Los Angeles — The son of Iran’s last shah, Reza Pahlavi, denounced Tehran’s looming presidential polls as “theatrics” as he launched a hunger strike to support political prisoners of the Islamic regime.
In an interview with AFP, Pahlavi called for a boycott of next week’s polls organized by the Iranian government that toppled his father in a 1979 revolution that sent the imperial family into exile. The 44-year-old royal said he would not eat or drink, save for water to avoid dehydration, for three days between Friday to Sunday to draw attention to the lack of human, civic and political rights of Iranians.
“This is in solidarity with political prisoners inside Iran, to demand their freedom and protest the lack of human rights and political liberties in Iran,” he said at the start of his protest.
“My message to the people is that this transcends any kind of political grouping or ideology. We are all in it together as Iranians,” he said, calling for Iranians to stay away from the June 17 poll.
Pahlavi was poised to carry out his hunger strike publicly outside government buildings in Los Angeles, the hub of a region that is home to around 600,000 Iranian expatriates. He called on citizens of his country not to take part in the election, which said was not an expression of democracy and would likely be fixed, to avoid giving legitimacy to Iran’s religious leaders.
“We believe the boycott of the elections will be a very strong signal aimed at indicating to the world that Iranians are not going to give what the regime expects out of these theatrics: to claim legitimacy solely on the basis that people are participating,” he said.
Four hardline Islamists are among the candidates running to replace outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami in a race that is being led powerful ex-president and leading cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
But Pahlavi said he had information gathered by activists in Iran indicating that the “majority” of voters in the country of 68 million people would boycott the election. The hunger strike and polls boycott form part of a wider campaign of civil disobedience ultimately aimed at giving Iranian opposition supporters moral support to achieve peaceful regime change, Pahlavi said. He noted that although Khatami was elected under a reformist banner he had been able to do little to break the conservative grip on power of Iran’s religious leaders.
“People have to see that, although there was an attempt to bring reforms eight years ago, (the regime) will not allow for political overtures,” he said.
He said Iranians had “long given up hope that this regime is reformable by any stretch of the imagination,” and that a nonviolent change of government and shift to a secular constitution guaranteeing political and human rights was essential. But the prince said he harbors few illusions that a popular boycott of next week’s polls or a rise in political power of the opposition would change the outcome of next Friday’s polls, he said.
“We should not be surprised that the regime will have its candidate regardless. We urge the international media covering the elections that they (the government) will inflate numbers and cheat on numbers of popular participation,” he said.
The son of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and the empress Farah Diba also called on the world community, currently locked in a stand-off with Tehran over its suspect nuclear program, not to sell out the interests of his people. He urged powers such as the United States and Europe not to reconcile their long-tense ties with Tehran at the expense of the people as the regime comes under pressure both internally and over its nuclear program..
“It’s critical for my compatriots to know the world is not turning their back on them in the quest for self determination and liberty,” he said, urging governments not to sell out liberty to commercial or other interests.
But Pahlavi insisted he was not positioning himself to ascend the throne his father vacated 26 years ago.
“This is has nothing to do with restoring the monarchy,” he told AFP. “It’s about self determination and freedom.
“My aim is to serve the country, it doesn’t matter in what capacity, as long as I can be of use and it’s for the people to determine my future, if any.
“My only focus is to get to a point where people are in a position to determine their own future,” he said.