By Dr Gill Gillespie, UK Director, and Mr Walton K Martin, US Director
In June 2009, millions of protesting Iranians went out on the streets to demand a secular democracy, raising the hopes of the world for them. Their cries were ‘Where is my vote?’, ‘Death to the Islamic Republic’ and ‘Obama, are you with us or against us’.
85% of Iranians voted in 2009, in the hope that some small changes made by ‘reformists’ would eventually lead to improvements in human rights in Iran. They knew that, as all candidates are chosen personally by Khamenei, (the real leader of Iran), there was no chance of a significant move towards democracy, as all needed to reflect his hard-line Islamic stance in Iran and against the West. Iranians did, however, hope that the ‘most moderate’ candidate for whom they voted, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would be able to effect some small changes, for example improvements in womens’ rights, and that the world would see that Iranians wanted change.
The results of the 2009 election, clearly and now world-recognised, were interfered with and, within a few short hours, results which Iranians knew could not be true were announced. The regime announced that hard-liner Ahmadinejad had won a majority of the votes. The fact that the results were falsified were proven by many things including that, in some areas, Ahmadinejad claimed more than 100% of the votes cast at all, and that there is no way ballots could have been counted by the time the ‘results’ were announced.
Perhaps the most powerful proof was demonstrated by Iranians themselves, who knew they had been cheated. They went out and peacefully protested on the streets of Iran’s major cities in their millions.
They were brutally attacked by the IRGC and the regime police, with men, women and children being beaten, arrested, imprisoned, raped, tortured and murdered. There are too many examples of individual tragedies to detail here, but they include Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot in the street by an Iran regime sniper while attending a peaceful protest. She became a symbol for Iranians against the regime’s extreme persecution of their own people. There was Taraneh Mousavi, mentioned by Senator McCotter in the US and Sohrab Arabi, murdered by the Iran regime and many, many more.
Today, the leader of the opposition in 2009, Mr Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnarvard, are still under house arrest. The regime continue to be frightened by the outpouring of support for Mousavi, as well as the world’s attention to their persecution in 2009. For the first time, social media was used to capture footage of people getting beaten, tear-gassed and arrested.
The Twitter revolution had been born, and the Iran 2009 protests was the real beginning of what media commentators later called ‘The Arab Spring’.
Our charity was initially set up to cope with the huge influx of Iranians who were fleeing Iran because of persecution. The 2009 protests only added to the reasons why men, women and children flee Iran. There is extreme religious intolerance with minorities such as Baha’is and Christians being targeted, not allowed a formal education or worship in a peaceful way as they wish. If you had previously been ‘Islamic’ and converted to Christianity, the regime can and do charge people with ‘Mohareb’, or ‘Enemy of God’ which is punishable by death. This is a term which is used for anyone who disagrees with Khamenei’s dictats. Protesters became added to the number of ‘Mohareb’ accusations, because a peaceful protest became a disagreement with Khamenei, especially for those who were captured chanting ‘death to the Islamic regime’ and caught on camera by Iran police or security forces. Other ‘offences’ which are given prison sentences or even the death penalty include: being gay, listening to or selling Western music, blogging in any way if there is criticism of the regime, journalists who report this and lawyers who defend those who have been persecuted. Membership of ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris as well as other political organisations can also result in a death sentence.
In Iran, rape is used as a weapon. The Iran regime declare that it is acceptable to rape a woman who is a virgin before killing her, as they are not allowed to kill virgins. Since 1979 when the Khomeneist regimes took power, this action has been documented extensively. The Iran Tribunal is now investigating the murder of 30,000 people by the Khomenei regime in the 1980’s. William Hague, the UK Home Secretary and others have strongly condemned rape as a weapon of war. They need to understand that this is still going on in Iran, and since 2009 it has been even worse.
Men and women are arrested, deprived of contact with their families, kept in solitary confinement without any access to legal representation, then tortured to extract false confessions of whatever kind the regime want at the time. We have multiple examples of refugees who have suffered this kind of torture and it has included rape, for both men and women. More than 50% of all refugees have suffered some form of sexual assault. The influx of refugees from Iran has not stopped. It continues at the rate of around 250 requests each month (just from refugees to manage to make the difficult journey to Turkey) and it will continue until the Islamic regime of Iran is gone, for the reasons touched upon above.
In 2013, in the run up to the ‘election’, people in Iran are very disillusioned. They know all the candidates will again be chosen by Khamenei, to perpetuate his regime which persecutes a depressed nation. Iranians live in fear of persecution every day. Their pleas to Obama have gone unheeded as he strives to maintain the status quo between the US and Iran, while Iran continues its nuclear programme unabated. Questions need to be asked: Why would a country with huge oil reserves need a nuclear programme? Why would it choose to spend multi $bns on such a programme whilst holding back funds from its people, creating an inflationary rate which is becoming increasingly difficult for them? Why would a regime get involved in Syria, sending troops and funds via and with its trained Hezbollah? Many international commentators and most Iranians know the answer. These are further ways in which the regime attempts to repress its people, while controlling state media to condemn the West. The Iranian people are some of the most intelligent in the world. From within Iran, they ask us to help them and, if the world continues to stand by, charities like ours will need to continue helping traumatised asylum seekers who are forced to flee from their own country.
Not only does the Iran regime continue to persecute its own people, its often-stated hatred of the West and its actions propping up other dictatorial states therefore continue to destabilize the whole of the Middle East. With the current fear around the world, as Islamic regimes attack the liberties of the West and others in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and even in Europe and the US, exploiting the liberal nature of some Western Governments, the whole world needs to look to Iran. Its people are NOT the Iran regime, they do not want it, they fear and hate it. Iranians want a peaceful, secular democracy, and they need the world to support them in this. As Iranians themselves say, they currently live in the world’s biggest prison.
You can help. If you would like to donate to Iranian Refugees Action Network, for support that goes directly to refugees, please email UK Director Dr Gill Gillespie at firstname.lastname@example.org or US Director Mr Walton K Martin at Walton_martin2000@yahoo.com. Thank you so much.