Iranian Human Rights Activist – People in Iran Want Change, not Reforms
For the past ten years, Fakhteh Zamani has been engaged in the defense of national minority rights in Iran. She now resides in Norway, given that her return to Iran at the moment is fraught with risks. Zamani is in daily touch with her friends living in Iran’s Kurdish provinces and human rights defenders in the Mashhad. Hetq interviewed Zamani via the internet.
It’s difficult to receive credible information regarding events now taking place in Iran. The government has imposed limitations on information. How do you receive information from Iran? Can you share any news with us?
Yes, social networks are being filtered. My human rights defender acquaintances in Mashhad and elsewhere are able to break through the barriers and get information out. The Iranian government has tried to monitor the populace for the past forty years. The populace has long since found ways to transfer information. This is how we get our information, by using our contacts on the ground.
While the international media is reporting that the poor socio-economic situation and inflation have fueled the protests, President Hassan Rouhani has accused Saudi Arabia of inciting the situation. Are you in contact with the protesters? If so, what has motivated them to taking to the streets?
You know that all dictators are accustomed to blaming outside governments for their failures. While it’s true that Iran and Saudi Arabia have always had tense relations, those who are protesting are demanding their fundamental rights. In Iran, as opposed to other countries, people don’t even have the right to socialize. They can’t even freely celebrate birthdays. Women going shopping for bread must dress according to the officially sanctioned rules. While they can now wear bright colors, it’s a result of a daily struggle that’s been waged. There is no justification for blaming outside governments. People are hungry. Many go without being paid for weeks and months. Food prices are increasing, and wages are decreasing. People are disgruntled. Yesterday, I was talking to a wealthy businessman in Iran. He said that even though he makes money, he still can’t afford certain things. So, just imagine the plight of those working for others.
Given the sporadic information reaching the outside, is it correct to assume that the protests lack leadership? How are their demands being formulated?
Yes, there are no leaders. People are organizing themselves. Organizing demonstrations in Iran isn’t easy. The government spends millions to form groups designed to crush any opposition. Those taking to the streets, in revolt, have violated the law and face serious retribution. The protesters have spontaneously taken to the streets.
Protests are taking place in various provinces. Do the demands of the protesters differ from place to place?
Iran is a multi-cultured country and people face differing challenges in each province. For example, the Kurdish provinces have experienced a military blockade for the past forty years. People there have been shot at when they try to enter their lands seized by the government. The national minorities face completely other problems. The Baluch Province is one of the country’s poorest. Kurds live there. The one common denominator is that all are suffering, regardless of economic status. In this context, however, the national minorities are subject to double discrimination. They have no right to receive an education in their native languages or to develop their cultures. Any type of music is banned in Iran. Women from the national minorities face triple discrimination. The situation for the Persian populace is different. Isfahan, for example, where the majority population is Persian, receives more state money for education than several national minority populated provinces put together.
What are your predictions on the protests? What will follow?
Honestly, I can’t make specific predictions as to what will come next. But I already see the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While the government has introduced some reforms in the past twenty years, people have realized that these reforms haven’t benefitted them. In contrast to the 2009 protests, the current protesters are demanding that the regime steps down, to be replaced by democratic rule. People are also tired that their taxes are being spent on proxy wars in the Middle East. People in Iran want real change, not reforms. This is evident from the slogans they use.
You have left Iran due to your political views and activities. Would you return is serious changes take place?
I would return to expand my actions in the name of democracy and a better life. Furthermore, I would have to be certain that the rights of national minorities are placed on the back burner.