Iranian opposition’s fight for democracy deserves support
For more than 40 years, the desire for democracy in Iran has been channeled by the organized resistance movement. That movement reached an early crescendo in 1981, with the first great uprising against the theocratic dictatorship. But proof of the opposition’s staying power came at great cost.
The street protests of June 20, 1981, were met with a brutal crackdown. Hundreds of activists were killed on the spot and thousands more were systematically executed in the ensuing months, as the regime struggled to exert real control over groups that had been growing more and more popular since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the wake of the 1979 revolution.
The number of Iranian political prisoners swelled in the aftermath of the 1981 uprising and, seven years later, a staggering 30,000 of them were killed. According to Amnesty International, the majority of the victims were targeted for their association with the main opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half decades, the overall death toll would climb to about 120,000. Yet none of this has been sufficient to extinguish the people’s hopes for democracy or the activity, popular appeal and the organizational integrity of the resistance. Today, that 1981 movement is part of a broader coalition known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The influence of the resistance was put on display this month in a video conference organized to commemorate the Day of Martyrs and Political Prisoners, which dates back to the 1981 uprising.
The annual conference is significant because it recognizes June 20 as the anniversary of the beginning of a long and ongoing process of self-sacrifice for Iran’s pro-democracy activist movement.
Current and former legislators from the US, Britain, France, Spain and Germany all utilized this event as an opportunity to reaffirm their support for the Iranian opposition and to urge their own governments to do the same as a matter of official policy.
The Iranian resistance has continued to push for a reversal of the West’s appeasement policies throughout the last 40 years. It has made substantial inroads, as evidenced by the consistent American and European presence at its major events. But formal Western policies still lag behind individual policymakers’ sense of duty to the fight for human rights and democracy in Iran.
While the death toll has continued to mount, the international community has failed to exhibit the kind of support that would make Tehran think twice before instituting another crackdown. Fortunately, the resistance movement has remained strong and it shows no sign of going anywhere.
The West missed a vital opportunity last November, when the regime responded to nationwide protests with live ammunition, killing at least 1,500 people. This was a chilling reminder of the bloodlust that was obvious in Tehran as long ago as 1981, while the immediate aftermath was also a reminder of the activist community’s resilience. Inevitably, the public will take to the streets again in the near future to demand regime change. And, when that happens, all the democratic nations of the world should finally show their willingness to stand alongside these people and affirm their right to demand freedom and democratic governance in their homeland.