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“For a free and democratic Iran for all!”

Aghileh Djafari Marbini’s speech to the Labour Women Leading AGM today

26 November 2022

Dear sisters, comrades, thank you very much for inviting me to speak at your AGM. At the start, I want to offer my solidarity to our LGBT comrades, particularly our Trans sisters wherever they may be, because their fight for bodily autonomy and recognition is our fight.

I am enormously proud to be speaking to you about the Iranian people’s revolution. Iran is a nation that has always fought for justice, freedom and independence. In the last 120 years the Iranian people have participated in three revolutions. I want to tell you briefly about those revolutions, as what we are seeing today is the continuation of that determination in the Iranian people to bring democracy and human rights to their ancient land.

The first was the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1905-1911. This was the first of its kind in the Muslim world. The revolutionaries wanted to replace the arbitrary power of the monarch with law, representative government, and social justice and to resist the intrusion of imperial powers. They succeeded in establishing the first Majlis or parliament in 1906.

The second of those revolutions – led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh – was the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry in 1952. This industry had been built by the British on Iranian lands since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later known as British Petroleum (BP). The concept of Iranian oil for Iranian people so angered the British imperialists that his government was overthrown in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état aided by MI6 and CIA. Before Mosaddegh was deposed, his administration introduced a range of social and political measures such as social security, land reforms and higher taxes, including the introduction of taxation on the rent of land. This is the history of imperialism and outside interference most present in the Iranian psyche.

The third is the 1979 revolution in Iran. The Western narratives will have us believe that this was a needless regressive revolution against a modernising monarch. This is far from the truth. The Pahlavis were an oppressive regime that cracked down heavily on any dissent. The Iranian secret service Savak was infamous globally for its brutality against any opposition.

The Pahlavis relied heavily on support from the United States to hold on to power. The Iranian people did not one day in a rush of madness stand up to overthrow a benevolent monarch. The Pahlavis were tyrannical and in the interest of retaining power were prepared to brutally oppress the Iranian people and were heavily dependent and in the pockets of the United States. After the coup against Mosaddegh, they had split the ownership of Iranian oil production between Iran and western companies until 1979.

The revolution was a massively popular uprising against a brutal regime and included all segments of society including leftists, intellectuals and others. Like all other revolutions, many internal and external forces were at play. The final nail in the coffin in terms of achieving the objectives of the revolutionaries came with the illegal impeachment of the first freely elected president, Banisadr on 21st June 1981.

What followed was eight years of unnecessary war with neighbouring Iraq and a period of dark and brutal repression against political activism. Between the summer of 1981 and 1988, the authorities executed hundreds of political prisoners after sentencing them in grossly unfair trials. In the summer of 1988, Iranian authorities, acting on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, executed thousands of political prisoners across the country. The exact number of executions is not known, but according to estimates from former Iranian officials and lists compiled by human rights and opposition groups, Iranian authorities executed between 2,800 and 5,000 prisoners in at least 32 cities in the country.

Since 1981, the Islamic regime of Iran has oppressed its people in the pursuit of retaining power. Some ethnic groups – Arabs, Baluchs, Kurds, and Sunni Muslims – have been particular targets of oppression. However, no matter who you are, if you speak up against injustice then you will be attacked and you will have to pay with your freedom and even sometimes your life.

The example I love to give is that of my father: the equivalent of a white middle class man in Iran. He is a Shia-practising Muslim man and does not belong to any marginalised ethnic group and yet he was imprisoned in Iran for five years for being an editor of a national, legal newspaper and working with President Banisadr. For over thirty-odd years, the Iranian people have tried to work within the system, believing (in my opinion misguidedly) that by participating in sham elections they will force the regime to change. This is despite knowing there are fundamental human and civil rights issues with the current constitution.

In the last ten years or so, this belief has begun to erode among many of the population, particularly the Iranian youth. 60 percent of the country’s 80 million population is under 30 years old and they want to live the life they see young people living in other countries. They want to be able to self-determine for themselves their life and their future. They want to be free and to make their own choices whether they are Muslim or not, rich, poor, gay or straight.

Amidst this turmoil on 16th September, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini unlawfully died in a hospital in Tehran. On 13th September Iran’s morality police had arrested Mahsa for not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards. Mahsa’s brother was told she would be taken to a detention centre to undergo a ‘briefing class’ and released shortly afterwards. However, she arrived at Kasra Hospital shortly after arrest and died, after being in a coma for three days.

Mahsa’s death was a watershed moment for all Iranians. Prior to her death most people would assume that if you are not political or at least keep your political opinions to yourself then you can go about your life in relative safety. Mahsa’s death disproved that myth once and for all – to a tyrannical regime you are a target even when you are going about your daily business.

Over the last 70 days following Mahsa’s death, the Iranian people have shown once again the price they are prepared to pay for democracy and freedom. All provinces in Iran have been demonstrating against the regime. People in 150 cities have been demonstrating, despite the brutality of the crackdown by the regime.

The crackdown has been harshest in Kurdishtan, Hormozgan and Baluchestan. According to the latest reports, 416 people, including at least 58 children, have been killed. 16, 813 people have been arrested, of whom 524 are university students, and students from 140 universities have been regularly demonstrating.

The brutality of the regime cannot be underestimated but the Iranian people are determined. You are seeing history in the making: this is the fourth Iranian revolution in the last 120 years.

The Iranian people will not relent. There are many stories of heroism, from the pathologists who refused to give the regime’s version of events on Mahsa’s death, to the headteachers refusing to hand over their students to the authorities at a severe cost to themselves; from the young climber who removed her headscarf in an international sporting event to the footballers refusing to sing the national anthem.

As Iranians, we have to remain open and inclusive, we have to allow people time and space to return to their people. We do not all see injustice at the same pace. The 1979 revolution succeeded in part because the army refused to shoot their own people. We need to encourage those in Iran to join the revolution whoever they might be. We need to keep the doors open for all Iranians to join us.

We need to remain wary and vigilant of those reactionary forces that encourage foreign interference and intervention. We have to remember the lessons of the past: the imperialist powers have never been, and are not now, on the side of the Iranian people. The 1953 coup against Mosaddegh should be remembered for all eternity by all those fighting imperialism.

More recently, Iraq and Afghanistan are clear examples of the West’s failure in their foreign adventures. We in the West need to be the voice of those in Iran who are fighting for democracy. The most popular chant is “Death to the Dictator, whether King or Clergy”. This is a clear reference to the fact that the Iranian people do not want another despotic regime from the distant past. We want democracy.

To my Iranian brothers and sisters, we are a nation of heroes and we can and will self-determine for ourselves and together will get rid of this tyrannical regime. To adapt the words of Arundhati Roy: “Another Iran is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

To my British sisters, I urge you be the voice of the Iranian people, publicise their plight on social media and talk about their struggle. Contrary to popular belief, the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. The oppressive Iranian regime is not our friend.

To the British and American government and their European allies, I say your interference has brought nothing but oppression and tyranny in Iran.We do not want your benevolent interference!

And I hope I am speaking for everyone in this room when I say to our brothers, sisters, and young people in Iran that we salute your courage, we offer you solidarity and pledge to amplify your voices and we will do all that we can to stop our governments conducting dirty behind-closed-doors deals with this murderous regime. Your struggle is our struggle. We know that you will succeed in achieving a free and democratic Iran for all Iranians, no matter what their ethnicity, race or gender. A truly free Iran for all! Solidarity!

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