On a cold and wintry day in Paris, some 10,000 supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, gathered to mark the 44th anniversary of the anti-monarchic revolution in 1979. The sea of people waving the tri-colored lion and sun flag of Iran – a symbol of Iranians who oppose the theocracy of the current Islamic Republic – created an impressive sight with the crowd chanting slogans of defiance against oppression and human rights abuses by the Shah or the ruling clerical regime.
The rally was marked by powerful speeches from leaders and elected officials from Europe, including the NCRI’s President-elect, Maryam Rajavi. She criticized both the Shah’s 1953-1979 dictatorship and the present theocratic regime, which has also been in power for over 40 years, saying totalitarianism is by definition a dictatorship, regardless of whether it is led by someone wearing a monarch’s crown or a cleric’s turban.
“Let us not forget that plunder, whether committed by Khamenei’s Setad (which has seized thousands of private properties in Iran) or the Barekat Foundation (the mullahs charitable organization responsible for depriving large areas of the country access to public health services), or by Reza Shah, who forcibly seized the lands and villages of our country, or by his son who took billions of dollars of Iran’s wealth abroad without accountability, is plunder, regardless. Coercion remains coercion, whether it takes the form of forced removal of the hijab or forced imposition of the hijab,” NCRI President-elect added.
Rajavi also took aim at the policy of appeasement that many Western countries have towards the regime, stating that it only emboldened the regime in Tehran to continue its repressive policies and export terrorism.
“The era of granting concessions to the mullahs is over. This is no time to cultivate constructive relationships with a regime that perpetuates atrocities through executions and massacres. Instead, it is imperative to extend sincere apologies to the people of Iran for past support of religious tyranny,” Rajavi said.
She called for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be added to the Europeans Union’s list of designated terrorist organizations and for the disbanding of the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards, both of which have been used as a facade for the regime’s terrorist bombing plots.
Rajavi urged the world to recognize the fundamental rights of the Iranian people as they move towards reclaiming their country and defending themselves against the repressive Islamic Republic regime and emphasized the need for unity in the fight for freedom, saying the Iranian people would not rest until their voices were heard and their rights were fully recognized.
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister and current Member of the European Parliament expressed his hope that Iran would finally be free more than four decades after the Shah’s oppressive rule came to end and an even more oppressive dictatorship took over the country in the wake of the pro-democracy phase of the 1978-79 revolution. While praising their courage to forge a truly democratic Iran, Verhofstadt noted that the Iranian people have faced various forms of violence from the day the mullahs took power forty-four years ago.
The former Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow, also mentioned the Shah, calling his rule “diabolical and despicable”, saying the late head of the Pahlavi Dynasty was a corrupt killer who did not believe in democracy, freedom or the rights of women and minorities and who allowed his ruthless security services, SAVAK, to commit major human rights abuses.
Bercow reminded many Western observers that the Iranian Revolution was not a single event led by radical cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rather, the people of Iran first had a revolution to remove the Shah in order to turn Iran into a constitutional democracy, but Khomeini and his fanatical religious followers hijacked the democratic goals of the movement and unleashed a new form of totalitarianism that is worse than their predecessors.
Both Verhofstadt and Bercow agreed that Iran needs to transform into a democracy and re-enter the global family of nations as a constructive and respected partner in international affairs. The current regime, according to Verhofstadt and Bercow, has discredited Iran in the eyes of most of the world due to its continued gross human rights abuses and open sponsorship of terrorist activities.
The youth of Iran must to it upon themselves to take responsibility and do their duty to end the violence and killing that has been unleashed on the population by the Revolutionary Guards following the outbreak of the still ongoing national protests, which began in September after a young woman was killed by the regime’s moral police while in custody, according to Verhofstadt and Bercow, both of whom encouraged young Iranians to remain resolute in their fight for a free Iran.
Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian politician and one-time presidential candidate who spent six and a half years in captivity after being kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Marxist terror group more commonly known as the FARC, noted that Iran must create a democratic government, one led by Rajavi, which would be coupled with an organized opposition movement both in Iran and across the world.
Betancourt, one of the world’s leading human rights activists, praised the women leading the new revolution in Iran, noting that the struggle for freedom is led by women. Her message to the Free World is the Iranian people’s struggle for a better future for their country is, in fact, a symbolic struggle for all who believe in rule of law society.
In an address to the rally, two French former mayors, Jean Francois Legaret and Jacques Boutault, expressed similar views about promoting democracy and freedom in Iran using Rajavi’s blueprint for establishing democratic norms in Iran. In the spirit of his own country’s revolutionary slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité, Legaret, in particular, demonstratively called for using three simple words to guide the Iranian opposition movement: democracy, republic, freedom.
In a nod to their leading role in the current uprising, Lagaret and Boutault praised the bravery of Iranian women in standing up to the regime. Each of the two ex-mayors called on the world’s governments worldwide to pressure the mullahs to end committing violence against their own people.
The day’s events culminated in a slow procession that moved through the streets of central Paris. At one point the participants took part in chants of “death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader (Khamenei). After decades of being under the thumb of duelling oppressive regimes, the show of solidarity in the French capital was a powerful statement from the Iranian people about their deep-rooted desire for freedom and democracy; two core principles the Iranian people have long waiting for over most of the country’s modern history.