Trump’s comments on Iran predictably focused particular attention upon the 2015 nuclear agreement, which he has called “the worst deal ever negotiated.” But Iran’s various other behaviors were cited as reasons why the US and the international community should take a more assertive approach to dealing with Tehran. Rouhani’s speech rejected his American counterpart’s “allegations” about these behaviors, calling them “baseless” but making no further effort to refute the claims.
In the past, numerous Iranian officials have disregarded criticisms of the country’s human rights record while attempting to portray such criticisms as politically biased. But accounts of Tehran’s human rights abuses come from various independent sources, including the United Nations special rapporteur on the topic, international human rights groups like Amnesty International, and Iranian activist and dissident groups like the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which maintains an active intelligence network inside the country.
Rouhani’s arrival at the UN was met by protests organized by Iranian expatriates, many of them affiliated with the PMOI and its parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. A key goal of these protests was to call attention to the persistence of human rights abuses under the Rouhani presidency, and to shame the international community for allowing Rouhani to speak without challenging him on such matters.
Since before he first took office in 2013, Rouhani has been regarded by some Western policymakers as a moderate, by the standards of the clerical regime. The NCRI and other opposition groups have vigorously disputed this notion, however, and the PMOI even organized a nationwide boycott of the polls following Rouhani’s reelection campaign in May of this year. The boycott was intended to emphasize the lack of a genuine reformist position in Iranian electoral politics, and this message was underscored by illegal public displays urging the Iranian people to “vote for regime change.”
While some Iranians may have at one time pinned their hopes on Rouhani to make small steps toward reform, these hopes have steadily evaporated as he has failed to take action on any of his progressive-sounding campaign promises. The Iranian public’s dissatisfaction with the Rouhani administration has been on prominent display since he was sworn in for a second term in August. On Monday, the Center for Human Rights in Iran released a brief video cataloging some of the Iranian president’s broken promises, including his failure to appoint a single woman or minority to a cabinet-level position in his administration.
The CHRI video accurately predicted that Rouhani would not make mention of any such promises in his speech at the UN General Assembly. Trump did not explicitly call attention to this aspect of Iran’s domestic situation, either. But he did address the popular opposition to the regime, saying that apart from the US military, “Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most.”
This fear has been implicitly acknowledged by Iranian officials in their reaction to certain organized protests and social developments in the Islamic Republic. For example, in the midst of a long-term hunger strike by approximately two dozen inmates in Rajai Shahr Prison, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi described such protests as “threats” and promised that “the judicial system will not surrender” to them.
Accordingly, the authorities at Rajai Shahr have largely ignored the hunger strike and have denied the participants access to medical treatment. This is a common practice in the Iranian prison system, especially with political detainees. The Rajai Shahr hunger strike was the result of the forcible relocation of some 50 prisoners of conscience to a ward where they could be kept under more extensive video and audio surveillance, in harsher conditions. During the transfer, inmates also had personal belongings confiscated, including medicine, and since then the hunger strikers have been barred from family visits and prevented from even receiving deliveries of replacement medicine.
After weeks of neglect, most of the protesting inmates have shifted from a full-scale hunger strike to a daytime fast, following appeals from their loved ones. But according to a report published by CHRI on Wednesday, three or four political prisoners have persisted in their hunger strikes, with at least two of them having surpassed 50 days of self-imposed starvation. Despite the predictably severe impact on their health, these inmates continue to be deprived of medical treatment.
The pressure faced by these holdouts is indicative of Tehran’s obsession with stamping out any protests that seem particularly capable of garnering sympathy and international attention. This effort to impose silence was also underscored by an earlier CHRI report on the persistent hunger strikers, which noted that several individual had been arrested outside of Rajai Shahr Prison for supporting the protest by merely holding roses. The report noted that one arrestee claimed to be surprised by the disproportionate response despite the fact that he had been detained on several previous occasions for participation in peaceful gatherings.
While these arrests arguably serve to silence ongoing protests, the Iranian regime’s repressive efforts are not limited to immediate “threats.” A report noted on Monday that plans are underway for the regime to demolish sections of the main cemetery in Tehran where political prisoners were buried after being executed in the early years of the Islamic Republic.
The report compares this to the former destruction of one of several mass graves for persons who were executed during the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, which claimed an estimated 30,000 lives. The main target of that massacre was the People’s Mojahedin, and the NCRI has been tracking the development of other regime plans to destroy evidence of the killings and mass burials.
Regarding the section of Tehran’s main cemetery that is slated for destruction, IranWire concludes, “Every section of the cemetery is a symbol of a brutal chapter of Iran’s troubled history. Destroying Section 41 seems to be part of a larger plan to further sanitize the history of the blood-stained republic.”
In the meantime, numerous reports indicate that the modern history of the Islamic Republic is continuing along much the same lines. For instance, the website Iran Human Rights reported on Tuesday that another execution had been carried out in public, as had been done with at least 33 executions in 2016. And Iran Human Rights Monitor added on Wednesday that two other public hangings had taken place on the same day that six other executions were carried out in two other facilities.
The same outlet reports that the previous week, an inmate in Ardabil Prison was subjected to a cruel mock execution. Various other reports have detailed how prisoners may be transferred to solitary confinement to prepare for hanging, only to then be sent back to their regular cells, leaving them constantly uncertain as to when their executions are going to be carried out. But the Ardabil case takes this practice to another level and may represent escalating tactics for exerting psychological pressure on prisoners, at a time when the regime is trying to silence accounts of its human rights abuses without actually curtailing them.