Politics & Policy

Repression and Resistance

Urban workers, women, students, teachers, and ethnic minorities against the regime.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution.

Regime change becomes possible when at least the outline of a political alternative becomes visible. Like nature, society abhors a vacuum.

In the case of Iran, that vacuum cannot be filled by the dozen or so groups in exile, although each could have a role in shaping a broad national alternative. What is still needed is an internal political opposition that can act as the nucleus of a future government. The ingredients of such a nucleus exist already. However, such a nucleus cannot be created so long as the fear persists that the United States and its allies might reach an accommodation with the regime and leave Iranian dissidents in the lurch. And that fear has roots in reality. In the years 1999–2000, President Khatami succeeded in splitting the opposition by boasting of the terms of his forthcoming “grand bargain” with President Clinton. His message was ingeniously twofold: the deal would help solve the nation’s economic problems and open the way for less repressive measures in social life and culture, but it would include a stipulation that America would never help opponents of the Khomeinist regime.

#ad#Although, as we have seen, the “grand bargain” came to naught, the message and its implications have not been forgotten. Many in the West believe that because opposition to the Khomeinist regime does not offer a single easily recognizable figurehead it cannot be taken seriously. The American dictum “You cannot beat anybody with nobody” tells it all. Totalitarian regimes, however, do not allow opponents to produce such figures. An opposition leader who begins to look menacing is imprisoned, forced into exile, or murdered. During Khatami’s presidency, the nationalist leader Dariush Foruhar, once a cabinet minister under Khomeini, began to look menacing to the regime. In 2001, the regime decided that it was time to stop him. A hit squad was sent to his home in Tehran to murder him and his wife by chopping off their heads, a message to all that under the mullahs no one would be safe. Scores of other men and women who appeared to be emerging as opposition leaders at the local or national level have been eliminated by Khomeinist hit squads in various parts of the country. The regime has also used murder as a weapon against its opponents abroad. As soon as someone looked like a potential leader, a murder squad was sent to eliminate him. This is why the Iranian opposition, rather than promoting a single “somebody” who would beat the regime, has produced a number of leading figures at different levels and in different fields. Since the mid-1990s, the most active opposition to the regime has come from urban workers, women, students, teachers, and ethnic minorities. Each of these groups has produced leaders of their own — individuals who enjoy audiences beyond their social stratum.

Leading the opposition to Khomeinism since the late 1990s are Iran’s urban workers, who had once supported the revolution. Symbolising this new and growing movement is a man some Western commentators have called “the Iranian Lech Walesa,” after the Polish trade unionist who helped bring down the Communist empire. The mullahs ruling Iran, however, regard him as “a dangerous enemy of Islam.” The man himself — Mansoor Osanloo, a fifty-year-old leader of one of the many illegal trade unions that have sprung up in Iran in the last few years — shies away from both sobriquets. “We do not have a political agenda,” he says. “All we are asking is for Iranian workers to be treated as free human beings, not as slaves.”

Osanloo first made his name in 2004 when, along with fourteen fellow workers, he created the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran United Bus Company. Within weeks, most employees of the company — which is owned by the Tehran municipality and controlled by the Interior Ministry — had joined the new union. That left the so-called Islamic Workers’ Council, a regime-sponsored organ imposed in many industries as an ersatz union, exposed and isolated. Workers across the country soon emulated the Tehran example. On May Day, more than four hundred free trade unions, boasting a membership of millions, raised their banners in the capital. Osanloo and his colleagues were among the founders of the Workers’ Organizations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC), which is emerging as the principal voice of wage earners — especially in the public sector, which accounts for more than 70 percent of Iran’s economy. The emergence of independent unions has meant the demise of “Islamic councils” in many workplaces and the virtual death of the so-called Workers’ House set up by the mullahs to control labor. Free unions have chased away hundreds of mullahs who headed the Islamic councils, often enjoying high salaries and perks.

Osanloo was first jailed in 2005, after his union launched an original form of labor action: Tehran bus workers announced free rides for all comers. When the authorities sent in armed security men, the workers went on strike — bringing Tehran, a city of twelve million inhabitants, to a virtual halt. The regime then tried terror and intimidation. A group of three hundred members of the Iranian branch of Hezbollah, armed with clubs and knives, attacked Osanloo and his colleagues and beat up their families, including small children. Osanloo suffered knife wounds, including a deep cut in his tongue, inflicted by a Hezbollah member who had vowed to “silence the enemy of Islam.” A partial return to work was soon interrupted when bus drivers refused to implement a new rule under which women passengers were confined to back seats — which in practice meant that more than 80 percent of the seats in Tehran’s double-decker buses were reserved for men.

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Anxious to prevent a prolonged strike, the authorities released Osanloo eight months later, only to rearrest him, again without charge.

In February 2007, he was presented at a one-day trial held in camera. “They had a file against me running to 1,300 dense pages,” Osanloo said later. “I wonder how the judge could go through all that in a single day.” Released from prison in March on a bail of $325,000 (a huge fortune in the Islamic Republic), Osanloo was allowed to travel to London and Brussels to address the annual conferences of the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Trade Unions Conference. Having spent almost a year in Tehran’s dreaded Evin Prison — known as the “Islamic Alcatraz” — on two occasions, Osanloo knew that he risked being rearrested and jailed on his return to Tehran. But if the authorities hoped that allowing him to visit abroad might tempt him to stay in exile, they were disappointed. He had no intention of throwing in the towel.

“We are at the start of a long struggle,” he said in an interview in Brussels. “We are fighting for what is a basic human right: the right of workers to organize themselves in free and independent trade unions and negotiate conditions under which they accept employment.” The current administration in the Islamic Republic considers such talk “dangerous for the faith and the state.”

#ad#The avalanche loosed by the Tehran transport workers in 2004 has continued with hundreds of strikes, sit-ins, and other industrial actions throughout Iran. Over the past three years an estimated 2.2 million workers have gone on strike for varying lengths of time in a range of industries, from textile factories in the Caspian region to sugar plantations in the southwest province of Khuzestan. The strike by sugar plantation workers lasted over a year and was eventually quelled in a military operation launched by the Baseej (the revolutionary militia) and strike-breakers hired by the regime. “Iranian workers are discovering their power,” Osanloo said in Brussels and London. “The authorities would be wise to acknowledge that power and address the legitimate grievances of workers. At present, however, there is no sign that this is the case.”

Osanloo was abducted on a Tehran street in July 2007; the regime denied any knowledge of the incident. It took the authorities more than a month to admit that the trade union hero was under arrest, facing charges of “treason against Islam.” In a message smuggled out of his prison in April 2008, Osanloo called on Iranian workers to march during Labor Day on May 1 and appealed to “working people everywhere to oppose efforts to crush the independent trade union movement in Iran.” As usual, the regime responded with repression. The crackdown in 2007 had not produced the desired results. According to the Workers’ Organizations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC), over six hundred labor leaders were arrested or “made to disappear” in a crackdown against independent trade unions during April. A further 4,500 workers have been dismissed, often without pay, on vague charges of “fomenting unrest” in a number of state-owned building projects. The largest number of arrests were made during the May Day marches organized by independent trade unions in defiance of the state-sponsored ceremonies.

The May Day marchers carried portraits of Osanloo and another leading trade unionist, Mahmoud Salehi, leader of the Union of Bakery Workers in Sanandaj, the capital of Iranian Kurdistan. Salehi was picked up on April 9, 2007, when security men raided his home, beat up his family, and carried him to an unknown destination. He has never been formally charged, while rumors about his alleged misdeeds are spread through the state-controlled media. According to these patently absurd rumors, Salehi is a member of the Kurdish Communist Party (Komalah), is seeking to detach the province from Iran, and at the same time is working with the United States to bring “Jewish-Crusader democracy” to Iran. Branding Salehi a Communist, while Osanloo is known as a center-right democrat, is clearly designed to create a split in the workers’ movement. As part of the crackdown under Ahmadinejad, the regime has closed four weeklies that reflected the view of the workers and shut down the Iran Labor News Agency, an independent service covering the free trade union movement. In April 2008, they also arrested a number of WOACC militants, including six members of the executive board of the Tehran bus drivers’ syndicate.

Despite the repressive measures, the labor movement seems to be picking up momentum. A group of WOACC leaders has written to the director general of the International Labor Organization, Juan Somavia, calling for an international committee of enquiry to investigate the repression of the Iranian workers’ movement. The good news is that Western trade unionists are beginning to pay attention to the struggle of their fellow workers in Iran. Several European trade unions have already called for Salehi, Osanloo, and other Iranian trade unionists to be released. In 2008, the AFL‑CIO began to take an interest in the Iranian labor movement by hiring a researcher to monitor the situation. Even the Western media, often silent on crimes committed by the regime during this three-decade-long “Persian Night,” have started to pay attention to the new popular resistance movement in Iran. The Western left, however, has remained indifferent or hostile. To American leftists, opposing the Khomeinist regime, described by Chomsky as “mass based,” is tantamount to collaboration with U.S. “imperialism.” regime echoes this view by branding trade unionists as “an American fifth column” and, in the words of the mullah Dorri Najaf-Abadi, the prosecutor general of the Islamic Republic, “the most dangerous enemies of our Islamic system.”

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Repression, however, has not succeeded in crushing the Iranian workers’ movement. In 2007 and 2008, free trade unionists organized fifty-one major strikes and over a hundred demonstrations in various parts of the country. They showed their muscle on International Labor Day in both 2007 and 2008, when tens of thousands of workers marched in Tehran and eighteen provincial capitals. The regime retaliated by arresting scores of trade unionists and expelling many others. According to Rajab-Ali Shahsavari, leader of the Union of Contractual Workers, 25,795 unionists were arrested in the first four months of 2007 alone. He estimated that over one thousand workers were losing their jobs each day, as the regime intensified its crackdown. Worse still, the number of suspicious deaths among workers has risen to an all-time high. According to the deputy labor minister Ibrahim Nazari-Jalali, 1,047 workers have died in “work-related accidents” in 2007. Labor sources, however, point out that none of the accidents was investigated, and in at least thirteen cases the workers who died may have been killed by goons hired by the regime. Repression and lack of jobs have forced many Iranian workers to flee the country, mainly headed for Persian Gulf states in search of work and a minimum of freedom. Often these would-be immigrants face death or imprisonment. In 2008, Kuwait alone was arresting an average of one thousand Iranian illegal immigrants each month. Not all those who flee the Khomeinist tyranny are manual workers. According to the International Monetary Fund, more than 150,000 highly educated members of the Iranian middle class flee the country each year, creating “the biggest recorded brain drain in history.”

#ad#Fighting the regime alongside industrial workers are Iran’s estimated 600,000 teachers, who have also set up a number of independent trade unions and chased away mullahs appointed by the regime to “guide” them. The teachers first flexed their muscles in 2006 when they succeeded in shutting thousands of schools across the nation in a strike over pay and conditions. By 2007, however, the movement had assumed distinctly political features. In meeting after meeting, protesting teachers called for an end to “mass brainwashing of our children in the name of Islam” and insisted that textbooks be written by professionals rather than government propagandists. They also condemned the government for forcing schoolchildren to interrupt their classes to attend revolutionary rallies and other manifestations of support for the regime. In June 2006, nine independent teachers’ unions brought together over 100,000 people for a march on the building that houses the Islamic parliament. The regime, having deployed a large force of police and Khomeinist thugs armed with knives and clubs, decided not to try interrupting the demonstrations. This was the first major sign that Khomeinism, a master of street politics, could be challenged even on its preferred terrain. Women teachers have also campaigned for permission for schoolgirls not to wear the mandatory hijab inside the school building. Although less advanced than the workers’ movement on its way to ultimate politicization, the teachers’ movement has been assuming a greater political coloring since 2006.

Women’s organizations and feminist activists are also in the vanguard of the fight against Khomeinism. In a traditional society where male domination is regarded as the natural order of things, many brave women have achieved almost cult status as fighters for freedom and equality. Pari Ardalan, Zohreh Shoja’ee, Shahla Sherkat, and Mehrangiz Kar are just a few examples. Even some Khomeinist women such as former Islamic parliamentarians Jamileh Kadivar and Elaheh Koulai, disillusioned with the regime, have tried to atone for political sins by joining the women’s struggle for equality. For almost thirty years the regime has waged a persistent campaign against women activists. Women’s magazines such as Zanan (“Women”) and Khanevadeh (“Family”) have been forced to close, while hundreds of women activists have been sentenced to prison terms of between a few months and fifteen years for alleged anti-state activities. The regime has also tried, and failed, to prevent the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8. Instead it has proposed its own Women’s Day on December 16, which is supposed to mark the birthday of Fatima, Muhammad’s only daughter. However, the move has drawn opposition even from some mullahs who claim that Islamic events cannot be fixed once and for all according to the Iranian and Gregorian solar calendars. Islam’s calendar is lunar, which means that Fatima’s birthday could not be fixed on December 16.

In 2007, several women’s organizations launched a campaign to collect one million signatures for a petition calling for an end to inequality. In a statement on March 7, 2006, the Organization for Women’s Liberation, one of the many groups fighting Khomeinism, had made it clear that Iranian women would not be satisfied with cosmetic changes. They were demanding major reforms that, if implemented, could undermine the ideological foundations of the Khomeinist system.

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The statement reads in part:

The movement for women’s liberation is, at the present time, the flagship of No to Inequality, to Discrimination, to Sexual Apartheid, to the Veil, and is the flagship of defense of Women’s Rights against Cultural Relativism, defense of Secularism and struggle against Political Islam. With its clear platform of action this movement is being organized and led. The progressive movement for women’s liberation has, through its activities and influence in many protests, succeeded in pushing back and defeating the Islamic regime’s attacks against women. The presence of a radical women’s movement is an undeniable reality in Iran.

The statement adds:

The measure of society’s freedom is the freedom of women. To achieve freedom we must overthrow the medieval Islamic rule. So long as this regime is ruling, women and society will not be free. The struggle for women’s freedom is part of the general struggle for freedom, equality, and welfare.

#ad#That the regime is incapable of delivering even on its promises of limited reform is illustrated by the case of the Lapidation Act, concerning stoning to death. In 2002, President Khatami, bowing to pressure from women’s organizations, declared a moratorium on this barbarous practice. The more radical Khomeinist mullahs, however, reacted by issuing even more fatwas sentencing women accused of sexual intercourse outside marriage to death by stoning in public. Between 2003 and 2005, the number of such cases more than doubled as thirty-two women were stoned to death. The self-styled reformist president rubbed his hands together in mock despair. He could do nothing against fatwas that overruled the authority even of a self-styled Islamic state. The precedent was Khomeini’s fatwa for the murder of Salman Rushdie. If that fatwa could not be revoked, no fatwa could. This situation could lead to total lawlessness in which any mullah could decide to sentence anyone to death on any charge.

While workers and women are engaged in a deep and long struggle against the fascist regime, the most visible opposition to Khomeinism has come from university students. In July 1999, thousands of Tehran University students revolted against the regime with cries of “Down with the Dictator” and “Freedom of Thought, always, always!” The movement quickly spread to the provinces and within a week had mobilized more than a million students. A photo of Ahmad Batebi, one of the leaders of the movement in Tehran, wearing a bloodstained T‑shirt and holding a poster calling for freedom, made the rounds all over the world, prompting comments that Iran was on the verge of a “second revolution.” As the movement gathered momentum, other opposition groups watched and waited for the right moment to join.

They waited too long. The regime, badly shaken at first and divided between those who urged immediate repression and those who counseled accommodation, pulled itself together and reacted with terror and bloody repression. Thousands of hired thugs from Hezballah were brought in to occupy the Tehran University campus, while special units of the Baseej, led by General Qalibaf, beat and arrested the protestors. Four students died and hundreds more were injured. Over three thousand others were arrested. In September, an Islamic kangaroo court sentenced six student leaders to death, among them Batebi and Manuchehr Mohammadi. The crackdown came after Khatami, who had initially hesitated, realized that the movement was targeting the very heart of the regime. The students were openly calling for a secular system based on a separation of mosque and state. They were calling on the mullahs to return to their mosques and seminaries, allowing the people to form a democratic government representing the nation’s rich diversity. Khatami joined the crackdown after he was told that further hesitation could lead to direct intervention by the IRGC and possibly his own arrest. The uprising and the repression that followed killed all hopes of “change from within,” known as estehaleh in Persian, and thus effectively ended Khatami’s presidency. As one student leader, Akbar Mohammadi, was to observe a few months later, the regime had shown that it was incapable of reform. “We started the movement with the conviction that we were supporting efforts for reforming the system without changing it,” he said. “When the movement was crushed and we were in prison, we realized that the only way that Iran could see real change was overthrowing the regime.”

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Although calm was restored on the campus, the events of the summer of 1999 marked a major defeat for the regime, as it lost its image as the expression of a revolution and acquired a new one as an arbitrary power sustained by repression. Since 1999, Iran has witnessed countless student demonstrations and protests. In hundreds of resolutions passed during mass gatherings, students have challenged virtually every aspect of the Khomeinist ideology and the regime’s domestic and foreign policies. One typical resolution passed repeatedly states that the people of Iran do not desire the destruction of Israel and do seek close and friendly relations with the United States. Every year in July, students mark the anniversary of the 1999 events. On October 8, 2007, students in Tehran greeted Ahmadinejad with cries of “Down with the Dictator” and “Forget about Palestine! Think about Us,” forcing him to run away briefly with the help of his bodyguards. March 8, 2008, students marched in some twenty cities across the nation calling for an end to “gender apartheid.” This was in reaction to a decision by Ahmadinejad to put men and women students in separate classrooms. Under this scheme, the teacher will be physically present only in the male students’ classroom, while female students in another room will follow the lecture on closed-circuit television. Female students who have questions will write them and fax them to the teacher from their separate classroom. Even Khomeini had not dared impose such a system of apartheid on Iranian universities. Khamenehi and Ahmadinejad, however, are persuaded that strict separation of the sexes is a precondition for the return of the Hidden Imam.

#ad#The student movement remains a potentially major threat to the regime. Despite the massive purges conducted under Ahmadinejad, accompanied by the entry of thousands of handpicked Khomeinist young men and women exempted from the rigorous entrance examinations because of their loyalty to the regime, the student community remains overwhelmingly hostile to the system. Ahmadinejad’s purge of academic personnel has led to the expulsion of hundreds of antifascist lecturers, professors, and deans; yet it is safe to say that a majority of the teaching staff of universities sympathize with the broad aims of the student movement. While it enjoys immense support among young Iranians as a whole, the student movement on its own cannot bring about regime change. One reason is that the students, while united in rejecting Khomeinism, are divided when it comes to a successor. Here we find the entire spectrum of Iranian political opinion, from monarchist and nationalist to social-democratic, socialist, communist, even anarchist.

By all accounts, the generation born and raised after the revolution is the most indifferent, not to say hostile, to the Khomeinist discourse. Young Iranians — in contact with the outside world thanks to satellite TV, the Internet, and travels to Persian Gulf emirates — clearly wish to be part of what they regard as a world of many promises. The popularity of some pre-revolutionary pop stars such as Gugush and Dariush, and the growing audience for Western-style popular music from beat to rap, show that Iranian youth are creating their own space of freedom beyond state control. This is also reflected in the way young Iranians dress. Things are harder for girls because they are forced to wear the hijab and the accursed manto in all seasons, yet they still manage to dress in ways that manifest their dislike of the regime. A colorful headscarf worn loosely to let a wild strand of hair fall into view and tight trousers in bright tones to attenuate the somberness of the manto do the trick, much to the chagrin of the fascist morality police. Sports occasions, especially soccer matches, also provide young Iranians with an opportunity to display their hatred of fascism while celebrating their favorite sport. Each time there is a major soccer match, the regime is compelled to deploy paramilitary units to prevent the crowds from translating their love of sport into a show of hatred for Khomeinism. In a report prepared for the interior minister, Mullah Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, in October 2007, a group of Tehran social researchers warned that “growing segments of our youth are disconnected with the ideals of our revolution and the teachings of Islam.” The report also showed that less than 5 percent of young people watched religious and/or political programs on the state-owned television networks.

Opposition to the regime and its Islamic-fascist ideology also comes from thousands of nongovernmental organizations active in all walks of life. Offering medical, educational, and cultural services to the community, these NGOs not only fill gaps left by the state but also provide an alternative space in which Iranians can meet and work together away from the hysterical atmosphere of government organs. These NGOs honor the writers and poets banned by the state, and look after those parts of the national cultural heritage neglected by the Khomeinists because of their pre-Islamic origin. Some NGOs also help the families of political prisoners and other victims of repression, whose numbers run into the millions. Families of political prisoners and the “disappeared” — dissidents abducted by the regime and never heard of again — are often in the vanguard of demonstrations against Khomeinism and for freedom and democracy.

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Although at war against the Iranian people as a whole, Khomeinism is even more hostile to Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities. Jews, Baha’is, and Sunni Muslims have always been hated because these faiths offer spaces in which their adepts can build a moral and even physical alternative to the public space controlled by the Khomeinists. A totalitarian regime cannot tolerate the existence of any space where it does not enjoy full control. In recent years, the regime has developed a hostile attitude towards Christians and Zoroastrians as well, communities that had hitherto enjoyed slightly better treatment than Jews, Baha’is, and Sunnis. The reason is that a growing number of Iranians, especially the young, are converting to Zoroastrianism or Christianity. The authorities claim that this surge in conversions is due to the activities of evangelical missions dispatched by American Christian churches, and some Zoroastrian organizations in India, Europe, and the United States, to tempt young Iranians with promises of easy immigration and good jobs abroad. However, there is little doubt that many young Iranians, repulsed by the image of Islam as presented by the fascists, are shopping around for a faith with which they might feel more comfortable. In 2002, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security ordered all Christian churches to close their doors outside specially approved masses, and make sure that those who attended the mass were “Christians of long-standing well-known to their community.” The ministry also arranged for special agents to be present at all church ceremonies. Instantly recognizable by their look and attitude, these agents sit in the back pews and are referred to as “the cockroaches of the end.” Their task is to make sure that no criticism of the regime is aired in church and, above all, that no Muslim apostates are admitted. 

#ad#The regime’s fear of a mass conversion of young people to Christianity was first aired under Khatami, who ordered the drafting of a law to deal with change of religion or apostasy. Before the revolution, there was no mechanism for preventing individuals or even whole groups from switching to another religion. The Khatami administration tried to fill the gap with a draft law completed in 2005. At the time, lawyers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that a law on apostasy would run counter to Iran’s commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international obligations. The presentation of the text was delayed until after the presidential election that produced Ahmadinejad’s victory. Nevertheless, a crackdown was started without any legal basis and hundreds of Muslim converts to Christianity had their homes raided and then were imprisoned on charges relating to espionage. Many Christian converts were held for weeks and were physically and psychologically mistreated. Astronomical bails were required for their release.

Forbidden to spread their faith and even to attend church, these converts created a new institution known as Kelisa-Khaneh or “house church,” turning their homes into places of worship and religious study. According to Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, a charity that supports converts in the Middle East, Iranian authorities “are recognizing that there’s a mushrooming house church movement going on in Iran . . . This indigenous house church movement doubles in size every six months. So the rate of growth is actually stunning.” Calling Iranians to Christianity is facilitated by the fact that in Persian literature, Jesus Christ is easily the most popular figure associated with religion.

In January 2008, Ahmadinejad vowed to “root out this new Christianity” in Iran. Soon he presented a draft law to the Islamic Majlis based on the text prepared by Khatami, but adding tougher punishments for apostates. The new text describes the act of abandoning Islam, whether for the purpose of converting to another religion or simply living with no religion at all, as “a crime against the security of the Islamic state.” Those found guilty of apostasy would become “Corrupters on Earth” (Mufsed fil Ardh) and thus punishable by the Islamic hadd (limit), which means capital punishment. By June 2008, the text had not yet been enacted into law, and there was a chance that it would not be, as the new Majlis elected in March was not bound to adopt the legislative program set by Ahmadinejad for the previous parliament. If adopted, the text under its Article 112 could expose anyone, whether of Iranian origin or not, who abandons Islam anywhere in the world to death fatwas issued from Tehran. Anyone born even with a single Muslim parent, grandparent or ancestor is automatically considered as Muslim and forbidden to change his or her faith. The proposed law also creates a new crime under the title “Insulting the Prophet” (Sibb al-Nabi), which would also be punishable by death. This law would officially sentence Rushdie to death once again, along with the Danish cartoonists of Prophet Muhammad. The new draft is especially dangerous for Baha’is of Iranian origin because all of them have had Muslim grandparents or ancestors.

In June 2008, over thirty Iranians, including a pregnant woman, were in prison on charges of apostasy, according to human rights groups. Of special concern to the Khomeinists is the fact that conversion to Christianity and Zoroastrianism does not appear to be a middle-class, urban phenomenon. The four hundred or so individuals arrested on such a charge and then released came from all over the country, including small towns and villages.

– Amir Taheri is an Iranian-born journalist based in Europe, and author of The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution.

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