Iranian election will be another undemocratic charade

1987 was a dangerous time to be Iranian. With the passing of eight years since the Islamic revolution, the regime’s promises of dignity, prosperity and independence for the Iranian people had taken on their characteristic Orwellian tone. Iranians were told that freedom was slavery and war was peace. The regime’s war with Iraq had ground on for seven years, decimating an entire generation of young Iranians and Iraqis alike. As a seven-year-old from Tehran, fate had it that I was not forced by the regime to clear live minefields – unlike thousands of Iranian children in the 80s who were roped together and marched forward as expendable cannon fodder.

It was in 1987 that my family fled Iran. After spending five years as refugees in Turkey, we were fortunate to make our way to Canada. That I am now a practising lawyer and a proud Canadian reflects the incredible opportunities afforded by our great country. Moreover, it underscores my responsibility to speak out against the regime that devastated the country of my birth and continues to brutalize the people of Iran to this day.

On June 14, I will not be joining millions of fellow Iranians who will be forced to endure the charade of another presidential election. The potential for genuine democratic change is as bleak today as it was in 2009. Of more than 800 prospective candidates, the ayatollahs have determined that only eight are ideologically fit to be included on the ballot.

To my knowledge, not a single eligible candidate has called for political change, such as the establishment of a secular (rather than Islamic) legal code, respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and the right of peaceful assembly. None have advocated for an end to clerical rule, for the simple reason that the clerics are their ideological kin and the guarantors of their very right to be a candidate.

Not one eligible candidate has advocated for an end to the stoning of women and the public hanging of homosexuals. None have condemned Iran’s direct involvement in the horrific Syrian civil war, including Tehran’s ongoing provision of military advisers, funds, and weaponry to the Assad regime.

None have called for an independent investigation into the arrest, torture and murder of scores of Iranian political protestors in the wake of the last election. In this regard, the international community must recognize that what the world witnessed online in 2009 was only a short excerpt of a long record of regime brutality. In the year that followed my departure from Iran, for example, some 2,800 political prisoners were executed for “apostasy” and other spurious charges in a single month.

Lastly, not one eligible candidate in this month’s election has called for an end to the regime’s illegal nuclear program, a development that foremost poses a threat to the Iranian people. If you think a nuclear North Korea enjoys dangerous impunity to violate the rights of its people, just wait until the dark day when Tehran obtains a nuclear weapon – the ultimate insurance policy in regime sustainability. While the international community and Iran’s neighbours are rightly concerned about the regional fallout, Canadians should not overlook the link between the regime’s nuclear ambitions and its ability to continue abusing the Iranian people.

To outline the above aspirations – for democracy, human rights and an end to a reckless Iranian foreign policy – is not to simplify the issues or claim that political change will come easily. But Canadians must be cautious not to view the regime in simplistic terms. We must understand that the notion of “moderates” running within the system is ultimately a paradox; those who are truly moderate have been denied a platform altogether, and fear for their lives should they publicly criticize the regime. You won’t see their names on a ballot, as they can do little more than live in quiet submission, organize underground, waste away in prison or live abroad in exile. For those who have made the painful decision to leave, the ayatollahs’ Revolutionary Guards Corps continues to pose a threat far beyond Iran’s borders.

Sayeh Hassan is a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto and a pro-democracy activist fighting to change Iran’s Islamic regime.


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