Iran’s FM, Muhammad Zarif, wasn’t smiling last week when he called the pressure on human rights by the West an “old and worn out method” which is completely “unacceptable”. It’s understandable that he reacts in such a manner: For two years, he has been wheeling and dealing with the West in an effort to sign a nuclear deal that will free Iran from sanctions while human rights activists and anti-regime organizations continue to hammer Iran for its horrid state of human rights.
For years, Iranian leaders continue to claim that all the pressure on Iran’s human rights is “politically motivated” and is “unfounded” in reality. Unfortunately for them, the evidence of human rights abuses in Iran is piling up daily. Meanwhile, Tehran accused the special UN human right rapporteur on Iran of taking bribes for Saudi Arabia based on a wikileak document which turned out to be a fraud.
What’s making it harder to tone down the pressure is the fact that the regime is issuing increasingly harsher laws that limit the Iranian people’s freedoms: three weeks ago, Khamenei’s chief of staff announced that criticizing or opposing the regime is “the greatest sin” opening the door to arrest and hang anyone for such a sin.
The question of whether human rights should be an issue or not is a real one and there is no easy answer. Some believe that the timing of the nuclear deal and the presidency is ripe for serious changes while others point out that Iran should not be singled out for such pressure while countries like Saudi Arabia continue to get away with murder. Iranian leaders have taken up this call of cynicism to an extreme by accusing Saudi Arabia of crimes of human rights for attacking Yemen while Iran is deeply involved in the Syrian civil war which has taken hundreds of thousands of casualties.
Should human rights be a central issue with Iran or not? You decide.
Capital Punishment and Amputations
The death toll from capital punishment has, counter-intuitively, risen during Rouhani’s presidency – there are on average three hangings a day in Iran which is up 40% from 2014 and nearly 100% from 2013. Iranian Chief of Human Rights, Javad Larijani, pointed out that over 80% of these are hanged on drug-related charges as if that makes it OK, but that will still leave a few hundred people who are hanged for obscure charges called “Moharabeh – Corruption of the Earth” which includes any anti-Islamic charges (criticizing Khamenei, Muhammad, Islam etc…). For example, an Iranian alternative therapist has been found guilty of “Moharabeh” and is destined to be hanged while a member of his group was sentenced to 74 lashes.
Last week, a man accused of robbing a bank had a hand and a foot amputated and another man accused of hurting someone’s eye is to have his eye gouged. Iranians defend these acts by claiming that they are based on Shariah laws which are the mainframe of the Islamic Revolution. The problems of capital punishment and amputations is compounded by the fact that the justice system in Iran is not known for giving criminals the required legal rights to defend themselves which may lead to irreparable mistakes.
Harassment and Oppression
Hangings and amputations are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to abuses of human rights in Iran. Most abuses take the form of harassment and oppression. In general, women are oppressed and harassed: This can happen because of not adhering to “Good Hijab” laws (dress-codes) or simply for being women in a gender-segregated environment such a volleyball game. Rouhani has clashed repeatedly over the issue of “Bad Hijab” laws which can lead to fines or imprisonment and lashes to no avail.
But it’s not only women – two weeks ago, 50 young Iranians were arrested for attending a “mixed gender party” and behaving in an “inappropriate” fashion.
Religious minorities are still suffering from legal oppression in Iran: Baha’is are regularly discriminated in universities and workplaces, while even Sunnis have to stand aside and watch their mosques demolished. Rouhani, who promised for equality for religious minorities is being pressured to do something about this but, once again, he seems powerless to do so.
The Nuclear Deal and Human Rights
Some people believe that a nuclear deal with Iran will create the right environment for change. The logic behind this belief is simple: A nuclear deal will bring Iran out of isolation and as business develops, Iran will find it hard to continue to abuse human rights. Maybe so.
In the meantime, as high ranking delegations from the EU, Germany and Italy fly into Tehran, the focus is only on business and not on human rights. These delegations are being criticized for not even bringing up the issues of human rights while their parliaments back home are blasting away at Iran on these issues.
Still, Tehran says it is ready to talk with the EU about a wide range of subjects including human rights and the environment.
Although Rouhani has done what seemed to be impossible by rebranding Iran as a legitimate business, military and political partner, the regime in Tehran wants to keep the status quo on all issues included Shariah laws. As long as the regime maintains its control over the Iranian people, their chances of living freer lives without being abused will remain slim.