The report quoted Filip Kaczmarek, a member of the European Parliament, as saying that such emphasis on trade relations at the expense of human rights issues is contrary to the European Union’s action plan on human rights, which includes the imperative to keep such issues at the heart of the international body’s agenda.
In the wake of nuclear negotiations, a number of human rights groups including Amnesty International and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran have expressed concern that excessive focus on nuclear and trade-related issues could have the effect of diminishing international attention on Iran’s ongoing human rights violations. What’s more, political groups like the National Council of Resistance of Iran have observed that Western negotiating posture has apparently been based in large part on the expectation of moderation within the Iranian regime. These groups go on to say that recent human rights stories seriously undermine such claims of moderation.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013 on promises of greater domestic openness and the release of political prisoners. But in the ensuing three years he has become subject to sever criticisms from some of his former supporters, who see no signs of progress or even the attempt at progress on these fronts.
In fact, it has been widely reported that the Islamic Republic is currently in the midst of a wide-ranging crackdown on political dissent and pro-Western attitudes, apparently as a counterbalance to the compromise involved in negotiating with the “Great Satan” that is the United States. One of the latest examples of this crackdown comes in the form of Tehran’s attempt to order foreign-based internet messaging apps to move their Iranian user data into the country for easier monitoring by regime authorities.
Naturally, this interest in monitoring reflects the brisk pace of political arrests in recent months, including mass arrests of journalists, artists, and activists. Such individuals have at times been subject to remarkably swift and severe punishment. Last week it was reported that more than 30 Iranian students had been arrested, charged, sentenced, and flogged 99 times each, all in the space of 24 hours, because they had been caught attending a graduation party considered to be un-Islamic by Iran’s morality police.
The story helps to shine a light on the frequency with which Iran uses corporal punishment as a legal response to citizens’ acting out, either in their personal lives or via social protest. On Monday, IranWire reported upon the flogging sentences recently carried out on 17 gold miners who held a demonstration in 2014 to protest lay-offs. Each person received a suspended prison sentence and between 30 and 100 lashes, with some being ordered to pay fines, as well. The cases supposedly focused on damage done to the employers’ property in the course of the demonstration, but it is also the case that labor unions are illegal in the Islamic Republic and that protests over difficult economic conditions are frequently targeted for repression.
In other situations, however, physical repression is not so formalized. Political prisoners who have been sentenced only to time in prison may nonetheless receive beatings in the course of serving out that sentence, especially if they are imprisoned for certain offenses that are relevant to the regime’s religious or political identity. Such “crimes” often fall under vague titles like “enmity against God” and “insulting the supreme leader.”
The latter was the focus of abuse recently reported by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in its coverage of the case of Farahi Shandiz. The labor activist was not only severely beaten but also had his arm broken by prison authorities and was subjected to degrading and torturous extrajudicial punishments that a source close to his case called “hard to describe.” Most of apparently came in reaction to his having been charged with insulting the supreme leader, and his supposedly repeating that offense while in prison. The mistreatment correlated with his being charged twice while in prison, for the same crime that had landed him there in the first place. In this way, an initial three year sentence has been extended to nine years.
But as much as these individual stories may be cited to corroborate claims of an ongoing crackdown under the supposedly moderate Rouhani administration, the most frequent source of support for those claims is the status of the death penalty in the Islamic Republic. Already the country with the highest rate of executions per capita, that figure has only climbed higher over the past three years, with nearly 1,000 people being confirmed executed in 2015 alone.
The vast majority of the victims of capital punishment in Iran are convicted of non-violent drug crimes. And during the Rouhani presidency, this trend has continued not only in spite of outcry from international human rights organizations, but also in spite of mounting evidence that such liberal use of the death penalty has had no positive impact on the country’s drug problems. In fact, Quartz has reported that drug addiction has become particularly pronounced among well-educated, middle class females, in large part because of the lack of support for such people under a theocratic regime that is notoriously restrictive of the rights of women.