Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Amir Fakhravar, an Iranian writer, student leader and former political prisoner. Currently he serves as president of the “Iranian Freedom Institute” and is Secretary General of “Confederation of Iranian Students.”
FP: Amir Fakhravar, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about where the freedom movement stands in Iran today.
Let’s start with you telling us a bit about your background and how and why you ended up being a student leader.
Fakhravar: Thank you Jamie for having me here. Let me start by giving you a little background on the atmosphere in the universities in Iran in 1994 when I was a medical student. To combat student protests after the 1979 Revolution, a Supreme Cultural Revolution council was formed that closed the universities for 4 years (1980 to 1984) and after reopening purged thousands of students and professors, with an unknown number of them killed and imprisoned, and banned all student organizations except Tahkime Vahdat (a pro-Khomeini organization). For the following ten years, an ominous aura of fear dominated the campuses in Iran.
I had formed a theatrical group on campus that year because all other sorts of student organizations were prohibited. On December 7, 1994, we held a conference in conjunction with the department of cultural activities of the Urmia Medical School entitled “A study of the impediments to student participation in political activities.”
Nobody else volunteered to speak, so I went first. During that speech, I asked,
“How is it that during the reign of Reza Shah, a dictator by your account, a penniless cleric could enter the parliament and declare that he had the power to depose of the first person in the country but today can we cannot utter the mildest criticism against the two hundredth person in the country?”
I added that I was aware that with this speech I could be arrested and that is exactly what happened. I was 19 years old at the time and this was just one of a series of arrests.
FP: Can you talk a bit about your imprisonment? I apologize very much for asking about such painful things.
Fakhravar: Probably the worst days of my imprisonments were the ones in solitary confinement. But oddly enough, it was during that period that I re-evaluated everything: my religious beliefs, my purpose in life and my vision for the future.
My later speeches on campus, my repeated arrests and my tenacity earned me a reputation within the student body and, in time, I formed the “Independent Student Movement.” The Student Uprisings of July 9, 1999 was the biggest protest to challenge the Islamic Republic. Although I was arrested again, along with other student leaders and activists, and endured the longest prison term up to that date, this was a pivotal point in the Islamic Republic’s history. This was the first time that the regime felt threatened and it was also the first that the Iranian people realized it was possible to challenge the Islamic Republic.
FP: What is the state of the Iranian Green Revolution a year after?
Fakhravar: Last year, millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the fraudulent election of Ahmadinejad and shocked the leaders of the Islamic Republic. For the first time, ordinary citizens and world leaders alike witnessed in plain view the divide between the Iranian people and their government.
Fearing his own demise, the Supreme leader responded by unleashing his thugs to arrest, torture, and murder enough people to crush the protests. His solution to quell the protests had two results. One, the Iranian people’s demands extended far beyond their votes being counted. Now, they were content with nothing less than a regime change and were willing to pay the price. Two, a powerful symbol for this movement was created by the murderous hands of this regime: Neda.
Every important date, such as Ashura, thereafter became a nightmare for the regime. Their armed forces had to occupy all the major streets and intersections in the major cities of Iran. Their crimes against unarmed Iranians became more and more heinous- running over people with cars on the streets, horrific sexual crimes against prisoners and so on.
A year later, contrary to what some analysts predicted, the Green Revolution has endured victoriously. It has evolved from its infancy to a purposeful and experienced movement that is planning for the right moment to inflict a final blow to this regime. The footage of scattered protests on this day does not show the strength of this movement. But you can clearly see it in the vast presence of the police forces, Revolutionary Guards and plain clothed Basiji forces in an undeclared martial law in Tehran and other major cities.
As the Green Movement gains strength, the Islamic Republic grows weaker. Its bewildered leaders have inflicted every possible atrocity on the Iranian people to no avail. They will soon realize that every murder, every torture and every arrest has only strengthened the Iranian people’s resolve to abolish this illegitimate and criminal regime and to replace it with a free, secular and democratic government.
FP: What is the best way for the West to fight the Iranian regime?
Fakhravar: I think that oil sanctions are the only sanctions that will harm the Islamic Republic and not ordinary Iranians. Prolonged sanctions of any kind have never been effective and have always harmed ordinary citizens. Sanctions should be paralyzing and the results must be quick. In the case of the Islamic Republic, this can only mean targeting Iran’s oil industry.
Oil sanctions will paralyze the Islamic Republic because the sale of oil is 80 to 90 percent of Iran’s export revenues. The results will be quick because the Islamic Republic cannot sustain the armed forces that keep it in power without this revenue
FP: Before we conclude, tell us a bit about the role of VOA Persian service to support Freedom and Democracy in Iran.
Fakhravar: VOA Persian has been broadcasting its programs to Iran for the past 30 years. Up to now, it has been a source for news and programs that have done more damage than good towards the principles that are supposed to govern it — representing America and covering the news accurately, objectively and comprehensively.
VOA can be tremendously effective in supporting the Green Movement and the cause of democracy in Iran. In representing America, it can educate ordinary Iranians how modern democracies work and familiarize them with the inner workings of the U.S. system of government. It can also report comprehensively all the efforts made by Iranians and non-Iranians outside Iran in support of their movement. These and many other helpful programs can help give Iranians the confidence and optimism they need to speed up their movement.
I am hopeful that with the new management at VOA Persian, a new direction will be taken and I know that members in both the House and Senate are closely monitoring this progress.
FP: Amir Fakhravar, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. It is an honor for me to speak with such a brave and heroic freedom fighter. I wish you all the strength and energy in your valiant battle to liberate your beautiful nation and people from the vicious and sadistic despots who rule it. Take care for now and may God bless you and your struggle for liberty.
And here at Frontpage we are all thinking of Neda — she will never be forgotten. And may her tragic death at the hands of the Iranian Gestapo end up being the shining light from which the tyrants will desperately scurry in their fast-approaching hour of devastating and humiliating defeat.