Posts Tagged ‘PMOI’

A Small Landmark, Iran and Caste Discrimination

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

A Small Landmark, Iran and Caste Discrimination
Three of the protests I photographed four years ago on Saturday 20th January 2018.

US Embassy first protest – No to Trump’s racism

The US decision to move their embassy out of Grosvenor Square in central London to the rather more obscure area of Nine Elms was at least in part thought to be their hope that it would attract fewer protests and that these would be given less media coverage.

So I was very pleased to photograph what was I think the first protest at the new site, on the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. It was prompted by his racist description of African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as ‘shitholes’.

His use of this word provoked offence and outrage around the world, and was a new and more offensive aspect of the racist attacks on black communities, migrants, refugees and the Muslim community.

Through Trump’s campaign and first year of office he has kept up his racist demands for a wall to be built along the Mexican border to keep out migrants (and demanding that Mexico pay for it.) Stand Up to Racism called for a wave of protests across the country on the anniversary to ‘knock down the racist wall’. They built a wall in front of the new US embassy which opened for business earlier in the week and at the end of the protest they knocked this wall down.

Trump had earlier announced that he had cancelled his visit planned for the following month to open the embassy – which would have attracted massive protests. And as I commented, ” Few doubt that it was this that caused him to cancel his visit, though Trump tweeted that it was a lousy building in the wrong place – and with his usual accuracy blamed Obama for a decision that had been taken by Bush.”

Architecturally I think Trump perhaps had a point. Basically the building is a cube with a few plastic bits hanging on three sides, perhaps its main redeeming feature its moat, though being only along one side this is not particularly functional. Though the mediocrity of the luxury flats around it which will doubtless largely be overseas investments rather than homes does make it stand out. The Grosvenor Square building by leading modernist architect Eero Saarinen was London’s first purpose-built embassy when opened in 1960 and attracted almost universal criticism when built, but was considerably worsened by the 2008 security additions, now being removed as it is turned into a luxury hotel.

Break UK silence over Iran uprising

The anti-government protests which took place in Iran in December 2017 were the biggest since the crushing of the 2009 Green Movement by security forces. Protesters opposite Downing St called on Prime Minister Theresa May to break her silence and call for the immediate release of the thousands arrested and under threat of the death penalty.

Unfortunately Britain has little or no influence on the Iranian government and has for years slavishly followed the US lead in relations with the country. Our relations with the country since oil was first discovered (and exploited by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, 51% owned by the British Government which much later became BP) have often been doubtful both before and after the 1979 revolution, which arguably came about largely as a consequence of US/UK policies.

The protest was organised and largely attended by members of the PMOI/MEK, an organisation which began in 1965 in opposition to the US-supported Shah and formed an armed militia. After the revolution it refused to take part in the constitutional referendum and in 1981 it was banned. The MEK sided with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war (1980–88) and many MEK members were arrested, tortured and executed in the 1980s culminating in mass executions in 1988, when around 30,000 people were killed. MEK camps were bombed by the US during the invasion of Iraq and they were forced to surrender and disarmed, confined to a camp in Iraq. It was MEK provided information – some deliberately false – about the Iranian nuclear weapons programme – apparently given to them by Israel – that led to sanctions against Iran.

Indians protest Hindu caste-based violence

The Dr Ambedkar Memorial Committee GB organised a march from Parliament Square to the Indian High Commission which was supported by various Ravidass groups, Amberdkarite and Buddhist organisations, the South Asian Solidarity Group and others following attacks in India on the Dalit community by Hindu fundamentalists and the continuing illegal caste-based discrimination there.

Dalits celebrated the 200th anniversary of a historic victory by Dalit soldiers fighting for the East India Company in the Battle of Koregaon on January 1st 2018. The victory has been celebrated since 1927 when celebrations at the memorial pillar erected by the British were inaugurated by Dr Ambedkar, the principle architect of the Indian Constitution, which made caste discrimination illegal in India. This year’s celebration was attacked by Hindu fundamentalists with many injured and one boy killed and the unrest and attacks spread to Mumbai.

Caste-based attacks on Dalits have increased greatly since the election of the Hindu nationalist BJP party under Narendra Modi, whose central vision along with the linked violent Hindu Nationalist RSS movement is for Dalits to remain at the bottom of Indian society. Lobbying mainly by wealthy Hindus in the UK led the UK government to abandon a 2013 promise to include caste as an aspect of race under the Equality Act 2010.

I also photographed a protest similar to that described in yesterday’s post about 19th January 2019 by Bolivians against Evo Morales being allowed to run for a fourth term as President.

More on all these in My London Diary:
US Embassy – No to Trump’s racism
Break UK silence over Iran uprising
Indians protest Hindu caste-based violence
Bolivians protest for Liberty & Democracy


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Deaths, Bedroom Tax & Feathers

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

After a day resting and recovering from our 3 day walk along the Thames Path in 2013 I was ready to go up to London again on Saturday 6th April.

Sikhs had come to London at Vaisahki for a protest against the “ongoing and, disturbing atrocities that are being committed in the Republic of India, that, infringe the basic human rights of the minority communities, which includes but is not limited to the Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Dalits (India’s untouchables).

In particular the Kesri Lehar (I Pledge Orange) campaign was protesting against the death penalty in India, with over 470 prisoners in Indian prisons on death row, though actual executions are rare. The House of Commons shortly before this protest had debated and agreed a backbench motion welcoming the Kesri Lehar petition and calling on India to abolish the death penalty.

One of those on death was Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced for his part in a suicide bomb attack which killed a former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh and 17 others in 1995. Sikhs say that Beant Singh was responsible for the extra-judicial killing of over 25,000 Sikh civilians in a brutal attempt to eliminate Sikhs calling for an independent state.

Balwant Singh Rajoana was sentenced to death in 2007 and was due to be hanged in 2012, but execution was stayed after some Sikh organisation appealed for clemency. But in 2013 there were renewed demands for his execution. This did not happen and in 2019 his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Campaigners also called for the release of Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who has been on death row in India for 18 years, for his alleged involvement in a car bomb in Delhi in 1993. They say there is no evidence to connect him with the attack. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in March 2014.

A rather smaller protest at Downing St had been organised by the Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign from Kilburn against the unfair Bedroom tax and benefit caps which are effecting so many people and called for the GLA to build more social housing. The family’s own problems with Brent Council have made them very aware of the huge problems faced by many others across London and elsewhere and how cuts and sanctions have had a cruel impact on so many.

Also at Downing St, members and supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) were calling for the UK government to support an enquiry into Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty in Baghdad where its members are held. They had been given refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein and gave up their arms when the US invaded Iraq in return for US protection. But the US hand over control of their camps to Iraq in 2009 and there have been a series of attacks on them by Iraqi security forces sympathetic to Iran, with over over 50 being killed, more than a thousand injured and many arrests.

Later in 2013 the United States organised a move of the roughly 3,000 members of the group to a new base in Albania, providing a $20 million donation to the UN refugee agency to resettle them. The USA has continued to support them as a government-in-exile for Iran and they are also apparently supported by them in covert operations continuing in Iran against the current Islamic regime. There are groups of the PMOI and supporting organisations in a number of European Countries and the UK as well as in the United States, though they are generally thought now to have little support in Iran.

It was good to leave what had been rather intense protests and go on to something in a much lighter mood in Trafalgar Square. I think the first International Pillow Fight Day was in March 2008, when I photographed it in Leicester Square. In 2013 the event, organised by the urban playground movement, was taking place in 90 cities across 30 countries.

The aim of the event is to get people away from “passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television” and to consciously reject “the blight on our cities caused by the endless creep of advertising into public space.” The organisers hope this will result in “a global community of participants, not consumers.

The authorities frown on it, possibly as a subversive activity but perhaps because it makes something of a mess, as pillows inevitably break and feathers fly, leaving the ground covered with them after the event. Or perhaps they are just killjoys. Royal Parks police had prevented a fight in Hyde Park earlier in the day but the Heritage Wardens were overwhelmed by the numbers who had come to Trafalgar Square and were unable to stop. A small group of Westminster Council workers were standing on one edge ready to clean up afterwards.

The feathers and dust do make these events something of a health hazard, and it would have made sense to wear a face mask – but back in 2013 these were only seen on Japanese tourists. Probably a once a year exposure to dust and feathers isn’t a huge risk, but this year they did rather get down my throat and I withdrew once the air was thick with them, deciding I’d taken enough pictures.

Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square
PMOI Protest Iraqi killings
No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps
Vaisakhi “Save a Live” Vigil