Recently, the State Department has posted a 15-page document on its website under the title of “Voices Struggling to be Heard.” This document has been presented as a “fact sheet,” but much of it is more fiction than fact. Although it’s a positive step on the part of the State Department to publish such a report in the first place, what is disappointing is that this publication is geared more towards promoting the so-called reformists in Iran than exposing human-rights violations by the Islamic regime.
‐ State Department: “Today the courageous voices of the Iranian people are being stifled as they call for their rights, beliefs and needs to be respected. In response, the non-elected elements of the Iranian Government hierarchy are rebuffing these calls and attempting to extinguish the voices.”
‐ Fact: The State Department reference to “non-elected elements of the Iranian Government” implies that some elements of the government in Iran are elected. The State Department is wrong. There are no democratically elected elements in Iran. For example, Presdient Mohammed Khatami, the darling of the U.S. and Europe, was among just four selected candidates by the Guardian Council after 234 candidates were eliminated. All the so-called reformists who were “elected” in the previous parliament were first selected by undergoing the same filtering process.
‐ State Department: “In June 1997 and again in 2001, a decisive election victory ushered President Mohammed Khatami into office under the auspices of a reformist agenda. The realization of this reform movement has been actively stifled by hard-line elements within the government, most specifically by the un-elected Guardian Council, a board of clerical leaders and legal scholars. Reformist and dissident voices within the government and society have been repressed and harassed by government and quasi-government factions under the influence of the hard-line clerics.”
‐ Fact: The proclaimed “reform movement” by Khatami did not materialize because he never had the intention of changing the status quo. He used the hollow promise for reform to stabilize the shaky regime and to prevent the escalation of popular unrest. What the oppositionists (not the reformists) want is very different from what the reformists within the government want. The reformists realize that some changes must be made if the whole system is going to be preserved. What the freedom-loving people of Iran want is a fundamental overhaul of the system; they want a separation between religion and state.
‐ State Department: “In a move to diminish pro-reformist reelection chances, the Guardian Council disqualified approximately one-third of the 8,200 submissions for candidacy, including those of more than 80 reformists currently holding Majlis seats, effectively limiting the democratic alternatives available to Iranian voters.”
‐ Fact: The Guardian Council follows the rules and laws written into the Islamic constitution. Contrary to the State Department’s assumption, all these actions are very much within the law. Those who accept this constitution, including the reformists, have nothing to complain about. Where were they when the other candidates were eliminated in last “election”? These sham elections are not democratic because at best, they only allow regime loyalists to participate, thus eliminating any chance of a real democratic election for Iranians. Therefore, there is no democratic alternative available to Iranians.
‐ State Department: “Students have mobilized to demand greater freedoms and to support reform efforts by the Khatami Government, the Majlis, and individuals willing to speak the truth.”
‐ Fact: The Iranian students no longer support reform efforts by Khatami and his government and have repeatedly rejected him. Slogans such as “shame on Khatami” and “Resign Khatami” have been favorite catchphrases in recent demonstrations. The Iranian students are struggling for a secular democratic regime that by its definition cannot include the clerical elements.
In sum, the State Department has used human rights as a tool to promote the reformist faction of the government in order to justify reestablishing relations with the Islamic regime. The so-called hardliners have also started making hollow gestures towards reform. And why shouldn’t they? It works. It does not cost them anything and it makes them competitive with their reformist rivals. (The recent move of the hardliners on banning torture in Iran was well received by the entire world. Nobody noted, however, that the Islamic constitution allows torture under the name of tazir and that this has remained intact.)
We believe that the majority of Iranian people does not recognize the Islamic regime as its elected representative and is determined to change the regime of terror by civil disobedience and nonviolent action. If the Islamic regime claims otherwise, it should take up the challenge of a nationwide referendum monitored by the international human-rights community.
Let’s hope that the State Department and other U.S. institutions will eventually show respect for the freedom movement in Iran by not legitimizing and promoting its enemy, the Islamic regime of Iran.
–Mohammad Parvin is an adjunct professor at the California State University and director of the Mission for Establishing Human Rights in Iran.