Maryam Namazie
Interview by an Italian journalist
June 20, 2001

Question: Before last week’s elections, your association declared that the June 8 presidential elections in Iran could only be considered a farce and encouraged refugees to boycott the vote. Why?

Maryam Namazie: We called for a boycott and active protest against the so-called elections and the entire regime because voting for either faction would legitimise this farce. These ‘elections’ were not elections by any standards and would be unacceptable in Italy and in many places in the world. The majority, including women, Communists, political opponents, atheists, etc. were ineligible to take part. The Guardian Council – a 12-member body – probed the candidates’ commitment to Islam and the Islamic Republic and approved only its most die-hard supporters. Any candidate approved by this body was chosen because he was a most loyal servant and had proven his allegiance beyond a doubt. This Conservative body approved Khatami in 1997 and again this year because of his commitment to the regime. The approved presidential candidates included former and current ministers, who have been directly responsible for gross violations of civil rights in Iran; for example, Tavakoli was a former prosecutor and labour minister; Ali Fallahian was a former intelligence minister who has a warrant out against him in Germany. Khatami was a minister of censorship for many years before he became president, and was in office during the past four years when innumerable individuals were imprisoned, tortured, stoned, hung from cranes in public… The faces of these ‘candidates’ should be on ‘wanted,’ not election posters. Calling for a boycott and active protest were the only right things to do.

In any case, 99 percent of those living abroad didn’t vote and many actively opposed the ‘elections,’ especially since most are victims of this regime. So many still have the physical and psychological marks of repression on them. Their applications for asylum have already revealed their position against the entire regime. Our call only asked that they formally state their opposition to the Islamic Republic once more for the world to see.

Question: Don’t you think that calling for a boycott weakens the possibility of reforms and instead, helps the conservatives?

Maryam Namazie: Boycotting and opposing the ‘elections,’ weakens both factions, thereby strengthening the growing people’s movement for freedom and equality. The key question is not what helps one or the other faction of a repressive regime, but what better advances the movement for real change in Iran.

Moreover, in terms of civil rights, there is no real difference between the so-called Reformist and Conservative factions. Both want to uphold the Islamic ‘rule of law’ that has resulted in the execution of over 100,000 people, and imposed widespread lack of rights and sexual apartheid. Their aims are the same; it’s only their tactics that are different. In fact their infighting is over how best to save their regime. Khatami is as much part and parcel of the regime and responsible for its crimes as Khamenei is. In fact, this time round he is as much the Conservative faction’s candidate as he is the Reformist faction’s. After 4 years of his presidency, it has become painfully obvious to even those who had any illusions about him that the terms reform, civil society and dialogue between civilisations were merely marketing strategies to make an intolerable regime, an uncivilised regime, an unreformable regime, a regime of repressive monologues, more palatable for Western public opinion.

Also, much has been said about Khatami being a ‘reformer’ but one is hard-pressed to find any evidence of such reforms in Iran. When Western governments, the media and Human Rights Watch speak of reform, they usually mention the large numbers of newspapers in Iran, yet the quantity of newspapers has nothing to do with reforms or improvements in the freedom of expression and press. If you look at the editors and publishers of all the newspapers or even at the journalists themselves, you will see that they are all mainly clergy, government officials, relatives of government officials, former Pasdars and interrogators who have turned into journalists overnight – a good case in point is Akbar Ganji who was part of the notorious Pasdars. Though they are ‘insiders,’ they are still being arrested and their papers shut down. One can only imagine what it’s like for ordinary people, for Communists, for progressives, for the women, youth and workers… This is not freedom of expression and press. Hambastegi, the International Federation of Iranian Refugees’ (IFIR) paper or WPI Briefing cannot be published there. It is banned; our writers and editors, and those distributing our papers would be arrested, tortured and killed.

The terms freedom of expression and press, reform and civil society all have meaning and cannot be used lightly especially in reference to such a regime. Reforms are first and foremost changes in laws and policies that improve the lives of real human beings. The abolishment of stoning to death would be a reform; the fact that the Islamic regime stops stoning women in public due to public outrage but does so privately and in its prisons (it recently stoned a woman in Evin prison in Tehran) is not a reform. It just shows that the regime knows that the situation is explosive and is fearful of people’s outrage. An end to compulsory veiling would be a reform; the fact that women are ‘improperly veiled’ every day on the streets is not reform; it just shows that women are protesting and opposing compulsory veiling despite its risks. Hundreds of thousands of women have been flogged, imprisoned, had their bodies slashed with razors, and had acid thrown in their faces so that they could walk down the streets with their veils pushed back. Millions in Iran and worldwide have opposed stoning forcing the regime to worry about the bad publicity. It is Communists, women, youth, the working class, political activists, and people who must be credited with such ‘openings’ in Iran – not Khatami and his empty slogans about ‘reform.’

One thing is absolutely clear – this regime is unreformable. It cannot end compulsory veiling, stoning, sexual apartheid, etc. because that would mean an end to an Islamic state. Its overthrow is a precondition for any real reforms and improvements in people’s lives and conditions.

Question: Khatami obtained more than 21 million votes, but the percentage of voters was less than expected. Why was there such a poor turnout?

Maryam Namazie: Though there were many more eligible voters this time round, the numbers who took part were much less. Also a large number actively protested the ‘elections’ by setting voting booths on fire, demonstrating, writing slogans on walls against the ‘elections’ and the regime, and dissuading others from voting. The Worker-communist Party of Iran, the IFIR and other opposition groups have refuted the numbers of voters announced by the regime. Many eyewitness accounts have reported that the turn out was low – much lower than the regime’s own statistics. There are numerous reports that people took voting cards in order to get their papers stamped (to assist them with university and job applications and rations) but then tore up their cards. Moreover, 30 percent of the voting booths were mobile, facilitating election fraud. Clearly, a much smaller number voted for the regime than it states. The reasons are clear. Four years ago, people voted for Khatami in order to reject the regime’s main candidate and increase factional infighting, thereby creating an opening for themselves. This time round, he was both factions’ candidate.

Question: The President of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi sent his best wishes to President Khatami, hoping that Iran will have a speedy return from international exile, that it would continue with democratic and human rights reforms. Do you think that western democracies have justified faith in Khatami?

Maryam Namazie: Western governments want public opinion in their countries to believe that things have improved in order to justify close and profitable relations and also the increasing numbers of refusals and deportations of Iranian asylum seekers back to Iran. Nonetheless, the brutal realities in Iran, the mass movement struggling for real change and the flight of large numbers of people trying to escape persecution are undeniable.

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