Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU staff,

 Spotlight on Human Rights

Human Rights Watch has just released a report on the trends of political imprisonment in Iran. In coordination with this release, the non-governmental advocacy organization’s website posted an interview on Tuesday, which responded to the Iranian regime’s denials of the fact that it so much as holds political prisoners.

The Human Rights Watch report identified 62 political prisoners in just three prisons in the city of Karaj. Even this is a conservative estimate, as the group also identified 125 individuals who may or may not have committed actual crimes, but have otherwise been treated as if they are political prisoners. Apart from being targeted for political or religious reasons, this treatment includes a lack of access to lawyers, indefinite periods of detention while the state builds a case against them, and trials that do not conform to basic international standards.

Religious Repression

The report points out Christians are subject to religious repression throughout Iran, as evidenced by the false arrests of various pastors and other Christian leaders. The Christian news outlet, Worthy News reported on Tuesday that Iranian Pastor Matthias Haghnejad has been charged with “enmity against God” following his arrest in July, and thus could face the death penalty for his religious activities. Two other converts from Islam to Christianity were also arrested and charged with acting against national security, evangelizing, and disturbing the public order.

National Council of Resistance of Iran

The principal Iranian resistance group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has also released a series of reports on recent human rights abuses inside the regime, particularly its prison system. The Washington Free Beacon published the group’s reports about the mass execution on Monday of sixteen prisoners in Karaj’s Qezel Hessar Prison. Eleven of the victims were hanged at once, prompting protest from other inmates, who were met with weapons fire from the prison guards, killing five more individuals.

The latest killings bring the total number of executions to over 440 already for the year 2014, and well over 18 for the entire year-long tenure of President Hassan Rouhani. Additional NCRI reports emphasize that this violence remains an ongoing pattern, with numerous notable incidents having taken place just in the first two weeks of August. These include random beatings and pre-execution floggings, and the denial of medical treatment to two prisoners in Qezel Hessar and one in Bandar Abbas Prions, all three of whom died as a result. Furthermore, at least 40 prisoners died in a fire in Shahr-e Kord Prison when guards barred firefighters from accessing the prison to assist the victims.

These observations lead NCRI President Maryam Rajavi to urge the international community to intercede on behalf of human rights issues and make the improvement of Iran’s record a prerequisite for any nuclear agreement between it and the P5+1. “Turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Iran on the pretext of engaging in nuclear talks will only embolden the ruling mullahs to perpetrate more atrocities and to continue its disregard for UN Security Council resolutions,” Rajavi said in the group’s report.

Reversing the Blame

Iran, meanwhile, continues to deny all objective reports of its human rights abuses, instead pursuing a strategy of attempting to portray critics as being just as bad as the Iranian regime. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already latched onto the story of riots in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the killing of a black teenager by a white police officer. Other officials and Iranian media have now followed the supreme leader’s example, using that story as an opportunity to advance a narrative that distracts from the seriousness of Iran’s systematic and policy-driven abuses.

Reports from Iran point out that Iranian commentary on the Ferguson has been a top story at the hardline Fars News Agency for days. That commentary includes unexplained and unsubstantiated accusations that the United States portrays tiny incidents in countries like Iran as major issues. Fars claimed that if the Ferguson case had taken place in Iran, the United States would have spearheaded a “news blackmail” by covering it excessively and trying “to adopt a human rights resolution against” Iran.

Of course, the Human Rights Watch report, various State Department reports, and NCRI coverage of ongoing repression by the Iranian regime all point to the fact that criticisms of that regime are not based on individual incidents, but rather react to entrenched policies of discrimination and violence against minorities and activists.

Conflict and Confrontation

Yet at the same time that Iran strives to turn blame against its own critics, it also demands concessions from those critics without acknowledging any conflict over these broader issues. Contrary to the NCRI’s recommendations, human rights are not an issue at the nuclear negotiating table, and the Iranian side has acted accordingly.

Tasnim News Agency reports that on Monday, following a meeting with the Romanian Deputy Foreign Minister in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that there will be not nuclear agreement unless the P5+1 initiates an up-front lifting of sanctions. It is the latest in a long series of indications that Iran feels secure issuing demands during this process, and is unwilling to seriously compromise.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to engage in clandestine conflicts against the interests of the parties with which it is negotiating. Apart from its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria and for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Iran has been taking direct action against Israel and others by way of its expanding cyber-warfare capabilities.

Business Insider elaborates on this expansion, pointing out that Israel faced a massive wave of cyber-attacks during its war with Hamas, and that many of these may trace back to Iran. These attacks are also different from those originating with other adversarial countries because the Iranian attacks have explicitly destructive aims, and are not merely concerned with stealing information.

Business Insider concludes its article by saying, “Even as Iran negotiates a nuclear agreement with the U.S. and its partners, it hasn't scaled back its asymmetrical ambitions,” which are directed not only against Israel and other regional opponents, but also sometimes against American web servers.

Western Responses

Counter Punch emphasizes the other side of the cyber-warfare conflict an article that raises questions and criticisms about US policies regarding engagement with Iran over its nuclear program. While not taking an explicit position on many of these issues, the article says that the American public should be aware of the sometimes haphazard approaches that the US has taken, along with Israel and other allies. Counter Punch says that cyber-attacks against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure were destructively uncontained and that espionage efforts may have resulted in Iran being inadvertently handed crucial nuclear information. While none of this necessarily suggests that the focus of US policy has been misguided, it does imply that the execution of that policy must be better thought out in advance of future operations.

But to the extent that these observations reflect upon the US’s policies under the Obama administration, they also suggest that the government is still focused on trying to curtail Iranian nuclear ambitions in spite of the soft approach that Obama has taken to negotiations. This is more explicitly implied by the Obama administration’s continuing involvement in a court case against anti-Iranian advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).

The New York Times reports that that court case has just expanded to involve billionaire Wall Street investor Thomas S. Kaplan, who is connected to UANI chief executive Mark Wallace. But as the court case grows in complexity, the US Justice Department is continuing to defend UANI by blocking the release of some of its documents, a move that suggests possible vested interested by the Obama administration in UANI’s anti-Iranian advocacy.

Banking and Oil

While such partnerships may ultimately be dangerous to the Iranian regime, it must be acknowledged that the regime is seemingly always pursuing its own partnerships that may be dangerous to the Western world. Though sometimes also military, these partnerships are chiefly economic, and pose a specific danger of weakening economic sanctions by allowing Iran to trade oil directly for the export goods of other Asian nations.

One way of furthering this sanctions evasion is by establishing joint banking operations so that virtually all transactions can be paid in the sanctioned country’s local currency, by institutions that don’t have separate dealings with the West and thus cannot be subject to direct sanctions enforcement. Various plans have been discussed or announced for instituting this strategy among Iran’s partners, with the latest example coming on Monday in a meeting between an Iranian Consul General and the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for one Pakistani province, according to HispanicBusiness.com.

At the same time that Iran is striving to secure stronger trade relations with its regional partners, it is also aiming to gain a controlling interest in some of the oil resources of similar partners. Zawya points out that Iran is in talks with Iraq to develop joint oil fields. But the same source indicates how much of an uphill battle Iran still has in gaining a firm grasp of those and other sources of petroleum. Iran already does share oil fields with Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and others, but for the time being at least, Iranian output is a considerably smaller portion in all of these cases.

Death of the Lioness

On Tuesday, Iranian media announced the death of popular poet Simin Behbahani, who was championed by activists and opponents of the regime, and thus given the unofficial title, “the lioness of Iran” to signify her courage in the face of censorship.

Behbahani was 87 and her body of work spanned six decades, expressing the people’s disaffection both before and after the Iranian Revolution. She supported the 2009 protests against the disputed presidential elections, writing a poem titled “Stop Throwing My Country to the Wind.” The following year she was barred from leaving the country, which was by no means the regime’s first attempt to constrain her movement or poetic voice.

NPR’s coverage of Behbahani’s death includes the following quotation from her “A Cup of Sin,” one of her most famous poems:

“My country, I will build you again, if need be, with bricks made from my life. I will build columns to support your roof, if need be, with my own bones. I will inhale again the perfume of flower favored by your youth. I will wash again the blood off your body with torrents of my tears.”

 

 

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