His case is interesting because it illustrates that the US is continuing to enforce economic sanctions that were violated prior to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which led to the lifting of numerous nuclear-related sanctions in January. But the latest developments in Zarrab’s case come at the same time as members of the US Congress have harshly criticized the Obama administration for its failure to enforce other types of sanctions that are supposedly unrelated to the nuclear agreement.
Zarrab’s prosecution arguably stands in contrast to the American Thinker’s report on Thursday that the US has not sanctioned a single human rights abuser since the implementation of the JCPOA. The article notes that some supporters of the nuclear agreement, such as Rhode Island Democratic Representative David Cicilline, had indicated that their support was partly based on promises that the US would aggressively push back against Iran’s misbehavior on issues outside of the nuclear sphere.
Cicilline used a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday to question what the Obama administration had done to push the Islamic Republic to reduce its human rights violations and regional interference since the nuclear agreement. In so doing, he joined opponents of the nuclear agreement in suggesting that the administration had adopted an excessively weak overall policy toward Iran.
At various times over the past several months, human rights organizations have suggested that a narrow focus on the nuclear agreement would lead to much of the world community neglecting Iran’s human rights record, which in some respects has worsened during the same period of time.
Ambassador Stephen Mull, the lead coordinator of the nuclear deal’s implementation, admitted that the US had not imposed any recent human rights-related sanctions. And according to the Weekly Standard, Ambassador Wendy Sherman subsequently said that the administration would certainly respond to any “truly horrific” terrorist action or human rights violation. This of course raises the question of what the White House would consider truly horrific, and how it would compare to the various recent reports of Iran’s illicit foreign and domestic activities.
One of the main points of interest regarding Iran’s human rights record under the presidency of the so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani has been the rate of execution. Iran had already proven to consistently have the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world, but the annual figures have only increased during the three years of Rouhani’s tenure. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, reported that the number of executions in 2015 alone had nearly exceeded 1,000.
This trend has apparently continued this year, as indicated on Friday by Ground Report, which pointed out that at least 16 Iranians had been executed in just two days. Furthermore, at least one of the victims of these executions had been a juvenile at the time of his alleged crime. His execution was thus in violation of the international standards outlined by two documents to which Iran is a signatory.
Such executions recur rather frequently in the Islamic Republic. They have been sources of international activism, sometimes resulting in capital cases being reviewed by the Iranian courts. But in most cases, the judiciary has upheld the sentence, insisting that young teenagers were mentally mature enough to be sentenced to death.
But whereas the youths in these cases have at least tended to be accused of recognizable crimes (although not necessarily violent crimes), other young Iranians have been targeted by regime authorities as part of a crackdown on behavior that is seen as a threat to the regime’s hardline ideology. This trend was famously illustrated in 2014 by the arrest of six young people who had appeared in YouTube video in which they danced to an American popular song.
Various other stories have shown the same trend to be ongoing. One of the most recent of these was reported by Agence-France Presse, among other outlets on Friday. It indicated that more than 30 Iranian students had been arrested en masse for their attendance at a party that reportedly included alcohol and mixed-gender dancing, both of which are illegal in the Islamic Republic.
AFP reports that every one of the individuals arrested in this incident received a sentence of 99 lashes. Furthermore, this particular crackdown took place in its entirety within 24 hours, with all of the partygoers receiving their violent punishment less than a day after their initial arrest and immediate trial.
Such incidents are indicative of a broader crackdown on activities and social attitudes that are judged to be out of step with the regime’s hardline ideology. Not all elements of this crackdown are likely to fit the description of “truly horrific.” However, all of them, such as the public segregation of men and women, the censorship of journalists, writers, artists, and musicians, and the spreading of anti-Western and anti-Semitic propaganda all illustrate the ideological driving forces behind political imprisonments and other human rights violations.
Eurasia Review reiterated on Friday that one recurring instance of non-violent repression has been the forced cancellation of numerous concerts that had previously been approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The article points out that the mere presence of women at such would-be concerts is often sufficient cause for authorities to force their cancelation, thus pointing to the apparent increase in pressure against women’s rights.
Also on Friday, JNS published an article discussing the Holocaust cartoon contest that Iran is hosting for the third time. As well as criticizing the message of that contest, the article undermined a key reason why the Obama administration might be treating Iran gently: the expectation of internal reform under Rouhani’s presidency.
Although President Obama had indicated that such moderation might be encouraged by the nuclear deal, many opponents of the Iranian regime have disregarded this notion and have accused Rouhani and his cabinet of presenting a false image to gain favorable terms from the US. Toward this end, JNS called Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif both a liar and a coward, insofar as he had refused to acknowledge the Iranian government’s sponsorship of the anti-Semitic cartoon contest, and had utilized that denial in an attempt to convince some Western entities that the current government was not at fault for the hardline ideology expressed by such events.