CODIR: “Join the growing chorus of protest against the new wave of repression in Iran!”

Make a bold public stand by releasing a statement against the wave of arrests taking place in Iran of trade unionists, women’s rights campaigners, pro-democracy politicians, filmmakers and artists, and the bereaved relatives of murdered protesters!

In late June 2022, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ‘Supreme Leader’ of the theocratic dictatorship in Iran, threatened those involved with the mass protest movement currently taking over the country that if they continued along this path then a fate of the kind witnessed in the 1980s would await them. He was referring to a dark era in Iran’s history, when the then-nascent Islamic Republic regime started a wave of killings of opposition activists – during which all political parties and activities, other than those loyal to the regime, were outlawed and bloodily purged leading to thousands of executions. This was an era during which any expression of dissent, however mild, was answered with executions (even summary), brutal torture, lengthy imprisonment, and forced disappearances. The mere reference to this era is often enough to bring terror to the hearts and minds of most ordinary Iranians.

“In the year 1981, the Iranian nation was able to frustrate the enemy by adhering to the most divine traditions, namely those of jihad and resistance […] Today, the same rules and laws are in force, and God in the year 2022 is the same God he was in 1981.” Khamenei stated during a speech on 28 June. 

Worryingly for those concerned with the human rights situation in Iran, these remarks by Khamenei, and the wave of repression that has ensued, swiftly follow on from the sudden and unexpected replacement of the head of intelligence of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), cleric Hossein Taeb, with General Mohammad Kazemi, who was previously the head of the IRGC’s counterintelligence division. Iran observers and activists on the ground worry that this abrupt shakeup at the top of the powerful and feared IRGC was the precursor to a much fiercer clampdown inside Iran, the new intelligence chief having been given the blessing of Khamenei to unleash terror against dissidents and opponents of the Islamist regime.

With the continuation of demonstrations by Iran’s workers, retirees, and teachers, as well as massive public protests in various cities around the country over recent weeks, – against the sharply deteriorating economic situation, dire poverty, and public disasters such as the collapse of the Metropol building in Abadan on 23 May – despite the constant threats and brutal response of the Islamic Republic authorities and their security forces, there is no sign that the galvanised people’s protest movement against the oppressive and anti-people theocratic regime will abate any time soon.

The leaders of the regime – helpless and increasingly worried at the galvanising of a nationwide protest movement that they are seemingly unable to contain – have resorted to their default, giving the nod for a new wave of arrests and violence over recent weeks.

On Friday 8 July, the regime moved on Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent reformist politician and deputy minister of the interior during the pro-reform presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Mr. Tajzadeh had previously been imprisoned, from 2009 to 2016, for his involvement with the massive protests that ensued after the regime’s rigging of the June 2009 presidential election and its campaign of bloody repression over the following six months. He has been subsequently charged with “publishing falsehoods to disturb the public consciousness” and “conspiring to act against the country’s national security”, the latter charge being particularly ominous given that it is amongst the most serious charges on Iran’s statute book.

On the same day, security forces arrested and raided the homes of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad, two noted Iranian filmmakers. Mr. Rasoulof is maybe the currently most celebrated dissident film director in the country, having overseen several titles that courageously take direct aim at the regime and its catalogue of human rights abuses – his films are banned at home and critically acclaimed internationally. Shortly after Rasoulof won the Berlin Film Festival’s top award in 2020 for his film ‘There is No Evil’ in absentia (he had previously been barred from leaving Iran), he was handed a one-year prison sentence for three films deemed by the regime to be “propaganda against the system.” The sentence was suspended as his lawyer attempted to appeal, though he was banned from making films as well as subjected to continued harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The two directors had been involved in the launching of the “lay down your gun” campaign on social media, which called upon the police and security forces to disobey orders to open fire on street protesters. For this, the two have been charged with “inflaming passions and disturbing people’s psychological security”. The campaign is attracting support from across Iran’s film industry, 100 members of which published a joint statement in early-June amidst the protests that followed the collapse of the Metropol building in Abadan and the regime’s violent response. While expressing their heartfelt sympathy for the people of Abadan, the signatories expressed their firm opposition to the “military forces that have become the [main] cause of the people’s oppression”.

Following these arrests, the regime moved again on Monday 11 July – this time detaining Jafar Panahi, another celebrated director, when he attended the Evin Prison Prosecutor’s Office with a group of filmmakers to lodge their protest at the detentions of Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad.

On the same day, regime agents also raided the homes of several people whose family members were killed during the protest movement in November 2019 and who had defied the subsequent orders of the regime to stay quiet and keep a low profile. 

Significantly, a large swathe of labour organisations and trade unions from around the world have also protested against the fierce repression of their counterparts in Iran – and have expressed their deep concern for the safety and welfare of several named activists, including Reza Shahabi, Hassan Saeedi, Jafar Ebrahimi, Anisha Asadollahi, Rasul Badaghi, Mohammad Habibi, Hassan Saeedi, Iskandar Lotfi, Shaaban Mohammadi, Keyvan Mehtadi, and Masoud Nikkhah. Many of these trade union activists are being held in the country’s notorious Evin prison, where they are denied visitation rights or contact with the outside world, and are subject to brutal interrogations, torture, and abuse, by regime officials acting with complete impunity. A group of these political prisoners, including Reza Shahabi and Hassan Sa’idi, began a hunger strike in protest against their arbitrary and illegal detention, the terrible conditions of their imprisonment, and the appalling treatment of them by the authorities.

Furthermore, Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights and women’s activist, and Saeed Madani, a well-known researcher and sociologist – both of whom were also arrested recently – are reportedly facing continued harassment and pressure by regime officials while in detention.

On Tuesday 12 July, despite the looming threat presented by the regime’s crackdown, women’s rights activists took to the streets and public spaces around Iran, removing their hijab as they did so, in a campaign of civil disobedience against the government’s mandatory hijab rule and as a protest against its treatment of Iranian women as essentially second-class citizens. The protests were timed for 12 July as the regime had declared the date as the “National Day of Hijab and Chastity”.

The intensification of the suffocating atmosphere of repression in Iran, and the threats made by Khamenei, far from being a projection of the regime’s strength, actually betray its growing anxiety and weakness regarding the wildfire of popular dissent and protest sweeping across the country. The regime sees before it a population increasingly discontented with, and opposed to, its continued rule – and, crucially, a population galvanised in expressing that opposition and prepared to come to the streets and raise their resounding chorus of rejection of the Islamic Republic and all it stands for.

CODIR has strongly condemned, and continues to speak out against, the new wave of repression and terror unleashed by the theocratic regime’s dreaded security forces and calls upon all progressive and freedom-loving forces, in all countries of the world, to raise their voices against the inhumane actions of the regime.

CODIR also reiterates its calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all arrested protesters and all political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, currently languishing in the regime’s prisons and detention centres.

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