NEWS & LETTERS, August-September 2002

Workers and students struggle in Iran

Grassroots resistance to Iran’s fundamentalist and totalitarian regime has continued to intensify in spite of a renewed effort by the ruling clergy to crush any expression of dissent. On July 9, a demonstration in Tehran on the anniversary of the 1999 government raid on students was attacked. Several student leaders were arrested. A larger student demonstration had been cancelled for fear of a massive police assault. The following week police attacked a demonstration of 15,000 workers who had gathered in front of Tehran’s social security department to protest against poor working conditions, low pay and a revised labor law that makes firings easier. They chanted: “Capitalists--leave the labor law alone,” and “We are former soldiers, now we are hungry.”


Several political prisoners are in severe danger: Manuchehr Muhammadi, a leader of the United Student Front, an organization that demands a secular government, is near death and has just been transferred to a prison for mentally ill patients where he has been severely beaten. Muhammadi has developed severe osteoporosis from malnutrition and a hunger strike and is unable to walk as a result. Muhammadi’s brother, also a student activist is also in prison.

Siamak Purzand, a 73-year-old dissident journalist and husband of feminist activist and legal scholar Mehranguiz Kar, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. On July 25, he was forced to appear on television to “confess to being a Western spy.” He was convicted of promoting Western culture and advocating a secular state.

The Islamic Republic has now strengthened its police force through a “Special Unit” which is openly armed and in charge of attacking and viciously beating youth and women who display any expression of resistance. Women are beaten for not wearing a full chador, wearing white or colorful overcoats, showing their hair or exchanging glances with men. Youth are arrested at parties. A visiting Iranian dance teacher from the U.S., Mohamad Khordadian, was arrested and given a 10-year suspended jail sentence for “corrupting” the youth.


In this environment, one faction of the clergy has expressed dissatisfaction with corruption within the government. Ayatollah Taheri of Isfahan resigned on July 10 and sided with another Ayatollah, Montazeri who has been under house arrest since 1998. Both had been staunch allies of Khomeini. Following Taheri’s resignation, the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei banned newspapers from discussing this case. One newspaper, Noruz, was subsequently banned for six months for publishing articles about the resignation. This policty of censorship was approved by President Khatami.

The “Freedom Party” of former prime minister Bazargan who helped bring Khomeini to power in 1979, has now been banned and 35 of its members have been sentenced to prison terms. The reformist wing of the Parliament associated with the Participation Front, led by Mohamad Reza Khatami (the President’s brother) and Saeed Hajjarian (former head of the secret police who was shot two years ago) is now threatening to resign from the parliament. This wing constitutes 70% of the Iranian parliament. The Participation Front has also advocated mending relations with the United States government.

--Sheila Sahar, July 28, 2002

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