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PEN Melbourne Statement on Iran

November 28, 2019 IN WIP
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Mammad Aidani

Why are we here in Australia, so silent on what has been happening in Iran? Iranian citizens want to live freely in an open and democratic society in which they can work and live in peace. The Islamic regime, which has been in power since February 1979, has never allowed Iranian citizens to experience these basic human rights in their country, and in recent days many have taken to the streets to fiercely protest against the authorities.

Iranian citizens are publicly protesting their grievances, discontentment and anger about the government’s latest unjust and unfair policy – endorsed by Ayatollah Khamenei – to allow for a sudden 50% plus increase in petrol prices. For most Iranians this is literally unbearable. The response to this news was quick, and demonstrations began in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan
province and quickly spread to over 100 cities in the country. Amnesty International on 19 November tweeted that ‘at least 106 protesters in 21 cities have been killed, according to credible reports’. The sheer numbers of those who have been killed and injured by the government forces are not known. Some witnesses have indicated that in the city of Shahriyar alone in first days of clashes 70 people were killed and emphasised that there are plainclothes forces within the crowds who have pistols and have been shooting at people from behind their backs.

We are deeply concerned about the silence of the Australian and western media in not fully reporting the tragic events that have been unfolding in Iran over the last six days. This silence and indifference, in light of what has been occurring in Iran, is catastrophic. During the last six days, a massacre has been taking place in many large and small cities in Iran, and we and the rest of the world need to know why. The Iranian Islamic Regime has been threatening Iranian citizens and using extreme violence to deny its citizens the fundamental human right of freedom of expression over 40 years. The last six days have been the worst days of these years during which the forces of the Iranian regime have been directed at millions of innocent Iranians. The Iranian Islamic regime is fearful and acutely aware of the deeply rooted anger of the majority of Iranians against its dictatorial and theocratic rule for over four decades now and one of its greatest fears is to be overthrown by the Iranian people.

It is evident that the Islamic Regime led by Khamenei is not going to stop systematically intimidating, frightening, arresting, imprisoning, torturing and murdering innocent Iranian citizens who seek justice and democracy in their country.

The violent clashes of the last six days between government forces and the demonstrators have been happening in over 100 cities without the presence of international media or access to the internet. As a result of the citizens’ determination and brave actions they are being severely punished by the regime. Instead of listening to their legitimate concerns, Ayatollah Khamenei has labelled the demonstrators as the invader-occupiers of the country accusing them of being thugs, haters and indecent citizens who want to destroy the government.

Hossein Shariat-Medari, the chief editor of Kyhann daily newspaper published in Tehran, accused the demonstrators and emphasised that the murderous response of the state is legitimate and described it as a war between believers and infidels. And further to that President Hassan Rohani came out and described the demonstrators as the enemies of the country too. We urge our government and media to pay immediate attention to the tragedies that have been unfolding in Iran in these extremity critical times.

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International