Iran: misogynist torturers cling to power


by yasmine

Over the last few weeks, following the show trials of ‘reformist’
personalities and the imposition of even more severe forms of
repression in Iran, the nature of protests has changed considerably.

demonstrations continue on a daily basis in Tehran and most other
Iranian cities, with numbers attending ranging from a few hundred to a
few thousand. Reports from the working class neighbourhoods of Tehran,
such as Ekbatan, Apadana and Karaj, and from the white-collar suburbs
of Tehran Pars, indicate that anti-government demonstrations take place
every night and often lead to confrontation between protesters and
Bassij militia.

Last week dozens of political prisoners
started a hunger strike in Evin prison and on the first day of Ramadan
families of those arrested in recent protests gathered outside calling
for the immediate release of all political detainees. There are daily
protests in factories and workplaces against the political and economic
conditions and in some provinces, including Khorassan, there is news of
peasants protesting against confiscation of their land by religious
authorities. Five hundred peasants from Sarakhss have staged a sit-in
for the last week in front of Mashad’s main petrol station, complaining
about the use of religious legislation to expropriate their land.

crisis in the government continues, with clear divisions between the
conservative ‘principlists’ and the proposed government. On Thursday
August 20 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a cabinet boasting 11 new faces,
including three women. Loyalty to the president seemed to be the main
factor, as ‘conservative’ and ‘reformist’ MPs alike condemned the
nominations. Clearly Ahmadinejad will face an uphill struggle getting
them passed by the majles (parliament). Even the principlist faction
seems to be opposed to most of the nominations, guaranteeing months of
uncertainty and the continuation of the political crisis. According to
the ILNA news agency, speaker Ali Larijani complained: “The ministry is
not a place for apprenticeship; it is a place that requires expertise
and experience”.

Iran’s defence minister-designate is on an
Interpol ‘wanted’ list over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in
Argentina. Interpol put out a ‘red notice’ for Ahmad Vahidi in 2007
over the Buenos Aires attack that killed 85 people. As for the women
appointees, they were clearly chosen for their ultra-conservative views
on everything - including women’s rights. These comments from Fatemeh
Ajorloo, Ahmadinejad’s choice for minister of social services, speak
volumes: “… it is men who go for khastegari [the custom of a
man asking for a woman’s hand] and they remain responsible for the
marriage. This is great: that is how society should operate. Why did
the family break down in the west? Because women went to work and men
lost their true role.” That was from a speech in defence of quotas for
university entrance - the government believes too many women are going
into higher education.

Ajorloo is also a defender of new
legislation before the majles entitled ‘Efaf’ (chastity). She is in
favour of a ‘uniform’ for Iranian women of all ages - a long black
chador (a tent-like covering from head to toe, pinned under the chin)
and, to be fair, she herself is a walking advertisement for this
bizarre attire, as revealed by her official photos.

even tame Islamist women like Ajorloo are too much for Iran’s clerics.
A number of senior ayatollahs have expressed opposition to
Ahmadinejad’s decision to nominate women ministers. On August 22
conservative MPs told the media that leading Iranian clerics -
including grand ayatollahs Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Lotfollah Safi
Golpayghani - had “doubts about choosing female ministers and want
Ahmadinejad to reconsider”, according to the Tehran Emrouz newspaper.

his nominations for ministerial posts, Ahmadinejad managed to offend
almost everyone by comparing his outgoing health minister, Kamran
Lankarani, to a peach that any man would want to eat! A conservative
MP, Ali Ghanbari, said it was beneath the president’s dignity to
compare his minister with a fruit. A video of Ahmadinejad’s peach
comments has been widely circulated on the internet and posted on blogs
and social networking sites.

‘Against torture’

the protests continue and news of atrocities in prisons and detention
centres spreads, the anger against the ineffectiveness of ‘reformist
leaders’ - some of whom are clearly involved in behind-the-scene deals
with the conservative faction - grows.

The super-rich
ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani is in the process of being rehabilitated
in the centres of religious and political power. He was consulted by
the supreme leader in the nomination of the new chief justice and
attended his inauguration ceremony. Rafsanjani’s August 22 statement
urging Iran’s political factions to follow orders from the supreme
leader, had all the hallmarks of a new conciliatory move. Rafsanjani
has also reportedly reiterated his previous call to politicians and the
media to “avoid causing schisms” and “take steps toward the creation of
unity”. Clearly for Iran’s ‘reformists’, the survival of the Islamic
regime remains paramount.

Over the last two months ‘reformist’
presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi have
done very little to improve their standing, falling far short of the
expectations of their most ardent supporters. However, as news of the
torture and death of protesters detained after recent demonstrations
spread, first Karroubi and then Moussavi realised that unless they
acted they would lose any credibility. First came the statement by
Karroubi that he was enraged by the torture of demonstrators and then
both men issued statements condemning the torture and rape of detainees
- ‘reformist’ leaders say 69 protesters died in the post-election

Although one should welcome any condemnation of
torture, some of us cannot help remembering comrades who died under
torture when Moussavi was prime minister and Karroubi was a close ally
of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini - he was head of the
Khomeini relief committee and the Martyrs’ Foundation between 1979 and
1989. Let me mention one in particular - comrade Nastaran, with whom I
shared a room in Kurdistan. In the autumn of 1983 she left our
Kurdistan Fedayeen base, having been given responsibility for a
workers’ committee in south Tehran.

Nastaran was arrested a
few months after returning to Tehran and, although she had tried to
swallow her cyanide tablet (a standard practice among arrested Fedayeen
members), she did not manage to commit suicide. Fellow prisoners, who
saw her between the day of her incarceration and her untimely death are
unanimous in describing the frightening state to which she was reduced
following months of torture. She “couldn’t stand on her feet”, she had
been lashed so many times. She “couldn’t see - her eyes were too
swollen from all the beatings” ...

Over the last week I have
not stopped thinking about Nastaran. Maybe if messrs Moussavi and
Karroubi had done something about torture in those days, she and
thousands like her who died in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic
would still be alive. But, of course, had they done so, their beloved
Islamic Republic, the regime they still want to save, would not have
survived the protests of the last three decades.

In 2009 the
religious judiciary denies all accusations of torture and rape of
prisoners as baseless - the detainees making these claims cannot even
produce the basic prerequisite for a prosecution: witness statements
from four male adults!

In the meantime the trials of
‘reformist’ leaders have continued and have featured on a tragicomic
show on state TV. In addition to the ministers of ex-president Khatami
and ideologues of the Islamic ‘reformist’ movement such as Saeed
Hajjarian, the conservative faction is now trying in absentia German
sociologists Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas!

Hajjarian, the
prosecutor said, once met Habermas, who was famous for his theory of
civil disobedience, according to which it is permissible to refuse to
obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an
occupying power, without resorting to physical violence. The
accusations against Weber were not mentioned in court (presumably
because he died in 1920), but the Shia conservatives clearly do not
like him either!

Last week Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami
launched a new front: the ‘green road to hope’. As the title suggests,
this a road to nowhere, yet it is already clear that the front, which
aims to “unite the opposition from below” with branches in every city
and community, is organised from above. As time goes by, another
generation of young Iranians is learning through practice not to have
any illusions about reformists leaders whose only concern remains their
tattered political careero:s. Yet in the absence of a powerful left,
there is little prospect for real change in Iran.

If up until
June 2009 factory owners and the government blamed the ‘world economic
crisis’ for non-payment of workers’ wages, job cuts and mass
unemployment, after June they have had another excuse: the protests
paralysed the economy and that is why workers cannot be paid. No doubt
Iran’s economy is in serious trouble, yet it is mainly the working
class, the wage-earners, who are paying the price.

Over 1,500
major Iranian companies are on the verge of bankruptcy and they include
major firms such as the Arak Automobile Factory and Azar Water Company.
Iran Khodro, Iran’s main car plant, was only saved by an injection of
over $1 billion by the government in early August. Managers of this
factory and other major companies are encouraging workers to accept
redundancy packages so that they can conform with the government policy
of only employing temporary contract workers (Ahmadinejad’s last
minister of labour had promised that by 2010 100% of Iran’s workforce
will be employed on such contracts).

But workers are
resisting. Kashan textile employees are amongst those staging
demonstrations against the non-payment of wages - they have not been
paid for 22 months. These workers have pointed out that their dispute
with managers predates the current political crisis. This month there
was a major dispute at the Pars Wagon Company, when workers destroyed
the canteen in protest at non-payment of wages, smashing windows and
breaking tables and chairs.

And workers in Haft Tapeh staged a
noisy sit-in on Friday August 16 as part of a long-standing struggle
with the factory’s management. They are demanding the implementation of
an agreed job reclassification, increased wages, better overtime pay,
an end to the logging of every task and no more sackings of contract

There are also directly political protests in
workplaces. On hearing of an impending visit by Ahmadinejad, workers at
the Bandar Abbas shipyard threatened to go on strike in mid-August,
saying they would not allow a “coup d’etat president” to visit.

coverage of events in Iran often concentrates on what is happening
amongst the ruling circles, but Pars metal workers protesting against
job cuts, low wages and poor working conditions for the last six months
say they will continue their protests until the media inside “Iran’s
capitalist hell” is shamed into broadcasting their demands.

other developments, a new formation in Tehran, the Council in Support
of Iranian People’s Struggles, has become more active. It includes
political organisations, women’s groups and sections of the independent
left in opposition to the entire regime and in support of workers’

Clearly most of these protests would have gone on
irrespective of the political turmoil. However, the events of the last
few weeks have given a new momentum to workers’ actions, whose slogans
are now more political and less defensive. They are lasting longer and
pose a real threat to the efforts of all factions of the regime to
control the political situation and maintain the status quo.


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