I feel more hope for Iran than at any time in the past 40 years — and more fear too. The regime assumed that brute force would crush the protests that have multiplied since the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, but instead of backing down, people from all walks of life have joined Iranian women in the streets.
As the regime’s hold on the country slips, its barbarism has increased. Tens of thousands have been detained. Hundreds have been killed, including at least 60 children. After the gruesome public hanging of Majidreza Rahnavard this month, scores more demonstrators could face imminent execution.
The families of those who have disappeared into Iran’s prisons fear the worst. Many know first-hand how the regime treats its prisoners. When I was arrested for protesting against Iran’s gender apartheid in 1982, I was tortured so badly I was left paralysed for three weeks. Eventually, I escaped Iran and found sanctuary in the UK. Thousands of those I was imprisoned with were not so lucky.
In the face of such brutality, the solidarity shown by Iranians is humbling. In the city of Javanrud, bakeries are distributing free bread to protesters. Across western Iran, an underground network has developed, smuggling blood and medical supplies to wounded protesters. In the diaspora, hundreds of thousands have flooded the streets in cities from London to Los Angeles, showing their support.
Last month, the British government told the UN that “the UK stands with the people of Iran”. But those who have been forced to flee for their lives are yet to witness this solidarity in action. Newly released government statistics show Iranians to be among the top three nationalities seeking asylum in Britain. Like me, many have experienced torture; Iranians are also among the nationalities most frequently referred for treatment to Freedom from Torture, the charity that helped me when I arrived in this country. But rather than being welcomed with kindness, they are threatened with instant deportation for daring to ask for asylum.
At the same time, the Iranian embassy in London remains open and regime acolytes continue to operate in the UK. Last month, The Times revealed that over £100,000 was paid by the UK to Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal representative through the taxpayer-funded coronavirus furlough scheme.
If the government is serious about supporting Iran’s uprising, it should crack down on the regime’s activities in Britain and send Iranian diplomats home. But most importantly it should treat Iranians fleeing for their lives with compassion and support them to rebuild their lives in this country.
Nasrin Parvaz is an Iranian women’s rights activist and torture survivor
Source: The Times