Have you heard the one about Iran?

One of the stories the Anglo-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi tells is how Iran once sent hit men all the way to west London to murder her father, the poet Hadi Khorsandi. Thankfully they were bunglers and 25 years later Shappi plays it for laughs. Well, I’ve heard her tell the tale, and it’s actually one of those amusing-but-deadly-serious affairs. Typical Brit behaviour, keeping a serious topic light.

Shappi’s family are refugees from the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago (she’s good, by the way, on late 70s/early 80s atmospherics, her Iranian family’s incredulity at seeing mohican’d London punks on the Tube, that kind of thing) and the striking thing to me is: how 30 years later Iran still hunts people down across the globe, Salman Rushdie style.

Just this past week there have been reports of Iranian government agents hissing sinister threats to Iranian refugees in countries as far apart as Turkey and Britain (listen to the interview with an Iranian journalist temporarily exiled to London on iPlayer at the 15min-point). The fall-out from the June election protests has been huge in this sense and no-one appears to be safe, no matter who they are or how far they’ve gone to escape danger. In Iran itself, six months on from the election, the situation is still dire – see Amnesty’s new report for a comprehensive and suitably depressing account of this. Skimming the report’s findings I’m struck by the sadistic excess of the repression. Countless protestors have been horribly tortured in detention, and rape against women and men seems to have been common practice. (I know I work at Amnesty and am supposed to be inured to this, but still…)

And the cards have been totally stacked against the victims. One guy, a 24-year-old student from Tehran called Ebrahim Sharifi, endured a week of torture, including rape and mock executions, and when he tried to file a judicial complaint the case judge replied: ”Maybe you took money [to say this]… [and] if you go through with this, you will surely pay for it in Hell”.  Naively you almost want to ask why are the authorities doing all this? A tempting answer, somehow, is that it’s the revenge of the old guard against a new, younger generation – the “green” wave of V-sign-bearing, Facebook-savvy students who fill the streets. I’m sure there’s some truth in this. Equally, as I said in a post back in June, there’s certainly appears to be a socio-economic dimension (Ahmadinejad supporters, especially in rural areas, being poorer than middle class, urban protestors).  But this is too simple. Plenty of the Basij militia are young, as are the notoriously violent and reactionary Revolutionary Guards. And they’re presumably Tehran urbanites just like many of the protestors. It’s not a battle of the generations and it’s not really about class war or town v. country. Or rather, it’s all of these but a lot more, and a 30-year-long disdain for basic human rights and the rule of law  underlies most of the abuses we’ve seen in this tumultuous and terrifying year for Iran. I’ve no idea what the long-term solution is, except to keep telling it like it is. What do you think, Shappi?

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