Open Letter to Ayatollah Khamenei 'Your Regime Is Finished'

"The people of Iran will accept your rule no more," writes Afshin Ellian in an open letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The professor of law in exile demands that Iran's religious leader allow democratic change -- and suggests that South Africa could offer valuable lessons.

To His Excellency Ayatollah Said Ali Khamenei,

A year before the Iranian Revolution, a member of my family had the great privilege of praying beside you. Later, during the revolution, this anecdote became a source of great pride within our family. This relative of mine had prayed with you and yet he, like myself, was forced to go into hiding soon after the revolution.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casting his ballot last Friday.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casting his ballot last Friday.

Foto: AFP

Excellency, we had not committed any crime. We merely disagreed with the repressive measures instituted by Imam Khomeini -- and that had become a punishable offence.

I was not even 18 years old when I was forced to flee my own country. Against all the hopes of those of us who participated in the Islamic revolution, the revolution enacted a system of political violence which created an unprecedented flood of political refugees and led to the murder of thousands by a regime which claimed to liberate them from tyranny. In the 1980s, thousands of Iranians, who fought with you against the Shah, were executed, convicted by revolutionary tribunals, without legal representation, with no official charge. Among those killed were two members of my own family. One is buried in a mass grave. In 1988, in the space of a few weeks, thousands of political prisoners were given a summary hearing, slain and thrown into anonymous graves on the orders of Imam Khomeini.

The prisoners were asked three questions: Are you a Muslim? Did you pray this morning? And have you told us everything about your friends, so that we can assume that you will now adhere to our Shariah laws? Thousands gave the wrong answer to one or more of these questions. As a result, they now lie buried together in a huge mass grave at Khavaran in the desert outside Teheran.

Recently, your president ordered this mass grave to be destroyed. Why did he do that? I suspect it was out of fear. Because every day weeping mothers lay flowers on that inglorious pile of earth. Imam Khomeini promised the people Islamic justice -- those mass graves testify to what that means. They are the hallmark of the theocratic regime which you have led for the past 20 years.

Thirty years ago, millions of Iranians, young people mainly, took to the streets to demonstrate for three fundamental rights. First and foremost the three basic freedoms of Azadi-e Baian, Azadi-e Qalam, Azadi-e Andish-e: the freedom of speech, the freedom to write and the freedom of thought. Secondly, the right of independence. And thirdly, they demanded the (Islamic) republic.

Against our hopes we helped put a monstrous constitution in place. In the end, Imam Khomeini's doctrine of vilayat-i faqih, rule by a single ayatollah, created an unparalleled crisis for Iran and Islam itself.

Excellency, every response you have given in the face of non-violent protest has been one of more oppression and more violence. Even in constitutional questions: the appointment of the supreme religious political leader under the vilayat-i faqih system, has led to insoluble conflict. The periodical presidential elections have had no influence at all on the organization of the judicial system, on foreign policy or the government's security policy, and have thus undermined every form of public credibility and legitimacy. Former-president Khatami was eventually forced to concede in public that despite the high expectations of his supporters he had been unable to implement any serious reforms. You, as leader of Iran, blocked every presidential measure that you did not accept. As a result, millions of Iranians were disappointed in President Khatami -- although it was actually you who was to blame.

The revolution that had begun in freedom, ended in the rule of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. President Ahmadinejad boasted that he would wipe Israel, a member of the United Nations, from the map. Many like me feel a deep shame at this uncivilized and un-Persian anti-Semitism.

Iran's semi-official anti-Semitism and tyrannical rule towards its own people reveals the moral failure of the regime that you lead. Millions of people in Teheran and other Iranian cities have condemned this moral bankruptcy by demonstrating and by voting for Mir Hossein Mousavi. Your regime is finished. Surely you realize that too, Excellency? And if you have not realized it yet, then surely you, just like the Shah some 30 years ago, must have heard the hundreds of thousands in Teheran shouting "Allahu Akabar, down with the dictatorship!"

Excellency, the demonstrations attest that the people of Iran, the children of the revolution, will accept your rule no more. Your regime is no longer able to exercise sovereignty over the Iranian people without the recourse to violence -- extreme violence. I urge you to recognize that Iran is now undeniably at a crossroads: Either the will of the people is accepted and a peaceful transition to democracy is achieved or you plan to respond to these protests by launching a bloodbath, which will cause unprecedented chaos in Iran. Ask yourself: Can a regime, hated and rejected by a huge majority of the population, transform itself into a democratic administration that recognizes the rule of law? Has it ever in history been possible for a political transition to take place peacefully and without the shedding of blood?

The surprising answer is yes: it has been done. The Apartheid regime was also despised by the majority. And that regime was an extremely violent regime. Even so, South Africa opted for a peaceful transition under the brilliant leadership of Nelson Mandela. They negotiated to guarantee the interests (including security and property rights) of the ruling minority. At the same time, they discussed and developed a transitional constitution. This model, called Negotiating Justice, is founded on human rights and the principle of democracy. What happened in South Africa, a country torn apart by hatred and violence, can happen in Iran too.

Excellency, everything depends in the end on the will of the political leader. On you. You may, like the former president of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, decide to create an opportunity for transition, or you may, as you have done in the past, choose to suppress the will of the people with violence. But I urge you to consider that millions of Iranians trust Mousavi. In the latest election, it was not Ahamdinejad who won, but Mousavi. He could play the role that Mandela played in South Africa's peaceful transition. If you let him.

Naturally, people will ask what will happen to those who perpetrated the crimes against humanity -- the mass executions that were committed in the name of the Islamic state. Here, the precedent set by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa could provide a possible roadmap. The will of the people need not end in bloodshed. The United Nations could play a crucial role -- it has considerable experience in what is known as Transitional Justice. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon should discuss this with the Security Council. Would this be an infringement of Iranian sovereignty? No.

Excellency, even you apparently have your doubts about the official results of the election since you have ordered the outcome to be investigated. The mass demonstrations in the cities of Iran show that the Iranian people want political transition.

Why should the UN Security Council concern itself with the Iranian question? Because an Iran dominated by violent internal conflict is a threat to regional peace and security and a threat to the people of Iran themselves. Furthermore, with the outcome of the current conflict in doubt, the existence of advanced missiles and enriched radioactive material poses a serious threat to international peace and security. It is up to the United Nations to persuade you, if you fail to realize yourself, that a peaceful transition is possible. In the end it is Iranians, including Iranians living abroad, who must make this change happen.

Excellency Khamenei, you and I know that no tyranny has ever succeeded in creating a political system that lasts. Your advisors have been misinforming you these past years. They have made you deaf and blind to what is really happening. The truth is that the people despise the ruling elite. Your puppet Ahmadinejad is reviled. If you continue to use violence against your people, then you have obviously learned nothing from the tragic fate of the last Shah of Persia.

The mothers of the members of my family who were executed will never forgive you. But they will let you withdraw peacefully, for the sake of freedom and the peace of their grandchildren. Time is short for both the Iranian people and for the international community. I wish you wisdom and peace,

Yours, Afshin Ellian

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