Nonetheless, administration officials have stated that they remain concerned about Iran’s further activities, including its known human rights abuses. But this concern does not seem to have influenced media coverage of Iranian issues, as the latest news of false imprisonments, executions, and so on appears to be mainly confined to news sources affiliated with advocacy groups and the Iranian opposition.
For instance, the National Council of Resistance of Iran pointed out over the weekend that 12 prisoners had been hanged in secret by the Iranian regime on Thursday. This story reflects a broader trend of secrecy and also an escalating rate of executions in the Islamic Republic. The NCRI and other organizations have kept up with reports of hangings, the frequency of which was highlighted last week in a report by Ahmad Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
But as the NCRI points out, Shaheed told reporters at a briefing on March 16, “There is a lot of concern amongst the Iranian society that the nuclear file may be casting a shadow over the human rights discussion.”
And beyond simply distracting attention from the latest abuses, the nuclear issue may actually be helping the Iranian regime to conceal the legacy of its worst past abuses. Another NCRI report reveals that Iranian security forces took measures to prevent a gathering at Khavaran cemetery intended to memorialize and bring attention to a 1988 massacre of political prisoners during which the regime killed some 30,000 people.
The NCRI notes that the regime has never acknowledged this incident, much less made information on the victims available to the public.
While this past incident is a particularly extreme example, many recent stories indicate that the trend of political imprisonment remains strong in Iran, even if few examples of it have been widely reported in the midst of nuclear negotiations. On Friday alone, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran pointed to three such cases, each of them also highlighting the repressive and retributive measures employed by Iranian authorities against political opponents and human rights advocates.
The Campaign reports that Saeed Razavi Faghih, an Iranian journalist, has so far been kept in prison for a month past the completion of his one year sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” Faghih’s brother referred to the continued imprisonment as “unnecessary punishment of a sick prisoner who has completed his term,” referring to the fact that Faghih underwent open-heart surgery around the time of the start of his prison term and has been effectively denied medical treatment in recent weeks.
This is reportedly a common punitive measure utilized by prison officials against political prisoners, and it is on display in another case highlighted by the Campaign, that of human rights lawyer Mohammad Seifzadeh, who is serving a nine-year sentence for “acting against national security through establishing the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” and who has been denied surgery to remove painful kidney stones.
Seifzadeh was also denied furlough for the Iranian New Year, contrary to Iranian law and tradition. Furlough is regularly granted to ordinary prisoners, but denied to political prisoners as an additional form of punishment. This measure has also been utilized against the third individual highlighted by the Campaign, another imprisoned journalist named Saeed Matinpour.
Matinpour, who was charged with “connection with foreigners” and “propaganda against the state” following the 2009 Green Movement protests, has also lately been subject to the additional punitive pressure of being transferred out of the political prisoners’ section of Evin Prison and instead housed with hardened criminals in Zanjan Central Prison.
His eight-year sentence reflects the trend of giving cumulative prison terms to arrestees on multiple, often vague, charges. This practice would end under the New Islamic Penal Code that was passed in May 2013 and which specifies that convicts only serve the sentence for their most serious conviction. But the Iranian authorities have simply declined to enforce this law – an act that critics point to as one of many examples of the regime failing to abide by its agreements.