The story of Ashraf camp in Iraq is as old as the resistance of Iranian people to the rule of religious fundamentalist leaders over the state can be, particularly since the fall in 1979 of Reza Paravi, Shah of Iran. Over the years, the camp has gained prominence and become a symbol of hope and freedom for Iranians inside and outside their country. In 2006, when exiled Iranians explained me the story of that camp, I felt like they were telling me my compatriots’ experience of suffering and oppression under the rule of the Rwandan Patriotic Front as far back it can be traced. Since then I have been supportive of Ashraf friends’ work. They make a remarkable contribution to change for Iranian people which if it could be replicated elsewhere and inspire other oppressed citizens around the world, we would all live much more fulfilled lives.
On April 8, 2011, the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Maiki sent troops with armoured vehicles to destroy the camp. Without any weapon, men and women from the camp confronted the attackers standing in front of the tanks. The death toll was of 38 people and 135 others injured. The victory was for the camp residents since the Iraqi soldiers felt apparently ashamed of killing innocent refugees who resisted them without any gun.
The attack was called off but the camp is still under siege until today. It does not get any supply of medicine to care for the injured. On April 26, 2011, at an International conference in Paris to denounce the crimes committed by the Iraqi government against Iranian refugees of camp Ashraf, a clip of those recent massacres were shown. Many in the audience of hundreds of people sobbed for minutes witnessing the barbaric acts of killing defenceless men and women.
On Tuesday 1st March 2011, when I was invited to a public rally in central London that Iranians had organised, this was in front of the Iranian Embassy on Kensington Gore – UK; I remembered how the suffering of Iranian people was almost similar to atrocious conditions that my fellow Rwandans experience daily under their president dictator Paul Kagame.
For the same reasons as in the situation of Rwanda, where protesters are brutalised by the regime, I took the opportunity to condemn the crackdown on tens of thousands of Iranians who took to the streets of Iran peacefully on 14 February 2011 demanding democratic change. Our hearts went to those the regime’s violent attack left killed, injured or got arrested on that occasion.
I further condemned the regime’s actions against the 3,400 Iranian residents of Camp Ashraf, in Iraq. The regime wants to annihilate Ashraf because it is a beacon of hope to millions in Iran, and even beyond the Middle East, who cry for freedom. In January of this year, Iraqi armed forces and Iranian intelligence agents attacked the camp residents leaving 176, including 91 women, injured. The camp has been under siege for two years, and residents face continuous psychological torture by Iranian agents using 180 loudspeakers continuously.
In line with David Cameron, British prime minister, declaration in Kuwait on dictatorships early this year, I called on the UK government to cut ties with the Iranian regime until a halt to repression of the opposition movement – People Movement Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and the release of all political prisoners. I joined my voice to demand the UK government to recognise the democratic opposition coalition that constitutes the National Council of Resistance of Iran. I called on the British government to take action through the UN to:
- impose comprehensive sanctions on the mullahs’ Iranian regime until a halt to repression of the opposition movement; and
- set up a permanent UN monitoring team at Camp Ashraf, and for its security to be passed to US forces in Iraq
As people from different places bring together our voices to claim justice everywhere, we can all make our world a better place to live in. Let’s not let anybody, anywhere and at any time hijack our pain and pursuit for freedom for their selfish interests, be it in Iran or Rwanda, or anywhere else.