The Canadian Parliament concluded in May its third Iran Accountability Week, which sounded the alarm on the fourfold threat posed by the Iranian regime – nuclear, terrorist, incitement, and – in particular – the widespread and systematic violations of the human rights of the Iranian people. Parliamentarians heard expert witness testimony on the Iranian threat – particularly the massive domestic repression. In addition, a centrepiece of Iran Accountability Week was the Global Iranian Political Prisoner Advocacy Project, wherein parliamentarians “adopted” an Iranian political prisoner not unlike the experience with taking up the case and cause of Soviet political prisoners.
This year’s Iran Accountability Week occurred at a most propitious time, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been touting his commitment to “constructive engagement” with the international community, particularly in the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Yet, as nuclear talks recently resumed, the systematic and widespread violations of human rights in Iran are being overshadowed – if not sanitized – by the preemptive international focus on the nuclear issue.
It should be recalled that when the U.S. negotiated an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union in 1975, it did not turn a blind eye to the USSR’s human rights abuses. Instead, the Helsinki Final Act linked the security, economic, and human rights “baskets,” with human rights emerging as the most transformative of the three. Negotiations with Iran should replicate this approach.
Accordingly, the ongoing nuclear negotiations should neither distract nor deflect from addressing and redressing the Iranian regime’s massive domestic repression.
The following constitutes an overview of just a few of the serious human rights abuses in Iran that continue unabated – or have even intensified – under Rouhani’s “moderate” presidency.
Prior to Rouhani’s rise to power, Iran had the highest per capita execution rate in the world. Yet, the alarming rate of executions has actually increased under Rouhani, with more than 650 executions having been carried out since his ascension to the Presidency in August 2013 – including twenty executions during the week of his November “charm offensive” at the United Nations – a fact largely ignored. Moreover, the recent execution binge has witnessed at least 330 executions since the beginning of 2014.
2. Political prisoners
According to the recent report by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed – the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran – there are at least 895 “prisoners of conscience” and “political prisoners” incarcerated in Iran.
Although Rouhani did free a number of political prisoners in the run-up to his September appearance at the UN – including iconic human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh – the cosmetic freeing of individual prisoners should not overshadow the ongoing painful reality of the criminalization of innocence, including a spate of charges of “propaganda against the state” following expressions of peaceful dissent.
According to Dr. Shaheed’s March 2014 report, former detainees describe being “subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and prolonged solitary confinement to coerce confessions . . . .”
The report documents the horrific treatment that Iranian prisoners endure, such as physical torture, including beating, whipping, and assault occurring in 100 percent of cases; sexual torture, including rape, molestation, and violence to genitals, occurring in 60 percent of cases; and a high prevalence of psychological and environmental torture, such as solitary confinement.
4. Persecution of the Baha’i
This year is the seventh year of imprisonment of the seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i, known as the Yaran. Their 20 year sentences amount to a death sentence for some owing to their advanced age.
Despite Rouhani’s professed commitment to greater tolerance of religious minorities, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa calling on Iranians to avoid any interactions with members of the Baha’i faith, whom he maligned as a “deviant and misleading sect.”
The Iranian regime’s systematic persecution of the Baha’i has also resulted in widespread religiously motivated hate crimes against them, with none of the attackers yet prosecuted or brought to justice.
5. The Persecution of Journalists and the Assault on Free Speech
Dozens of journalists who were arrested during the crackdown that followed the 2009 fraudulent Presidential election remain incarcerated, while the regime continues to regularly arrest journalists and bloggers, imprisoning them without charge or trial or under trumped up charges such as “propagating against the system” or “insulting the President.” More recently, the regime has shuttered five newspapers, Bahr, Aseman, Ebtekar, Neshat, and Ghanoon.
There is a complete absence of judicial independence and rule of law in Iran. Indeed, the entire legal system is designed to enable and enforce the regime’s massive repression of human rights, and create a culture of impunity for its violators.
In this regard, it is outrageous that Rouhani’s appointee as Justice Minister is Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi – a man implicated in a litany of major human rights violations, including the 1988 massacre of 5,000 political prisoners.
Indeed, an overview of human rights violations in Iran during the past months alone shows that the regime is anything but moderate, even under Rouhani’s presidency, and that it continues to systematically arrest, execute, torture, and repress religious and ethnic minorities, human rights defenders, and political dissenters.
Examples abound. For instance:
On May 25 and 28, prisoners in Bandar Abbas and Zahedan prisons were brutally beaten by prison authorities in an attack reminiscent of April’s brutal assault on inmates at Evin Prison’s Ward 350; Two Iranian-Arab activists, Ali Chabishat and Khaled Mousavi, were executed in secret on June 16, 2014; Journalist Hossein Nouraninejad, returning from Australia, was put on trial for “propaganda against the state”; New charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security” brought against Narges Mohammadi; Filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi began five years sentences on charges of “propaganda against the state”.
Given Rouhani’s ongoing charm offensive – and characterizations of him as a “moderate” – it is particularly important to unmask the massive domestic repression and sound the alarm on the reality of repression in Iran.