By MOSA ZAHED, UPI Outside View Commentator | Oct. 28, 2013
BRUSSELS, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- One month ago, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed world leaders during the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly in an attempt to cool tensions between Iran and the international community over its disputed nuclear program.
Many experts described this effort as a "charm offensive" by the Iranian president in order to ease sanctions, which have taken their toll on the Iranian economy, and to buy more time for becoming capable of building nuclear weapons.
In his speech, Rouhani used terms such as "human dignity," "human rights" and "morality" in a desperate attempt to portray a humanitarian face of his regime. He continued educating the world on democracy and even went as far as saying that Iran is the "anchor of stability" in an otherwise unstable region.
As much as I wish to believe Rouhani's campaign of moderation to be true, the bitter reality in Iran and in the region is in stark contrast with this clergy's fairy tales. Some brand me a pessimist, especially those who have been trumpeting Rouhani as a reform-minded clergyman who will lead Iran into a new era at home and abroad, a "savior" with an olive branch if you will.
The bleak figures speak for themselves and the world should judge Rouhani and his regime on their actions. Estimates from Amnesty International specify that the Iranian authorities have executed at least 508 people since the beginning of 2013, violating international law. Some 240 executions were reportedly carried out after the June presidential election that put "moderate" Rouhani into office.
The special rapporteur on human rights in Iran summarized in his 2013 report that Iran isn't living up to its human rights obligations and that gender discrimination, as well as systemic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, continue to characterize the human rights situation in the country.
The report further elaborates that Iran continues to violate the basic rights of freedom of expression and access to information. Five million websites, containing material related to ethnic and religious minorities, gender equality, including social media websites, were reportedly blocked by the authorities.
Abuses against religious minorities such as Christians, Baha'is and Dervish Muslims are uninterrupted and forced conversions to Islam have become a pattern. The Iranian regime's repressive tactics against journalists, bloggers and online activists haven't ceased and it continues imprisoning them.
Rouhani's facade of moderation at the United Nations was best exposed when authorities said earlier this month that they were going to hang 37-year-old Alireza M for the second time after he had survived the first hanging in Bonjourd prison following alleged drug possession charges.
Due to international outrage and condemnation, the authorities seem to have backed down on this idea.
Similarly horrifying is a bill which was passed last month by lawmakers that triggered international outcry which allows men to marry their adopted daughters as young as 13 years, effectively legalizing pedophilia in Iran. Such conduct clearly reveals the medieval nature of the theocracy ruling Iran and it is naive to expect this kind of establishment to be capable of reform, let alone to designate it as "moderate."
The claim that Iran is the "anchor of stability" in the region, as Rouhani proudly stated in New York, reminds me of the propaganda minister of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels, who said "if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
The Iranian regime's interference in other country's affairs has in fact destabilized the Middle East and jeopardised global peace and security. Iran's support for Bashar Assad's regime in Syria through Hezbollah has endangered the political system of Lebanon and brought this country to the brink of civil war. Hezbollah is well-equipped by the Iranian regime and continues receiving arms, millions of dollars, training and logistical support to carry out its activities across the world, which have claimed the lives of many innocent people.
Whether it is the regime's nuclear program, domestic affairs or its support for international terrorism, in Iran the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei determines the policies instead of Hassan Rouhani. Terms like "reform" or "moderation" under such a totalitarian structure therefore do not make any sense as Khamenei holds absolute power.
Rouhani owes his presidential seat to the grace of the supreme leader, who rewarded him with the opportunity to run in elections after he proved his loyalty to the system in which he built his credentials over the past three decades.
The Iranian people need real change instead of a smiling theocrat who makes empty promises, a democratic change that drives the clerics back in to the mosques where they belong and Iran becomes a country defined by political pluralism, freedom and democracy. Only under such conditions will human rights and international law prevail and will the region set sail for stability, security and global peace.
(Mosa Zahed is a Near East policy adviser to ARCHumankind, a non-governmental organization in Brussels. He is a doctoral student at Leiden University in game theory and conflict analysis.
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