INTERNATIONAL LIBERTY ASSOCIATION (ILA) – LONDON
Porchester Hall, Porchester Road, Bayswater, London, W2 5HS
Xmas Conference – Tuesday 14th December, 15.00-19.00 hrs
A MURDEROUS REGIME
It is a great pleasure and privilege to be able to meet you again face to face. I have taken part in so many zoom meetings over the past two years that I am beginning to think humans are two-dimensional! But I was always delighted to address the ILA and here we all are….we survived the pandemic and we live to fight another day. Your long-standing fight against human rights abuse in Iran and the wider Middle East is a noble cause and I thank you warmly for it.
I want to update you today on the situation in Iran. You will have heard that tens of thousands of impoverished farmers took to the streets day after day last month in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, to protest about water shortages. In a mass uprising, the angry farmers pointed to the Zayandeh Rud river, which used to flow through the city and is now a dried-up basin, covered with cracked and sun-baked mud. Chanting slogans such as “Raisi, this is the last warning,” the farmers courageously challenged Iran’s repressive president Ebrahim Raisi, known as ‘The Butcher of Tehran’, for his leading role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners. A group of the protesting farmers even staged a sit-in on the dried-up Zayandeh riverbed by setting up a special camp.
The Zayandeh Rud river has been allowed to dry up due to the recurrent diversion of water by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime’s Gestapo, who run more than 75% of the Iranian economy for the mullahs. The farmers claim that the IRGC has constructed tunnels and canals to divert the river to neighbouring Yazd province, where they have corruptly plundered the profits from a series of heavy industrial, water-guzzling, military factories. Now similar mass water protests have taken place in Shahr-e-kord, the capital city of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province.
The protests took place against a background of the usual threats and violence from the repressive theocratic regime. The farmers were violently attacked with batons and tear gas. The IRGC also opened fire with shotguns, wounding over 300, many of whom were struck in the face with shotgun pellets and lost one or both eyes. Now protesters across the whole of Iran are wearing eye-patches over one eye in sympathy with their wounder compatriots.
Following deadly riots that broke out in July in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, after drought led to widespread water shortages, the mullahs have begun to panic. President Raisi promised to resolve the water issues, stating that he would form a working group tasked with rehabilitating the Zayandeh Rud river, which, of course, is impossible. Meanwhile, fearing that support for the farmers’ protest would spread nationwide, the mullahs cut off the internet and tried to supress information about the uprising.
The protesting farmers in Isfahan say that the water crisis is so calamitous that they have been unable to plant crops for several seasons and can no longer grow wheat to make bread, a staple food in Iran. With 75% of the 80 million Iranian population now struggling to survive on daily incomes below the international poverty line, protests against the mullahs have grown in size and ferocity. On top of the water crisis, the people are now suffering from high unemployment, rampaging inflation, spiralling prices, disintegrating living conditions and a collapsing economy. Teachers across Iran have risen up in protest. The coronavirus pandemic has spread out of control across the country, with an estimated 488,000 dead from the disease.
The repressive regime’s war-mongering, rank incompetence, venal corruption and voracious profiteering have increased the risk and the incidence of natural environmental disasters in Iran. The devastating floods, raging forest fires, toxic air pollution, uncontrolled desertification and grave water shortages have all pushed the Iranian environment to the edge of destruction. It was against this background of environmental devastation that we were alarmed, in Scotland, when we heard the news that Ebrahim Raisi, the ‘Butcher of Tehran’, was intending to travel to Glasgow to attend the COP26 UN Climate Change Summit in November. Together with Hossein Abedini and Tahar Boumedra, we lodged a dossier of evidence with both the Metropolitan Police and the Scottish Police, calling for Raisi’s arrest for crimes against humanity and genocide. We held a big press conference in Glasgow and the news went viral, particularly around the Middle East. Scotland’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper – The Sunday Mail – carried a front-page banner headline ‘ARREST THE BUTCHER’ and a huge two page spread inside, with quotes from some of the survivors and relatives of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
In his role as a public prosecutor, Raisi often supervised the torture of men and women and then witnessed their hanging. He was head of the judiciary when orders were given to shoot dead protesters during a nationwide uprising in Iran in November 2019.
Over 1,500 were killed and thousands injured. Many of the injured were dragged from their hospital beds by the IRGC, then imprisoned and tortured. Several were subsequently executed on Raisi’s orders. Raisi was placed on the US Treasury blacklist on 10th November 2019, for these and other serial human rights violations.
But when Ebrahim Raisi heard that the police in Scotland were actively assessing this large dossier of evidence against him, he chickened out and quickly cancelled his plans to come to Glasgow. It was a huge victory for us. Raisi was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with other leading human rights abusers like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, but he could have faced arrest under universal jurisdiction, which enables a state to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed and regardless of the accused’s nationality. His pariah status will now make international travel increasingly difficult for Raisi, particularly if he dares to set foot in the West.
In his report to the UN General Assembly this summer, Professor Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, raised concerns regarding the destruction of evidence of the extrajudicial executions that took place in 1988. In August this year, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, called for an “international investigation” into the 1988 massacre, stating that “The Working Group reiterates the concerns expressed about the ongoing concealment of burial sites across the country”. Now Agnès Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity and for his involvement in murder, enforced disappearance and torture.
In Sweden, the trial of Hamid Nouri is continuing. He was one of Raisi’s functionaries who actively participated in the 1988 hangings. Plaintiffs told the Stockholm court how Raisi would happily munch on cakes and pastries while sentencing dozens of men, pregnant women and even teenagers to death, after arbitrary 2-minute trials. And in Belgium we are awaiting the judgment of the appeal court who heard appeals from 3 of the terrorist bombers who joined Assadollah Assadi, the so-called Iranian diplomat, in a plot to bomb the huge National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) rally in Paris in June 2018. We trust that their lengthy terms of imprisonment will be upheld.
So, the theocratic regime is in trouble. It is facing justice in several EU courts. It is struggling to survive the collapse of the Iranian economy and the rampaging coronavirus pandemic. It is desperately searching for ways to continue financing its proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, while at the same time attempting to boost its supply of uranium to weapons-grade-status. This is a zombie regime led by a psychotic supreme leader and a criminal murderer as president. There is no way the US, EU or UN should contemplate any attempt at lifting sanctions and restoring the failed nuclear deal. To do so would be a gross act of appeasement and a naked betrayal of the Iranian people.
There is only one way to resolve all of the environmental, social and security problems that beset Iran and its neighbours and that is by backing the Iranian people and helping them to remove this evil regime and replace it with a secular democracy.
Please let me end once again by thanking you sincerely for your great support for the ILA and for the work you do in exposing and countering human rights abuse in Iran and the wider Middle East?
The ILA has played a decisive role in furthering our cause. The satellite transmission it supports into Iran and beyond is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to break the wall of censorship and to shed light on the regime's crimes. The success the ILA has achieved over the last 5-6 years in saving the lives of hundreds of prisoners of conscience and playing a pivotal part in taking 3,000 Iranian refugees out of harm’s way has been quite inspiring. So, I think we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful and I think it would be appropriate to give yourselves a warm round of applause for all the great things you have achieved.