HUNGER STRIKE COMMEMORATIVE WEB PROJECT: British Gov't Revising History (again)
The British Government, having never learned from history,
tries revising it by proxy.

Last week we became aware of discreet British plans to get the Iranian government in Tehran to change the name of "Bobby Sands Street" which runs outside the British embassy. Below is a news story with photos of the street signs. This is another attempt by the British government to revise history by erasing the names of hunger strikers.

Update - 27 Jan 04: Danny Morrison with Sinn Fein and the Bobby Sands Trust has authored a petition to Iranian President Hojjatoleslam Sayed Mohammad Khatami, urging him not to bend to British pressure in renaming Bobby Sands Street in Tehran -- consider signing the petition and add your voice to those who remember 1981.

Irish republicans say Bobby Sands Street in Tehran should stay
Fri Jan 23, 2:18 AM ET
Photo by Behrouz Mehri of AFP

BELFAST (AFP) - Senior figures in Ireland's republican movement have reacted with anger over discreet British efforts to change the name of a street next to the British embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran honouring IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Already furious after vandals desecrated Sands' tombstone and the graves of other hunger strikers in Belfast's Milltown cemetery last week, they said Iranian authorities should stick with a street name "reminding the British government of their oppression and their black history".

"Bobby Sands' sacrifice and that of his nine comrades inspired many people around the world," said Danny Morrison, secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust in Belfast.

"We in the nationalist community, who suffered under British rule, were delighted and proud when Tehran named the street beside the British embassy after Bobby Sands," he said.

Morrison, a former IRA prisoner and friend of Sands, noted that Iran's Islamic government sent a representative to the hunger striker's funeral and presented his mother with a plaque from the Iranian people.

By renaming after Sands' death in 1981 what was formerly Winston Churchill Street next to the British embassy in Tehran, "they were honouring a martyr of the people," Morrison told AFP.

"It is that reminder which annoys the British and which is why they want Bobby's name erased," he said.

"Bobby died not a terrorist, but as an Irish Freedom Fighter. He stood for election in Ireland -- which is more than any British minister who rules us has done."

The British Foreign Office dismissed the claims and denied having put pressure on Tehran to change the name of the street.

"There are a lot more important things to talk about between Britain and Iran than the name of a street," a Foreign Office spokeswoman told AFP.

However another foreign office official said Sands was "a terrorist. And if the Iranians want to appear serious about fighting terrorism, one place to start is changing the name of that street."

During the third of five trips to Iran by Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over the course of the past two years, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi was politely and discreetly nudged to do the necessary, according to a British Foreign Office official accompanying Straw and Iranian foreign ministry sources.

Irish republican historians are at pains to point out that Sands was never even convicted of what could be classed as an act of terrorism, even though he was a declared member of the IRA.

Back in 1977, Sands was arrested near the scene of a bombing. At his trial, the judge acknowledged there was no evidence to pin the crime on him and the other three men also arrested, so instead sentenced the group to 14 years' imprisonment each for the possession of just one revolver found in their car.

Many Iranians also have something of a soft spot for the hunger striker. For example, Vice President Mohamed Ali Abtahi -- a jovial and prominent reformist -- once told AFP he felt Sands was a "great man".

Diplomats at the embassy of the Republic of Ireland in Tehran admit the street is something of a tourist attraction for Irish nationals visiting the 25-year-old Islamic republic, saying it drew large crowds during an Ireland-Iran World Cup football qualifier in 2001.

In addition, Irish visitors are sometimes greeted at Tehran airport's passport control with a smile from normally gloomy-faced staff, a raised clenched fist and the statement: "Bobby Sands, no food. Welcome to Iran".

Britain's ongoing irritation over the matter -- while far from representing anything close to a diplomatic spat -- must nevertheless be leaving Sands grinning in his Belfast grave.

"Of course I can be murdered," the hunger striker scrawled in a toilet paper diary smuggled out of prison before his death. "But I remain what I am, a political POW, and no one, not even the British, can change that."

Two decades on, however, the fight continues.

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26 Jan 04