Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff

INU - On Tuesday, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran who had been relocated from Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq to the Albania capital of Tirana hosted an event in celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. In addition to a gathering of thousands of PMOI members, the event featured speeches by political supporters of the Iranian Resistance from throughout the world, and by Maryam Rajavi, the president of the PMOI’s parent coalition the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The NCRI website published excerpts from Rajavi’s speech, which praised the activism that characterized the end of the previous year and then expressed hope that more of the same demonstrations would characterize the entirety of the year to come. “Last year ended with the season of uprising,” she said in reference to the demonstrations that began in December and quickly spread to every major city and town in Iran, giving rise to slogans like “death to the dictator” and explicit calls for regime change.

“The coming year can and must be turned into a year full of uprisings,” she continued, adding that the uprisings should continue “until final victory.” Various foreign observers and Middle East experts have suggested that the protests of late December and January never came to a definitive end despite the violent repression that caused them to diminish after a period of weeks. The NCRI has reported that at least 50 people were shot dead as a result of their participation in those protests, and 14 others tortured to death. It has been suggested that this will only fuel the Iranian people’s broad ranging resentments over the long term.

For those who agree with this conclusion, the likelihood of a renewed uprising seems all the greater in light of the fact that government repression in response to the protests is still ongoing. In addition to arresting an estimated 8,000 people in the midst of the demonstrations, security forces also raided the homes of known political activists and generally escalated their crackdown on dissent and perceived social and cultural threats to the clerical establishment.

Illustrating one example of this phenomenon, the Center for Human Rights in Iran recently reported upon the hunger strike being conducted by one political prisoner, Peyman Roshanzamir, whose return to prison was apparently spurred by, though not directly related to, the January uprising. Roshanzamir had been sentenced to 17 months in prison in 2011 on charges of “insulting the supreme leader” and spreading “propaganda against the state” through his blog posts. But his sentence was suspended after he promised to refrain from all political activities.

As well as arbitrarily ordering the blogger back to prison on February 28, Iranian authorities have reportedly threatened his wife, in a repeat of tactics that have been utilized against numerous political detainees and activists, including those associated with the recent protests. “We will arrest your wife for spreading the news about your hunger strike,” one prison guard told Roshanzamir when he resisted in the face of mistreatment. “You’re creating problems for her.”

As of last Friday, Roshanzamir had been refusing food for at least 11 days while demanding conditional release in accordance with Iranian law. “I will not stop under any circumstances other than freedom,” he declared in an open letter, adding that the regime authorities will be responsible for his death if they do not act upon his case.

Conditions are notoriously poor in Iranian prisons, and prisoner abuse is rampant. Political prisoners in particular are often denied medical treatment as a form of additional pressure, even when those political prisoners are suffering the effects of lengthy hunger strikes. This was reportedly the case with two female political prisoners, Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee, who initiated hunger strikes in February after they were forcibly transferred to a facility with exceptionally poor conditions, which is typically reserved for violent criminals.

The NCRI Women’s Committee published an update on the two women’s situation on Tuesday, noting that four United Nations special rapporteurs had issued a statement expressing concern over reports that Daemi and Iraee had been beaten by prison guards and deprived of appropriate medical care.

Although their cases predate the December and January protests, they have arguably faced intensified pressure in the wake of those demonstrations. Meanwhile, international attention to these and other cases of abuse may add further fuel to the calls from Rajavi and others for a renewed uprising in the wake of Nowruz.

Meanwhile, though, other potential drivers for that movement are more personal and more pragmatic. The initial outbreak of protests in December was largely attributed to frustrations over poor economic indicators like high unemployment and runaway inflation. These topics reportedly helped to secure the participation of poor, rural Iranians who had previously been thought of as reliable supporters of the clerical regime. And on the occasion of Nowruz, IranWire reported that these factors have not abated.

Quite to the contrary, the report points to depreciation of the Iranian rial, volatility of the stock market, the effects of cronyism on Iranian banks, and several other factors as contributing to the conclusion that “the economy seems to be even more uncertain than it did at this time last year.” IranWire acknowledged that the International Monetary Fund currently projects stable growth for the Iranian economy, but the report added that these projections could easily be undermined by either expanded foreign pressure or renewed domestic unrest, or both.

In her speech at the Tirana gathering, Maryam Rajavi urged Western powers and the Iranian people to build on both of these trends:

“Europe’s long-overdue focus on the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s regional warmongering and its ballistic missile program is of course a positive step. Further steps are needed, including the expulsion of the regime from the region, shutting down its missile and uranium enrichment programs, and blocking its access to the international banking system. All these steps are necessary. However, a comprehensive, decisive, and strategic response to the regime entails standing with the Iranian people and Resistance, and recognition of their struggle for regime change.”

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