London’s Camp Ashraf Hunger Strikers
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th August, 2009
For over three weeks now, a small group of dedicated Iranians have been on hunger strike in front of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, vowing to continue their protest until the United States guarantees the safety of thouands of their exiled compatriots who live in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, the major base for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). The late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein gave sanctuary to the mujahideen, much to the fury of Tehran, but after his overthrow, US forces took control of the camp and disarmed its inhabitants. However, at the start of this year, as part of the Americans’ policy of handing more and more responsilities in Iraq to the government in Baghdad, Iraq assumed authority over the camp. Alas, at the end of July, Iraqi security forces stormed it, in an extraordinarily inhumane operation that led to several deaths and scores of casualties. The brutality of that operation was graphically illustrated in video footage screened last night at the protest demonstration in Grosvenor Square.
Earlier, I spoke at the event – as one of a series of British politicians and representatives of non-governmental organisations over the past three weeks – calling on the United States to take control of Camp Ashraf again until some sort of UN or other international supervision can be put in place. The Iraqi government would dearly like to get rid of the PMOI inhabitants, but sending them back to Iran could be a potential death-sentence for many of them. This week, the London protestors tried to deliver a letter to the US Embassy calling for urgent action, but the Embassy refused to accept it. The official American (and indeed Briitsh) line is that the situation at Camp Ashraf is being monitored closely to ensure that the Iraqi government complies with its written guarantees that the camp’s residents will be treated hunanely, but one can see why, after last month’s assault, many of those inhabitants and their relatives in cities including London consider those guarantees to be hollow.
I do not support any one political grouping in Iran, but I have followed events in the country closely since I first visited it 40 years ago. As has been demonstrated in Iran itself in recent months, there are many varied and valid political strands and many brave people there, and I for one long for the day when there can be the sort of freedom and security which would mean that there can be a truly democratic contest in which the different political parties and groups could set out their stalls without fear of prohibition, harassment, imprisonment or worse.