02/16/2018, 18.22
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Iranian intellectuals and activists push for a referendum against theocracy

Following President Rouhani’s lead, 15 prominent Iranians demand a referendum to define the country’s constitutional future. They harshly attack the ruling clergy for denying people their freedom. The goal is overcome the Islamic regime in a peaceful manner and establish “a parliamentarian system according to democratic bases”.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iranian intellectuals, activists, and academics have signed a statement accusing Iran’s theocratic regime of failing to live up to the revolution’s republican ideals.

Responding to a call for a referendum made by Iran’s moderate president Hassan Rouhani, the 15 prominent figures who signed the statement want it to be internationally-supervised and tasked with specifying “the features of the future regime”.

According to signatories, the referendum question should allow Iranians to express themselves on the ruling establishment, especially the clerical elite that holds power, so as to determine whether the it is still backed by a majority.

Those who inked their name to the letter include people Iranians living at home and abroad, people like Nobel peace prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi; Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist currently imprisoned in Tehran; Nasrin Sotoudeh, a rights lawyer; and film-makers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi.

In the letter, the activists write, “Four decades have passed since the establishment of the Islamic republic, a government whose obsession with Islamisation has left little room for republican ideals.”

Taking a swipe at the conservative-dominated judiciary, which acts independently of Rouhani’s moderate government, they say “The judiciary is reduced to the executor of the political wishes of those who hold the reins of power. So many women, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, workers and political and social activists have been harassed, arrested, convicted of serious crimes and sent to prison, solely for criticising officials, enlightening public opinion, inviting the rulers to respect separation of religion from government or demanding women’s relief from the mandatory veil.”

Slamming the "oppressive irreparable regime", the letter’s authors denounce a "political deadlock" that has undermined the possibilities of reform and change, effectively denying Iranian people its freedom. To counter this, they want a general a referendum based on the principle of self-determination of a people.

In concluding, the 15 say that “To overcome this crisis, the current Islamic regime must be peacefully abandoned. (The country) must move forward towards establishing a parliamentarian system according to democratic bases that guarantee freedom of expression, end discrimination against women and solidify the principle of equality among men and women and people of different religions and sects”.

The letter follows a proposal made by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani a few days ago to hold a referendum. Without going into details, the Iranian leader said such a step would be aimed at healing the country’s political divisions and bridge the gap between the ruling clerical leadership and the majority of the population, above all young people who are becoming increasingly impatient with the clergy’s dictates.

The start of 2018 has been rather turbulent, with street demonstrations that left at least 25 people dead.

In view of the situation, Rouhani has been using protests and dissatisfaction to put pressure on conservatives to accept change.

Although he did not specify the referendum question, he is probably referring on the ongoing debate on civil liberties, sparked by the protest of Iranian women against the obligation to cover their hair.

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