An acrimonious war of words has broken out between notable luminaries within the anti-war movement after the Stop the War Coalition refused to allow a group that campaigns against military intervention in Iran to join its ranks.
The decision has prompted a number of prominent activists, including Peter Tatchell and Michael Mansfield QC, to accuse the coalition of being apologists for the Iranian government by "refusing to allow any criticism" of the Tehran regime.
Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi), a small group of predominantly Iranian exiles who campaign for regime change in Iran but are against external military intervention, were told last month they could not be affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition after their application was rejected by a vote at the anti-war coalition's annual meeting. Members of Hopi said they have been "excommunicated" because of their vociferous opposition to the Tehran regime.
The dispute goes to the heart of a bitter division within the anti-war movement over human rights abuses perpetrated by the Iranian regime amid bellicose US policies towards Iran. A growing number of activists have begun arguing that the anti-war left is too willing to turn a blind eye to the Ayatollahs' policies due to their anti-US sentiments.
"None of the outrageous crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Iranian government have ever been condemned by the Stop the War Coalition," said Peter Tatchell said. "Their anti-Americanism has driven them into a de facto alliance with the Iranian regime. There's a worrying minority within the anti-war movement who are out-and-out apologists of the Tehran regime."
Stop the War Coalition has in turn rounded on Hopi for being "entirely hostile" to the coalition and accused it of deliberately setting itself up as an alternative anti-war movement.
"When Hopi was set up it was explicitly to act as an alternative to us," said Andrew Murray, chair of Stop the War Coalition. "Clearly if you take that view you are not joining in good faith."
Yassamine Mather, an Iranian exile in the UK who helped found Hopi nine months ago, said the decision to exclude the group was "political". "It's ridiculous to say we have set ourselves up as an alternative," she said. "Stop the War Coalition covers many countries. You have all sorts of groups who campaign on all sorts of issues within Stop the War, so why not us?"
Opposition to military intervention in Iran has now become one of the major issues occupying anti-war groups in Britain but those who vocally criticise the Iranian regime say they are regularly shouted down and even spat at on marches by fellow protesters.
"It's very similar to the way the left were split in the Cold War over how to deal with the Soviet Union," said the veteran peace activist Attila the Stockbroker who, alongside Peter Tatchell, was one of 10 people who signed a recent letter publicly criticising the coalition over its exclusion of Hopi. "Various members of the left are prepared to make very bizarre friendships with regimes that they should have nothing to do with. I'm completely puzzled how anyone could adopt such an uncritical attitude to a regime that persecutes homosexuals, leftists and women."
Mr Murray denied accusations that Stop the War Coalition was soft on the Iranian regime: "We heard all these accusations in 2003 in the run-up to the Iraq war. It's completely untrue to say we are apologists. We are no more supporters of the Tehran regime than we were of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban."