Thousands of people are expected to gather in Berlin on Saturday to join a demonstration against oppression and discrimination in Iran. Hamed Esmaeilion, the spokesperson of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, has called on Iranians living abroad to join the rally after organizing a global demonstration on the first Saturday of October. On the eve of the Berlin protest, IranWire asked Esmailiyoun about his role in the Iranian opposition movement, as well as his goals and ambitions.
The Ukrainian passenger flight PS752 was shot down in Iran in January 2020 by missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), killing all 176 people onboard, including Esmailiyoun’s wife and daughter.
Mr. Esmaeilion, many Iranians and political groups have joined your calls for protests, and it seems that you have become a leader of the opposition movement. At the same time, you are seeking justice for the victims of the crimes committed in the Islamic Republic. What is the relationship between these two roles?
Before [the downing of flight PS752] happened, we all had our own personal lives and many of us were following the crimes of the Islamic Republic as well as the litigation process of other families during the past four decades. When this crime occurred, there was no other choice but to act. With the formation of the association of families of this flight, this activity took a coherent shape and turned into a civil institution.
In my opinion, this civil institution, despite the fact that its main goal is to achieve justice for flight PS752, could not and cannot ignore the events in Iran and the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic. In my view, this institution has transformed itself to include activities related to Iran and the future of Iran. This was what had to be done.
Let’s talk about yourself now. According to many observers, your goal is political and separate from seeking justice. Is that right?
The activity of a civil activist may become political. For example, an environmental activist wants a government to make political decision. The restauration of the environmental as it was in the past, for instance, requires a political decision by governments. Similarly, including officials of the Islamic Republic on a sanctions list has human rights reasons and, in my opinion, it is related to civil activity. It may have a political result, but it is a civil activity.
There is a difference between a civil activist and a political activist. A civil activist fights for a cause that can be related to the environment or justice. But a political activist or a party activist also looks at future political power.
Does it mean you don't think about exercising political power in the future?
Absolutely not. You see, I have lost my family and like every Iranian, I wish for the implementation of justice and respect of freedom in Iran.
My expectation for the future is to establish a court in Iran; a court where I can learn the truth about what happened to my family, what happened in 1989, 2019, the Green Movement [in 2009] and what happened to all the people who lost their lives. In my opinion, this court would be a big court dealing with all the crimes of the Islamic Republic. This is what I expect for the future of Iran. But the effort to overthrow the Islamic Republic is on our shoulders.
Regarding the desire of the victims' families to have a share of power in Iran’s future, if you ask me personally, it is absolutely not the case.
You recently criticized authors who continue to publish books inside Iran. And some people pointed out that you have published books inside the country before you were affected by the PS752 tragedy.
See, I have not been allowed to publish books in Iran since 2014. I did not have a desire for it. Four of my books have been published in Iran, and I can say that the last one was published there when left Iran. The publisher informed me they had given the book to the Culture Ministry, which gave its green light. I myself had no idea.
At some point, everyone decides not to do something. In Iran, great [writers] like Ahmad Shamlou and Hoshang Golshiri also got permission [to publish their books]. I did the same when I was a young writer. But once the situation changes it is no longer possible to continue in the same way.
You see the same situation in other countries. For example, in the Czech Republic, writers maintained their connection with the people, but in other ways, without giving in to censorship. In my opinion, this can only be done in Iran through a union of authors.
What should they do?
For example, after the suppression of the Prague Spring [in 1968], an underground system was created in this country where people bought books and writers wrote books.
People should see their own lives in the artists’ works and this does not happen in Iran. For many years now, the circulation of books in Iran has been between 500 and 1000. In a country where, in the late 70s, the first edition of Neighbors, which was written by Ahmad Mahmoud, had 22,000 copies for a population of 30 to 35 million. Now, for a population of 85 million, the circulation of books is 500 to 1000. Why? Because people don't see their lives in books.
You said earlier that you are not seeking any political power. There are rumors among political activists and journalists that you are in touch with activists and other well-known figures to launch a leadership council. Are these rumors true?
I wish success to all political activists and I hope they follow their sense of responsibility seriously. There are many opponents of the Islamic Republic inside and outside Iran who can think about the future and undertake activities that make people more hopeful. People like me and other activists only think about the fall of the Islamic Republic and hope for an Iran where justice and freedom are respected. Now, the duty of the political activist is to reach that goal.
Why Berlin was chosen to host the second gathering of Iranian protesters?
We thought that people's demonstrations are important in the political heart of Germany, which plays an important role in the European Union. On the other hand, the fall of the Berlin Wall has a symbolic aspect, which marked the end of an era; We hope that the wall of the Islamic Republic will collapse in the same way.
You have recently said that you would call for demonstrations inside Iran when you return to the country. For many inside Iran, the time has come to return. Do you want that?
No one knows what the future holds. A friend said that travelling to Iran means arrest and torture and other predictable events. But for a person who has nothing to lose, I think it doable. Over the past three years, whenever the case reached a point where I could no longer bear it, I considered returning to Iran and sit on the doorstep of the criminals.
If I think I can be useful here, I might stay for a while, but no one can predict the future. We hear from many Iranians abroad that they want to stand by those who are in Iran and face the criminals. I am not an exception.