Bob Marley said: “Better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life.” For more than 200 Iranians who have been killed so far, as the nationwide uprising enters its second week, their martyrdom will be a milestone on the road to freedom, justice and democracy.
The people of Iran have lost their fear of the gun and baton wielding goons from the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and their thuggish Basij militia colleagues. Since the so-called morality police brutally murdered 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not wearing her hijab (headscarf) properly, in mid-September, the protests have spread across the whole of Iran, with women tearing off and burning their hijabs and even cutting their hair.
Tens of thousands of mostly young protesters, including thousands of women, have taken to the streets, setting fire to posters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei” indicating their determination to overthrow the theocratic, repressive regime.
The IRGC and Basij have used baton charges, tear gas, bird shot and live ammunition to counter the protests, killing more than 200 so far. Over 10,000 have been arrested, sparking mass demonstrations outside many prisons, like the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, where thousands of relatives and friends of those imprisoned during the riots have demanded their release.
The protests have so far spread to over 160 towns and cities in all 31 Iranian provinces. Demonstrations are continuing daily in 16 major universities. The mullahs have tried desperately to control the spread of protests by disrupting and disconnecting the internet in large parts of Iran. They hope that by doing so, they will be able to conceal the true dimensions of the uprising and revelations regarding the scope of the massacre and brutal clampdown.
Resistance units of the main opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which have sprung up across the country, are actively organizing and sustaining the revolt. The MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi, has called on Iranian doctors and nurses to treat protesters who have been injured in the uprising in places of safety, to protect them from arrest by the IRGC, who have been known to drag wounded demonstrators from their hospital beds.
It seems that the murder of MahsaAmini was the spark that ignited the powder keg of resentment that has been building for years, as the Iranian population and in particular women and young people, watched their liberty and dignity crushed by the fascist, theocratic dictatorship. Amini’s death clearly struck a raw nerve with the public and the savage crackdown on their protests has incensed them even further.
Every killing and every arrest have added to the sense of outrage. The Iranian regime has gone beyond the tipping point and there is now no way back for the misogynistic mullahs and their medieval autocracy.
Amini’s killing, although tragic, was simply the tip of the iceberg. Over the past four decades, it has been estimated that 120,000 opponents of the regime have been executed. Dozens more have been assassinated outside of Iran.
We know that this systematic persecution of the opposition culminated in the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in prisons across Iran in 1988. Serving as deputy prosecutor, Ebrahim Raisi was a member of the Death Commissions in Evin Prison in Tehran and Gohardasht Prison in the city of Karaj, that sentenced thousands of MEK supporters to be hanged after arbitrary 3-month trials.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for the prosecution of Raisi for his role in the 1988 massacre. Raisi was also head of the Iranian regime’s judiciary when orders were given to shoot dead protesters during a nationwide uprising in November 2019, when 1,500 mostly young protesters were murdered by the IRGC.
In a shameful act of appeasement, the UN invited Ebrahim Raisi to New York to address their 77th General Assembly in September. He was there, singing the praises of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the day MahsaAmini was killed. He made no mention of the Amini killing or of the nationwide protests in his speech.
The international community must stop their constant kow-towing to and appeasement of this pariah regime. The UN must demand free access to the internet for the people of Iran. They must recognize the right of the Iranian people to defend themselves by any means necessary and to overthrow this regime. The UN should strongly condemn the killing of protesters in Iran and take urgent measures to stop the ongoing savage repression.
The dossier of the theocratic regime’s crimes must be referred to the United Nations Security Council and those responsible for committing such crimes must be held accountable and brought to justice, including Ebrahim Raisi and Ali Khamenei. Any further dialogue or dealings with the Iranian regime or the continuation of relationships with it must be predicated on the release of all those arrested during the recent uprising.
The Iranian people have suffered 43 years of oppression under the mullahs. They have watched as the corruption and warmongering of the theocratic regime has bankrupted their country and caused widespread poverty and deprivation. They have seen their homeland reduced to the status of an international pariah. They feel that their backs are against the wall and that they quite literally have nothing more to lose. Their anger will no longer subside, and the uprising will continue until the regime is overthrown.
For too long the attention of the international community has been focused on farcical efforts to resurrect the zombie nuclear deal, ignoring the plight of the Iranian people. Such groveling appeasement must end, and the international community should stand on the side of the Iranian people, who are now discovering the truth of another famous Bob Marley quote: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).