iran's struggles and prisons, going back to the fight against the Shah, to bring their wisdom.

Ruben Markarian, a leading member of Rahe Kargar, which had hundreds of its members executed by the Islamicist regime in the 1980s, spoke about workers' struggles in Iran today, the importance of the women and the youth -so many of whom were unemployed - and the nationalities in Iran.

Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, who had been attending the People's Convention and then the Egypt rally, managed to join us in the afternoon to launch a campaign for Iranian political prisoners, before slipping back to the anti-cuts conference. John is submitting an Early Day Motion about the prisoners, and urged people to lobby their own MPs to support this.

HOPI is highlighting the notorious treatment of award-winning Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who is internationally known and respected, not to single him out, but to draw wider attention to the repression and the situation of all political prisoners in Iran.

Freedom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran!

ahm2011(if you support the statement, please email

The Iranian regime has unleashed a new wave of oppression against opposition activists. In recent weeks, dozens of campaigners, lawyers and artists have been convicted on spurious charges and many more have been arrested.

- Award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for planning to make a film about the opposition movement that sprung up after the disputed elections of June 2009. In addition, the director was banned from making any films or travelling abroad for 20 years.

- Student activist Mohammad Pourabdollah has been in prison since early 2010.

- Habibollah Latifi, a student of Kurdish descent, has been sentenced to death after having being found guilty of “waging war against God”.

- In January, human rights activist Shiva Nazarahari was sentenced to a four-year jail term and 74 lashes on charges of subversion. Her lawyer Nasrin Soudeh was handed a jail sentence of eleven years for defending political prisoners.

- Fariborz Rais Dana, a Marxist economist and sterling critic of the regime’s neoliberal policies, was arrested on December 18 (28 Azar). No reason for his arrest has been given and not even his lawyer knows where he is being held.

The US is continuing to make military threats against Iran, while crippling the country with ever harsher sanctions. But these have not weakened the regime fundamentally. In fact, it is the people of Iran, the workers, women and students, who are suffering most – precisely those sections of society that are fighting for radical change from below.

This is why Hopi is part of an international campaign that fights for:

- Freedom for all political prisoners!

- Squash the medieval prison sentences imposed against the political opponents of the regime!

- No sanctions, no military threats against Iran! For radical change from below!

In discussion it was pointed out that many so-called criminal cases in Iran were also political, in that the regime's backward laws criminalised personal matters such as "immodest dress" and homosexuality, but also that the authorities tried to frame political opponents with criminal charges such as "drugs possession".

It was also agreed to add opposition to the death penalty to our campaign, it being said that Iran has now overtaken China and the United States for the rate of death sentences carried out.

The TUC and other trade union organisations internationally protested last year at the execution of teacher and trade unionist Farzad Kamangar, who had been accused of "endangering national security" and "emnity towards God". He was hanged in Ervin prison in May 2010, without even his family being informed.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says it was informed on Monday, 7 February 2011, only a few days after the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expressed concern about secret executions inside Vakilabad Prison, at Mashad, that 10 more prisoners with drug-related offences were secretly hanged at Vakilabad. Neither lawyers nor families of the prisoners were forewarned that the death sentences would be carried out.

Five of those executed were Afghan citizens, the campaign says. There have been demonstrations in Afghanistan over the Iranian government's treatment of Afghan refugees.

Reza Shahabi, treasurer of the Sherkat -e Vahad bus workers union in Tehran, staged a prolonged hunger strike in December to protest his wrongful detention by the authorities, after his family had put up bail. He had been arrested on 12 June 2010, three days after the arrest of Saeed Torabian, the union's spokesperson. Saeed Torabian has since been released but there are six other members of Sherkat-e Vahed (the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) in prison, including Mansour Ossanloo, the head of the union , whose release was recommended on health grounds, and his deputy, Ebrahim Maddadi.

There have also been arrests reported of leaders and activists in the sugar workers and bakers' union.

As the Islamicist regime belies its "anti-imperialist" and "progressive" credentials by carrying out neo-liberal economic policies and attacking jobs and workers' living standards, the demand for political and trade union freedom is becoming a "bread and butter" question, as someone said yesterday, with groups of workers adding anti-regime slogans to what were previously economic demands.

Indeed, it would seem it is not just executions the regime wants to keep secret. Telling the truth about what is happening in Iran's economy and society is becoming a dangerous profession, as revealed by this account of how the regime is jailing, if not "shooting the messenger":

'We have learned the astonishing news of “Dr. Raisdana’s arrest” by the security agents of the Islamic republic on the early morning of December 19th, 2010 at his home in Tehran. Dr. Fariborz Raisdana is a well known intellectual, economist, social activist, and ...the active member of the Iranian writers’ association. He published several books and articles on political economy and sociology. He has been known as a leftist socio-economic expert who always considers working class in his economic impairment analysis. So that he can be firmly called an “Iranian working class economist”. Dr. Raisdana’s field of expertise is econometrics. He has tried hard to disclose how workers and wage earners have been implicated by the relations of political economy in the turbulent Iranian society and how they have been increasingly suffering.

'Arrest of Dr. Raisdana , the member of the Iranian writers’ association which is a long-lasting core on the struggle against censorship in Iran , is a warning to the grass root movements who are seeking public justice and to the people whose main civil and democratic demand is focused on human rights and freedom of speech in spite of the extensive violation of civil rights in Iran. Moreover, his arrest, as a leftist economist who criticizes the Iranian government socio-economic platforms, points out the fact that social and political oppression apparatus in Iran is trying to implement its unfair plan to reduce the allocation of national subsidies. This is the unreasonable plan which has been evaluated by the majority of the experts as a plan to consolidate the military authority in the public sphere of Iran. It is out of question that the military economic plan results in reducing welfare and increasing pressure on the lower classes which Dr. Raisdana is their voice in the society to stand against the illegitimate resilient structure.

A petition saying 'We, the undersigned , condemn Dr. Raisdana’s arrest and with pledge to civil rights and freedom of speech we demand his immediate and unconditional release". can be found at

For more on this and other HOPI campaigns:



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