Battle for democracy reaches new stage in Iran

The strategy and tactics of Iran’s “reformists” allied with President Mohammad Khatami suffered a crushing defeat during the parliamentary elections last February, in part because thousands of their candidates were disqualified by the country’s ultra-conservative Guardian Council and kept off the ballot. But the reformists’ defeat was partly their own fault. For seven years they have disregarded the people’s demands for real change, and have tried to appease the ruling, reactionary forces instead. As a result, they have been badly discredited. However, the popular movement for democracy continues, even in the face of growing repression. An example is the recent three-week hunger strike staged by a number of political prisoners to commemorate the brutal attack against the massive student demonstrations of July 1999. Among the hunger strikers were the renowned prisoners Naser Zarafshan, a lawyer imprisoned in 2000 for defending the persecuted students, and Ahmad Batebi, jailed since 1999. Batebi’s “crime” was to hold up a bloodied shirt in the view of media to symbolise the brutal attack on fellow demonstrators. The regime was unable to keep the lid on the recent hunger strike, which was immediately supported and publicized by all political groups opposing the despotic regime. In response, the authorities placed other inmates, common criminals, in prison cells holding the political detainees. These criminals viciously attacked the protesting political detainees. Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and other well-respected political activists such as Fariborz Raiesdana, immediately exposed and condemned the authorities for endangering the lives of the political prisoners. Along the same lines, once again a number of independent reformist newspapers and publications have been shut down by the ruling authorities. The recent closures of Vageye Etefaghye, Jomhoriait and Aftab have been challenged by a well-publicized campaign by the opponents of the regime, including an open letter signed by 285 political activists within Iran protesting the measures imposed by the ruling dictatorship. The struggle for democracy in Iran has moved to a new stage, and has surpassed the reactive efforts of the reformist leadership. Furthermore, the people’s move-ment for democracy, while fighting the ruling dictatorship, is also aware of the external dangers arising from the policies of the Bush administration. The imperialist agenda pursued by the current U.S. administration effectively plays into the hands of the reactionary leaders of Iran, providing a pretext for more repression in the name of protecting Islam. Nima Kamran is a correspondent from the Tudeh Party of Iran and can be reached at pww@pww.org.