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Growing Demand For Referendum On Iran’s Ruling System

Four of the of prominent Iranians who signed a letter demanding a referendum. (L to R), Nasrin Sotoudeh, Abolfazl Ghadyani, Narges Mohammadi and Jafar Panahi, undated

Fifteen prominent Iranians from cultural and political spheres inside Iran and in exile have signed a statement calling for a referendum on the theocratic ruling system in the Islamic Republic.

The group of civil rights activists, lawyers, film directors, a Nobel laureate, and current and former political prisoners demanded a nationwide referendum held under the supervision of the UN in order to bring about peaceful change.

“The only way out of the current situation is a peaceful transition from an Islamic Republic toward a secular state based on parliamentary democracy and free people’s votes, which fully respects human rights, eliminates all institutionalized discrimination, particularly against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and all other minorities,” the group wrote in their statement.

With a UN referendum, the statement argued, “The people of Iran will be able to retain control over their destiny and choose their ideal system for running their homeland.”

The signatories say such a referendum would give momentum to a movement already in motion following the anti-establishment protests that swept the country earlier this year.

The statement is signed by the first and only Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi, lawyers and former prisoners of conscience, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Mohammad Seifzadeh; film directors, Mohmmad Nourizad, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi; author, Kazem Kardavani; political analyst and former Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Kazem Shariatmadari’s son, Hassan; physicist and defender of human rights, Nargess Mohammadi; students’ rights activist, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi; co-writer of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Charter, Mohsen Sazgara; leaders of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedeen, Abolfazl Ghadyani and Professor of Islamic Studies and former Shi’ite clergy, Mohsen Kadivar.

Of the signatories, Ebadi, Makhmalbaf, Kardavani, Shariatmasari, and Sazgara currently live in self-imposed exile, while Nargess Mohammadi is behind bars in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

The statement was published just a few days after President Hassan Rouhani himself proposed holding a referendum on a ruling establishment that he says has alienated too many people.

“When the revolution took place, we were all together and there were plenty of passengers on the train of the revolution; some of them wanted to get off the train themselves, and we got some of them off the train, whom we didn’t have to,” Rouhani said in a speech at a celebration commemorating the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Rouhani added that when citizens disagree on the path the country is taking, they should “refer to article 59” of the Iranian Constitution.

The article stipulates, “In extremely important economic, political, social, and cultural matters, the function of the legislature may be exercised through direct recourse to popular vote through a referendum. Any request for such direct recourse to public opinion must be approved by two-thirds of the members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly.”

Earlier, internationally acclaimed Iranian film director Jafar Panahi had also proposed holding a referendum, or at least allowing people to freely demonstrate and measure the popularity of the ruling theocracy by how many take to the streets either for or against it.

“If you don’t have the necessary funds for holding a referendum, just call on your supporters to pour into the streets on a given day, and without deploying security, police, or military force, let those opposing you hold a demonstration on another day,” Panahi wrote on his Instagram account.