An Iranian-British activist on hunger strike in London has said he is determined to pressure the UK government to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.
Speaking to The National on day 20 of his campaign, Vahid Beheshti appeared resolute as he vowed to continue declining food until his goal is achieved.
“The IRGC belongs on the list” of terrorist organisation, he said from his encampment on the pavement opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office in Whitehall on Tuesday.
“Inside of my heart, I have a fire which is giving me warmth and feeds me. Until my heart [stops] beating, I am prepared to go, until we achieve this great goal for humanity.”
‘The hands of the IRGC are in London’
Mr Beheshti, 46, is surviving on a daily diet of one cup of coffee, a few cubes of sugar, some salt and “plenty of water”.
Despite losing 8.5 kilograms since beginning his strike, he insisted his reasons for taking such drastic action remain strong and are compelling him to push forwards with his campaign.
He is receiving moral support from his wife, Mattie Heaven, a councillor in Coventry and deputy chairwoman of the West Midlands Conservatives.
Born and raised in Borujerd, a city 400 kilometres south-west of Tehran, Mr Beheshti immigrated to Britain 24 years ago and has since worked as a journalist and human rights activist.
The Iranian regime’s actions at home and abroad in recent months compelled him to use his voice to speak out in defence of people in his homeland whom he says are suffering for simply voicing opposition to the regime.
He attended a series of meetings with British MPs during which he pleaded with them to pile pressure on the government to make the proscription, but he grew frustrated over a lack of action.
The tipping point, he said, came in February when the TV station Iran International was forced to close its London studios after journalists received death threats from the Iranian regime.
The company made the decision to temporarily relocate some journalists to its Washington site while others were told to work from home following months of round-the-clock protection from the Metropolitan Police.
“I am on my 20th day of [my] hunger strike,” he said. “It’s not only for the people of Iran, or the people of Ukraine who are getting killed by the drones of the IRGC, [but also for] the people of the Middle East, the people of the UK. Because now we are witnessing the hands of the IRGC here in London.”
Mr Beheshti said Iran International’s move out of the country showed that Tehran is undermining British democracy and freedom of speech.
“I was [in Iran] until 24 years ago and my own basic rights were taken away from me by that government, by the IRGC. I know what it's like to be stripped of your own most basic rights,” he said.
“I don’t know why we are trying to tell them, ‘No, you are not terrorists,’
“I have my human rights, I have my basic rights. I can come here and put my tent on the street and say I am disagreeing with what you are doing? I don't want them taken away from me because I know the value of these rights.”
He said that although he felt he had initially made progress with MPs, the process slowed to a glacial pace.
“Everything was going smoothly [in the meetings with MPs] and we were expecting them in the next two or three weeks to place [the IRGC] where they belong,” he explained.
“But suddenly the process — I won't say stopped — but slowed down massively.
“I thought, we are losing time. We are in a race with time at this very crucial moment.”
The IRGC, a special branch of Iran’s armed forces, has been sanctioned by the UK government.
Mr Beheshti’s view that the UK should recognise the IRGC as an international terror group is shared by many Iranians living in the UK as well as cross-party MPs.
But despite growing pressure to place the IRGC in the same category as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration continues to resist.
While the UK has in recent months unveiled several rounds of sanctions against Iran over the regime’s crackdown on anti-government protesters, it has stopped short of announcing a terror proscription for the IRGC.
He argued that sanctions imposed by the UK’s Conservative government against Iran, including officials within the regime, simply do not go far enough. He said the effect of such punitive measures would not be felt in the short-term and therefore would be ineffective in sending a powerful message.
Mr Beheshti insisted that only proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist entity would make clear to the regime that Britain will no longer considers it a credible authority and its human rights abuses will not be tolerated.
“Hezbollah has been officially recognised by the UK government as a terrorist organisation,” he said.
“The IRGC is the main supporter of Hezbollah, so by law, we have to place the IRGC on the list of terror organisations as the supporter of this terrorist organisation.
“To protect our freedom, our democracy and values in the UK, we have to place this terrorist organisation where they belong. The IRGC belongs on the list.
“We are in a race with time. The IRGC, they know what they are doing and we are losing time. They have to know [that] we have a strong leadership in the UK who put the terrorists where they belong.”
UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is responsible for proscribing groups as terrorist entities.
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.
'Sanctions deter IRGC's malign activity'
During a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was pushed by MPs on whether the government would proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist group.
Mr Cleverly responded by saying: “The IRGC is already sanctioned in its entirety.
“Where it is involved with illegal activity our security forces and police forces take action. And I commend the actions that they take.
“We don’t routinely discuss future designations and sanctions, but we will always take actions which protect British people, British interests and deter their malign activity.”