Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


“Iran’s Lech Walesa” Driven Into Exile

by Elliott Abrams
May 10, 2013


To be called “Iran’s Lech Walesa” probably very badly hurt Mansur Osanlu, head of the Tehran bus drivers’ union and the best known labor leader in Iran. The regime knows that a free labor movement is dangerous to its hold on power. So it was that Osanlu was jailed by the regime–and now has been forced into exile.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Osanlu revealed that he had fled into Turkey three months ago. He explains that the human rights situation in Iran is getting worse “day by day,” and that his life was threatened.

We were trying to bring unity among various workers groups in order to reach a solidarity society or a workers federation, I had become very active in this since last year and It didn’t remain secret from [authorities] who would send me all kinds of messages and threats,” Osanlu said. “They had told my two bailsmen who had secured my release from prison in 2011 that I should present myself at the prosecutor’s office or at the prison. All of these events in addition to the information I received that there were discussions to kill me, hit me with a car, or do some similar to the chain killings [of intellectuals] — I was also told by friends that it wasn’t right for me to stay in Iran — made me reach the conclusion [that I had to leave].

With elections around the corner in June, repression in Iran has been increasing. That Lech Walesa was able to stay in Poland (like Havel in Czechoslovakia) but Osanlu must flee to save his life is a measure of that repression. The concentration on nuclear negotiations with Iran sometimes obscures that the real problem is not the weapons but the regime itself, and any negotiated deal that makes that regime more secure and extends its life would contribute to repression in Iran and instability in the entire region. In the end Iran’s aggressive support for violence and terror in the Middle East, and indeed well beyond it, will end when the Islamic Republic itself is replaced by a democratic government in Iran.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Aaron Burr

    the respite for Osanlu in Turkey must ambiguous, with the Islamist tide there being what it is, sometimes to ebb and others to flow. to be compared to Walesa and Havel is a tribute indeed to man against machine. though I am generally wary of socialist enterprise, empowering labor in an otherwise totalitarian society is about the only reasonable shot Iran has for an inside-out revision or revolution to democracy.

    Godspeed to him.

    though not that it is totally desperate here as yet, just where is America’s Lech Walesa?

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required