By Edward Carney
Pressure continue to mount this week on the Islamic Republic of Iran over its systematic human rights violations, following a number of other instances of Western governments and international human rights groups condemning specific examples of persecution as well as the perceived overall increase in Tehran’s crackdown on dissent.
Last week, a number of Canadian lawmakers called for their government to impose sanctions under the Magnitsky Act on account of a “sharp increase” in human rights violations, mostly stemming from the regime’s attempts to suppress public demonstrations that have remained prevalent since a mass uprising that began in December of last year.
Also last week, the US Congress passed its 18th resolution condemning the Iranian regime’s record of arbitrarily detaining and otherwise discriminating against members of the Baha’i faith and other religious and ethnic minorities.
This week, the Baha’i World News Service praised a similar effort undertaken by the broader international community. It noted that on Monday, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution that demanded Iran “release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, including the remaining imprisoned member of the Baha’i leadership.”
Between March and May of 2008, seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community were arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges including insulting the sacred, propaganda against the state, and collaboration with foreign enemies. The sentences were subsequently reduced to 10 years on appeal, but the cases remained internationally visible as human rights advocates pushed for their release on the basis of the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of their arrests.
Since September 2016, six of the seven individuals have been released sometime after the expiration of their sentences. But the prison term for the seventh, Afif Naeimi, has been extended despite a life-threatening health condition, which prompted the judiciary’s own medical experts to report that he is too ill to remain incarcerated.
The judiciary’s disregard for such warnings is a well-known human rights issue in Iran, and a means by which regime authorities frequently dispense extrajudicial pressure or punishment to prisoners, especially political prisoners. As such, it is also a familiar object of both domestic and international activism.
And activism on this particular topic is possibly in the midst of being bolstered by a high-profile case in which one prisoner died after a 60 day hunger strike, the effects of which were largely ignored by Tehran.
As the Thomson Reuters Foundation noted on Sunday, that ignorance persisted even into the regime’s confirmation of the death of Vahid Sayyadi Nasiri, a social media activist who initiated his hunger strike on October 13 in order to draw attention to inhuman prison conditions and the lack of due. Like many other defendants charged with “national security” crimes, Nasiri was denied access to legal counsel throughout the judicial process.
Iran’s confirmation of Nasiri’s death came only after Western human rights groups obtained information on the matter from independent sources. And although it had been widely reported that Nasiri died as a result of the effects of his hunger strike, neither judiciary officials nor Iranian state media acknowledged this, opting instead to say only that he had died of “liver disease.”
Furthermore, the Iranian Students News Agency asserted that Nasiri was a terrorist and had plotted a bombing, even though the sentence he was serving at the time of his death was based on the vague charge of “insulting Islamic sanctities.”
The Thomson Reuters report on Nasiri’s case noted that in addition to denying human rights violations in this particular instance, Iranian authorities have a long track record of denying the very concept of human rights violations inside the Islamic Republic.
“Iran rejects criticism of its human rights record by international human rights bodies as politically motivated and based on a lack of understanding of Islamic laws,” the report states. Indeed, Tehran even maintains its own so-called domestic human rights monitor, whose actual purpose is only to contradict foreign reporting on the issue.
Iran’s intransigence on human rights and other issues was also reiterated on Monday by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. The English-language propaganda network Press TV quoted him as saying that the Islamic Republic will not engage in negotiations with foreign entities such as the United States, unless those entities abandon all preconditions, whether they be related to Tehran’s human rights violations, its support of terrorism, or its intrusive role in the affairs of regional neighbors.
The White House has outlined a dozen changes to the regime’s behavior that are expected in advance of any negotiations. And although these are primarily related to national security issues, the US Congress has taken a broader view while maintaining similar assertiveness. On Tuesday, Sunshine State News reported that US Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Gallagher had jointly unveiled the Blocking Iranian Illicit Finance Act, which is meant to limit the Iranian regime’s ability to, among other things, “egregiously abuse human rights.”
But it is not only Western “enemies” like the US and Canada that recognize the seriousness and pervasiveness of Iranian human rights violations, as evidenced by the UN resolution, which passed with “yes” votes from 84 member states. That vote was embraced on Tuesday in a statement by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the leading coalition of Iranian opposition groups promoting democracy in place of the theocratic dictatorship.
The organization’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, declared that the resolution “leaves no doubt that this regime is the most brutal and aggressive violator of human rights in today's world,” though she also lamented the fact that the resolution “fails to address many aspects of the inhumane crimes,” particularly those that took place earlier in the clerical regime’s history but have since gone unpunished.
Tuesday’s statement concluded by urging the international community to initiate an independent inquiry into the massacre of political prisoners that took place in the summer of 1988 and reported resulted in some 30,000 deaths.
That same day, an editorial in UPI voiced the same call. In it, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, the founder of the Brussels-based Committee in Search of Justice, called attention to a recent, extensive Amnesty International report on the massacre and concluded by saying that such “crimes against humanity cannot be under any circumstances left unpunished.”
The NCRI and other advocates for an inquiry into the 1988 massacre maintain that the absence of punishment for such incidents reinforces a sense of impunity among Iranian leaders, some of whom have publicly boasted of their participation in that massacre. This concern is arguably underscored by the ongoing crackdown that the regime has been using as part of its effort to manage domestic unrest.
On Monday, the Washington Times reported that the rate of executions in the Islamic Republic was surging, in large part because of the role of newly-formed “corruption courts” that have overseen high-profile executions in a project of scapegoating supposed financial criminals for the country’s worsening economic crisis. The article notes that leading right experts recognize the corruption courts as “little more than ‘kangaroo courts’ that violate international law.”
The report concludes by referencing multiple human rights activists who offer their own contributions to the outpouring of voices calling for serious international action to confront Tehran’s human rights violations.