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Amess, the human rights campaigner for Iran

David Amess, the murdered Conservative MP, was a human rights campaigner for Iran

On Friday 15th October Sir David Amess was murdered during his constituency surgery in Leigh-on Sea in Essex. Many reports have emerged of his care for his constituents, his love of his role, his concern for the welfare of animals and his commitment to many other causes, including that of his campaigning for better treatment for endometriosis. He was a Catholic who opposed abortion and an ardent Brexiteer. He was not a standard right-wing politician, however,  but he rather followed his own convictions, being opposed, for example, to one classic right-wing cause, namely fox hunting. My partner and I went, on 16th October, to Leigh-on Sea, to pay our respects to him and found people from many communities, including Tamils and local as well as London based Imams, there to pay their respects as well.

There was one cause that has been less mentioned, however, that Amess supported, unwaveringly and bravely, over thirty years, and that was the cause of opposition to the fundamentalist regime in Iran. This has been less widely reported than other causes he espoused but it deserves to have a special mention. He was Co-Chair of the British Committee for Iran Freedom which issued the following statement, following his death: ‘Sir David was a champion of human rights and democracy in Iran for more than three decades. He consistently spoke in support of the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations and the Iranian Resistance movement, NCRI. During his time in the parliament, he frequently raised the many serious threats from the regime in Tehran at parliamentary conferences, debates, and in Early Day Motions advocating for a firm policy on Iran focused on human rights and holding the regime to account for its violations of those rights and for its terrorism’. https://www.einnews.com/pr_news/554021467/video-the-british-committee-for-iran-freedom-statement-following-the-passing-of-its-co-chairman-sir-david-amess

He led a cross party delegation of British MP’s to several gatherings of the Iranian resistance,  the National Council for the Resistance of Iran. This is a coalition of various Iranian dissident groups of which the majority member is the People’s Mujahadeen of Iran ( PMOI).  He said, on 6th September this year, 2021, “One of the proudest things I have ever done in my political career is to support the National Council of Resistance of Iran which calls for the Iranian regime to be replaced with a safer and more democratic government,” (NCRI, Sep.2021).

In 2012, Amess wrote an article, in the Mail online, supporting the decision of the US State Department to remove the PMOI from the list of foreign terrorist organisations. He wrote: ‘Of course, it never had been the MEK that belonged on the terrorism list – it always has been the government in Tehran, which has executed tens of thousands of its own citizens in its struggle to keep power and now seeks nuclear capability to threaten its neighbors and the world even more, and supports Syria’s Assad as he also murders his own people’. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2207983/The-U-S-State-Department-going-remove-People-s-Mujahedin-Iran-PMOI-MEK-list-foreign-terrorist-organisations.html. The PMOI had been found in 2006, following a campaign that included several MP’s, in Britain, not to be a terrorist organisation.

Amess visited the headquarters of the PMOI, in Albania and he often spoke about the barbarity of the fundamentalist regime in Iran. In a guest commentary  written for Forbes, in 2016, he wrote: :’ Over the past three years alone the Iranian regime has carried out over 2,400 executions, more than at any period since the revolution. This startling rate of executions was enough to give the country the title of top executioner per capita in the world. And Iran’s current and supposedly “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani, described these executions publicly in 2014 as “God’s commandments” and “laws of the parliament that belongs to the people.”  Yet this rate of executions, which disproportionately targets opposition figures and ethnic minorities, and the barbaric punishments inflicted on its own citizens, which also includes forced amputations, has elicited little more than a shrug from the West. Especially in Washington D.C. there has only been lip service and no action. This type of “concern” over “action” approach is good for short-term political gains, but the people of Iran, the Middle East and those across the globe will continue to pay a high price in real terms. https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/07/06/iran-extremism-consequences/?sh=2313e5456e4c

The present moment, though,  is particularly significant. Just before he was killed, Sir David wrote an article highlighting the involvement of the Iranian regime’s President Ebrahim Raisi in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran and supporting the call by the Anglo-Iranian community to arrest him if attended the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November. https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/iran-a-world/sir-david-amess-last-article-asks-for-reversing-a-pattern-of-appeasement-by-arresting-irans-genocidal-president/

A petition was sent to the police in Scotland on October 8th 2021, calling on them to arrest Raisi if her travelled to the summit. It is understood that, although he had originally planned to go, Raisi will no longer be travelling to the summit.

The background to this is that Raisi was a significant player in the mass execution, in 1988, of thousands of political prisoners in Iran. Raisi was one of the members of the Death Committee of Tehran after Khomeini issued a fatwa against any one who was an opponent of the regime. Prisoners were ‘condemned to execution’. https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2021/jul/21/raisi-role-1988-massacre

At the time, ‘Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, the heir apparent to Khomeini and a long-time disciple, condemned the executions as they were unfolding. In a meeting with the Tehran committee, he reportedly said, “I believe that the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be condemned by history, happened by your hands,” he told them. “Fighting against ideology with killing is totally wrong.” Friction with Khomeini over the massacre and political persecution eventually forced Montazeri to resign, under pressure, in March 1989. Khomeini died less than 10 weeks later, without naming an alternative’. https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2021/jul/21/raisi-role-1988-massacre

In 2008, 20 years after the massacre, Amnesty International wrote: ‘International human rights law requires that the Iranian authorities carry out thorough and impartial investigations into violations of the right to life such as those which were committed during the “prison massacre”, which began in 1988 and continued into the following year, and to identify and bring to justice those responsible. The failure to do so to date and
the time that has elapsed since the killings do not in any way reduce this responsibility’.https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/iran-20th-anniversary-1988-prison-massacre?utm_source=google&utm_medium=grant&utm_campaign=BRD_AWA_GEN_dynamic-search-

Last year, in 2020, a group of UN Human Rights experts wrote to the Iranian regime warning that past and present human rights variolations may amount to crimes against humanity and that if they continue, they will push for accountability. This moment was seen as a momentous breakthrough in the campaign to have this massacre recognised. https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25503In June 2021,’ Javaid Rehman, the U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran, called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 and the role played by President Ebrahim Raisi as Tehran deputy prosecutor. In an interview with Reuters, Rehman said he had amassed testimonies and evidence which he was ready to share them if the United Nations Human Rights Council or other body sets up an impartial investigation’. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/exclusive-un-expert-backs-probe-into-irans-1988-killings-raisis-role-2021-06-29/

There is also a growing call for an inquiry into the massacres by over 150 international human rights experts, suggesting that the demand is now widespread.  Amess was one of the people tirelessly campaigning about the massacre and about other human rights violations carried out over the years by the Iranian regime.

Alison Assiter, October 2021.

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  • Alison Assiter

    Alison Assiter is Professor of Feminist Theory at UWE, Bristol, the author of a number of books and articles and also feminist and anti fundamentalist activist. Her latest book is Kierkegaard, Eve and Metaphors of Birth, published by Rowman and Littlefield in May 2015. She has just completed a book on Human Rights, defending them against the charge that they are westocentric.

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Tags: , , , , Last modified: October 29, 2021