In 1988, the elder Montazeri spoke out against his colleagues’ participation in a massacre of political prisoners, particularly members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. The incident greatly contributed to Montazeri’s subsequent ouster from the regime, after which point the remaining officials maintained a conspiracy of silence regarding the massacre. But in August of this year, Ahmed Montazeri used the Telegram social networking application to release the recording of his father’s critical statements. The result was virtually unprecedented public dialogue about the massacre, but also immediate reprisal against Montazeri for the release.
The Human Rights Watch statement noted that this simple release of decades-old information was essentially treated as an act of treason, resulting in Montazeri being handed a six year prison sentence. The judiciary also warned Montazeri that but for his family background and his lack of a criminal record, he would have been condemned to a much longer sentence.
Despite seeking to make an example of Montazeri and thus continue to minimize awareness of the massacre, some Iranian officials have continued to defend the events of 1988. Current Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, for instance, stated in the wake of the recording’s release that he was proud to have carried out “God’s commandment” of death for the PMOI. Human Rights Watch observes that it is expected that hardliners would defend such violence.
But some Western lawmakers may have previously regarded Pourmohammadi as a moderate, by virtue of his membership in the cabinet of the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani. As many critics of the Iranian regime have done in the past, the Human Rights Watch statement serves to question the moderate or reformist credentials of the Rouhani administration and the entirety of the Iranian government. It chastises the self-described moderates and reformists for their refusal to so much as question the sentence against Ahmed Montazeri or any number of other repressive actions.
A rather similar and even more strongly worded statement came from inside Iran shortly after the Human Rights Watch statement. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Monday that the Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi had declared in an interview that President Rouhani was personally to blame for the recent repressive actions of the Intelligence Ministry, which has been major driving force in a recognized crackdown on activists, journalists, and supposedly pro-Western citizens.
The International Campaign notes that every Iranian president since the Islamic revolution has exerted some level of control over the Intelligence Ministry, but Rouhani has appeared to cede all that control back to the organization. This move comes in spite of a series of reformist campaign promises preceding Rouhani’s 2013 election. Ebadi accused the president not only of violating these promises but also of failing to uphold the country’s constitution at a time when the Intelligence Ministry and other hardline authorities continue to make threats against political targets and their families, in line with her own personal experience.
High on the list of Rouhani’s broken promises is freedom for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the leaders of the 2009 Green Movement, which emerged out of protests against the disputed reelection of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Another report by the International Campaign pointed out on Friday that the Iranian judiciary had suggested that it might finally be able to formally bring the two men up on charges, six years after they were placed in house arrest without trial.
The report goes on to say that while the judiciary appears to be presenting this as a threat, the Green Movement leaders have been demanding a public trial virtually since their arrests. Karroubi himself issued eleven formal requests, all of which were ignored. The International Campaign quoted Karroubi’s son as saying that the Islamic Republic has been engaged in “unlawful behavior” and that President Rouhani’s government “has not taken any steps in this regard to carry out its duty in defending the constitution.”
In this way, both Ebadi and Karroubi contradict the narrative, long advanced by the purveyors of conciliatory Western relations with Iran, that the Rouhani administration could be expected to advance a trend toward moderation. Some other sources have been noticeably more charitable in their assessment of Rouhani’s record, but in most cases even these assessments have stopped well short of saying that the president is seriously improving the lives of his people or pushing back against hardline repression.
IranWire claimed on Monday that the situation for labor activists in Iran’s unofficial teachers’ unions had improved under Rouhani’s presidency, but not so much so that they do not still face frequent arrests. More than that, the article emphasized that in many cases, arrest and prosecution had simply been replaced by other forms of repression, such as damaging cuts to already subsistence-level salaries.
The clear implication of the IranWire article is that in some respects, the current Iranian presidential administration continues to exhibit a moderate image even while failing to uphold that image in a meaningful way. At the same time, a wide variety of other criticisms serve to deny the notion that there is even an appearance of moderation in the Rouhani government. Indeed, looking beyond the situation of teacher-activists, labor relations throughout the Islamic Republic have frequently turned violent in recent months and years, and virtually always in service of the denial of rights to workers. Another IranWire report points out that bus drivers had organized protests early this month over broken promises regarding compensatory housing. The initial protest was met with beatings by security forces, and a subsequent gathering outside a government building resulted in threats of further violence and dismissal.
Of course, labor rights activists are by no means the only groups to face this treatment. The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported over the weekend that a crowd of people had been attacked with batons and tear gas, and at least 15 people had been forcibly arrested after gathering outside of the hospital where religious leader Mohammad Ali Taheri was reportedly lying in a coma as a result of his lengthy prison hunger strike.
Taheri’s supporters have frequently been targeted for repression as a result of their status as a minority religious movement. Only a handful of religions are acknowledged by the Iranian constitution, and apart from mainstream Shiite Islam even these are frequently subject to repression. A separate HRANA report highlights the cases of nine members of one of the most persecuted religious groups, the Baha’i. As well as being victims of the same sort of repression as Taheri’s supporters, the given Baha’i practitioners represent a range of other familiar activities by the regime, including the denial of medical treatment and the ouster of undesirables from education and public commerce.
In light of the reports from HRANA and other human rights oriented sources, it seems clear that these behaviors remain unchanged and may even be increasing in frequency as the crackdown continues on supposed threats to the regime’s hardline Shiite identity. Insofar as that crackdown began in earnest last year, it also coincided with a period of executions greater than any equivalent period in the past 20 years.
While the figures for the current year have yet to be determined, it is clear that the regime continues to execute people en masse, perhaps partly with an eye toward public intimidation. Another HRANA report recently revealed another six drug offenders who had been killed at once in Urmia on November 14.
Iran has been internationally condemned for its record on executions, not only because of the rate thereof but also because of the regime’s penchant for public executions and other practices that deliberately defy international standards. It has so far proved unwilling to relinquish those behaviors, thereby suggesting that the factor of intimidation is important to the regime.
The same conclusion was suggested by IranWire on Friday when it published an article on the topic of the various raids that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has conducted mixed-gender parties. The article pointed out that the media coverage of these incidents is an important aspect of their prosecution, being a means of both publicizing Iranian standards of “moral” behavior and making it clear to Iranian citizens that the apparatus of repression remains in place and functional, even during the Rouhani presidency.