Exiled Iran opposition figures in united ‘victory’ message

PARIS (AP): A group of prominent exiled Iranian pro-opposition figures have issued a coordinated message predicting 2023 will be a year of “victory” with the regime shaken by protests.

Those sending the message include leaders from the fields of culture, human rights and sports.

The Iranian diaspora has long been seen as lacking unity, split into different political factions and strategies for dealing with the Islamic republic, that ousted the shah in 1979.

But with protests still continuing in Iran over 100 days after they were sparked by the death of young Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, the message appears an attempt to find a long-sought unity.

“The year 2022 was a glorious year of solidarity for Iranians of every belief, language and orientation,” it said.

“With organization and solidarity, 2023 will be the year of victory for the Iranian nation. The year of freedom and justice in Iran.”

The message was sent simultaneously on social media by a variety of figures, ranging from the influential US-based dissident Masih Alinejad to the son of the ousted shah, Reza Pahlavi, who also lives in the United States.

Prominent actors Golshifteh Farahani and Nazanin Boniadi also tweeted the message, as did Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in France last year.

“We are united to reach freedom,” Farahani wrote on her Instagram account. “We will stand together and will not be silent.”

Prominent rights activists to post the message included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, and Hamed Esmaeilion, who has led the Canada-based campaign for justice for the victims of the Ukraine Airlines flight shot down by Iran in January 2020.

From the field of sports, they were joined by former Iranian international football star Ali Karimi, who has been a vociferous supporter of the protest movement.

The protest movement sparked by the death of Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code, is presenting the clerical leadership with its biggest challenge since the 1979 revolution.

The crackdown has seen 476 people killed, according to Norway-based rights group Iran Human Rights.

Two people have already been executed over the protests, while IHR says at least 100 detainees are at risk of execution.

The United Nations says at least 14,000 people have been arrested, with several well known figures such as the actor Taraneh Alidoosti still in detention.

Roham Alvandi, a history professor at the London School of Economics, said the message was a “hopeful sign in dark times.”

With the authorities showing little sign of offering concessions to protesters, the Fars news agency reported that Iranian police were launching a new drive to step up enforcement of the obligatory hijab.