These Iranian pro-democracy activists want Congress to back the nuclear deal – Ishaan Tharoor/The Washington Post
VIDEO: Parvin Fahimi, mother of Sohrab Arabi (killed in the aftermath of 2009 presidential elections and one of the symbolic figures of the Green Movement), and a member of Iranian Mothers for Peace, supports the Iran Deal.
Dozens of prominent Iranian activists, both living at home and overseas, have in recent days expressed their support for the successful passage of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and urged lawmakers in Washington not to thwart the work of many months of concerted diplomacy.
The above videos were posted last week on Facebook accounts belonging to two Iranian political activists, Mohammadreza Jalaeipour and Farrokh Negahdar. They’ve been joined now by many other voices, some in exile and others even still in jail. The lengthy roster of testimonies includes Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi, women’s rights activist Ghoncheh Ghavami, and Zia Nabavi, a student activist who is still serving a 10-year-sentence in an Iranian prison.
Jalaeipour, currently a PhD candidate in sociology at Oxford University, spent five months in solitary confinement in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison for his involvement in the 2009 protests that followed the controversial reelection of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yet Jalaeipour is one of the organizers of the current campaign, which uses the online hashtag #SupportIranDeal. While he wants to see political change in his country and is deeply critical of the Iranian regime’s human rights record, he reckons rapprochement with the West is key for progress at home.
“I believe the only effective route to promotion of democracy and prosperity in Iran is gradual internal reform,” Jalaeipour wrote in an e-mail to WorldViews. “A final deal is a victory for the Iranian people whose lives will be directly improved and who can also begin working for other positive changes.”
The extensive accumulation of testimonies serves somewhat as a riposte to a letter from a group of Iranian dissidents published in the Daily Beast earlier this month, which warned of the dangers of reaching compromise with the Islamic Republic and decried “Western apologists and appeasers of Iranian theocracy.”
But a majority of ordinary citizens of Iran appear to back the deal. Moreover, as Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and an organizer in favor of the deal, points out, thousands of Iranians living overseas have gathered in various cities across the world in rallies calling for the deal’s passage.
She says the deal’s opponents in the Iranian diaspora are a minority, some of whom are connected to certain pressure groups in Western capitals.
“They can’t even bring 200 people to the streets,” she tells WorldViews.
A popular theme among the testimonies was the need to drop crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy, which have significantly affected the lives of many ordinary Iranians.
“I do not agree with those who assume that imposing sanctions can lead to the improvement of the human rights situation in Iran as I do not believe that the right for a secure and prosperous life can be separated from human rights,” said Nabavi, jailed since 2009 on charges of “creating unease in the public mind” for his involvement in the 2009 protests.
Nabavi delivered his testimony over the phone, which you can hear in the video immediately above. “I therefore hope that American citizens, like the majority of Iranian citizens, will reach out to their representatives in Congress and ask them to support this deal and to give dialogue and diplomacy a chance for success,” he said.
In 2010, filmmaker Panahi was given a jail sentence and also banned from making movies for 20 years by the regime. The ruling has not stopped him, though. His recent film, “Taxi,” won the Golden Bear in the Berlin Film Festival this year.
“I work with imagination, but not imagination alone; imagination immersed in reality,” says Panahi in his recorded video, calling on American politicians to recognize the merits of diplomacy with Iran. “What is happening in U.S. Congress and among American policy makers is mere imagination with no sense of reality. They think or they imagine that with sanctions and war, things can be accomplished. This is not the reality of my country.”
Farrokh Negahdar, a prominent Iranian leftist and secularist, spent a decade in prison during the reign of Iran’s Shah, and was eventually compelled to flee his country in the early years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and has never returned. But, as his video in the beginning of this article attests, he is a keen supporter of the deal.
“If you want a better world, you have to narrow down the gaps, rather than widen them,” he told WorldViews in a phone interview from London. “This deal narrows the gap between Iran and the rest of the world.”
That’s important, Neghadar argues, because it will likely rein in Iran’s more hard-line groups.
“The right-wing repressive forces within the government have tried to link the democratic movement of Iran to puppets of the United States and Israel,” he says. “If there were better relations between Iran and the West, and the threat diminished, then the position of right-wing forces within the government would be weaker.”
In her own testimony, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a leading lawyer and human rights activist within Iran, concurs.
“As an Iranian, I criticize the extremist rhetoric of the Iranian hard-liners and I ask my politicians to stop the threatening and militarist language,” she says. “Likewise, I call on Americans overseas to urge their representatives in Congress to refrain from using the language of threat.”
Ebadi, Iran’s only Nobel laureate, echoes a White House talking point in her testimony. “I support the Iran deal because, as the U.S. President said, ‘the alternative is war’,” she says, “and war is not in the interest of Iran, the Middle East and the world.”