The 49-year old political prisoner was not given advanced notice of an execution date, as is typical of executions in Iran’s notorious prisons. Many inmates are made to simply listen to the reading of a kill-list each week in order to find out whether they are slated to die. In addition to being taken by surprise with his Wednesday transfer, Khossravi’s original death sentence was similarly unexpected, coming as it did when he was in the middle of serving a six year prison term that had formerly been handed down.
That prison sentence came in 2007, but after serving four years, Khossravi was accused of continuing to support the opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran through financial donations. He was returned to court on that basis to face a charge of “enmity towards God,” for which he received his death sentence.
Khossravi was one of several political prisoners attacked and beaten in an April 17 raid on Evin Prison, and then subsequently denied medical treatment. He was placed in solitary confinement and engaged in a hunger strike with other victims of the raid, until being returned do his cell after 23 days. Sources inside the prison report that in the midst of the ordeal, an agent of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry privately threatened to see that Khossravi’s death sentence be carried out.
The international media is increasingly giving coverage to the story of the eight women who have been sentenced to long prison terms for posting critical comments about the Iranian government on Facebook. The specific charges included blasphemy, propaganda against the ruling system, spreading lies, and insulting the Supreme Leader. The women’s sentences range from just over seven years to a full 20 years.
According to Gissou Nia, executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, “the case was reviewed by Judge Moghiseh, a notorious Revolutionary Court judge who has had a long history of handing down extremely harsh sentences to activists, lawyers and journalists.” Furthermore, Moghiseh took this opportunity to apply new legal provisions that allow for even longer sentences than would have previously been customary in cases like these. Together with rising capital punishment figures, this change is indicative of a possible worsening of repression against political dissenters, internet users, and others.
Indeed, some commentators have interpreted these latest sentences as examples of a broader crackdown on internet usage and attempts to express personal freedom. This narrative is especially apparent in context with other recent actions by the government, including the arrest of seven young Iranians who made a video of themselves dancing to a popular Western song.
Backpedaling the Zuckerberg Summons
Another example of an internet crackdown was the announcement on Tuesday that a judge in southern Iran had called upon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear in the country and answer charges that his internet applications are responsible for privacy violations. The announcement was carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency, but on Wednesday it was softened by the official IRNA news agency, which said that Zuckerberg is not yet required to appear to answer questions, but that the government’s internet authorities are conducting a review of the Facebook-owned Whats App and Instagram applications.
The reason for the backpedaling is not clear, although it is possible that the regime did not intend for the original story to spread as far as it did into the international media. An attempt to temper the story may provide the regime with more cover to portray a less hardline image to the West, while still being able to claim, in domestic circles, that it is being continually aggressive towards the United States and “Zionists,” as officials have described Zuckerberg.
US Congress Still Seeking a Voice
Iran’s duplicity in alternating between displays of aggression and apparent cooperation illustrate why so many elements in the United States are still highly distrustful of the Iranian regime’s foreign policy and its sincerity at the nuclear talks in Geneva and Vienna. The US Congress has been far less optimistic about those talks than President Obama, and it has pushed for a harder stance on the issue.
The Tower reports that Obama is still facing significant pressure to consult with Congress on any future deal, and that he will ultimately have to do so. If Congress is ignored, its unaddressed concerns may weaken the credibility of any deal that is struck between Iran and American executive. This perspective has been expressed in the American media by veteran diplomats and analysts from both sides of the political aisle.