Picture credit: AFP via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Has the media forgotten Iran?

Brave protesters are still fighting for their freedoms

The Iranian protesters have a new name on their lips: Kian Pirfalak, a nine-year-old boy shot dead in the southwestern city of Izeh as his father drove them home on Wednesday of last week.

Videos of the young boy, who wanted to be an inventor, have since been shared widely across social media, and a song written in his honour.

In one particularly poignant clip, the young boy launches an impressive wooden vessel, which he designed for a science fair, in the name of “the God who made the rainbow”.

It was incredibly powerful – not to mention brave – to see the Iranian football team captain, Ehsan Hajsafi, open his press conference ahead of the game against England yesterday with those very same words.

It also showed just how much these protests – and the many innocent lives lost – mean to the Iranian people.

More than 400 protesters, including over 50 children, have now been killed in the protests, which still rage on more than two months after the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not wearing her headscarf “properly”.

And with every new death comes a new outpouring of grief, and protest.

It seems as though nearly every day at the moment there is a march to mark the 40th day – significant for Iranians – since the death of one of the fallen, and Iranians are quick to point out that the same happened in the year of protests in 1978-79 that ultimately led to the fall of the last regime.

For be in no doubt, Iranians today are demanding once more that the ruling regime is toppled. This is not a call for reform; Iranians are demanding regime change.

But while the protests are very much alive inside the country – and for those of us outside who care deeply about Iran – for many others there seems little awareness of what is going on.

I’ve lost count of the number of friends who, when asked if they’ve heard about what’s happening, have seemed uncertain.

I don’t say this to shame my friends, or the many others in the UK who are no doubt in the same boat. I only say it to highlight that, as with every event – however seismic – the news cycle moves on, and, in journalistic terms at least, another day of protests like the one before simply isn’t news.

How, then, can we in the West continue to stay informed about this – and other – ongoing atrocities?

In my opinion, it is down not only to our journalists, but also our politicians.

I was encouraged last week to see another Urgent Question brought before parliament on the current situation – and specifically the treatment of protesters – in Iran.

But while such discussions are important, concrete action from the British government has so far been slow and, to most observers, insufficient.

It was striking to many Iranians how not once did Liz Truss say a single word on the protests in her short tenure as prime minister, and the same has so far been true of Rishi Sunak.

The only comments from government ministers in the past two months have come from the foreign secretary – a good first step, I suppose – in announcing sanctions against the “morality police” responsible for Mahsa’s death, and recently a number of other officials involved in the crackdown.

These moves are welcome, but to many Iranians they are not enough.

To date, the UK and other Western allies have been reluctant to go one step further by following through on the demand many Iranians have made: to cut off all diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic, expel its ambassadors and recall our own.

“We’re not asking you to fight for us,” many Iranians have been saying on social media. “We’re just asking you not to fund our oppressors.”

Essentially, what they’re asking us is which we value more highly: the lives of the Iranian people, or potential trade deals on commodities such as oil.

The European Parliament president vowed yesterday to have no further engagement with the Islamic Republic. Now we need sovereign states to follow suit.

States like New Zealand, whose representative to the UN last week explained that his country had “suspended indefinitely” all bilateral dialogue with Iran regarding human rights, as it was “no longer tenable”.

The question that our government, and others in the West, must answer is whether we are truly willing to side with the Iranian people in this fight, or whether – as many Iranians see it at the moment – we will remain only on the sidelines, saying a few words of condemnation every now and then, and sanctioning a few individuals.

What the Iranian people are really asking is for the Islamic Republic to be sidelined on the international stage in the same way Russia has been.

Perhaps hope lies in the upcoming UN special session on Iran, scheduled to take place on Thursday. Perhaps a consensus can be reached – and hesitancy transformed into action – as the full horror of what has been taking place is brought to light by the testimony of witnesses.

But what is the end game here? To my mind, without the help of the international community, it is difficult to see a change in the situation anytime soon.

The protests will go on – almost all Iran watchers agree on this – but so too, most certainly, will the death toll.

The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Courts have already begun handing out death sentences to protesters, so whether it is on the streets, or as a result of sham trials, these protesters’ lives are in grave danger.

The question is whether we in the UK, and the wider international community, will truly stand alongside the people of Iran, as we have with the people of Ukraine.

That is the question Iranians want us to answer, and please, God of the rainbow, may our answer be yes.

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