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Source: Guardian

Mar 21, 2023

Vahid Beheshti is striking to persuade the UK government to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps

BY Patrick Wintour

British-Iranian Vahid Beheshti is persisting with a 27-day hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in an attempt to persuade the UK government to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

His hunger strike has now lasted six days longer than the one undertaken outside the Foreign Office by Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of the British Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe, who went to see Beheshti on Monday, said he was concerned for Beheshti’s welfare, and recalled the toll the hunger strike took on his own body and mind by the end. “Your decision-making slows down and, at the same time, you become more sure that your cause is right and that if you only persist for another day or do a bit more they will give in.”

Coventry-based Beheshti is accompanied by his wife, Mattie Heaven, and normally has two friends in tents next to him outside the Foreign Office. He said: “I have lost 10kg and am growing weaker, but I am going to carry on until we win.” Blood tests by his doctor at the weekend suggested he was not in imminent danger.

He was delighted that his cause had been mentioned in parliament for the first time. The 44-year-old had been a friend of the activist Ruhollah Zam, who was abducted by the IRGC in Iraq and executed while imprisoned in Iran in 2020.

Beheshti drinks water and one coffee in the morning. The chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Alicia Kearns, also went to see him on Monday, giving him a long hug and praising his efforts, but so far no government minister has spoken to Beheshti, despite her request that someone do so. She said she is very concerned for his health.

The security minister Tom Tugendhat said he was happy to meet Beheshti, and insisted the government was doing more and more to crack down on the activities of the IRGC.

Although there had been reports that the IRGC was about to be proscribed, there is a split within government. The Foreign Office says the IRGC is sanctioned in its entirety, and on Monday slapped further sanctions on those inside the IGC-linked organisations.

Kearns recently told a Policy Exchange event that the Foreign Office fears that if they did proscribe the IRGC under the Terrorism Act 2000, the British ambassador to Iran might be expelled.

Although she said she backed proscription, she admitted: “This is not straightforward. Proscribing the IRGC will not make a meaningful difference to our government’s ability to tackle the IRGC – that is the reality. But it is an important political sign that we would send that we will not accept the activities of the IRGC on our soil or beyond.”

The German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, the European politician who has said most in support of proscription of the IRGC as a terrorist group, admitted this week in an interview with Die Welt that government lawyers had said there was no legal basis to ban the IRGC, and as a result the EU was persisting instead with individual human rights sanctions.

Heaven, a Conservative councillor and vice-chair of the West Midlands Conservatives, said her husband had been a human rights activist for the past 15 years and that the IRGC is not just a national but international force.

“We know the Iranian regime kidnaps and assassinates outside Iran,” she added. “So as far as they are concerned they are already in what they say is world war three.” She said she had not initially approved of her husband’s actions, but does now.

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