This anxiety relates not just to Iran’s tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles or shows of force in the Persian Gulf, but also to human rights violations and especially the ongoing political imprisonment of American citizens and permanent residents. With this in mind, UPI reports executives from 25 different news outlets signed a letter that was delivered to Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urging him to take serious action to secure the release of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post correspondent and American-Iranian dual citizen who has been held in Iran for 500 days and was recently given an undisclosed prison sentence for unspecified charges related to espionage and collaboration with Western governments.
Rezaian’s case is arguably relevant to the nuclear agreement in part because it illustrates some of the ways in which Iran’s behavior has remained unchanged even during and after a long period of negotiation with the US and its allies.
When the nuclear negotiations resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, many American critics were particularly troubled by the fact that Rezaian and three other American citizens were left stranded, rather than being released as a precondition to any agreement. The Obama administration, on the other hand, argued that the two issues were separate. And it intimated that a nuclear deal could encourage a moderating trend inside the Iranian regime that could make negotiations over the fate of American citizens easier.
Six months after the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, many Western critics and international human rights advocates see no signs of this moderating trend. Rezaian is one example of the persistence of arbitrary detentions, press repression, and general human rights issues. But the situation for native Iranians illustrates the problem much more extensively.
As Iran News Update pointed out last week, a number of human rights reports have emphasized the continuation of former abuses through the end of 2015. Iran Human Rights, for instance, kept tabs on a number of mass executions that took place in the waning days of the year. The same website has since gone on note that the rapid pace of Iran’s executions has kept up into the start of 2016.
The site noted that two prisoners were hanged on Saturday in one northern Iranian prison and 12 others were moved into solitary confinement in preparation for executions in another prison in the same region. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Activists News Agency has released a report looking back over the Iranian month of Azar, which spanned parts of November and December, and found that 48 executions had taken place during that period. This was a notable increase over the previous month, and early indicators from the end of December and the beginning of January give no indication that this rate has fallen off substantially.
HRANA also notes that while some human rights topics such as the conviction of Jason Rezaian have gotten a good deal of exposure in the international press, others have been conspicuously under-reported, leading to tacit encouragement of more of the same behaviors on the part of the Iranian regime and its judiciary.
This observation reflects longstanding criticisms of the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and six world powers in July. Various human rights advocates have suggested that the world community’s narrow focus on the nuclear issue would distract attention from serious human rights issues, and would possibly give Western powers incentive to neglect those issues in favor of preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
These criticisms were reiterated on Sunday by The Tower when it claimed that between the signing of the nuclear agreement and the present date, Iran has been “cracking down in individual rights with increasing fervor.” This claim leads in turn to the argument that the nuclear deal itself has empowered Iranian hardliners while alienating moderates, in contrast to the apparent expectations of the Obama administration and its supporters.
While activists and news outlets may differ in terms of the extent to which they blame the nuclear deal for the current state of affairs, The Tower has been joined by many other commentators in observing that the regime is in the midst of a serious crackdown on dissidents, moderates, and anyone deemed to be at odds with the fundamentalist Islamic ideology at the heart of the regime.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran pointed to Hila Sedighi as one of the very latest examples of this crackdown after the 30 year-old poet and civil activist was arrested at the airport on Thursday upon returning from a trip to the United Arab Emirates. The International Campaign points out that this comes after arrests and sentencing of several other prominent poets in the past few weeks, as well as filmmakers and artists.
The organization’s executive director, Hadi Ghaemi said, “The mounting arrests of young artists in Iran is yet another indication of the suffocating domination of security and intelligence agencies over the Judiciary.” And the recentness of Sedighi’s arrest indicates that that situation remains unchanged with the start of the New Year.
Furthermore, HRANA indicated on Monday that the mistreatment of such political prisoners is also an ongoing problem, as evidenced in part by the fact that 27 individuals have been identified in Urmia prison as having been improperly integrated into the general prison population in spite of the traditional separation of political prisoners, violent offenders, and others. Such integration often subjects political prisoners to beatings by other prisoners and is utilized as a punitive measure.