On Monday 29th September there was a press conference at the University of London Union with Iranian activists Behrooz Karimizadeh and Kaveh Abbasian. The pair were among the founding members of Freedom and Equality Seeking Students, an organisation which is opposed to war and sanctions as well as the Islamist régime and which last autumn played a central role in student protests against President Ahmedinejad. Following these demonstrations the régime cracked down on the student movement, arresting dozens of activists – Behrooz Karimizadeh was subjected to torture. Ted Crawford has kindly given us permission to reproduce his report on Monday’s press conference:
Two students from Iran spoke in Farsi. Both had escaped, had not been allowed out, one had been tortured in prison we were told, though no details were given, and both were seeking refugee status here. Those present numbered about 25-30, were largely Iranian and, I would guess, were people who had left in the ’80s. A camera crew from the Hekmatist TV were present. The students did not seem to be affiliated to anything except the student movement. We were told that the students as a whole had lost confidence in the “reform” elements in the regime. Workers and women were mentioned but there did not seem to be any links with the working class though clearly the students hoped that there would be links and that this could change the regime. Clearly the students are socially isolated on their campuses, with some rights of association and speech but unable to reach outside. The regime is becoming more oppressive and even groups of Sufis, meeting in private houses are being arrested.
At one point they were asked by a bloke of about 50, (he translated his own questions for our benefit) about the argument on violence (which I took to mean terrorism). The students were evasive about this saying it depended on circumstances and what individuals thought. I was told later he was an ex-Fedayeen bloke who helped overthrow the Shah but his group, just like the Tudeh, supported the regime afterwards and helped to put the boot into the leftist opposition only to be discarded and crushed later by the clerics.
One odd thing happened. There were the two students, the English chair and translator on the platform and on their left another bloke who in the course of the introductions rose said he was from Workers’ Liberty and said how much they had developed this solidarity work as if they were organising the meeting. No-one had thought to ask him what he was doing, the Iranians thinking he was something to do the English in Hands Off the People of Iran and the English thinking he was something to do with the Iranians. When after the meeting I asked Mark Fischer [from the CPGB] what this meant he said that this bloke had insinuated himself in, put himself on the platform and Mark used some sharp and inventive language in which the word “slimy” played a part in which he described the Matgamna tendency [i.e. Workers’ Liberty].
As always of course some of the most interesting information was gained in the ULU bar afterwards when I chatted with Mark and others. I met my first Hekmatist. When I asked him about all these stories that they got money from the CIA, Israel etc, he laughingly said it was untrue and most of the CIA money was going to the Monarchists, huge sums! Instead they had to give the money themselves and he himself was an engineer paying a lot per month. In any case the Israelis never gave people money but that they had promised his group 2 million dollars which never came. Or that is what I understood him to say. I said nowt but nodded and thought about this response.
On the whole the people present seemed a very decent lot, very middle class I would guess, and most had been out of Iran for some time. Clearly the repression is intense but focused quite intelligently on the relatively few, the most active activists – 70 students were said to be in prison – while the oil revenues enable the regime to provide some goodies to the populace. The women seem to be a bit better treated than the men as they do not wish to make martyrs out of them though one very gutsy woman [Anoosheh Azadbar] has recently been sentenced to 11 years.
I have probably missed a great deal but these were my impressions.
Hands Off the People of Iran is holding a meeting with Behrooz Karimizadeh, Kaveh Abbasian, Yassamine Mather and Torab Saleth at Kings’ College London (Strand Campus) from 7pm on Wednesday October 8th.