Spotlight on public executions in Iran
Iranian exiles opposed to the present fundamentalist regime in Tehran have launched a petition campaign calling for an end to public executions in Iran and highlighting the gross violations of human rights in the country.
The Iranian resistance, led by its President, Maryam Rajavi, is calling on the international community to face the realities of the political situation in Iran and accept that the current regime is beyond any type of reform
Launching the petition, Dr Sharam Tomasari, university lecturer on International Relations and Middle Eastern politics, spoke to An Phoblacht.
"In the last two decades, 120,000 people have been executed in Iran. All of them were political executions," said Sharam. "Among those killings, there are cases of pregnant women and children as young as 13 being put to death.
"There are more than 200,000 political prisoners in Iran and torture is systematic. Yet against this background, the European Union and Britain have begun a dialogue with Iran, thereby starting a policy of appeasement.
"The Iranian resistance, led by its President, Maryam Rajavi, is calling on the international community to face the realities of the political situation in Iran and accept that the current regime is beyond any type of reform.
"It is obviously a regime that, because of its ideological basis, is so backward that it doesn't even fit into the 21st century. For instance, they will hang seven to eight people at a time, in public, from specially adapted cranes. Women are stoned to death. This is a common practice.
"No one should be punished in this way, but the current regime is particularly mysogynist and holds no regard for women's rights. In fact, their constitution even states that the testimony of two women is equal to one man. Women have no right to be judges and only inherit half of what a man inherits. This reflects the discriminitory views of this regime against women.
"However, if you look at Iranian resistance, our leadership is made up primarily of women, and the resistance is, in fact, represented by a woman.
"The purpose of this petition issued by Iranian resistance is to confront those in the European Union who insist on having a so-called 'critical dialogue' with Iran.
"As far as we are concerned, after five years of this 'critical dialogue', absolutely nothing has been achieved. In fact, we feel the idea of dialogue is simply seen by the Iranian regime as a green light, enabling them to intensify their violations of human rights without fear of retribution.
"This statement calls on the United Nations Human Rights Commission to appoint a commissioner - a special rapporteur - to monitor human rights violations in Iran, given that unlike the European Union, the United Nations has no vested interest in Iran and will therefore not turn a blind eye to the actions of the regime."
In relation to the impending war on Iraq, Dr Tomasari said: "If there is a war on Iraq, we can expect reactions on two levels - a political level, involving mainly political elites and governments that are predominently pro-western; and a personal level, which is the reaction of people in the Middle East.
"On a political level, the political leaders in the Middle East are distancing themselves from the current western policy towards Iraq. This is not because of any fondness for the Iraqi government, but because their primary concern is the Middle Eastern opinion that George Bush's campaign is a campaign against Islam in the aftermath of September 11.
"This policy could have a long term destabilising impact on the Middle East and precisely because of this, the political leaderships of countries in the Middle East feel extremely vulnerable. That is why they haven't shown Bush the kind of support he expected.
"This analysis is also true for countries like France, Germany, Russia and China, who have economic interests in the region. Because of their interests, they want to see a relatively stable Middle East.
"Now, the implication of war in this region is very, very serious.
"Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq's geopolitical location could create a tremor which would affect Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and further afield countries like Egypt. It would also have a major impact on the Palestinian struggle as well, and once this tremor begins, irrespective of the US's military might, they will be unable to stop the aftershocks.
"And there are serious questions about the aftermath of a war. For example, if the current Iraqi regime is overthrown, what would it be replaced with? Who would chose what it would be replaced with?
"Iraq is the only country in the Middle East, including Syria, that has been consistently anti-Israel. Iraq's policy goes far deeper than the Syrian policy and acts as a thorn in the side of Israel. Israel sees Iraq as a threat.
"As far as George Bush is concerned, on an economic level it is about Iraqi oil reserves, but on a political level, he wants to enhance and stabilise Israel because they who feel most threatened by Iraq's capabilities in nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry.
"From this perspective, one can understand why Bush - in spite of massive resistance from world public opinion and the international community - insists on waging war.
"Equally, we can then understand why the British are supportive of this policy, again because of this specific relationship that the British and particularly the Labour Party has with the pro-Israeli lobby.
"Otherwise, these claims and counter-claims and the so-called fear of 'weapons of mass destruction' would be one that should apply equally to all countries.
"Blair keeps insisting that if international terrorist organisations have access to chemical or biological stockpiles, they could cause more damage worldwide. But they themselves know, based on evidence discovered in Afghanistan, that Al Qaida has already been experimenting with nerve gas, so it's na´ve to suggest that they don't know how to put chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction together.
"This shows again that this is only an excuse to sway public opinion in favour of war.
"If organisations like Al Qaida want to embark on operations, they could do so with or without weapons of mass destruction, as they showed in the September 11 attacks.
"A war with Iraq would legitimise and justify the backward reactionary position of groups like Al Qaida, as was suggested by many observers, even including right wing Tory MP Kenneth Clarke. This policy is opening up the floodgates to many more fundementalist groups, but US policy remains locked in a mentality that says 'you're with us or against us'."
West Papua - Still struggling for freedom
Sem Karoba is a student leader and representative of the West Papua Presidium Council (West Papua's alternative to the Indonesian government) who is on his second visit to Ireland, lobbying for international support for his people. More than 100,000 West Papuans have been killed in the last 41 years. For all these years, people in West Papua have fought for the right to self-determination.
However, their struggle and their rights have been ignored not only by the media, but also by the leaders of the international community, who worry more about how the possible "Balkanisation" of Indonesia would affect their economies than about the lives and future of West Papuans. The fact that West Papuans are sitting on some of the world's richest deposits of oil, copper, gold and silver does not help. In fact, that is a large part of the reason they are suffering now.
Everything started back in the 1950s, when the Netherlands - which ruled West Papua since 1883 - recognised the Papuan right to self-determination in accordance with Article 72 of the Charter of the United Nation. Had not Indonesia interfered, West Papua would have achieved self-determination by 1970 - as happened to the eastern part of the island, Papua New Guinea, which gained full independence from the British in 1975.
But Indonesia wanted to integrate West Papua into its territories, and in 1961, Indonesian president Sukarno chose armed conflict to force the issue at a time when the first parliament had already been installed in West Papua and the national anthem and Papuan flag had been introduced. The Dutch government agreed with the US and Indonesia - with the support of the United Nations - to transfer sovereignty to Indonesia. After years of terror and repression, a fraudulent 'referendum was held in 1969, when 1,025 people voted under duress, on behalf of a population of a million, to join Indonesia.
Since then, West Papuans have suffered genocide while the country's resources have been taken away by US Free Port, mining gold and copper and by Britain BP's gas projects. Their land and culture is under threat as the Indonesians keep implementing a very aggressive transmigration policy - with many similarities to the Plantation in Ireland.
For West Papuans, the so-called democratisation of Indonesia has not meant any change. The governments of Sukarno, Suharto, Wahid or Sukarno's daughter's, Megawati Sukarnoputri, have only brought them increasing suffering and repression.
But West Papuans feel that their time have come. They rely on the East Timor experience to know it is possible to break away from the Indonesian colonial power, but again, the international community's role is crucial for their plans. This is the reason why Karoba is back in Ireland.
Phoblacht: The last time you visited Ireland, in the summer of 2001, Wahid was president of Indonesia. Since then, he has been deposed and Megawati Sukarnoputri has taken the reins of the country. How has this change affected West Papua's situation?
Sem Karoba: The presidency of Megawati is like Suharto's. The military are the main players in politics. However, they have changed their ways: they would ask Parliament to approve their bills, as some of their activities in Aceh and West Papua need parliamentary sanction. However, there are many army representatives who sit in parliament. They have money and power, and the reason they use to justify their actions is that this is the only way to preserve Indonesia as it is. This is the way of nationalism. So, the politicians do not have the strength to argue with them. Even Megawati cannot take any action against those members of the army who were behind the attack against her office in 1997. The army officer in command at the time of the attack is now on his second term as governor of Jakarta city.
AP: In 2001, you mentioned that there were possibilities of advancing the situation while Wahid was in power, as he was more of a negotiator. What about Megawati?
SK: Now the door is closed. They are not talking any more. Since the last time I was in Ireland, Theys Eluay, the leader of the West Papuan Presidium Council, has been killed (the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy reported that he had been abducted, tortured and assassinated). I left Ireland in October 2001 and I was still travelling when news of his death reached me in November. Another elder from the area I am from was also poisoned after attending a meeting on sustainable development in Bali.
Finishing off the leaders was the policy after Megawati came to power. She actually proposed this policy to Wahid - we have gotten hold of this document recently - who opposed it. As soon as she took power, she started killing the leaders in Aceh and West Papua.
Due to pressure from the international community - who are pushing for the idea of autonomy - she had to order the withdrawal of the Indonesian Special Forces from West Papua at the beginning of the month. This was due to their many mistakes, like the killing of two US citizens last year. So now, officially the Special Forces are not present in West Papua, but they are still there, and the militia is still there.
AP: What are West Papuans doing at the moment?
SK: What we are trying to do is bring our situation to the attention of the international community. The Indonesians are not interested in dialogue, so we need international pressure. They go to London, New York and Canberra to ask for opinion and these three countries are telling them that Indonesia should keep West Papua. If Indonesia took over West Papua when the Dutch left it was not only because they wanted to do it, but because the international community allowed them to do it. So now we are going to the international lobby to ask them to force Indonesia into dialogue.
AP: The problem is that the international community is now too focused on what is happening in relation to Iraq to actually worry about West Papua.
SK: Our strategy is to lobby quietly now, so when out time comes we will be ready. We have increased the number of our grassroots supporters in England, for example, and I expect to do the same in Ireland, so we can send a clear message to the politicians in relation to the situation in West Papua.
AP: How has 9/11 and the new international scenario of war affected the situation of West Papua?
SK: Indonesia is the biggest Islamic state in Asia. Many members of the Muslim Jihad and Muslim extremists have gone into hiding in Indonesia. I have personally come across some of them in West Papua and in Indonesia. Examples of their activity are the bombing in Bali and the increased killings in West Papua. Now, in the name of Islam, they are giving guns and coverage to all these people, telling them that to defend the integrity of Indonesia is the same as defending Islam, that is the message they are sending. Maluku and West Papuans are Christians and the Indonesian government is sending all those Jihad troops to these areas. So, this is one of the reasons why the international community is listening more to us.
The support of the international community for our cause it is not clear yet, because most of the international powers have important business dealings with Indonesia.
AP: You have met several politicians here in Ireland. What has their reaction been?
SK: Their reaction has been positive, because they have a historical knowledge of why independence is so important. They welcome our presence; they support our cause as long as we defend it in a democratic way. But to make it work we need their support.
Indonesian politicians do not even reply to our approaches, but they will listen to international opinion.
I am here to learn about the Irish process and the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. I want to listen to those who were involved in the negotiations and I want to meet those who worked behind the scenes. A process of this kind is very difficult, but they started it and they are on the way to completion. We want something similar to take place in West Papua.
It is difficult, and many people in my country, and mostly in the area I am from, would not support any kind of dialogue with Indonesians, and that is what I want to learn, how to deal with all these situations.
Prisoner forced into self-immolation
Orhan Ogur, a political prisoner held in a one-person cell in Tekirdag F-Type Prison in Turkey, set himself on fire on 16 February, after being subjected to isolation, disciplinary punishment and physical attack, one after the other and because of the torture of isolation. Ogur was taken to Haydarpasa Numune Hospital, where he died on 27 February.
Orhan Ogur (22), from Istanbul, was arrested on 6 November 2001. He was put in the F-Type prisons, designed to isolate political prisoners. In July 2002, on the pretext of carrying out a search, the authorities entered the cell Orhan Ogur shared with two other prisoners and all three prisoners were tortured. As a result of this attack, Orhan Ogur's body was bruised in many places, his fingernails were broken and he was soaked in his own blood.
Despite the fact that Orhan and the other two prisoners made a formal complaint about the torture to which they had been subjected, they were deemed to be the guilty ones and the prison administration punished them with six months discipline and a ban on correspondence for 45 days. Because the plumbing was broken they could not meet their needs for days and were neither able to clean themselves nor wash their eating utensils, so they did not eat at all. They could not use the toilet because of the stench and filth.
Later, Orhan Ogur was put in an isolation cell near the cells occupied by mafiosi, and was soon beaten again.
After this attack, Orhan said: "I can't take this any longer, something has to be done," and he set himself on fire. "At the moment when he lost the power to resist," said a comrade, "he turned his death into a protest against tyranny."
Political prisoners are continuing the Death Fast against the F-Type prisons. A ninth team has recently embarked on hunger strike.