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Ramin Jahanbegloo writes: This is an Apartheid moment for the world and Iran

The world cannot do business as usual with a regime that brutalises its own people.

Members of the Iranian community living in Turkey attend a protest in support of Iranian women, after the death of Mahsa Amini, in Istanbul, Turkey November 19, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

The protests in Iran — sparked over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, on September 16 — have entered their 10th week. According to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO (IHRNGO), at least 326 people have been killed by Iranian security forces since the beginning of the urban revolts. Among those killed by government agents were 40 children, who happened to be in a car or standing on the sidewalk. The most recent name on the list of children killed is that of Kian Pirfalak, a nine-year-old from the western city of Izeh. Kian’s parents took away his body covered in ice, fearing that it would be taken by the security forces — as has happened in numerous other cases. But despite the killings of citizens all over Iran, the demonstrators returned to the streets to mark 40th-day remembrances for those slain earlier, in the Shiʿi tradition.

As such, while public anger and frustration continue, out of the 290 members of the Iranian Parliament, 227 have urged the country’s judiciary to “show no leniency” to the 13,000 protesters arrested. Despite the efforts of Iranian human rights activists around the world and the symbolic sanctions implemented by countries like Canada, the UK and the European Council, there has been no real negative effect on Iranian officials. People around the world, including Indians, are totally indifferent to the fate of the Iranian people, while the death toll of protestors is rising every day and the mass trials of those arrested are fast approaching.

The arrest of thousands of protestors in the past few months was supplemented by a government clampdown on journalists, students, scholars, doctors and lawyers. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 51 journalists were arrested in the past 10 weeks in Iran. On October 30, Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 308 university students had been arrested by the regime’s forces since the protests began. Also, according to some human rights activists inside Iran, as of the beginning of November 2022, Iranian intelligence agencies had arrested 130 human rights defenders, 38 women’s rights defenders, 36 political activists, and 19 lawyers. According to the Iranian judiciary’s news agency, indictments had been issued in the following provinces: 201 in Alborz, 119 in Zanjan, 110 in Kurdistan, 105 in Khuzestan, 89 in Semnan, 55 in Qazvin, 25 in Kerman and 1,000 in Tehran alone. In addition to this, on October 30, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran charged six protestors with “waging war,” “corruption of the earth,” and “collusion against national security”.

While students and young women continue to play a prominent role in the protests, the protestors are from all walks of life. Surprisingly, unlike the previous social movements in 2009 and 2017, the current protest does not seem to be dying down. This is due to two main reasons: First, Iranian teenagers and students have become more courageous and resilient than their parents, mainly because they have no future in front of them. Second, the regime’s moral legitimacy is wearing so thin that nothing emanating from its military or political institutions carries any credibility.

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Therefore, the Iranian regime, in a desperate bid to distract its followers within and outside the country, is looking for spies everywhere. All the confused narrative about the so-called ISIS “terrorist” attack on the Shah Cheragh shrine, the horrific fire in Evin Prison and the arrest of five “French spies” in Iran shows the disarray in the regime, which has great difficulty explaining to the world why it is brutalising its own people. In the past two months, Iranian artists, intellectuals and athletes have shown striking solidarity with protesters. The latest example of such a sense of unity was when Iran’s national football team chose not to sing the country’s anthem before their World Cup match against England on November 21. Monday’s match was an opportunity for Iranian football players to show their discontent — in public — with the killing of children and young people by the Iranian government.

This is a good time to take a step back and evaluate where the Iranian authorities stand in relation to the country’s political future. It looks like the Islamic Republic has now reached a dead end. On the one hand, Iranians from all walks of life have joined hands for an end to the Islamic regime. On the other hand, the European Union, Britain, and the US cannot do business as usual with a regime that shoots children and teenagers in the streets. That is why the Iranian people need to be encouraged by the West and the East to fulfil their democratic destiny.

This will not happen overnight but it must not be forgotten that a mixture of the Spanish Inquisition and Sicilian organised crime is doomed to failure in the 21st century. However, it goes without saying that Iranians cannot achieve freedom and democracy without the help of people around the world. Of course, the most significant force for change is the Iranians themselves, who refuse to comply with the oppressive laws of the Islamic regime. But support from international allies through efforts such as lobbying their governments for sanctions against the Iranian government, conducting sports and cultural boycotts, and mobilising direct support for the civil resistance movement in Iran is crucial.

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The example of the struggle against the Apartheid regime in the 1980s can represent an inspiration for such an effort. Let us not forget what Nelson Mandela said in a speech in July 2005 at Johannesburg: “We shall never forget how millions of people around the world joined us in solidarity to fight the injustice of our oppression while we were incarcerated. Those efforts paid off and we are able to stand here and join the millions around the world in support of freedom against poverty.” Today, millions of Iranians are standing tall and awaiting an effort of solidarity from India and other nations around the world.

The writer is Director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Nonviolence and Peace at OP Jindal Global University

First published on: 22-11-2022 at 06:28:08 pm
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