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Prominent Iranian Dissidents Unite to Discuss Democracy Movement

FILE - In this photo taken by an individual not employed by The Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside of Iran, demonstrators take to the streets in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 1, 2022, to protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Condemnation of the Islamic Republic's violent suppression of freedom drew together eight noted Iranian dissidents who gathered to determine how they could more effectively advance their quest to counter what they see as a brutal government marking 44 years of rule after the 1979 Islamic revolution in the country.

The prominent exiles converged Friday at Georgetown University in Washington for a forum, "The Future of the Iranian Democracy Movement," and each offered a pointed message about how to proceed.

Iran has been shaken by nationwide unrest after the death in September of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by authorities allegedly for failure to follow a stringent Islamic dress code for women.

The unrest is perhaps the strongest challenge to the Islamic Republic since the revolution.

"The Islamic Republic has survived because of our differences, and we should put our differences aside until we come to the polling booth," Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi said in a video message.

Melanne Verveer kicked off the forum by referring to Iranian protests of the government — and the prominent role of women in it — with the slogan "Women. Life. Freedom." The executive director of Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security condemned the Islamic Republic's violent actions and its suppression of freedom of expression.

Iranian American human rights activist and VOA Persian TV host Masih Alinejad expressed hope that an agreement on the opposition's principles could be forged by the end of 2023.

"We must agree on principles based on the declaration of human rights, on eliminating discrimination, and principles that every Iranian can see themselves in, and that depict the end of oppression," she said.

Hamed Esmaeilion, one of the founders of The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, in his remarks, emphasized the "four main demands of the revolution" -- freedom, due process, social justice, and environmental justice.

Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 that was shot down shortly after takeoff in Tehran in January 2022, told France 24 in early January that the protests that followed Amini’s death have united Iranians in seeking freedom and justice.

Abdullah Mohtadi, secretary-general of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, said Kurdistan was not intimidated on the day of Amini’s death, but instead rose up.

Despite the Islamic Republic's propaganda over the past decades, he said, Kurdistan has become a symbol of Iranian solidarity in these protests. He stressed that all Iranians should remain united.

Everyone wants to eliminate discrimination, he continued, and to create a future Iran of diversity and plurality, Iranians must stand together today.

While noting that the Islamic Republic is a common enemy of all Iranians, he ended his remarks with the slogan: Women. Life. Freedom.

In response to a question from a VOA reporter concerning any basis for agreement among leaders of the diaspora, Iran's exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi cited their constant exchange of ideas. While, he said, they may not agree on everything, the important thing is that the exchange continues.

Pahlavi stressed that the cooperation of political forces inside and outside Iran is necessary. At this point, he said, all the focus should be on pressuring the Islamic Republic to collapse.

The forum participants and audience closed the proceedings with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the Islamic Republic’s violent oppression.

So far, 528 people, including 71 children and adolescents, have been killed, nearly 20,000 arrested, including 179 children and adolescents, and 112 faced fatal charges, according to the Iran Human Rights Activists News Organization.

Some information from Reuters was used in this report.