Donald Trump’s firebrand persona and his promises of a hardline approach to key areas of US foreign policy led a number of Iranians to draw comparisons to their own firebrand former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The tone of these comparisons has been quite varied, however.
An article described one supporter of the Iranian regime as gleefully comparing protests against Trump in the US to the 2009 protests against the disputed reelection of Ahmadinejad in Iran. Sources gave similar indications of a shared embrace of Trump and Ahmadinejad among Iranian hardliners. This is understandable, considering that more aggressive American policies and statements serve to justify hardliners’ chants of “death to America.”
But Iranians who are more critical of their government appear to see some overlap between the foreign policy rhetoric of Trump and Ahmadinejad, but not between the actual consequences of their respective presidencies. Some of the individuals expressed awareness of the essential differences in the systems surrounding the Iranian and the US presidents.
Despite the widespread concerns in the US about Trump’s populist rise, one Iranian named Leila viewed his election as a case study in “the difference between democracy and tyranny.” She explained, “Many American intellectuals and artists defended Clinton and even insulted Trump, but it is not like here. Those people would have been summoned to court tomorrow or even harassed or banned from working.”
This was clearly demonstrated in the wake of the 2009 protests, when several participants were tortured to death and others were sentenced to prison sentences, some of which continue to be served to this day. The leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are being held under indefinite house arrest, and have no apparent prospects for release, despite campaign-trail assurances that current President Hassan Rouhani would oversee their release.
In light of the commentary from people like Leila, some on-the-street reactions to the Trump election may now double as reactions to the latest United Nations resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses. That resolution passed on Tuesday, and the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported nine more countries voted in favor of it than had done so last year.
The resolution specifically called upon the Islamic Republic to halt cruel and degrading punishment of prisoners, including political prisoners. It also called attention to the ongoing reports of those prisoners being deprived of access to necessary medical treatment, often as a means of deliberately putting additional pressure on those individuals.
This latter issue has been particularly visible in light of the hunger strikes being carried out by several Iranian political prisoners. In some of those cases, the denial of medical treatment was part of the initial impetus for the protests, and in some cases the effects of the hunger strikes have been greatly exacerbated by the lack of access to medical treatment.
On Tuesday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that at least eight political prisoners were still engaged in hunger strikes in Iranian prisons. Some of these have now gone on for approximately a month, and yet the International Campaign find that Iranian authorities have ignored each protest and have in some cases subjected the hunger striking prisoners to additional punishment.
If this situation continues well past Tuesday’s UN resolution, it will be further evidence of Iran’s contempt for international human rights standards. Indeed, this is something that has been publicly affirmed by the Iranian regime at various times and in various contexts. On Monday, the NCRI reported that the Iranian envoy to European Union human rights discussions declared that Iran’s use of the death sentence was an absolute red line for the regime.
The refusal to discuss this issue relies on disregard for ongoing criticisms from human rights organizations throughout the world, who have been responding to the consistently world-leading rates of execution in the Islamic Republic. The number of confirmed executions came very near to 1,000 persons for the year 2015, and no other nation has as high a raw number of annual executions other than China.
While it is not yet known what the 2016 figures might look like, it is clear that the practice of mass executions has seen a significant resurgence in Iran, after tapering off around the time of the holy month of Ramadan and the country’s parliamentary elections. Among the organizations that keeps track of these incidents is Iran Human Rights, and it recently reported that at least nine inmates had been executed in two prisons on November 13. Eight of these executions were for drug crimes, including the trafficking of relatively small quantities of narcotics, i.e. less than a kilogram.
It seems clear that much of the Iranian population is more concerned with the persistence of these and other human rights abuses than it is with the prospective changes in US policy toward Iran after Donald Trump is inaugurating in January. On the other hand, some Iranian analysts have speculated that the regime would be more welcoming of a Trump presidency in part because of the expectation that he would be less keen to address human rights. However, at the same time that it remains to be seen what action he might take in this regard, it bears noting that the Obama administration and its European allies had been widely criticized for disregarding human rights in favor of a narrow focus on the Iran nuclear deal.
Furthermore, strong critics of the Iranian regime, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, are avowedly dissatisfied with the international community’s actions in this area, even after the latest resolution condemning Iran’s abuses. In responding to that resolution, NCRI President Maryam Rajavi reiterated her organization’s call for an official inquiry into the role of current Iranian officials in past human rights abuses, especially the 1988 massacre of political prisoners.