Ira­nian op­po­si­tion’s fight for democ­racy de­serves sup­port

Arab News - - Opinion - DR. MA­JID RAFIZADEH

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.

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