These lawmakers’ appeals are expected to find a receptive audience in the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who previously supported a non-binding motion in parliament to “cease any and all negotiations and discussions” aimed at restoring ties between Canada and Iran. Although Trudeau had previously championed the prospect of re-engagement with the Iranian government, his apparent change of heart seems to reflect an understanding of the worsening human rights issues highlighted by lower-ranking ministers.
Irwin Cotler, a former minister and current head of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, declared on Monday that “2018 has seen an unprecedented assault on human rights in Iran” and that “the Iranian regime must continue to be held to account to end the impunity of its human rights violations.”
To the extent that this effort coincides with the decision to halt outreach to the Islamic Republic, it is very much in line with the positions of other opponents of the Iranian regime, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has repeatedly called for Western government to make any expansion in political or economic relations conditional upon improvements in Iran’s human rights record.
There is little doubt that Cotler is correct in concluding that the current trend has been very much in the wrong direction. One of the clear indicators of a worsening human rights record is Tehran’s specific targeting of human rights attorneys inside the country.
The Guardian reported upon three such examples on Tuesday, noting that Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi and Arash Keikhosravi had each been sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda” and participation in “illegal gatherings,” while Mohammad Najafi had been sentenced to 13 years for conveying information to a “hostile country,” insulting the supreme leader, and expressing support for opposition groups.
These three cases represent only a fraction of the regime’s persecution of human rights lawyers. While some such prosecutions are allegedly related to political activism and other activities outside the realm of their legal work, some lawyers have been arrested for attempting to defend the apparent victims of human rights abuses, or for criticizing the Iranian judiciary’s accelerating practice of preventing defendants from choosing lawyers other than those who have been pre-approved by regime officials.
Traditionally, this practice has been limited to “national security” cases, but virtually any supposed crime can be given that label in the Islamic Republic. This is arguably truer now than at any time in the recent past, as the Iranian regime perceives itself to be waging a war against foreign influence in its domestic affairs, which supposedly manifests in a multitude of ways, including religious conversions and economic corruption.
On Monday, The Telegraph reported that more than 100 Iranian Christians had been arrested in a one-week period, showcasing the regime’s apparently growing crackdown on religious minorities. The report indicates that although the Iranian evangelical movement is largely homegrown, Tehran has publicly blamed conversions on foreign influence while making concerted efforts to reassert the nation’s hardline Shiite identity.
Jeff King, the president of International Christian Concern, suggested that the persecution of Christians has grown even worse since the re-imposition of US sanctions following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May. This, King said, “has contributed to the government’s ever-increasing dependence on hardline Islamic ayatollahs, who naturally see Christianity as a threat to their power.”
Meanwhile, the sanctions have also inspired regime officials to blame Iran’s longstanding and ever-worsening economic crisis. This, too, has led to the proliferation of “national security” prosecutions, with all the attendant consequences for due process and the rampant misuse of the death penalty.
On Sunday, Reuters reported that 30 Iranian men had been sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years each on the basis of financial crimes including the vaguely defined charge of “disrupting the economy.” The sentences, which cannot be appealed, are the result of new revolutionary courts that were set up in August after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei demanded the establishment of new mechanisms to combat the “economic war” allegedly being waged by foreign “enemies.”
Previously, two currency traders were executed for economic crimes following a 65 percent decline in the value of the rial. The death sentence for another Iranian businessman was recently upheld by the country’s supreme court. Further contributing to international outcry over its human rights record, Iran maintains the highest rate of executions per capita, and many of its executions involve crimes that do not rise to international standards for the “most serious crimes.”