European Parliament takes formal step towards showing solidarity with Iranian protesters

New Europe

Following an invitation from the Friends of Free Iran intergroup of the European Parliament, the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi met several prominent EU Parliamentarians to discuss the recent uprisings in Iran, described by many observers as a new revolution. 

The meeting anticipated the following day’s resolution outlining a prospective international response to the current uprising and associated crackdowns in Iran. Rajavi has been designated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran to serve as transitional president following the existing regime’s overthrow.

As Iran’s domestic unrest stretches into its fourth week, a growing number of commentators seem to be adopting the belief that such regime change is a realistic outcome. Since the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Tehran’s “morality police” on September 16, the resulting protests have grown to encompass at least 170 Iranian cities across all 31 provinces. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (known also as the MEK or PMOI), which maintains an extensive network inside the Islamic Republic, has recorded more than 400 protester deaths as largely unarmed civilians have directly fought back against government repression.

The protests have been routinely accompanied by the chanting of provocative, anti-government slogans like “death to the dictator” and “death to Khamanei” (the supreme leader) which lends support to Rajavi’s declaration that “the true objective of the men and women in Iran is regime change and the establishment of a free and democratic republic, based on separation of religion and state.”

In MEPs’ meeting with the Iranian opposition leader, Spanish politician Javier Zarzalejos, co-chair of the Friends of Free Iran intergroup, pointed out that there is strong support for the Iranian Resistance at the European Parliament and said, “We are surprised by the courage of the Iranian people, especially women, during the demonstrations that are going on in Iran these days. Women’s protest is not only against the mandatory hijab, but goes back to the systematic and serious violations of their fundamental rights.”  

Milan Zver, from Slovenia, who is co-chair of Friends of Free Iran, added, “Many in the European Parliament are deeply grateful for the courage of Rajavi in opposing the religious dictatorship ruling Iran.”

Czech MEP Stanislav Polcak said, “We have seen the strong desire of the Iranian people to destroy the regime, not only these days but for several decades. You deserve freedom.”

Jan Zahradil another MEP from the Czech Republic who has followed Iranian affairs at the European Parliament for years, stressed that Rajavi represents the most organized resistance movement in Iran for decades. “The violence carried out by the regime these days was the last straw for those who still thought that it was possible to negotiate with this regime and that peaceful change was possible,” he said. “Change is possible in Iran, there is only one precondition, and that is to stop concessions and negotiations with this regime and to stop appeasement. This policy has not worked, and it will not work.”

Prior to meeting with Rajavi, MEPs from different political groups signed a statement affirming that “the prospect of change in Iran has never been this accessible”. The MEPs also stated, “It is time to recognize the right of the Iranian people to defend themselves and to overthrow this regime and to establish a free and democratic Iran.”

The statement has since acquired more than 130 signatures, and its conclusions and recommendations are now reflected in the formal resolution that was adopted by the parliament on Thursday, with overwhelming support.

Maryam Rajavi speaking with members of the European Parliament.

That resolution is a vital first step toward meeting the expectations of the Iranian people, as described by Rajavi in her remarks on Wednesday:

“The people of Iran expect more than words of condemnation or sympathy from European countries. They expect practical steps, including, among others, the recognition of their right to defend themselves against the brutal attacks by the regime, and recognition of their right to resist and fight for their freedom.”

The resolution outlines several such concrete steps including the enforcement of human rights-related sanctions on anyone associated with the morality police forces that killed Mahsa Amini, as well as anyone who has ordered or perpetrated violence against protesters during the ensuing uprising. It also recommends that the EU “use all engagements with the Iranian authorities to demand an immediate end to the violent crackdown and the unconditional release of all those arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

According to the PMOI, there have been more than 20,000 such arrests so far, and even Iranian authorities have confirmed more than half this number. Based on the regime’s prior reactions to large-scale unrest, there is widespread concern that these arrests could lead to many instances of torture and death in custody. 

The regime has also curtailed internet access throughout the country in an effort to further impede protest organizing while also limiting the spread of information to the wider world.

During a prior uprising in November 2019, similar internet blackouts turned out to be a precursor to mass shootings which left more than 1,500 people dead. Recognizing the potential consequences of the Islamic Republic being cut off from the world, the MEPs’ statement declared that “the international community must guarantee free access to the Internet for the people of Iran.”

Thursday’s resolution emphasized the potential role the international community and specifically the United Nations could play in counterbalancing Tehran’s efforts to keep foreign parties in the dark about ongoing developments inside Iran. It called upon the UN Human Rights Council “to launch without delay a comprehensive investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, led by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” and to “establish an international investigative and accountability mechanism for human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian Government.”

Western supporters of the Iranian Resistance movement, including those who signed the recent statement and voted in favor of the subsequent resolution, consider such a mechanism to be long overdue in light of the history of unresolved human rights abuses and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Iranian regime.

In 1988, Tehran’s then-deputy prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi played a leading role in the systematic execution of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were members or supporters of the PMOI. In 2019, Raisi was in charge of Iran’s judiciary at the time of the November uprising, and in 2021 he was appointed president, leading to him having a prominent role in the regime’s response to the current unrest.

In recent years, human rights organizations have joined the PMOI in calling for Raisi to be formally investigated and face charges at the International Criminal Court.