An estimated crowd of more than 20,000 held a rally in Brussels to call on EU countries to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.
A diverse group of figures delivered speeches in the Belgian capital condemning the Islamic Republic and its multifunctional armed force, the IRGC, expressing solidarity with the dissidents in Iran who have been out on streets since September protesting for the fall of the clerical regime.
People gather for a protest to support the Iranian resistance movement, 20 February 2023 in Brussels.
Alireza Akhondi and Darya Safai, two representatives of Iranian origin in the parliaments of Sweden and Belgium were among the original organizers of the rally, meant to push the EU for the inclusion of the IRGC in the list of terrorist organizations in the European Union.
During the demonstration – accompanied by musical and theatrical performances, women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad called for unity among Iranian opposition figures, a demand which has been echoed repeatedly by prominent activists since a historic forum in Washington earlier this month by eight prominent dissident activists heralded a united front.
Alinejad said, "The secret of our victory is our unity. We are scarred by the same regime for years... We will not win if we do not hold each other's hands."
Canada-based activist leader Hamed Esmaeilion, whose daughter and wife were killed by the IRGC in the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in 2020, said that the Revolutionary Guard was established to defend the Islamic Revolution and not the Iranian people. "There is still no mention of Iran in the name of this institution," he noted. "After the war with Iraq, the Revolutionary Guard became an economic and security monster, and today it is the most important instrument to suppress the people of Iran," he added.
"In future Iran, there'll be no IRGC. Army will protect the country's territorial integrity. Military won't interfere in politics. And the economy will be controlled by experts instead of eulogists in uniform," he said.
Former US President George W. Bush, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, member of the Chamber of Representatives of Belgium Theo Francken, Former Assistant to the US President for National Security Affairs John Bolton, Executive Director of United Nations Watch Hillel Neuer, Member of the European Parliament Abir Al-Sahlan, and member of the Hamburg city parliament Danial Ilkhanipour delivered speeches or sent messages for the Brussels rally.
Concurrent with the gathering in the Belgian capital, another rally was held in the German city of Dusseldorf.
A carnival float depicting "Free Iran" is seen at the 'Rosenmontag' (Rose Monday) carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, February 20, 2023
Also on Monday, the EU sanctioned 32 Islamic Republic officials, including culture and education ministers, deputy IRGC commander, and several MPs. The move can be seen as a measure to justify the fact that the EU is not yet ready to designate the entirety of the IRGC.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week that the EU would propose sanctions targeting for the first time Iranian economic operators involved in the Russian war in Ukraine. "For the first time we are also proposing to sanction Iranian entities including those linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard," she said.
In January, the block's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the European Union cannot list the IRGC as a terrorist entity until an EU court has determined that they are, noting "Ministers adopted a new package of sanctions against Iran, targeting those driving the repression. The EU strongly condemns the brutal and disproportionate use of force by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters," he said but no action was taken to designate the IRGC.
There have been numerous Iranian terror acts in Europe, where courts have indicted top officials. In addition, IRGC’s record in organizing attacks elsewhere are well-documented. Critics say that Borrell is focused on re-starting nuclear talks with Iran after the previous long round of negotiations in 2021-2022 ended last September without success.
The European Parliament has called on the EU to list the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity, blaming it for the repression of domestic protests and the supply of drones to Russia.
Moreover, EU legal experts have declared that the bloc does not currently have legal grounds to list Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.
"As of now, we don't have legal grounds in the EU to list the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization," Baerbock told reporters at the end of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
The United States has said it is not pursuing the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, or the JCPOA, and instead its attention is on the popular movement in Iran and on Tehran’s supply of kamikaze drones to Russia.
A woman plays the role of a person being hanged as Iranian community member takes part in a protest in solidarity with Iranian people, in Brussels, Belgium, February 20, 2023
The IRGC was set up shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling system and provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.
It has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units. It also commands the Basij religious militia, a volunteer paramilitary force loyal to the clerical establishment which is often used to crack down on anti-government protests.