Por Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

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Iran: the Battle for Freedom

Original article “Irán: la batalla por la libertad” from:  El Independiente (14/01/2023).

The protests that began with the assassination in Iran of young Jina Mahsa Amini continue. The regime’s response exhibits the most stark and cruel face of repression. Last week we were shocked to hear the sentences of the young Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, executed for participating in the protests. We feel helplessness and indignation. 

The number of murders perpetrated by the Iranian authorities through different methods continues to grow. At least 516 demonstrators have been killed as a result of these authorities’ violence, including 70 children. Nearly 20,000 people were reportedly arrested, according to independent organisations, and about 43 face the death penalty.

The constant threat of the death penalty is also a way to criminalise and silence a society that speaks loudly. Even before the beginning of the protests, Iran was the country that carries the highest number of executions of women in the world. Iranians live under a sexist system in which legal certainty for them is non-existent.

Despite this, the history of women in Iran is a story of constant and peaceful resistance. But it is also the story of a betrayal of which, unfortunately, Iran’s example is not unique: clerics who supported gender equality during revolutionary struggles then opposed the participation of women in the public sphere. The veil is an example of this, and of an instrumentalisation that was used to suppress them. As early as March 79, women took to the streets to protest the autonomy that was gradually being snatched away from them. Many continued their resistance in Iran, many others (about seven million) had to flee.

These women have been resisting for many years. Where have we been so far? We must give an answer to all Iranians

The current moment represents a point and apart in the history of the country, and an inspiration for the region. However, there is one thing we all must recognize: these women have been resisting for many years… and, where have we been so far? We must answer this question to all Iranians. Moreover, we recognize their bravery, but why do we remain the same? How much suffering, how many deaths, how much exile could have been avoided? That is why we must focus on the gender response that is taking place in Iran. Even if we understand that protests and violence have already spread to all sectors, we also know that it is and will continue to be crueler and more brutal against the most vulnerable: women, students, and children.

From the European Parliament, in the resolution we adopted in October, we already stressed the need for greater coordination between EU embassies in Tehran to support women, including the issuance of emergency visas. We also asked the Commission to allow EU-based communications providers to give tools to people in Iran ensuring their access to information and that they can exercise their human rights. 

Beyond the urgency, we need medium and long-term responses. This requires us to support the creation of networks between Iranian women in Iran and those who integrate the diaspora. Statements are important, but hope can only come from the ability to imagine and rethink a possible future. Our support is important to ensure that, in addition to protests involving women, there are women-led responses that can become a political reality. 

In November, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing an independent international fact-finding mission to register the human rights violations that are being carried out in Iran, with a view to cooperating with future judicial proceedings. For its part, the EU is working on a fourth package of sanctions. It has established sanctions to 126 individuals and 11 entities, which include four members of the unit that arrested Mahsa Amini, the provincial heads of the Iranian Disciplinary Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, the commander of the Army ground forces, the head of the Cyber Police, and the Minister of the Interior. Moreover, the exportation of equipment that can be used for the repression and supervision of telecommunications to Iran has been banned. 

We now call for a qualitative leap to sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a whole, underlining its character as a terrorist organisation. We also condemn the political precedent of death sentences: the signing by 227 parliamentarians of a statement calling for a firm response, which “serves as an example” for those involved in the so-called moharebeh, that is, those who are “battling the war against God”.

The EU must continue to strongly condemn, through diplomatic contacts, an increasingly bloody situation. For Europe, these have traditionally been given through two channels: one dedicated to bilateral relations (including human rights) and another dedicated to dialogue around the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

If the nuclear crisis comes to a head, it is hard to imagine protesters winning the battle being waged in Iran, as that will likely make the regime feel cornered. If that happens, Iranian authorities are likely to choose to exercise even stricter control over the population. But the future of the agreement is increasingly linked to an EU that has tried to insist on its mediating capacity in an environment in which, until now, no one has been willing to commit. Iran virtually ignored the draft that the EU was working on last August.

Donald Trump pushed in 2018 for the US withdrawal, a road map that — despite electoral promises — Joe Biden did not amend. Today, the nuclear deal seems far from reactivating. Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear capability, which has managed to expand its ability to enrich uranium, is advancing rapidly. 

It is crucial that the parties determine their red lines to prevent rising tensions on the nuclear and regional fronts from becoming a spiral of escalation.

Given this situation, the EU has a complex but decisive role. It must focus its efforts on finding solutions. It is crucial that the parties determine their red lines to prevent growing tensions on the nuclear and regional fronts from becoming a spiral of escalation, and this could be done through European and regional intermediaries. While it may not be sustainable in the long term, it may give countries time to consider to what extent the nuclear diplomacy paradigms of the past two decades remain valid and how they can be revised constructively to avoid a confrontation that endangers us all. 

The EU must stand firm in its condemnation of human rights violations and work to ensure that the regime does not assert its power through nuclear weapons. Iranian society calls for freedom and we have a commitment and responsibility to all people who literally play their lives to defend their rights. Finding the balance between these necessary and complementary paths is today our biggest challenge on Iran.

Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

Mujeres al frente es un espacio de reflexión dirigido por la política y abogada española Soraya Rodríguez Ramos. Desde 2019, es diputada del Parlamento Europeo en la delegación del partido Ciudadanos. Desde su escaño de eurodiputada, desarrolla un intenso trabajo como portavoz en Igualdad de Género y Derechos de la Mujer del grupo Renew Europe, así como miembro del Comité de Derechos Humanos y de la Comisión de Medio Ambiente por su compromiso con el cuidado del planeta y la justicia climática.