Tehran predictably responded to the resolution by simply denying its legitimacy and questioning the motives of those who sponsored and voted in favor of it. Last month, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran once again called attention to evidence of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing abuses, especially with respect to its rising rate of executions. But Iran has dismissed each of Ahmed Shaheed’s reports as politically biased, albeit without elaborating.
In line with these familiar rhetorical devices, the Iranian Deputy UN Ambassador Gholamhossein Dehghani attributed the latest resolution to an attempt to spread “Iranophobia.” He also urged supporters of the resolution to focus on ISIS instead of Iran. But opponents of the Iranian regime, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, have made a point of countering such statements by emphasizing that Iran’s domestic abuses highlight the danger of Islamic fundamentalism in much the same way as do the beheadings notoriously carried out by ISIS.
Certainly, Iran’s human rights abuses have been well-recorded. The surge of executions that Shaheed has reported on has put the nation on track to exceed 1,000 judicially-sanctioned killings by the end of 2015. This represents the bloodiest period in 25 years for the Iranian judiciary, and also an increase over rates that had already secured Iran’s status as the country with the highest per capita rate of executions in the world.
Reuters points out that the resolution acknowledged the general problem of executions but also focused on the more specific problem of Iran’s recurring executions of juvenile offenders, in violation of international conventions that Iran has signed, and often for crimes not considered serious by international standards.
The resolution also called attention to the suppression of free expression throughout Iran. Much like the execution rate, this problem seems to be getting considerably worse. And the crackdown on journalists, activists, and social media users has especially spiked in just the past few weeks, as the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 has been moving toward implementation.
In a report posted on Thursday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran noted that the crackdown currently being led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is the largest since 2009, when the regime executed extreme backlash against the protests regarding the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That crackdown resulted in numerous instances of torture and some prison sentences that are still being served to this day, especially including the house arrest without trial of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
In the present case, the International Campaign’s report suggests that the IRGC is essentially acting alone, with the support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Iranian judiciary denies knowledge of many of the recent arrests, including the apparent massive sweep of Qazvim Province leading to the arrest of 170 members of political organizations and activist groups.
If the paramilitary security force is indeed acting unilaterally, the persistence of the current crackdown indicates that the rest of the regime is either unable to rein in its behavior, unwilling to do so, or both. And the Campaign’s executive director, Hadi Ghaemi was quoted in the report as saying that the IRGC’s “increasingly lawless behavior… bodes poorly for the future of basic civil rights and liberties in Iran.”
The vast majority of recent arrests have been motived by the declared perception immoral behavior, especially as regards online behavior and statements made in public media. At least five journalists were arrested and 20 others put on notice in the first week of November alone. Furthermore, the IRGC’s intelligence division this week arrested 20 administrators of chat groups on the supposedly-secure and relatively new social media application Telegram.
IranWire further reported upon those arrests on Friday, indicating that Telegram founder Pavel Durov denied any involvement in providing Iran with information that could have led to the identification and arrest of those individuals. Durov previously accused the Iranian regime of asking the company for special tools to monitor its users in Iran. But after declaring his refusal of this request, Durov subsequently declared that he no longer believed those requests had been authorized by higher authorities or that his refusal had led to a service interruption in Iran.
However, IranWire also reports that the Iranian communication minister had recently suggests that the regime had indeed taken official action on Telegram, and also that the company had cooperated with this action. Specifically, Mahmoud Vaezi claimed that Telegram had agreed to block some content within Iran and had hired a representative of the regime specifically to monitor content and prevent Iranian users from accessing “inappropriate and immoral material.”
A recent surge in anti-Western rhetoric, much of it coming from the office of the supreme leader, have made it clear that the establishment defines many of these supposedly immoral trends as anything that exhibits a pro-Western ideals or attitudes. Indeed, another report by the International Campaign quoted several speeches by Ayatollah Khamenei which exhibited severe paranoia and fear about creeping Western influence in the wake of the nuclear deal.
The report indicates that even when speaking to his staunch supporters, Khamenei has made an effort to inflame their already existing worries, saying for instance: “We are facing an unannounced, all-out, cultural, ideological, and political attack. You may naturally agree with what I’m saying. But the fact is that you are unaware of what is going on. I know what’s going on. I see what’s happening. The enemy is attacking us with all its cultural and political weapons.”
The depth of the regime’s concerns about progressive and reformists trends leads it to attack not only entities with demonstrable connections to Western ideas, but also some groups that seem like absurd targets to human rights defenders. Along these lines, a press release posted to Iranian.com pointed out that Friday was Universal Children’s Day, making it an appropriate time to call attention to the fact that children’s rights advocates are among those routinely targeted by the regime’s security forces.
The article by the Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran called attention to four specific individuals who are serving sentences between five and 14 years for their work on behalf of child-focused non-governmental organizations. Such incidents go to show that at the same time that Iran rejects accusations of human rights abuses as examples of persecution and “Iranophobia,” many of its abuses persist with the clear purpose of persecuting and spreading fear about any persons with foreign connections.