Autumn of 2010 has been active time for the government of Iran to implement its long planned policy of cutting subsidies for major food and energy items that are essential in poor people’s daily lives. For months the government had been planning for these cutbacks which closely follow the International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic reform prescribed for Iran on January 11, 2010 (1). The military and paramilitary forces (Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the Basij) declared plans of establishing check points in the streets of major cities to confront riots that have happened in the past when announcements of subsidy cutbacks were made. Also in anticipation, more leaders of the student and worker movements were arrested or sentenced to harsh punishments. It is difficult to imagine harsher penalties given that based on Amnesty International Iranians were subject to a government that imposed the highest per capita number of capital punishment in the world in 2009 and so far 2010 is following the same and even harsher pattern. Finally on the evening of December 19, president Ahmadinejad appeared on Iranian TV and declared that in a few hours there will be cuts to subsidies of essential items in the areas of energy and water. He claimed that justice is done since part of the population will receive short term 40 dollar cheques per month but he cautioned that this money is coming from the absent last imam of Shiites (Imam Mahdi, a descendant of the prophet Mohammad who supposedly vanished in 9th century AD and is believed by Shiites to still be present) and it would be better for people to save it in their bank accounts for future prosperity.
Iranian workers do not have the luxury of saving their money in a bank account since a large number of them receive salaries that are less than half the living wage declared by the Central Bank and many of them have not received their salaries for months. Last week municipal workers in the city of Shushtar went on strike for not having received their salaries for months. The mayor of the city declared that these workers are exaggerating the situation and it is only several months that they have not received their salaries! This is not rare in Iran and many workers do not regularly receive their paycheques. As a result of subsidy cuts the price of bread has tripled and many taxi and truck drivers across the country went on strike to oppose the rising price of fuel. These strikes are scattered in nature and in some cases the government has offered limited rations to lower gas prices to some truck drivers.
Alongside subsidy cuts the government continues its rein of punishment on student activists in attempt to squash dissent. The government suddenly declared that Habib Latify a young student and political prisoner in the city of Sanandaj (in the Kurdistan Province) would be executed on December 26, 2010. There was an immediate mass mobilization against the execution of Habib. In cities across Europe and in the city of Suleymanieh (Iraq), rallies were organized to demand Habib’s release. Even more important was the rally of over three hundred of his supporters who gathered in front of the prison in Sanandaj demanding for his freedom. The night before the scheduled execution, authorities declared that they would not execute Habib for the time being but people did not believe them. In the past, government authorities had lied about postponing many other executions. In the case of teacher Farzad Kamangar, who was executed earlier in 2010, this tricky lie was used by the government to diffuse people’s anger. Farzad was executed and his body was never given to his family. This time, with Latify, the government felt the graveness of the situation and insisted that the external pressure was not the reason they postponed his execution but rather because they are considering an appeal for amnesty requested by his family. In the morning of December 26, 2010 a brief visit was permitted to the family but later that day eight members of Habib’s family were arrested and currently it is feared that the execution may go ahead.
The government’s continued reign of intimidation in preparation for their cut backs brought focus to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2006 which was changed in 2010 to an execution by hanging by the Islamic judicial system because of the international outcry about killing by stoning. On December 10, 2010, Press TV, the English language propaganda machine of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, aired interviews and a film of Sakineh, her son and her lawyer. In early December 2010, Sakineh and her son were taken from prison in the city of Tabriz to their hometown of Osku along with Press TV camera crew and producers and the security police. Sakineh re-enacted the crime scene of how she killed her husband several years ago. Press TV used her son to act as the deceased father as Sakineh showed on Press TV’s film how she injected poisonous substances into her husband’s body. It is important to exemplify the son being used to act as his deceased father in this supposed re-enactment. Similar acts of fabricating confessions have been produced by the government in the past. This time it was first aired in their English program for the whole world with English subtitles. The government uses these methods to show the world and the local Iranian people that the government is serious in continuing and even increasing their policy of brutality and oppression. In the coming days many more political and common prisoners were hanged in Iran. The government needs this reign of terror and intimidation for the declaration of cutting subsidies in the coming weeks.
IMF has been issuing manuals and prescriptions on how to cut government subsidies in Iran, among other countries. In their September 28, 2010 analysis IMF economists insist “With the removal of subsidies on oil and gas, domestic demand for energy in Iran is expected to decline, leaving more energy resources available for export. If all goes according to plan, the strategy should serve the dual purpose of generating more revenue for the country and curbing the wasteful use of energy, IMF mission chief Dominique Guillaume and Senior Economist Roman Zytek told the IMF Survey online.”(2) Guillaume also provides the following information about Iran’s economy, “Iran is the 17th largest economy in the world. Holding little foreign debt—less than 7 percent of GDP—the country has sizeable energy reserves, with underground hydrocarbon resources estimated at $10 trillion in oil alone (at $75 a barrel) and natural gas reserves at between $3½-4½ trillion. Real GDP growth is estimated to have been about 1-2 percent this year. This relatively low GDP growth is due mainly to weak domestic demand, since Iran’s integration with global financial markets is limited. Inflation has declined dramatically—from close to 30 percent two years ago to less than 10 percent since September 2009 as the central bank withdrew liquidity. This lower level of inflation provides a good foundation for the energy price reform. Eliminating energy subsidies means that the Iranian people will see an increase in prices, so it’s important to have low inflation to start with.”(3) As a policy organization for the prosperity of the international capitalist system, IMF could care less about the real effects that these cutbacks will impose on tens of millions of Iranian children, students, workers, teachers and women who are deprived from organizing to defend themselves. An Iranian worker must work in at least 3 jobs to make a basic living. This comes at a time when many workers are not paid for months and their union leaders like Mansour Osanloo and Reza Shahabi are in jail for years (4). As the capitalist ruling government in Iran enjoys support from IMF, Iranian people (workers, teachers, lawyers and students) seek international solidarity from the people around the world who agree that every single person in this world deserves to have public health and education, freedom of speech, equality, and access to good quality food and housing in their daily lives.