Since the brutal murder of Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini, aged 22, by the “Morality Police” on September 16, there have been ever spreading, ever growing protests across Iran calling for the end of the dictatorship.
In the first two weeks of the protests, the dictatorship arrested more than 20,000 protesters in Tehran alone. By now they have killed more than 450 protesters, of whom the names of 294 have been confirmed by the Resistance. In this last week the protests have been happening in 198 cities and over 160 universities. You can hear the people chanting on the video clips on our news: “Death to the Oppressor, be it Shah or Khamenei!”
The people are enraged at the murder of Jina Amini but they want much more than a change in the dress rules for women. They see that unless the entire edifice of the Islamic Republic of Iran is destroyed, they will not be free of this brutal, relentless oppression that has been going on for 41 years.
This is an historic moment for humanity and all democratic people should find a way to help.
This time the protesters are made up of all classes, not mainly the working classes as in 2019, or mainly the middle classes as in 2009, or the students as in 1999. It is a genuine national-level movement for basic democratic change.
The dictatorship has shifted tactics, first attacking the protests, then trying to stop the protesters from gathering, then trying to dialogue with students (unsuccessfully), and now again turning to total violence with the latest threat by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) Commander in Shiraz that anyone who protests will be attacked. The dictatorship often cuts off the internet in cities or regions to stop images and video reaching the international community, and to make it hard for the people in those zones to communicate.
The people have adjusted their tactics, holding many separate protests at the same time across Tehran and the other cities, so that the security forces cannot concentrate on any one location. They also wait for the security to be out in the streets for more than three hours, when they are hot and tired from carrying their armour, shields and weapons. Then the people hit the streets.
The protests are dominated in numbers by the young generation, aged 17 to 24 years. Young women are very prominent in the front rows of the protests. Despite the very obvious danger, they now show no fear.
We are now in the seventh week of these protests and must recognise that the people have decided that this will be the end of the regime. They are energised by their goal of democratic revolution.
Is it organised?
After so much repression and yet with the protests still spreading and growing in size, and with the common slogans against all dictatorship, the reality is that the protest movement is coordinated and has a common goal. It is not “spontaneous” or “leaderless”. But unlike in the western democracies, it has been impossible in Iran for 41 years to openly organise political opposition, not even free cultural expression. So the international community cannot identify the leaders yet. But they are there in action before our eyes.
There has always been resistance to the religious dictatorship, as there was to the Shah’s dictatorship before that. The biggest political opposition came from the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), and the religious dictatorship has executed over 120,000 of its supporters in these four decades. So the people know that there has always been an alternative struggling to defeat the dictatorship.
In the past four years, as protest waves broke out since the end of 2017, mainly sparked by economic demands, the PMOI has organised Resistance Units to carry out psychological defiance actions, like graffiti, banner drops, and burning billboards of the Supreme Leader, to break the spell of fear.
From outside Iran, the exiled resistance organised in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has supported the Resistance Units and also mounted exciting hacks of the regime’s websites, TV broadcasts and even their CCTV system in large parts of Tehran. There are now more than 5000 such Resistance Units and they are supporting the protests as much as possible and helping to fight off the attacks of the fanatical IRGC and its Basij militia.
What is the alternative to the current religious dictatorship?
More than six weeks of protests show that the dictatorship can never go back to the way things were before September 16. There is a real prospect that the Iranian people can make regime change, even though it will be costly and won’t be easy.
So what will they replace it with? There are opportunists trying to step into the vacuum; regime agents and monarchists trying to seize control. But an alternative has to be based on principles that unite most of the people. The NCRI believes it has the capacity to form a provisional government when the people overthrow the regime, and it has a 10-point plan for a new Iran, based on a democratic republic, the separation of religion and state, absolute equality for women and an end to discrimination, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a nuclear-free Iran.
The NCRI calls for a UN-supervised election within six months of the end of the dictatorship, and a peaceful transition of power to those elected, who would also form a constituent assembly to prepare a new democratic constitution for Iran.
Right now the NCRI is calling for a broader National Solidarity Front based on three principles: support the replacement of the entire dictatorship; support a republic, with no special power for any individual or family; and separation of religion and state — a secular state that respects all religions.
What can Australia and the international community do?
Ever since Ronald Reagan made a deal with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia have made deals with the dictatorship, appeased it and occasionally clashed with it, especially over nuclear weapons development rather than human rights. But now this should end.
No government should be giving any direct or indirect support to the Iranian dictatorship. The Iranian people want and have a right to expect that democracies support their right to protest, defend themselves against repression and to overthrow tyranny. More and more world leaders, including Prime Minister Albanese, are saying some of these things. This has to be clearer, more emphatic, and much stronger on the right of the Iranian people to protest and defend themselves.
The Iranian people want the international community to totally isolate the dictatorship by closing Iran’s embassies and by withdrawing their own embassies in Iran. At a minimum, the Australian government could expel many of the Iranian embassy staff to send a supportive message to the protesters and underline the government’s condemnation of the killings and bashings of unarmed protesters.
The Iranian people urgently want reliable access to the internet, and the international community has a technical capacity to do this with some satellite systems. The Australian government can push for action on this call.
There have been huge rallies in many countries to support the Iranian people, the biggest being in Berlin on October 23.
A petition has been launched to call on the Australian government to expel the Iranian ambassador. It has already received more than 45,000 signatures and is aiming to reach 100,000 by November 23.
A newly constituted Senate Select Committee Inquiry is looking into the human rights implications of recent violence in Iran, with a particular reference to: the recent violence against women and girls by Iranian authorities; opportunities for nations that value human rights to support those being persecuted and oppressed in Iran; the potential application of sanctions on those responsible for the widespread violence and killing of women, girls and protesters in Iran; the appropriateness of Iran’s ongoing status on the UN Commission on the Status of Women; other actions available to the Australian Government and other like-minded nations to respond to human rights abuses in Iran; and any other related matters.
[Peter Murphy is a member of Australian Supporters of Democracy in Iran.]