Demonstration in Paris, 11 February 2023; Credit: Nader Ghavami

On Monday 20 February 2023, members of the Iranian diaspora in Europe, including a group of Luxembourg residents, will gather in Brussels to call on the European Union (EU) to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group.

This gathering follows a large demonstration in Paris on Saturday 11 February 2023, when thousands of Iranians from across Europe, including Luxembourg, called for support for the European Parliament's resolution of 19 January 2023 on the EU response to the protests and executions in Iran. It also follows last week's demonstrations in Luxembourg City organised by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran.

Three MEPs of Iranian origin, Alireza Akhondi (Sweden), Darya Safai (Belgium) and Abir Al-Sahlani (Sweden), together with German MP Danial Ilkhanipour, have now invited Iranians to gather in Brussels on Monday - on the occasion of the EU Foreign Affairs Council - to support the addition of the IRGC to the EU's list of terrorist groups.

Ahead of this gathering, had the opportunity to speak with Shabnam Sabzehi, an Iranian-US national living in Luxembourg, who took part in the recent demonstrations in Luxembourg City and Paris. Shabnam will be joining about 50 other Luxembourg-based Iranian activists on a bus to Brussels to participate in Monday’s demonstration.

Born and raised in Iran, Shabnam left her country of birth in 1988, about a decade after the Iranian Revolution, at a time when the country was "in turmoil internally" and the eight-year Iran-Iraq war had left its mark. She described the period that followed the 1979 revolution as "44 years of suffocation, exile, separation, silence, loss of touch with my motherland, mother tongue, extended families and childhood friends."

Following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022, Shabnam, like many other Iranians around the world, felt it was time to speak out: "Seeing the scenes of the unprecedented first-in-history women-led revolution supported by their fathers and brothers in the streets of Iran every day and night hitting the streets without any fears for their lives made us all, outside [Iran], rise up in their support and to amplify their voices." She noted how the Iranian diaspora has come together to "reveal the plots and schemes by the regime nationwide and internationally, putting pressure on governments to sanction the IRGC and label it as a terrorist organisation."

Shabnam lamented a lack of (and the nature of) mainstream media coverage of current events in Iran, although it is gaining traction, for example in Luxembourg. She clarified: "This isn't a protest, the images received from Iran (beyond [mainstream media]) are the outcry of a nation that no longer accepts nor rests for this international terrorist regime to stay in power any longer; call it [a] revolution." She argued that a lot of the "real news of Iran" can be found on social media, namely Twitter, shared by the activists themselves.

Recently, in the context of the Luxembourg City demonstrations, the subject appeared to capture the attention of the Luxembourg Government (and the media), with the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, assuring that the Grand Duchy supports all EU measures in favour of the Iranian people. However, for many Iranians in Luxembourg, such statements do not go far enough; they, like fellow Iranians around Europe, are thus pushing to see the Council of the EU support the European Parliament's resolution, even though the subject is not currently on the agenda for Monday (Minister Asselborn will represent Luxembourg on this occasion).

It is also understood that Luxembourg's Foreign Ministry is addressing the subject further with one activist, Amir Labbaf, a former political prisoner from Iran and the President of Luxembourg's Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran, who recently went on a hunger strike (which he has now ended following the ministry's invitation) in front of the Chamber of Deputies (Luxembourg's parliament).