Iranwire – In an audio file shared with IranWire, Faezeh Hashemi, the reformist political activist and former member of the Iranian parliament, has discussed the recent protests by the people of Sistan and Baluchistan.
In Hashemi’s view, it is successive government policies that have caused the extreme poverty in Sistan and Baluchistan and forced its impoverished citizens to become oil smugglers. For the rulers of the country, she says, the national interest, people’s rights and their livelihoods do not take priority. They are instead preoccupied by their own and their regime’s survival.
Hashemi also says she believes the failure of the government to procure a Covid-19 vaccine is indefensible. “If somebody dies from the coronavirus in Iran since the development of the vaccine,” she said, “it must be considered first-degree murder by the rulers.”
The full content of Hashemi’s taped message is detailed below.
In a recent audio file received by IranWire, Faezeh Hashemi, has intervened in the discussion around the protests in Sistan and Baluchistan.
To begin with, she says, “There are a few obvious points about recent protests by the people of Sistan and Baluchistan and the government’s response to them.
“The first is that they killed the fuel carriers and then lied about it, saying that they had been killed on the on the other side of the border, whereas local sources say that on the other side, in Pakistan, they were helping the wounded and saving them.
“They then continued their crackdown on the people of Sistan and Baluchistan. That is to say, they continued with their misguided policy. Now, I want to ask: Isn’t this one scandal after another, to expend so much energy on distorting the truth and falsifying stories to gain public support? Stories, none of which are convincing, and which continue to worsen distrust? Wouldn’t we get a better result if we responded with honesty, respected people’s rights and livelihoods and, in sum, gave them a good government?”
In recent days, Hashemi notes, state-controlled media outlets have branded fuel carriers “oil smugglers”. Debate still swirls around the best means of describing these impoverished people.
“Let’s say that they are smugglers,” Hashemi says. “It’s the erroneous policies of the government that lay the groundwork for smuggling. It’s the difference in prices that creates smuggling. The phenomenon of smuggling is the result of the rulers’ faulty policies.
“First, we must make the economic situation such that people would not need to do this. Second, we must make it illogical for people to take the oil out of the country in order to sell it. These things [are bound to] happen when we are so far removed from the world’s economy, the world’s policies and the world’s standards.”
She asks: “Is killing the right punishment for somebody who smuggles oil for a piece of bread? Shouldn’t this punishment be for those who have pushed people so far that they have to take such extreme risks for that piece of bread?”
A Sign of Fear
Faezeh Hashemi believes the crackdown on protesters is a sign of fear on the part of Iran’s rulers. They treat the demonstrators this way, she says, “To make them know their place and eschew protests.”
To illustrate the point, she recounts a story from the heated aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election: “About a year after the events of 2009, a senior official was told, ‘Let us appease the people. Free the political prisoners and end the house arrests.’ The gist of his answer was: ‘We are not going to make the same error as the Shah. If we give an inch they’ll try to take a mile. If we make the same mistake, we’ll have to leave, just as the Shah did.’”
Hashemi believes that on the contrary, the situation now is different to when the Shah was in power. Under the present conditions, she says, people no longer want a revolution but simply a better life. “From the very first [before the Islamic Revolution],” she said, “people were saying the Shah must go. And when the Shah retreated and was forced to leave the country, they had a revolution.
“But it doesn’t seem that people want a revolution now. It doesn’t seem that they have an alternative [to the Islamic Republic], or there is the same kind of unified front for such an alternative. It is therefore wrong to compare the situation with the Shah’s time.
“It [the situation now] is actually the reverse. If you attend to people’s rights and their livelihoods, you not only become popular, but people will stand behind you – because a revolution and the disruptions it causes are enormously costly and the consequences are unpredictable.
“If reforms are implemented and we move towards real democracy and development, I would personally prefer that these people remain at the helm. I want to advise them to show some wisdom and tact. If you fix whatever you yourselves have damaged, people will keep you were you are. People want a good life, not trouble and carnage. Of course, this is my understanding and I might be mistaken.”
They Are in This Together
The crisis in Sistan and Baluchistan, Faezeh Hashemi says, has been deepened by the needless actions of the government. “These errors must be prevented by wise policies and tact,” she says. “Which, unfortunately, are missing.”
Why, Hashemi asks, has a definitive order to end the violent crackdown on protesters not been issued? “Because of the monopolistic worldview that says ‘Everything must be ours. People have no rights. Every right belongs to we who run the country, and we only act within the framework of preserving the government and our own survival.’ They all make these decisions together – so who is to issue such an order and resolve the problem?”
Hashemi then states that she was told: “Ayatollah Khamenei was the one who issued the order to ‘Fire at will’. In this case, he would certainly have been obeyed.”
But, she adds, “They are in this together. They all decide together and they are all partners. Unfortunately, the priority [for them] does not lie with the national interest, people’s rights and people’s livelihoods. The only thing that has priority is maintaining power. That is why these things happen, and nobody prevents them.”
Not Providing the Vaccine is Murder
Hashemi then digresses to talk about Iran’s procurement of a coronavirus vaccine. “The vaccine has been available for some time now – of various kinds in various countries,” she says. “They say ‘We have no money, we are under sanctions’, and so on. Shouldn’t we prioritize?
“At this moment, our priority is making satellites and missiles and sending aid outside our borders. But the priority must be caring for the people. We must solve the problem of the coronavirus and the vaccine. I believe that if somebody dies from the coronavirus in Iran since the development of the vaccine, it must be considered a kind of first-degree murder committed by the rulers.
“Yes, there are still fatalities in the countries that have imported the vaccine. But in our country not even the first step has been taken. We are not willing to stop spending money on things that are not only unnecessary but drive our country to ruin and push it backwards, instead of tending to people’s lives. Coronavirus is not about politics or about who rules the country. It is about people’s lives and it must take priority.
“I’m not even against the atomic bomb. In my view, now that other countries in the world are after the atomic bomb everybody should be after it, too. But we must prioritize. We must strengthen the economy, we must have justice and development, before we go after the atomic bomb. On the world stage we want justice and we want to fight imperialism, but inside the country these things are happening. It is an old saying that charity begins at home. We must first build justice in our own home before we strive for justice in the world.”
In the recording, she is asked by a member of her audience: “You mean you have nothing against making nuclear weapons and atom bombs?”
“Right now,” Faezeh Hashemi says, “many countries have nuclear weapons – India, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia, the US, and so on – and many other countries are on the threshold of making them. And the Arab countries have said that if Iran does it they will, too. I believe that all countries must be armed with modern weapons. Of course, I do not believe in their use. I believe in them as a deterrent.
“But not for our country in the present conditions. When the day comes that we are a developed country in terms of the economy, freedom and democracy, then we must be armed with modern weaponry for defensive purposes. This is my belief. But it is not something that we should be doing right now. Right now we have higher priorities and I am against making missiles, and against what we are accused of doing in the region, because they drive us backward.”