Al-Arabia – Iranian human rights activists spoke out against US-based advocacy group, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), rejecting as bogus the group’s efforts to appear supportive of protesters during ongoing demonstrations in Iran.
NIAC describes itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit organization founded in 2002 to give voice to the Iranian-American community.”
However, the group has long been accused by Iranians inside the country and abroad of lobbying on behalf of the Islamic Republic and pushing for policies favorable to the regime.
NIAC dismisses the allegations and often labels its critics as “hawks” and “warmongers.”
Iran has witnessed anti-government protests for a over month following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. NIAC has publicly posted statements of support to the protesters, going as far as claiming it supports “regime change led by the Iranian people inside.”
However, Iranian activists spurned NIAC’s public stance in support of the protesters, criticizing the group’s history of pushing for Tehran-friendly policies.
Atena Daemi, a prominent human rights activist and former political prisoner based in Iran, accused NIAC on Tuesday of lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime.
“NIAC is not a representative of the people of Iran, but a lobbyist and a representative of the Islamic Republic in the West,” she wrote on Twitter.
“It is clear that the people [of Iran] do not want the Islamic Republic, and whatever NIAC says or whoever it endorses is aimed at the preservation and survival of the Islamic Republic,” Daemi added.
Daemi was imprisoned for over six years in Iran on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the supreme leader.” She was released from prison earlier this year.
Maral Karimi, author of ‘The Iranian Green Movement of 2009: Reverberating Echoes of Resistance’ told Al Arabiya English: “NIAC’s legitimacy is increasingly declining – as its members as well as those close to it and promoted by the organization – continue to misrepresent the interest of Iranians.”
She added: “Regardless of cries by the community both within the country and the diaspora, Western media and politicians continue to rely on NIAC members for analysis and advice on policy making. This, in essence, confuses a lobby representing the interests of an authoritarian and brutal state, with those of the citizens of that state fighting for democracy and self-determination.”
Activist group 1500tasvir, which monitors and reports about protests and violations in Iran, has also recently criticized NIAC.
The group tweeted on Saturday that NIAC or anyone affiliated with it do not have “the right to use the name and content of 1500tasvir anywhere.”
Translated to English, 1500tasvir means “1500 images,” a reference to the number of people security forces reportedly killed during anti-government protests in Iran in November 2019.
1500tasvir has grown exponentially since protests erupted a month ago. At the start of the protests, it had around 60,000 followers on Twitter. Today, the group has over 250,000 followers and is considered one of the primary and most trusted sources of news on the protests in Iran.
1500tasvir’s leading members are inside Iran, the group told Al Arabiya English.
On Instagram, the most popular social media platform in Iran, 1500tasvir has nearly one million followers.
“The answer is simple,” 1500tasvir said when asked by Al Arabiya English why they do not want NIAC using their material. “The Islamic Republic is our killer and enemy, and NIAC is also a part of the Islamic Republic.”
The group said they began their activity following the 2019 protests.
“We tried to document the crimes that the regime committed then. And we saw closely how NIAC assisted the Islamic Republic in covering up those crimes,” 1500tasvir said.
“If anyone in the world today doesn’t know what the Islamic Republic did in November 2019, how it fired at people, how it massacred people with tanks and DShK machine guns, it’s all thanks to NIAC and its efforts and its members’ media interviews,” the group said.
“In reality, NIAC is the same as Iran’s clerics, except they wear suits instead of robes and turbans, and just like the clerics, they are never on the side of the Iranian people,” 1500tasvir added.
“These days, they publish charters and lists of individuals who are supposedly the Iranian people’s voices, but we know very well that all these things they are doing are only to curb our revolution and a desperate attempt to preserve the Islamic Republic.”
NIAC did not respond to a request for comment from Al Arabiya English.
Kaveh Shahrooz, an Iranian lawyer and senior fellow at the Canada-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute, told Al Arabiya English: “Observers that have followed Iran closely for a long time all know that NIAC advocated policies favored by a faction of the Islamic Republic’s regime.”
“Their pro-regime views – promoting negotiations that would lead to a massive payoff for the regime; opposition to targeted sanctions – were always couched in the language of diplomacy. But it was never a mystery that they advanced Iran’s regime interests,” said Shahrooz.
Today, association with NIAC has become a “scarlet letter,” he said, adding that the group’s apparent support for the ongoing protests in Iran is not genuine.
“Now, everyone has come to the same realization, and association with NIAC has rightly become a scarlet letter for all of that organization’s affiliates. NIAC and its staff now pretend to be on the side of the revolution. But everyone sees through the lie. They are not involved in organizing any protests and are not welcomed at any. In fact, NIAC is openly booed and jeered by protesters.”