Some rare good news is reported from Iran, where a reform of the country's drug laws may save the lives of thousands now on death row. Some 5,000 people are currently awaiting execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic, and all of them could now have their sentences reviewed, according to the New York Times. The move, part of a legal reform in the works since 2016, is aimed at reducing the number of executions in the country. Iran has seen ghastly mass executions of drug convicts in recent years, driving a spike in hangings that has appalled human rights groups. Iran saw 1,000 executions last year—making it second only to China, which keeps its stats on use of the death penalty secret.
Protests against austerity and the lords of capital are erupting simultaneously in Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, China, Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, recalling the international protest wave of 2011. Such moments open windows of utopian possibility, but those windows inevitably seem to close as protest movements are manipulated by Great Power intrigues or derailed into ethnic or sectarian scapegoating. What can we do to keep the revolutionary flame alive, build solidarity across borders, and resist the exploitation and diversion of protest movements? Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode 1 of the long-awaited CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
We, the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists, support the popular protests in Iran and call on progressives in the region and throughout the world to stand in solidarity with them as well. We believe it is an absolute necessity to build regional and global solidarity with anti-authoritarian struggles for democracy, social justice and equality, and to oppose patriarchy, racism, sectarian or homophobic discrimination and prejudice. We hope that the current protests in Iran will force the Iranian regime to withdraw its military and financial support for the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and to end its reactionary interventions in the region. We also hope that the efforts by some elements to inject anti-Arab chauvinism into the movement will be rejected in order to reach out to grassroots struggles across the region. Solidarity with the popular protests in Iran!
A wave of protests across Iranian cities began as a response to inflation and economic pain, but shows signs of escalating to a popular repudiation of clerical rule. Spontaneous protests first broke out Dec. 28 in the northeast city of Mashhad, where security forces responded with tear-gas and water cannons. Since then, protests have been reported from Kermanshah and Hamadan in the west, Rasht and Sari in the north, Ahvaz in the southwest, and Qom and Isfahan in central Iran. Arrests are also reported from the capital, Tehran, where a group of demonstrators attempted to occupy a public square. Protests began with the slogan "Death to high prices!" But as repression mounted, demonstrators began chanting "Death to the dictator," in apparent reference to President Hassan Rouhani and the ruling mullahs.
ISIS claimed responsibility for simultaneous attacks on Iran's Majlis (parliament) and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 7, through a statement from the official Islamic State news agency Amaq. At least 12 are reported dead at the Majlis, and several wounded at the mausoleum. Reports indicate four gunmen, disguised as women, entered the visitors' hall of the Majlis building and opened fire, while a suicide-bomber pre-positioned inside the building blew himself up. Two other suicide-bombers meanwhile detonated at the Khomeini shrine. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards accused Saudi Arabia and the US of being behind the attacks. "This terrorist action, coming one week after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of one of the region's reactionary governments...shows they are involved in this savage action," it said in a statement.
Iran's intelligence agency, Ettela'at, has banned publication of a Kurdish language instruction book. The book's authors, in Razawe Khorasan province, report that they have faced threats from the province's security forces—along with the publisher, sellers and readers. The book, Nivisin u Xwendina: Kurdiya Kurmanci, which translates as Reading and Writing: Kurdish Kurmanji, was written by four authors—named as Ebas Ismaeli, Mohammed Taqawi, Mehdi Jaafarzada, and Jawad Aliniya—in the Kurdish dialect of Kurmanji using the Latin alphabet. It was approved for publication last year, but authorities apparently moved to suppress it due to use of the Latin alphabet, which provincial officials said is used by “terrorist groups” and not to the benefit of the Islamic Republic.
Iran's long-dormant militant group, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), was blamed for a hit-and-run attack on security forces that left two Border Guards dead near the city of Urmieh (also rendered Urmiya) on May 28. Commander of the Iranian Border Guards, Qassem Rezayee, responded by warning Turkey to take measures against the movement of "terrorist" groups along the frontier. He said that Iranian authorities "consider Turkey responsible, and the country should account for this act.... The Iranian forces will certainly give a crushing response to these moves." Iran's Foreign Ministry has also lodged a protest with Turkey over the incident. Turkey recently started construction of a security wall on its border with Iran to prevent infiration of Kurdish militants. (Press TV, May 29; Xinhua, Kurdistan24, May 28; Kurdistan24, May 14)
As the votes came in on Iran's May 19 elections, populist hardliner Ebrahim Raeesi reluctantly accepted incumbent president Hassan Rouhani's 57% victory, after a bitter campaign. The rhetoric was so heated that a week before the poll, Rouhani even challenged Raeesi, a sitting judge, to issue an arrest warrant for him. Media organizations affiliated with Iran's hardliners, like Tasnim and Fars, went to bat for Raeesi, publishing rumors about the death of Rouhani's son 20 years ago, alleging the apparent suicide was carried out with the father's personal firearm and calling for a new investigation. Meanwhile, Basiji pro-regime militia forces (which played a critical role in violence following the disputed 2009 elections) attacked a number of Rouhani campaign offices in Tehran, Mashhad, Qazvin, Babolsar and Isfahan.