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Pro-Reform Group Condemns U.S. Sanctions As Iranian Opposition Becomes More Vocal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announce sanctions against Iran during a news conference at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, November 5, 2018

In a letter to political parties around the world, Iran’s Freedom Movement (Nehzate Azadi) has called for international condemnation of the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), adding that U.S. sanctions will give Iranian hardliners the upper hand in the country’s domestic politics.

The Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) is a pro-reform group with Shiite sympathies that briefly held the government immediately after the 1979 revolution but has been sidelined and not as active since then.

Calling the JCPOA a “model for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts,” the FMI said in the letter, “Rejection of this agreement weakens the value of endeavors in resolving international conflicts peacefully and the role of the United Nations in acting as a safeguarding mechanism for building international peace. The United States’ rejection of this international agreement also negates the significance of efforts in building pathways for peaceful co-existence of nations based on conflict resolution through negotiation and compromise.”

FMI acknowledged that the JCPOA did not address the United States’ concerns about Iran’s missile program and its ambitions in the Middle East, adding that “JCPOA was not initially intended to include the Iranian government’s regional political behavior – or any other issues,” but expressed the view that “these issues could be legitimately addressed in other forums with the consideration of the national security of all nations involved.”

Ayatollah Khomeini, left, announces that Mehdi Bazargan leader of FMI, right, is the new prime minister of his provisional government in Tehran, Feb. 5, 1979.
Ayatollah Khomeini, left, announces that Mehdi Bazargan leader of FMI, right, is the new prime minister of his provisional government in Tehran, Feb. 5, 1979.

It is not clear why Freedom Movement believes the Islamic Republic has any intention to discuss these issues with Western governments, particularly the United States. Iranian officials categorically reject any such dialogue.

FMI does not advocate the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, but believes in reforms and its members are tolerated to an extent in Iran and not treated as enemies of the regime. Members of the group even participated in the last local elections without any success.

In more than a decade the group has not been very vocal, preferring not to condemn many of the regime’s human rights abuses or its regional adventures. It has also not clearly supported the popular protests by ordinary people against economic hardship and lack of freedoms.

In the letter, the FMI expressed concern over the impact of sanctions on Iran’s middle class, adding that in Iran, “the middle class is exposed to the ravages of sanctions. The Iranian middle class predominately has been in the forefront of the battle for democracy and acted as the engine of change in the country.”

FMI charged that “the United States, with the support of right-wing politicians in Israel and the ruling elites in Saudi Arabia, has imposed sanctions on Iran which ultimately benefit those who are for war and conflict with this country,” adding that “sanctions have also strengthened the political position and power of the Iranian ultraconservatives who continue to encourage and support discord and antagonism in Iranian foreign policy.”

A protester holds stones as he faces off against security forces in Tehran on 27dec2009
A protester holds stones as he faces off against security forces in Tehran on 27dec2009

FMI also warned that “democratic changes cannot be achieved in Iran by Washington encouraging groups from outside of Iran who have aimed at toppling the Iranian government. With regards to Iran, democracy cannot be achieved through war, but rather obtained upon a period of sustained gradual reforms that are supported by the Iranian people and arise from within the country.”

Although the letter appears to support the Islamic Republic of Iran’s positions, the FMI stressed at the end of it that the “Freedom Movement of Iran has been under pressure both from the old and the new regimes, and its leaders and members have been arrested, imprisoned and tortured.”

The letter by a political organization that has not been overtly active for decades is yet another indication that the Iranian opposition has become more vocal after the nationwide protests in late 2017 and early 2018, which has weakened the regime in Tehran.

During the past year, the two main opposition groups outside Iran, the royalists and the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) have been more active than ever and developments about and around them have been given more prominence in the media.

The royalists have highlighted the symbolic significance of Prince Reza Pahlavi and established at least two networks of young Iranian activists (Farashgard) with the aim of toppling the Islamic Republic, and the newly established network of technocrats and academics named Qoqnous (Sphinx) with the objective of reconstructing Iran. Meanwhile, the MeK has been more politically active than ever, garnering support from among political groups and Western officials.

In the latest developments, 10 political groups active in the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Azerbaijan and Sistan-Baluchistan formed an alliance in Hanover, Germany on Saturday 23 February. The alliance “Solidarity for Freedom and Equality in Iran” has announced its objective as “toppling the Islamic Republic.”

The coalition includes five militant Kurdish parties as well as other militant groups from Khuzestan and Azarbaijan, and a few groups including democratic secular republicans and Marxists.

The freedom movement of Iran may have noticed the changing situation and its letter to political parties around the world could be its way of making itself known as a player that once had a role in the government, hoping to secure a place in the country’s future in case dramatic changes take place.