Ahmadinejad’s possible role in savage beatings

The Mail on Sunday (November 29) published a photograph purportedly showing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the regime’s London consulate in April 1984. Comrades from the Fedayeen (Minority), who had forced their way into the building, were imprisoned and severely beaten by Iranian staff. Yassamine Mather was a member of the Fedayeen (Minority) at the time and spoke to the Weekly Worker about the incident


Who took part in the action and what were they protesting about?

This was the second of a series of international protests by supporters of the Organisation of Iranian People’s Fedayeen Guerrillas (Minority faction) to draw attention to the repression in Iran. On April 26 1984 students in a number of major cities in Europe and North America staged occupations of offices belonging to the Islamic regime. The consulates in London and The Hague, Iran Air offices in Paris, Frankfurt and Vienna, and premises in a number of other capital cities were targeted.

In London the peaceful occupation of the consulate was initially successful. The students sprayed red paint on the walls in the shape of the Fedayeen logo and placed two placards near a window. One read: “Mass executions in Iran and the world is silent”, while the other stated: “We are not armed.” According to the comrades involved, they were held hostage (a common practice of Iran’s Islamic security forces). Staff locked them in a room on the upper ground floor and later returned with Revolutionary Guards from the main embassy building, who were armed with wooden clubs and iron bars.

Nine of the 11 unarmed protesters were kept blindfolded and two, identified as “troublemakers” and the main “ring leaders”, were taken to the basement, where they were severely beaten. After nine hours of negotiation with the Metropolitan police, the embassy released its hostages. Quite by coincidence this was less than 10 days after PC Yvonne Fletcher had been killed at a protest outside the Libyan embassy and the police were keen to resolve the incident quickly. Nine of the protesters walked out, with hoods over their heads and placards hung around their necks accusing them of being US and French spies, and were immediately arrested. The two held in the basement were taken to hospital for treatment.

How was the protest decided upon and what was your own involvement?

The decision to mount these coordinated protests was taken by the international committee and approved by the central committee. But those taking part had no say in the decision because of the bizarre organisational structure of the OIPFG (Minority). Supporters outnumbered members by more than 20 to one, but, despite their high level of commitment, couldn’t be admitted into membership unless they agreed to put themselves at the complete disposal the organisation in terms of where they were sent and what they were instructed to do (including risking their lives). They were also unable to intervene in political discussions.

As a member of the international committee, I was among those who made the decision, although I wasn’t one of the protesters. However, I shared the responsibility for the actions in London and elsewhere; and during the agonising hours when we didn’t know what was happening in the consulate I wished I had been a supporter inside. If the students had not been released, it would have been up to the international committee to try to resolve the situation and it was our responsibility to make sure they got the necessary medical and legal support (the judge was lenient after seeing photos of the injuries sustained by two of the comrades and all 11 were given non-custodial sentences).

The decision regarding the international day of action was taken in order to reassert the authority and prestige of the OIPFG (Minority) following a number of setbacks inside Iran. In the winter of 1983-84 key comrades had been arrested in Tehran, following several tactical and strategic mistakes by the central committee. However, the CC didn’t want any discussion of such issues. In addition some members had reservations about the way it had appointed new committee members following the death of comrades elected by congress and subsequently killed by the regime. In the midst of these factional arguments the response of the CC and IC was activism and agitation as a substitute for political debate - a common response of many sections of the left, not just the Iranian groups.

In those terrible days at the height of the Islamic regime’s repression there were good reasons to try to reassert the authority of the Fedayeen with spectacular actions and this was a factor in the decision to mount synchronised protests in many countries. However, it would be wrong to underestimate the error we made in the way we arrived at it.

Comrade S Amin, who showed so much courage as one of the hostages during the London protest, told me this week that she gave up on such activism and left the organisation in 1988 (I myself left the Fedayeen Minority two years earlier) because after a similar embassy protest in Norway she discovered that the event had not even been publicised by the international committee: it had been used as part of a tactic to show the IC in a good light compared to other factions of the OIPFG (Minority). For comrade Amin, the Norway incident was the last straw, yet she was an exceptional comrade - one that no political organisation could afford to lose. But her story is similar to that of many other former members and supporters of the Fedayeen.

How do you assess the April 1984 action?

In terms of publicity we did very well - in a large part thanks to the stupidity of the embassy staff in beating up peaceful protesters with iron bars. It was widely reported in news bulletins on TV and radio.

Many couldn’t believe the barbarism shown by the Pasdars (Revolutionary Guards) in London, but our main aim had been to draw attention to what was going on inside Iran. By their actions in a foreign capital, the agents of the regime had proved the validity of our claims regarding the torture of political prisoners. Fred Halliday, who could still be considered on the left at the time, gave an interview to Newsnight detailing protests in other countries and explaining the history of the Fedayeen. Press coverage the next day was also extensive and, as most reporters were outside the consulate, their stories concentrated on the Pasdars, who were taunting those protesting outside from the first floor balcony - hence the photo of Ahmadinejad or his lookalike.

In addition to general publicity we wanted to obtain international solidarity from leftwing organisations and this proved more difficult in Britain. The Tudeh Party had been enthusiastic supporters of the Khomeini regime (although by 1983 its members were being arrested) and none of the ‘brother’ pro-Soviet parties wanted to criticise Iran. The US section of the Fourth International was still openly supporting Tehran, while its sections in Europe, including the UK, refused to come out against the ‘anti-imperialist’ Islamic regime. Other Trotskyist groups, such as the Workers Revolutionary Party, fully supported Iran, considering Khomeini to be an ally in the anti-imperialist struggle.

Ironically the only people who helped us were members of the Socialist Workers Party. I don’t think we approached the SWP officially - only through personal contacts. I asked SWP member Jim Nicholl to defend the students in court and he did an excellent job, turning the tables on the Pasdar thugs and accusing them of grievous bodily harm. Paul Foot interviewed me and wrote a very sympathetic article in the Daily Mirror in defence of the Iranian left. It is a shame that 25 years later and at a time when millions of Iranians are on the street protesting against the Islamic regime one cannot find much solidarity with the Iranian working class from the SWP leadership.

Has the news of the latest Mail on Sunday story reached Iran? What do you think it will mean for the young generation now protesting in that country?

The short item on the Ahmadinejad lookalike has been translated and published on many Iranian websites. Comrade Amin remembers the man in the photo, although she is unable to say if he was Ahmadinejad. But he was clearly a leading figure amongst the Pasdars and was giving orders to staff as the protesters were leaving the consulate.

I hope the young generation who get to know about the 1984 student protests will note that the struggle against the Islamic Republic has a long history. Victory will not be easy or swift, but we must persevere. They should also remember that, irrespective of whether the man in the photo is Ahmadinejad or someone else, the prime minister who authorised the savage Pasdar attack on unarmed students was a certain Mir-Hossein Moussavi, one of the ‘reformist’ presidential candidates in 2009.

In 1984, members and supporters of the Fedayeen were protesting against the mass execution of political prisoners, but the severe repression meant we were isolated inside Iran, forcing us to mount demonstrations outside the country. Yet, at least for a few days, we did manage to draw attention to the atrocities of the regime. Today, however, there are huge demonstrations in Tehran itself.

That is why young people inside Iran should not be disheartened by temporary setbacks. We have come a long way and everyone agrees that we are now witnessing the beginning of the end of this regime.