Now nearing the end of the month, there is no sign of things slowing down, as evidenced by multiple incidents reported on Tuesday by IranWire. In the first place, the news site indicates that nine activists were arrested by the IRGC on Monday, in an apparent effort to prevent regular protests from going forward at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Tehran for discussions with his Iranian counterpart and the Iranian supreme leader.
Two days earlier, the families of political prisoners already being held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison were arrested during and after a rally on their behalf. Among them was Simin Eyvazzadeh, the mother of Omid Alishenas, who was arrested in September 2014 for his work as an activist and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Eyvazzadeh is an unsurprising target for the current crackdown, as she has refused to abide by the regime’s orders that she not discuss her son’s case with anyone, especially foreign media. IranWire specifically quoted her as saying, “I decided to not stay silent any longer. I want my voice to be heard by human rights activists outside of Iran. I want to say: Don’t allow our children to be treated in this inhumane and unjust manner.”
Attila Alishenas has received no official information about his wife’s case, including the charges on which she has been detained or whether she will be released on bail. But he has learned that both she and their son are now on hunger strikes inside the difficult conditions of Evin Prison, leading him to worry about his wife’s health.
Such hunger strikes are a common tactic for political prisoners to bring attention to their cases, and they can go to extremes before receiving attention from authorities, if they ever do. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Wednesday that Majid Azarpey, who has been held in Evin since June 16 on charges of propaganda and acting against national security, has been refusing solid foods since November 3 and is in very poor health as a result.
Azarpey’s cellmate, Ali Shariati is also on a hunger strike and is also said to be in poor condition, having been described by a source close to his family as “completely pale, lifeless, and skinny.” Both men have been targeted purely for their political and activist activities, with the judge in Azarpey’s case having described him as “poison” for Iranian society in light of his support for the Green Movement.
Neither has received a response from the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, to whom they wrote a joint letter on November 4, and who was elected in 2013 on promises of improvements to human rights and a freer Iranian society. Though such neglect is familiar in these sorts of cases, so is the attention given to them by international human rights groups and both domestic and foreign activists. In the case of Azarpey and Shariati, 150 civil and political activists wrote a letter to the prisoners urging them to end their hunger strike.
Meanwhile, documents have been issued to the international community in general urging action both on other specific human rights cases and on the general issue of Iran’s human rights record. For example, Amnesty International issued an urgent action notice on Tuesday pointing out that a 24 year-old Iranian inmate named Salar Shadizadi was facing a threat of execution on November 28, despite having been a juvenile at the time of his offense, when he claims to have accidentally killed his teenage friend.
The document notes that international attention for this case probably contributed to two prior delays in his execution, first in 2013 and again in August 1 of this year. But it also points out that at least four executions of juvenile offenders have been carried out so far in 2015, highlighting Iran’s persistent rejection of this and other international human rights norms.
The execution of juvenile offenders is only one of numerous issues highlighted in two recent reports on the Iranian human rights situation – one by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and one by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. The content of those reports contributed to the UN General Assembly’s passage last week of its latest resolution expressing “serious concern” and urging improvement to Iran’s human rights behaviors.
However, these non-binding resolutions are routinely rejected out of hand by Iran, as explained in a report by IranWire on Wednesday. The report quoted numerous Iranian officials as describing past and current resolutions as “junk paper,” “worthless,” and “lacking any legal legitimacy.”
Some of that commentary has also pointedly alleged that human rights resolutions are politically biased and aimed at bringing about regime change through revolt or “sedition” – a term often used by the regime in reference to the Green Movement. As IranWire pointed out in a separate report on Tuesday, these accusations arose once again in the context of last week’s vote on the latest human rights resolution.
The Iranian ambassador to the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo dismissed the document’s concerns as instances of “Iranophobia,” which Canadian Ambassador Michael Grant described as a “fabricated term” that seeks to distract from the very real situation of Iran’s human rights abuses. Grant went on to urge all UN member states to make all their relations with Iran dependent on improvements over these abuses.
But IranWire suggests that human rights defenders like Michael Grant and Ahmed Shaheed may face an uphill battle in the current context of rapprochement with Iran following its nuclear agreement with Western powers. The report reiterates the fears expressed by many critics of current policies toward Iran, namely that international policy makers are largely focused on the prospect of new trade, to the detriment of collective action on human rights.
The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the United States would continue to exert pressure on Iran over its human rights violations even after the nuclear deal goes into full effect. But critics are concerned that the US and other Western powers may be so eager for the deal’s implementation that they will not allow disputes over human rights to interfere with it.
The conservative website Hot Air gave fuel to such concerns on Wednesday when it pointed out that according to a State Department official, the nuclear deal is not a signed document and is therefore not legally binding upon Iran. In theory this allows either side to cancel the deal on a whim, but Hot Air concludes that the Western powers will not do this, and certainly not over an ostensibly unrelated issue like human rights.
The article suggests that Europe’s desire for access to the Iranian oil and commodity markets is so great that it will not re-impose nuclear sanctions “unless Iran cheats flagrantly and egregiously on the deal, to the point where it would humiliate the EU to look the other way.”
Meanwhile, Iranian officials have intimated that even new sanctions that are unrelated to the nuclear program would be regarded as reason for Iran to cancel the deal. It is possible that Iran’s human rights violations could become serious enough that inaction on this point would “humiliate” the West in the way that Hot Air has described. But if the current IRGC crackdown has resulted in any response from Western governments, it has only been a “yes” vote on the latest UN resolution. It has not yet included sanctions or the threat of sanctions, and so human rights defenders may have cause to wonder how much worse the situation must get before these become realistic options for the current Western leadership.