The UK government is ‘sitting on the fence’ in response to Iranian protests

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Iranian refugees-turned-activists based in Scotland plead with the UK government to cease the support of Ebrahim Raisi’s theocratic regime.

In October 2022, Conservative MP Sir Iain D. Smith in the House of Commons raised a question of proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.

Supporting the current regime’s brutal response to ongoing protests, the Corps are suspected to be providing money, technology and training to various Iran-aligned groups.

Smith’s notion was based on several events: the US officially designating IRGC a foreign terrorist group in 2019; the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee confirming the organisation meets the proscription criteria under the Terrorism Act 2000 a year later; the recent Mahsa Amini protests.

The former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ cabinet dismissed Smith’s question, arguing the group was already heavily sanctioned and the list of UK proscribed organisations was constantly under review.

For many, this response reinforced their suspicion of the government indirectly supporting Raisi’s regime amid nationwide protests.

“It’s still sitting on the fence,” says Iranian journalist and activist Hamid Bahrami. “I don’t know how to convince the UK government that democratic Iran (would work) in its favour.”

From a videographer to a refugee

Hamid’s affiliation to the regime’s opposition as their videographer landed him in a 4-week solitary confinement prior to his escape to Scotland in 2015. 

Hamid left Iran after receiving a tip from an unknown caller who said he was in danger
Source: Hamid Bahrami

Despite not speaking a word of English, he has managed to obtain a diploma in journalism followed by a degree in international policy.

His motivation was to bring about positive change for those he’d left behind. “I call myself a super realist – when I saw the reality, I started to work with it, to resolve it – I didn’t have any other choice.”

Hamid has been rigorously campaigning to change the UK government’s relationship with Raisi’s regime by meeting MPs and MSPs, writing articles, and setting up petitions.

“Instead of campaigning against asylum seekers who take the risk to save their lives, (we should) campaign against the UK foreign policy,” he says.

“If the regime in Iran changes, the number of those crossing the Channel will reduce by 50%.”

Making change through Instagram

Hamid’s efforts to support the people of Iran from abroad are shared by Parsa Afyoni, a fellow refugee who’s become an Instagram influencer in Scotland.

Originally supporting the regime, he soon realised it was lying to its people, especially when it came to the oil and gas trade with other countries: “They really don’t care about the people.”

He left Iran in 2020 after the death of his twin brother, who had set up Instagram and Telegraph accounts to report on the 2019 cost-of-living crisis.

Voicing opinions which contradicted the regime’s propaganda, Parsa’s brother was arrested numerous times. One day, he didn’t return from the prison.

“Our mother received a call from the police, asking her to pick up her son’s body,” Parsa describes the moments after his twin’s murder. “When it happened, I died too.”

Inspired by his brother, Parsa has set up Iranian Protesters UK – an Instagram account with more than 24, 000 followers that amplifies the voices of those crying for change.

Parsa’s Instagram account connects Iranian people living abroad with protesters in Iran
Source: Instagram Account of Iranian Protesters UK

A political protest for liberal values

Both activists are asking the British government to change what they regard as its indecisive attitude towards Raisi’s regime, which would support the ongoing protests.

Iran has experienced other demonstrations in the past due to food shortages and the cost-of-living crisis. However, Hamid and Parsa believe the current political unrest is more significant than its predecessors.

“I’m so optimistic because it has formed a base for an ideological revolution…It’s about freedom of choice,” adds Hamid.

Along with the protest’s motivation, it is also the face that has changed as it is led by women and young people.

According to Hamid, the reason behind the change is the regime’s “misogynistic” belief stemming from its Islamic doctrine.

The younger generation leading the protests “doesn’t want to hear about religion,” he explains.

Comparing it to the French Revolution’s uprising against the Church, Parsa states that “in Iran, the young people…started protesting against Islam.”

“I think now all Iranian people want the revolution to pass the killer regime,” he adds.

Plea to the UK government

“To bring change in Iran…we need the international community’s support,” says Hamid.

On a national level, the activists are asking Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet to designate the IRGC a terrorist organisation as their presence in the country was confirmed by MI5’s Director General Ken McCallum.

Additionally, they believe Iranian diplomats should be banished, not just summoned and spoken to, which has been the case so far.

When Parsa asked the people in Iran how those abroad could help, they said: “Please, write a letter or a tweet to all governments to stop supporting  the Iranian regime, because when you support it, it kills people.”

The featured images were created by mahdisnikou.

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