The demand of 1,000 volunteer members of Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society to protect the independence of non-governmental organizations

The Ministry of the Interior has obligated Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society (IAPSRS) to alter its organizational structure. According to the decision issued by the National Council for Development and Support of Non-Governmental Organizations, the board members and the board of trustees of IAPSRS have to alter the structure of board of trustees to the structure of a General Assembly within 20 days from the date of notification.Following the announcement of the letter, 1,000 volunteer members of IAPSRS, in a statement expressed their support for the current structure and described these demands as a violation of the rights of people-oriented organizations.

The full statement reads as follows:

To the Ministry of Interior of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The presence of strong and independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their social contributions are among the most important indicators of development and they are indeed the beating heart of a society. The structure of these organizations, unlike economic enterprises and administrative organizations, is not just an organizational chart, but the human ingenuity and spirit that pushes them forward.

As of today, more than forty days have passed since the arrest of the founder and three members of one of the largest and most prestigious civil society organizations in the country i.e., IAPSRS, and Mr. Sharmin Meymandi Nejad, its founder, is still in solitary confinement. Given the situation, a letter was sent to IAPSRS at the request of others and signed by the Deputy Minister of Public Participation of the Ministry of Interior. In this letter, IAPSRS has been asked to Change to a General Assembly, within 20 days. The reasons given for this request are the qualitative development and allowing the active participation of all members and volunteers in the decision-making and management processes.

Given the circumstances of the society, when people are bent under the burden of economic crises and sanctions and the global pandemic, while inept institutions exacerbate the inflation and increase the number of needy and working children every day, what can be deduced from “the concern for the spirit of democracy in an NGO”, which has shown no sign of ineptitude and mismanagement in its current structure?

We, the volunteer members of IAPSRS, find this attitude a form of obstruction in the activities of our independent organization, although glad that the officials are concerned about the spirit of democracy and participation. However, we believe that IAPSRS is one of the few social environments where we have had the opportunity to experience participation, teamwork and democracy. An organization that has given thousands of enthusiastic and discerning young individuals the opportunity and courage to express their opinions and practical skills.

At IAPSRS, there is a dynamic pattern of participation in decision-making and management in the organization, satisfactory to all of us. The enthusiastic presence of thousands of volunteers, who have been working for the organization for years, is a testament.

External decisions on the internal structure of an organization that has proven its effectiveness and capability in two decades, is a violation of its independence. This organization has not deviated from the regulatory framework during its activity. Today, we still believe that if the decisions on the structure and means of activities are left to the volunteer members who are serving 6,000 children and hundreds of breadwinner women in the worst conditions and most unsettled regions without any expectation, they will remain law-abiding, while pursuing the human causes in the society as before.

With current circumstances, we believe that a structure that has the required efficiency and effectiveness and serves the interests of the target groups, does not need alterations in its management procedure. We believe that holding elections and reforming to a general assembly, in and of itself does not represent democracy, and may change the nature of IAPSRS to the point of parting of compassionate and experienced members and subversion of the goals and ideals.

At present, we side with keeping the current managerial structure and board members, and are proud to say that the spirit of participation and dialogue in our large family is greater than other organizations.

For years, volunteer members of IAPSRS have been lawfully and passionately engaged with this path, striving to improve the living conditions of vulnerable communities. Ignoring their opinions about the structure they have agreed with and still do, disrespects the causes they have committed part of their lives to.

Interfering with internal decisions of an organization with a legally recognized structure, good cause and undeniably tangible outcomes, while having no financial violations and no deviations from its constitutional missions, will be regarded as a deflection from the principle of non-interference with civil organizations.

In today’s society, let us combine our efforts and will to facilitate and support the activities of civic institutions, instead of proposals to reshape functioning structures with the aim of diminishing their scope of services and effectiveness. Instead of impeding the honorable efforts of IAPSRS, end the detainment of its founder and grow seeds of hope and serve the children and women of this country.

It should be noted that the anonymity of the signatories of this letter is protected.

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