Below is the written version of my speech at the Iran Crisis Conference, which took place today (October 27th 2009) in Ottawa.
In the recent months we have seen the brutal face of the Islamic Regime. We have seen protestors attacked, beaten and even shot on the streets. We have heard of reports of peaceful protestors being arrested, imprisoned, tortured and raped systematically. Recently a number of those protestors were sentenced to death.
These atrocities have opened the eyes of the international community to the brutality and in-humanity of the Islamic Regime, however what we need to keep in mind is the fact that what we have seen in these past few months is nothing new. The Regime has been systematically violating the rights of its citizens for the past 30 years. The Regime has been busy silencing any and all voices of opposition for the past 30 years, by arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, torture, rape and executions.
The human rights violations conducted by the Islamic Regime against its own people are much too long and numerous to list in 10 minutes; however I will give a few examples.
Ethnic and Religious minorities face systematic persecution by the Islamic Regime. Kurds, Bahai’s, Azari’s Baluch, and Christian and Jews all face persecution by the Islamic Regime. I will focus on Kurdish and the Bahai Community as I do a lot of work in those fields.
Kurdish people are known for their strength and their tireless fight against the Regime for the past 30 years. As a result Iranian Kurdistan is heavily armed by Revolutionary Guards and Kurds are harassed and abused on a regular basis. Kurdish activists, teachers, writers and students are arrested and subjected to torture in order to force them to confess to crimes they have not committed. Currently there are many Kurdish students and activists who are serving heavy prison sentences.
There are also at least 13 Kurdish activists who are currently facing execution due to their political activities. It must be noted that all of these individuals were subjected to torture and were sentenced to death after sham trials behind closed doors, in most cases without the presence of their lawyers.
Another minority group that faces severe persecution by the Islamic Regime is the Bahai Community. This state sponsored persecution has been occurring through the entire history of the Islamic republic. Thousands of Baha’is lost their livelihoods, and have been continually targeted over the past 30 years. The seven Bahai Leaders in Iran (also referred to as Yaran) have been imprisoned in the notorious Evin Prison since May of 2008. Their trial date has been postponed on numerous occasions without an explanation, and they are uncertain of their future. Bahai’s are not allowed to attend University in Iran and are prohibited from most if not all government positions. The Islamic Regime has done everything in its power to segregate the Bahai’ community, the same way Hitler segregated the Jewish community right before the Holocaust.
There is also the situation of prisons and political prisoners which is a great cause for concern. I receive horrible reports of torture and abuse of political prisoners on a regular basis. Currently there are thousands of political prisoners in Iran, and again this is not something new, Islamic Regime prisons have been filled with political prisoners for the past 30 years.
These are only a few examples but we must keep in mind that as long as the Islamic Regime is in power, almost everyone is targeted, this includes women, students, journalists, physicians, nurses, teachers, workers, all ethnic and religious minorities, writers and activists just to name a few.
While writing this speech I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say, and there are three areas that I would like to focus on.
1. Exposing the Myth of Reform
Since the international community as well as many so called activists abroad have been focusing on this so called Reform movement I would like to give a brief overview and a short introduction of the so called reformist candidates.
The so called reform movement started in 1997 with the election of Khatami, who promised many things to his voters including greater freedom and even an Islamic Democracy. However during his presidency some of the worst human rights violation against dissidents took place including the chain murders of numerous writers and political activists, as well as the pro-democracy student demonstrations of July of 1999. Khatami who had come to power with the help of those very students did not support the students, allowed for the arrest and torture of thousands of students, and in fact publicly called the protestors hoodlums and hooligans.
Mousavi was the prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1988. As many of you might be aware, in the summer of 1988 thousands of political prisoners were summarily executed after having three (minute) trials. At that time Mousavi was in a key and powerful position, however he did not lift a finger in order to stop the executions, and he has never condemned the executions. Most recently when brave Iranians took to the streets with the slogan of “independence, freedom, Iranian Republic” Mr. Mousavi came out and said the peoples slogan must be “Islamic Republic, not one word more and not one word less”. Mousavi is a supporter of the Islamic Regime and all the atrocities committed by the Regime. He must be tried in a criminal court for the crimes he has committed against the Iranian people, before he is allowed to run for any public office.
Karoubi has also been an integrated part of the Islamic Regime for the past thirty years. He was the head of parliament while Khatami was the president. As well he is well known for ordering the torture of individuals and families who had lost a loved one or suffered in other ways during the Iran Iraq war. He ordered the torture of these individuals in the “Martyrdom Committee” which was a committee that had supposedly been created to help these families. Instead he was responsible for the abuse and torture of these individuals, and there are testimonies of people who were ordered to be tortured by Karoubi.
None of these individuals are fit to be running a country, and they must all be tried in criminal courts for the crimes they have committed against the Iranian people.
2. Recent Presidential [S]election
The international community as well as many reformists both in Iran and abroad have called this [S]election a fraud and unfair. Again what we need to remember is the fact that in the past 30 years Iran has never seen a free, democratic and fair election. The presidency candidates are handpicked by the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader. Generally out of 400+ candidates only 4 or so are approved to run for presidency. Given the fact that the Supreme Leader must approve all candidates anyone who might be even slightly against the Islamic Regime will not be approved, let alone a secular candidate who might be against the entire Regime and who might be advocating for real change in Iran.
As I’ve indicated earlier every single one of the candidates who ran for presidency this year, including the so called reformists Mousavi and Karoubi have committed extensive human rights violations against the Iranian people. As well all candidates are an integrated part and strong supporters of the Islamic Regime, as they have all stated on numerous occasions. These individuals are not fighting for change or for the people, they are fighting for power.
It is true that this year there was a relatively high voter turnout during the [S]elections, however once again we need to keep in mind that Iranian people are not free to choose what they want. They cannot vote for a system or a candidate they want, they cannot come into the streets and say they do not want the Islamic Regime. In this case they had a choice between bad and worse and they voted for bad, to show their dissatisfaction with the current system. This does not mean that Iranian people are supporters of the Islamic Regime, and the Regime is very much aware of this, which is why they do not allow for free elections.
Brave Iranian people took to the streets in June of this year in numbers we had never seen before; many were dissatisfied with the [S]election results while many other activists and students were entirely against the Regime and had not taken part in the [S]elections. One of these individuals was a young girl called Neda who was shot to death on the street during the protests. Although reformists tried to use and take advantage of her name, we soon found out that Neda had not voted and did not support any of the candidates.
For the past 30 years Iranian people have been dissatisfied with the Islamic Regime and have fought against the Regime in various ways, that is why the Regime prisons have always been filled with political prisoners and Iran has one of the highest rates of execution in the world. Iranian people are angry and dissatisfied with the entire system and we were all able to see this as people’s movement became more and more radical every day to the point where people were shouting “Mousavi is an excuse, the Entire Regime is target”, “death to the Islamic Regime” and “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic.” The Iranian people have shown unbelievable courage and the pro-democracy movement has gained great momentum in the past few months. By shouting these slogans knowing that they might very well be risking their lives, the Iranian people and especially the Iranian youth have spoken and made it very clear that they want real change, they want Regime change.
3. Human Rights Is not Enough:
I have always been a strong believer that human rights work is very important and necessary, however it’s not enough. I do a lot of human rights work myself, but I have always felt that this is not enough. If we want to create real change and help protect the rights of all political prisoners, all ethnic and religious minorities and the Iranian people as a whole we must also focus on Regime change.
Human rights will only take us so far, we might be able to save one person from execution, but what about all the other people who are being executed or awaiting execution? We might be able to free one individual from prison, but what about thousands of other political prisoners?
The Islamic Regime as a whole and that includes both hardliners and reformers have no regard for human rights. International pressure might force them to stop someone’s execution, release someone from prison or shorten their prison sentence, but as a whole they continue the systematic violation of Iranian people’s rights. If our goal is to help the Iranian people and their pro democracy movement we must also work towards Regime change. Real change means Regime change.
In conclusion As a pro-democracy activist I see it as my duty to make sure the voices of freedom loving Iranians are heard loud and clear, Iranian people want real change, democracy, economic and social freedom and an end to the dictatorship of the Islamic Regime. I urge all activists, journalists, writers and all freedom loving people of the world to stop advocating for criminals such as Mousavi and Karoubi and to stand behind the Iranian people in their fight for a free, independent Iranian Republic.