Saturday, April 23, 2011

Help get Panahi and Osanloo Out, Keep George Galloway Out, Out, Out !

IRANIAN film maker Jafar Panahi will receive yet another, rather special award next month, albeit in his absence. The Societe des Realisateurs de Films (SRF) is to award its Carrosse d'Or (or Golden Coach), to Panahi. The film rewards film-makers for their courage and independence of thought.

Panahi has been jailed for six years in Iran, and banned from film-making for twenty years, for allegedly making propaganda against the regime. He attended mourning for people killed during demonstrations over the last elections.

His 2005 film Offside, about a female football fan who disguised herself as a boy to try and see Iran play at home, and was arrested at the stadium, will be screened at Cannes on 12 May. Some of us have been fortunate enough to see the film in Britain thanks to Hands Off the Iranian People (HOPI), and to the director who authorised its screening for benefits.

Based on a true incident, the comedy pokes fun at outmoded attitudes and restrictions on women, but gives an exuberant and affectionate picture of the Iranian people. The day after it is shown at Cannes there will be a press conference to raise awareness of Panahi's situation. In this country left-wing MP John McDonnell has launched a campaign for Panahi's freedom, and that of all Iranian political prisoners.

Meanwhile another Iranian prisoner was honoured in his absence this month, when Len McCluskey, general secretary of my union, Unite, conferred honorary membership on Tehran bus drivers' union leader Mansour Osanloo. The Iranian trade unionist has been held in prison for some years, and subject to ill-treatment and an attempt on his life. He is reported seriously ill in hospital.

Len McCLuskey said: “Mansour Osanloo is an inspiration to us. Like his union, ours also includes bus drivers, and it is a pleasure to in some small way recognise the incredible work he has done for his members and for the cause of free trade unions across the globe. We will not stand-by as workers, their representatives and families face physical attack, imprisonment and even murder by some of world’s most repressive regimes”.

“We are delighted to make him an honorary member of the UK’s largest trade union. We only wish we could do it face to face and must continue to organise globally to ensure that one day soon we can.”

Bro.McCluskey made the presentation at a meeting of the executive board of the International Transport workers Federation(ITF) in London. Like Unite, Mansour Osanloo’s union, the Vahed Syndicate of Tehran bus drivers, is an ITF member, and the organisation has campaigned for his release.

Some Iraniau trade unionists have their doubts about Osanloo's political perspectives[, and we may wary about international trade union federations, but it is not easy to pick and choose friends or discuss policy when you are trapped in a prison hospital bed. I am sure no trade unionist, socialist or democrat will side with the Iranian regime and its incarceration of this trade unionist - whom I am now entitled to call Bro.Osanloo.

HOPI of course is for Iranian working people and their rights - against the Islamicist regime, and against sanctions and the threat of war by Western imperialism. In common with Iranian socialists, some of them in exile, we must reject the idea that if you are against imperialist interference and aggression you must surrender your own rights, and support any regime, however corrupt and reactionary.

There are Western liberals who selectively criticise lack of freedom in some countries to justify our own rulers imposing their will by war on the peoples. But there are also people here who claim to be internationalists and socialists, yet seem to regard any regime as good enough for less "advanced" nations, so long as it can be labelled "anti-imperialist". When they not only support these regimes and calumny their opponents, but appear to do so for gain, it does little for the reputation and standing of the Left, either among the workers here or those struggling for their rights in the oppressed nations.

With that in mind, I have added my name to this letter, along with some Iranian and other socialists:

On May 5th, George Galloway will be standing for election to Holyrood. The former Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin is heading the George Galloway (Respect) – Coalition Against Cuts list. He has the backing of Solidarity, the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in Scotland. On his election website, Galloway pledges to “oppose every cut to schools, hospitals and public services” and “fight for a parliament with the powers to tax the rich bankers and big business to help pay for jobs and decent public services.” It sounds fine, but there is no way those on the left can extend any level of support for George Galloway.

Galloway is a supporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran. When questioned at a recent public meeting, Galloway denied ever supporting President Ahmadinejad and even offered £1000 to anyone who could prove his support. However, while interviewing the Iranian President on his Press TV show, The Real Deal, last August Galloway stated that he requires “police protection in London from the Iranian opposition because of my support for your election campaign. I mention this so you know where I’m coming from.”

In fact, while Iran's 2009 election is widely accepted to have been rigged, Galloway has stated in his Daily Record blog that the electoral count “was awesome” and the million+ protesters took to the streets because “too MANY people were allowed to vote” (his emphasis).
The Iranian regime incarcerates, tortures and executes political opponents, including leftists, trades unionists and leaders of the radical students' movement. It does the same to those found guilty of “war against god”, a charge levelled at political dissidents. Confessions are extracted under torture and duress and at times broadcast on state TV channels, including Press TV.

Those found guilty of adultery and homosexuality can face the death penalty. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (called “the so-called stoning case” by Galloway on Press TV) was sentenced to death by stoning in a court speaking a language she didn't speak herself. George Galloway denies that homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran. On The Wright Show, Galloway stated that “the papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That’s not true.” He then inferred that the boyfriend of gay Iranian asylum seeker, Mehdi Kazemi, had been executed for “sex crimes” against young boys and not for being gay.

It's unsurprising that Galloway publicly supports the Islamic Republic. He is an employee of Press TV, the Iranian state propaganda channel. While serving as a MP, Galloway was forced to declare his earnings from Press TV, which ranged from between £5000 and £20,000 for his various shows.

As pro-democracy protests engulf Syria, it's worth remembering that Galloway has previously heaped praise upon the Syrian regime and authoritarian ruler, Bashar al-Assad. Addressing Damascus University in late 2005, Galloway said: “For me he is the last Arab ruler, and Syria is the last Arab country. It is the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs”. Galloway has expressed approval for other dictators too, once describing Parkistan's General Musharraf as “upright sort”. Far from a consistent democrat, after the 1999 coup brought Musharraf to power, Galloway told The Mail on Sunday that “Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together... Democracy is a means, not an end in itself and it has a bad name on the streets of Karachi and Lahore.”

Galloway's Christian beliefs have influenced his views on abortion and stem cell research. He doesn't believe in evolution. In The Independent on Sunday in 2004 Galloway said "I'm strongly against abortion. I believe life begins at conception, and therefore unborn babies have rights. I think abortion is immoral". He was absent from all votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (which included attempts to reduce the abortion time limit in the UK). His notable absenteeism extends to many LGBT issues and euthanasia.

Then again, Galloway always had fairly lamentable levels of parliamentary participation. As a Respect MP, Galloway only participated in 98 out of 1288 votes. In 2006, he claimed more expenses than any other backbench MP in parliament.
Galloway's egoism has always been astounding. While most socialists consider it standard for workers' representatives to be elected on a workers' wage (not an impoverishing amount, but the salary of a skilled worker), Galloway has declared he couldn't possibly live on “three workers' wages”. And what else other than pure vanity can have driven an appearance on Big Brother, which discredited whole sections of the left?

Finally, it's worth remembering that Respect's own councillors in Tower Hamlets have voted through cuts to public services.
We call on socialists to offer no support for Galloway's election campaign.

For more on HOPI and struggles in Iran see:

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