The working group also declared that restitution should be paid to the 46-year-old Siamak, who has been held since October 2015, and to the 81-year-old Baquer, who was arrested in February 2016 when he returned to Iran in an effort to visit his son. Both men have been sentenced to 10 years in prison on vague charges of collaborating with a hostile regime. The same sentence has been handed down to at least one other US citizen and one American dual national, and last month the Iranian judiciary collectively announced that appeals had been rejected in all four cases.
The other American citizen referenced in that announcement was Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born graduate student at Princeton University, who was visiting Iran as part of his doctoral research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty. His high volume of photocopying at public archives in the country prompted Iranian authorities to accusing him of “infiltrating” the Islamic Republic on behalf of Western powers. Princeton has contributed to advocacy for his release and has attempted to explain that his activities were standard practice for doctoral researchers.
Wang was featured by the New York Times on Monday, in the form of excerpts from an interview with his wife, Hua Qu, who remains in Princeton with the couple’s four-year-old son. In the interview, she explained that she has been able to speak to her husband for about 10 minutes per week for roughly the past year. Those conversations have made her aware of how he is suffering in the notorious Iranian prison system.
“Overall, he’s doing poorly there,” Wang’s wife told the Times before going on to explain that the 37-year-old has developed health problems during nearly two years of detention, and has reportedly been denied access to medical care. This is common practice in Iranian prisons, especially in cases of political imprisonment. Iran News Update called attention to several such cases last week, including that of Alireza Rajaei, who recently lost an eye and part of his jaw as a result of surgery to treat cancer that went undiagnosed for as much as four years while he was serving a political sentence in Evin Prison.
Predictably, worsening health conditions have also been reported in the case of Baquer Namazi, whose case is also an apparent example of the Iranian regime’s targeting of prisoners’ families as a way to put additional pressure on them. Baquer’s initial arrest was widely reported as being part of an effort to encourage his son to issue a confession, and similar allegations have been made about the elderly man’s relative lack of medical treatment in the midst of diminishing health prospects.
These and other political imprisonments have been highlighted alongside the associated mistreatment by Iranian activists who see the international community as having paid too little attention to Iran’s human rights record, especially in the wake of the 2015 nuclear agreement. This sort of criticism acquires notable traction each year when the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Rouhani is scheduled to speak before the General Debate portion of the assembly on Wednesday, and he is expected to be met by protests organized by Iranian expatriate communities, just as he has been in previous years.
Maryam Hejazi, a member of the board of directors for the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, published an editorial with Fox News on Monday, accusing the international community of “making a mockery of human rights” by welcoming Rouhani at the United Nations once again.
The editorial called attention to the latest report by Asma Jahangir, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. For the first time, in addition to calling attention to the aforementioned political imprisonments and the world-leading rate of executions in the Islamic Republic, the report also called attention to the massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
That incident has served as a rallying point for human rights activism, especially for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which was the main target of the massacre that killed an estimated 30,000 people. Within Iran, the incident had been subject to enforced silence by the regime until last year, when an audio recording was leaked to the public and effectively forced a number of regime officials to acknowledge and even defend the incident. The recording featured Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was then next in line for the supreme leadership of the country, calling the massacre “the worst crime of the Islamic Republic.”
Since then, there have been unprecedented levels of social awareness of the crime, for which there have been no independent inquiries, much less trials for the perpetrators. Organizations like the PMOI and the OIAC are now making renewed efforts to expand awareness of the incident on the international scale. As such, Ms. Hejazi’s editorial, and others like it, have identified the UN General Assembly as an opportunity to begin the push for a UN inquiry into the 1988 massacre, with the ultimate goal of filing charges in the International Criminal Court.
Amidst escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, there is a good chance that the US will be more receptive to such advocacy than in recent years. US President Donald Trump recently called for the release of all wrongly detained US nationals, but it still remains to be seen whether his administration will broaden its human rights interests beyond that which is of immediate concern to Americans. Despite activists like Hejazi linking the issues, the White House has not yet followed suit by highlighting domestic human rights violations alongside the issue of imprisoned dual nationals. Neither has it made direct, public reference to the 1988 massacre.