The bravery shown by the women of Iran, especially those who are very young, over the last few weeks has been inspiring.
The response to the shocking murder of 22 year old Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the Iranian regime, has seen women take to the streets across the whole of the country. The footage of courageous displays of opposition is striking - even including female students at a Tehran university chanting “get lost” at the Iranian president Embrahim Raisi.
The aggressive crackdown in response to the protests has seen more than 150 people tragically killed, including a sixteen year old girl. The Iranian authorities’ continued willingness to use excessive force and violence is extremely concerning.
The UK, along with our allies, must stand in solidarity with all those protesting. Liberal Democrats have been leading calls for the UK Government to take meaningful actions to do so. In UK Parliament, I secured time in the House of Lords to question Foreign Office ministers about the UK’s response. In Edinburgh, Alex Cole-Hamilton has spoken at a rally in memory of Mahsa Amini, while in the Welsh Senedd, Jane Dodds tabled a statement of opinion in support of Iranian protesters.
We were the first to call on the UK Government to follow the lead of our Canadian and American allies and sanction the Iranian morality police. I was pleased to see the Foreign Office announce such sanctions earlier this week.
First, maintaining access to any independent media in Iran is absolutely vital, and an area in which the UK Government can make a tangible difference. It’s highly concerning to read reports that the BBC World Service is planning on shutting down its Persia radio service - one of the many consequences of the failure of the Conservative Government to provide robust funding for the BBC. Radio is a technology which is highly relied on in times of difficulty. The Government recognised this earlier this year, when emergency funding for the World Service in Ukraine was released. We must do the same for BBC Persia.
Second, we must also ensure that, if difficulties in Iran escalate, then we are in a position where we are able to offer safe refuge for Iranian women. Over the last eighteen months we have seen the dire consequences of a failure to prepare such schemes - first in Afghanistan, and then in Ukraine. It is vital that preparations for a resettlement scheme start now, so we do not repeat the mistakes of previous schemes.
Finally, coordination with our allies is key. The bandwidth of British ministers has been consumed with the fiasco over the ‘mini-Budget’ - and, prior to that, the Conservative leadership contest. It’s vital that the UK plays an active role in building a better world. We must work with our international partners to coordinate a joint response to this crisis, with a particular focus on the rights of women; international development assistance, and independent media.
The UK Government must do its part to stand with the women of Iran. Liberal Democrats will continue to do all we can to ensure that this happens.