Iranians rally for freedom, justice for slain loved ones
Columbia Daily Tribune – By Kasra Nejat
Jun 11, 2017
On July 1st, I will be joining tens of thousands of other Iranians traveling to Paris from across the globe, to participate in an international conference. The event will be an inspiring demonstration of political will, building alliances between the Iranian expatriate community and Western policy experts, and showcasing the close connections between attendees and Iranians still living under the thumb of Tehran’s theocratic dictatorship.
The gathering is also attended remotely by millions, whose illegal satellite hookups connect them to the networks of the Iranian resistance in defiance of Iran’s tight controls on media and the flow of information. Some of those viewers have managed, in recent years, to send messages for broadcast at the rally, somber reminders of the resistance in Iran. So too are the speeches by former political prisoners who escaped Iran to join the expatriate activist community.
Sadly, such voices also call to mind the many who didn’t escape, and paid with their lives for their pro-democratic activism. The conference is at once a celebration of perseverance and an opportunity to mourn the untold numbers who have died for their beliefs since the Islamic Republic was founded in 1979.
The NCRI’s leading constituent group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, has lost more than 120,000 members and supporters, including 30,000 massacred in 1988, according to the Washington Post. Attendance at the rally in recent years has exceeded 100,000, but you would be hard pressed to find any Iranian participant who hasn’t suffered the loss of a loved one. Hundreds of political dignitaries also participate.
Unfortunately, many leading figures in the US and elsewhere still appear to cling to the notion that the Iranian regime might reform, and vindicate the tens of thousands killed and the millions who have otherwise suffered at its hands.
This notion has been bolstered by the May 19 reelection of President Hassan Rouhani, a self-described moderate who oversaw the nuclear agreement and promised an opening of Iranian society and the release of some political prisoners. None of Rouhani’s promises panned out in his first four years in office, and there is no reason to suppose that they will over the next four. This is partly because the president wields limited authority in a system that vests final authority in the supreme leader, backed by a hardline paramilitary organization, the Revolutionary Guards, which violently suppresses dissent.
But more to the point, the regime does not allow genuine reformists to run for political office. The real voices of opposition, like Maryam Rajavi, cannot even set foot in their homeland without the risk of imprisonment, torture, and execution. So, while Rouhani’s reelection has been embraced by some, those who have followed his background and his recent record understand that it is insulting to pin any hope on him for the future of Iran.
In fact, Rouhani’s reelection is an insult to many at the NCRI rally, especially those whose loved ones were killed in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Little mentioned in Western media the mass execution and secret burial of upwards of 30,000 political prisoners, primarily from the MEK, was directed by Rouhani’s challenger in the recent election. Another leading perpetrator, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, is Rouhani’s Minister of Justice.
How can there be any justice if the choice of presidential leadership is between someone who personally hanged the political opposition and someone who appointed their executioners to Cabinet posts?
As some strive to expand relations with the Islamic Republic, it is important that more policymakers recognize the simple fact that internal moderation is a fantasy. Many already do, as will be evidenced by their attendance at the July 1 rally, but their numbers need to grow.
Iran’s people have suffered enough. Both at home and abroad, those who reject the current regime’s violence and oppression far outnumber those willing to wait and see whether it changes from within. It never will.
The Iran Freedom rally reminds us every summer that multitudes of freedom-loving Iranians stand ready to facilitate a different change, regime change, to establish a government in line with the secular, democratic, non-nuclear principles laid out in Mrs. Rajavi’s 10-point plan. Every American and European who hears those principles outlined at the rally recognizes them as being in line with the interests of Western democracies. And every year, that message reaches a wider audience.
Mr. Nejat, a resident of St. Louis, is the president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri.