After a week that saw Iran’s biggest anti-government unrest since 2009, the country’s government claims to have suppressed dissent. But the Iranian diaspora were galvanized into holding solidarity marches in major cities across Europe and the U.S. Protesters in London told WikiTribune they will keep calling on governments to aid their friends and relatives in Iran.
Protests against rising food prices and perceived corruption began in provincial towns and cities in Iran on December 28, 2017. These soon broadened into more general expressions of anti-government sentiment, leading to violent clashes that left 22 protesters dead and hundreds arrested.
As demonstrations took place across Iran, groups operating out of foreign capitals, such as the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), organized solidarity marches calling on Western governments to pressure Iran to respond to the protesters.
Hundreds of supporters of the Iranian anti-government protests have staged demonstrations in front of Iranian embassies around Europe, including Berlin, Hamburg, London, Paris, Rome and Stockholm (Reuters).
A week after the solidarity marches began, participants showed little sign of relaxing their efforts. Those outside the Iranian embassy in London told WikiTribune what they and their counterparts in other Western capitals hope to achieve.
Born in London, Sina (who didn’t want to reveal her surname) is a legal consultant whose parents fled Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
“We haven’t been able to go back to our country ever since, because we were doing what the people are doing now; fighting for basic human rights,” she said.
She added that as soon as protests began in Iran, the Iranian government began restricting communications.
“We came here straight away to be their voice. The reason why this uprising is different than the ones in 2009, is because the people don’t have any other choice, they have nothing to lose. That’s why we expect there to be actual change this time around.”
Monir Hosseini has been living in London for ten years. She said she lived through the 1979 revolution and spent eight years in prison in Iran, where she was tortured before fleeing to Britain. She said she knew people who had been killed during previous unrest, and feared more victims due to the current protests.
Hosseini said she has been coming to the London protests every day since they began.
“So many people in Iran want change. We are here every day asking the world to support them.”
Dennis Finnerty, a Londoner with grandparents in Iran, has been actively participating in solidarity activities like the protests in London for most of his life.
He said that whatever the initial cause of the protests in Iran, they are now a demand for basic rights.
“People are tired of being dictated [to], so when you have nothing to live for, you decide to do something about it.
Finnerty said in Iran one could not stand up [to the government] without risking your life. This was why he felt it was his responsibility to show the Iranian protesters that they had international support.
Mohammed Soleimani, a supporter of the Paris-based People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), was born in Iran but has been living in London for the past eighteen years.
He told WikiTribune that he’s been attending protests at the embassy and elsewhere since he can remember.
“It’s our duty as an outside Iranian to be their voice,” he said. “We are here being the voice of the Iranian people [back home] until we achieve our goal.”
Soleimani said groups like his welcomed support from Donald Trump, and that one aim of the London protests was to urge the UK and EU to make similarly bold statements in support of the protesters in Iran.
Shahro was a teacher in Iran before coming to London 20 years ago. She declined to be photographed or give her full name, saying she’d left Iran after a dispute with the government and feared repercussions for family members still there.
“There is no freedom there,” she said. “We ask Europe and America, ‘why don’t you care?’ We have to give our voice for them. We do this for them [the protesters in Iran]. We have to.”
Shahro said she knows from experience that the Iranian government is adept at quashing dissent, but that she believes the current protests could have a different outcome compared with previous unrest.
“This time they cannot just stop. We believe we are going to achieve something.”