Expatriates urge stronger EU policy on Iran in a global statement

More than 200 Iranian expatriate organizations have sent a letter to Charles Michel, the president of the Council of Europe, urging a change in policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. The letter was also addressed the Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and it echoed prior statements from individual organizations which lamented a relative lack of attention to malign activity from the Iranian regime, writes Shahin Gobadi.

The latest statement comes about two weeks after an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted of plotting a terrorist attack on a gathering of tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates just outside of Paris. The trial began in a Belgian federal court last November and concluded on February 4 with guilty verdicts for Assadi and three co-conspirators. It revealed that Assadi, the third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, had personally smuggled an explosive device into Europe and also that he had been running a network of operatives spanning at least 11 European countries, for years before the attempted bombing of the 2018 Free Iran rally in Paris.

The Iranian organizations’ statement refers to that plot in the interest of suggesting that it is part of a larger pattern, and also that that pattern is partly the result of “unwarranted concessions” that the Iranian regime has received from Western powers, including those associated with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “After that deal, the regime’s terrorist activities widened so alarmingly that it prompted many European countries to expel its embassy functionaries,” the statement said, referring to incidents in France, Albania, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

In Albania alone, the Iranian ambassador was expelled along with three lower-level diplomats in 2018, as a result of a plot that was foiled about three months before the attempted attack in France. In that case, Iranian operatives allegedly planned to detonate a truck bomb at the Persian New Year celebration of members of the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (also known as MEK), after they were relocated from their embattled community in Iraq.

National Council of Resistance of Iran, the coalition of Iranian opposition, in which MEK plays an integral role, organized the June 2018 rally in France. NCRI President-Elect Maryam Rajavi was the keynote speaker.

These two incidents seemingly reflect growing conflict between the Iranian regime and a global community of activists pushing for democratic governance as an alternative to the regime’s theocratic dictatorship.

This too was directly referenced in the recent statement as a cause for more assertive European policies, and an example of how recent policies have been deficient. It warned that conciliatory trends would only “embolden the regime to continue its egregious human rights abuses, its terrorism, and its malign activities,” all in the interest of suppressing a strong and growing trend of opposition among Iran’s domestic population and the Iranian expatriate community.

“The EU must recognize and support the overwhelming majority of Iranians’ desire for change, reflected in three major uprisings since 2017,” the statement said. The first of those uprisings began in December 2017 and quickly spread to more than 100 Iranian cities and towns. In January 2018, the movement came to be defined by provocative slogans like “death to the dictator” and explicit calls for regime change, which in turn prompted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to begrudgingly acknowledge that the MEK had played a major role in organizing demonstrations.

Khamenei’s statement no doubt influence the regime’s response to subsequent protests, including the second nationwide uprising in November 2019. In that case, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened fire on crowds of protesters in numerous localities, killing an estimated 1,500 people in just a few days. Thousands of other participants in the uprising were arrested, and the recent statement suggests that they might comprise some of the roughly 60 executions that have already been carried out by the Iranian judiciary in the first two months of 2021.

But regardless of the exact identity of those executed detainees, the statement emphasizes that the statistics alone are evidence of “the mullahs’ complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iranian people.” This phenomenon stands alongside “terrorism directed against dissidents on European soil” and “destabilizing activities in the Middle East,” as reasons why so many Iranian expatriates believe Europe has been delinquent in its responsibilities vis-à-vis interactions with the Iranian regime.

The statement goes so far as to suggest that the European Union and its member states should sever diplomatic and trade ties with Iran almost entirely, closing embassies and making future commerce conditional on confirmation that each of these malign trends have been reversed. The statement also urges European governments and institutions to designate the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry as terrorist entities and to “prosecute, punish and expel their agents and mercenaries” as well as Iranian officials who are believed to have direct involvement in terrorist activity or human rights abuses.

Furthermore, by implicating officials such as Foreign Ministry Javad Zarif in those activities, the statement deliberately impugns the legitimacy of the entire regime as a global representative of the Iranian people. It concludes by suggesting that “the illegitimate and cruel clerical regime” should no longer have representation in the United Nations or other international bodies, and that its seats should be given instead to “the NCRI as the democratic alternative to the regime.”

Of course, this is only one of many ways in which the international community could help fulfill the statement’s more general demand for formal recognition of “the Iranian people’s legitimate struggle to overthrow a tyrannical and abusive regime and instead establish democracy and people’s sovereignty.”

The statement to this effect was signed by representatives of Iranian communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Romania.

Additionally, supporters of the NCRI gathered outside the EU headquarters on Monday in a rally that reiterated the message of that statement for attendees at the latest meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

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