Throughout contemporary Iranian history, human rights abuses have been rife in Iran. From the time of the Qajar and Pahlavi monarchies through to the present day, the Iranian people have been deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

During the Shah’s reign, the infamous SAVAK (secret police) brazenly violated the people’s rights and freedoms. The anti-monarchical revolution of 1979 gave the Iranian people hope that a new era was emerging in which human rights and human dignity would be respected.

However, it soon became clear that Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s theocratic regime, not only disregarded these rights, but under the pretext of religion and Islam, he continued to violate the freedoms and rights of the people. The Shah’s repressive policies, such as violating freedom of expression, arrests, imprisonment, and torture of dissidents, briefly interrupted by the revolution, resumed under Khomeini and the present regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, albeit in different ways.

Indeed, the mullahs surpassed the Shah in every aspect of repression, killing more than 120,000 freedom-loving Iranians. And the machinery of suppression has not let up 40 years on. Khamenei has crushed popular protests to suppress growing internal discontent. His regime’s repressive forces slaughtered 1,500 peaceful protesters and imprisoned 12,000 others during the November 2019 uprising.

The executions of dissidents and protesters have intensified and unfortunately become commonplace. Critics and dissidents from all walks of life are facing lengthy prison sentences on trumped-up charges like violating national security. Censorship and freedom of expression are enforced in all areas, and cyberspace is tightly controlled by the security forces.

Iran under Khamenei’s rule has become notoriously known as the leading violator of human rights in the world.  This is an issue that government officials, including its president, Ibrahim Raisi, are not ashamed of, as they are responsible for massacring 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, and continue to brag about it.

Khamenei, terrified of the demonstrations and uprisings, has accelerated the executions to instill an atmosphere of terror in society. Just last week, 12 prisoners were hanged throughout Wednesday and Thursday, while the number of recorded executions rose to at least 45 in one month.

On January 18, following 20 years in prison, Mohammad Jomeh Mohammadi was hanged. Those attending his funeral in Izeh shared and expressed their disgust with Khamenei’s decision to end Mohammadi’s life.

On the same day, five other prisoners lost their lives. Eqbal Mostofi and Houshang Khanmohammadi were executed in Khorramabad, while Hamed Manouchehri, Sobhan Shohani, and Mohammad Karimnejad were hanged in Ilam. The following day, Baluch citizen, Idris Gomshadzehi was executed in Zahedan Prison, Parviz Akbari Rad, Jamaleddin Gorgich, and Dadshah Sarani were hanged in Zabul prison, and Ali Yazdani and Ishaq Mohammad Amin were hanged in Rasht and Isfahan prisons, respectively.

In 2020, according to Amnesty International, Iran alone was responsible for half of the world’s recorded executions with a recorded 246 executions carried out that year. These executions included teenagers, women, ethnic and religious minorities. Although Iran’s regime has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has not attempted to change the country’s penal code, which allows the execution of minors.

Under Iran’s judicial system, defendants are routinely denied access to lawyers, and political prisoners are deprived of fair trials. The lack of legal formalities in the country, and the countless number of forced confessions under physical and mental torture, result in defendants being forced to confess to the alleged crimes.

Human rights activists and political analysts believe that by increasing the number of executions, Tehran is trying to intimidate the public and send a warning to the people that any opposition will be dealt with severely.

Under the circumstances, Western governments must put respect for human rights front and center in their policy towards the regime in Tehran. Any ties, commercial or otherwise, must be predicated on a halt to execution and torture as well as respect for the Iranian people’s fundamental freedoms.