Iran opposition calls for fresh demonstrations

‘Protests to mark first anniversary of 14 February protests’

Iran’s opposition Green Movement has called for fresh protests on 14 February, just three days after Iran marks the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

In its most recent statement, the Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope, the highest decision-making body within the Green Movement, has called on Iranians to take to the streets exactly a year after the last major opposition demonstrations in the country.

“Iranians are faced with one of the most difficult periods in their history,” the statement reads. “The incompetence of statesmen has squandered and will continue to squander national resources and assets.”

“Despite the fact that Iran’s oil revenues in recent years have surpassed $600 billion (more than the revenues of all post-revolution governments put together), the conduct of those who rose to power with promises of justice and bringing oil income to the people’s tables, stamping out poverty, corruption and discrimination, has led to nothing but the decline of economic growth and investment to its lowest levels and the rise of inflation and unemployment to its highest in the past twenty years, while the scope of poverty, corruption and discrimination has widened at a disastrous rate.”

Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi spearheaded the Green Movement until mid-February 2011 where they were placed under house arrest after they had called for protests in solidarity with the Arab Spring on 14 February. The demonstrations were marred by the security forces’ violent crackdowns which left at least two dead.

Since the start of their arbitrary detention, the 2009 presidential candidates have not yet been granted a fair trial. Rights groups say their continued captivity and maltreatment is inconsistent not only with human rights provisions but also with Iran’s own constitution.

On Monday, conservative lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar acknowledged the role of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in taking the decision to place the opposition leaders and their wives under house arrest. In an interview with Fars, a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, he admitted that following the outbreak of street protests, he and other senior officials tried to negotiate with Mousavi and convince him to cease his opposition towards the regime and “returning to the revolutionary front,” a request declined by Mousavi.

The deputy parliament speaker argued that last year’s 14 February protests constituted the “dirtiest and worst act of treachery.” He also confirmed media reports suggesting he had written a confidential letter to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei warning him about the consequences of a likely Mousavi victory in the 2009 presidential race.

The calls for a new round of street protests come as Iran’s economy is being hammered on several fronts. Experts say the Ahmadinejad administration’s mismanagement of the economy and crippling international sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme will hit hardest the most vulnerable segments of the Iranian populace in the months ahead. On Tuesday, the Reuters news agency cited trade officials as saying that the recent European Union sanctions have paralysed food import deals to Iran leaving about 400,000 tonnes of grain held up on at least ten ships outside Iranian ports for as long as three weeks.

When the UN Security Council approved a fourth round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme in June 2010, Mousavi issued a statement defending the Iranian people’s right to know the impact of sanctions on their livelihoods. “The Green Movement must use all its international capacity to show foreign powers it will not allow them to exploit the weaknesses and illegitimacy of the current [Ahmadinejad] government in order to undermine the country’s independence, territorial integrity and supreme interests,” the former prime minister stressed.

The Green Movement council said that “instead of returning to the people and making up for [past] errors, [authorities] still insistent on pursuing the policy of suppression” as “hundreds” of activists were being held behind bars “illegally,” more than two and a half years after the 2009 election. 

“It is the human, legal and legitimate right of Iranians to show their protest against the state of their lives and their country,” the statement said. “Protesting is the right of all Iranians.”

According to the opposition council, the protests will commence in the afternoon from Iran’s Ferdowsi Square towards Tohid Square. “We ask of the police forces to respect the rights of their compatriots and to show the world that they will not act like the forces of oppression in [other] tyrannical regimes,” it concluded. 

The Kaleme opposition website recently reported that 39 prominent political prisoners held at Evin prison had released a statement calling “upon all freedom fighting citizens across the globe to create public awareness regarding the upcoming sham and rigged parliamentary elections in March, and to continue to do everything in their power to ensure that the detained leaders of the Green Movement are released in the month of February.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner and women’s rights activist Shirin Ebadi echoed the political prisoners plea, saying, “I support the call [of political prisoners] and invite all freedom-loving people across the globe to do all they can for the release of prisoners of conscience in Iran, particularly Ms. Zahra Rahnavard, Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Mr. Mahdi Karroubi.”

Ali Mazrooei, a former reformist parliamentarian and top economic advisor to Mohammad Khatami during his presidency, told the Green Voice of Freedom that the increased arrest of opposition activists and journalists demonstrated the authorities’ growing fears ahead of the “rubber-stamp” parliamentary elections in March.

The poor management of the economy, during a period of elevated oil income, has left many Iranians from across the board discontented and more convinced to pursue change in the country, Mazrooei added.

“It’s important to see the upcoming protests as part of a wider campaign which aims to establish democracy, freedom and justice in Iran. Whatever happens on 14 February will set the tone for future Green Movement actions and activities.”

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