Family Scandals Used to Attack Rouhani

family scandals

Although Iranian leaders will deny this for obvious reasons, there is a growing divide which threatens to tear apart the seemingly impregnable façade of the regime. The divide centered, at first, on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani with Khamenei trying to maintain the spirit of the Islamic Revolution and Rouhani striving for “constructive engagement” and moderateness. The two have clashed on several issues including the JCPoA, the economy, women’s rights, foreign policy, free speech rights, the parliamentary elections, the rights of the IRGC, the disqualification of candidates etc…And yet, Rouhani formally rejects any inkling of division between the two, preferring to portray his acceptance of Khamenei’s will as final.

Hardliners are only too glad to support Khamenei in slamming Rouhani but they have to be careful since Khamenei has no qualms about criticizing Rouhani but he made a point repeatedly to not allow others to do so openly. So hardliners resorted to attack people who are close to Rouhani: the Iranian parliament forced some of Rouhani’s ministers to resign for various reasons and the IRGC initiated crackdowns on artists, journalists and moderate politicians. They also began to target specific politicians who are close to Rouhani such as his foreign minister Javad Zarif and his patron, supporter and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The latest attacks on Zarif and Rafsanjani are special in that they aren’t based on their actions but on the actions of their family members, Zarif’s “second wife” (mistress) and Rafsanjani’s daughter: Zarif’s “second wife”, Afrin Chitsaz, was arrested for being a “spy whose crimes were proven by the official authorities” and Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faez Hashemi Rafsanjani, is to face criminal charges for “strengthening the enemies of Islam”. Both Chitsaz and Rafsanjani face charges which could be punished by death but it is obvious to all that their fate is not the issue and that it is secondary to Rouhani’s political fate.

Rouhani is not commenting on these two cases, knowing full well that any comment for or against Saaz and Rafsanjani is bound to weaken his career and his chances at getting re-elected in 2017.


Tehran fosters a culture of oppression

In order to understand the situation of Chitsaz and Rafsanjani, one has to understand how the regime in Tehran deals with criticism. Modern democracies are built  to accept and even promote division – that’s what democracies are about. People in democracies enjoy a basic freedom which allows them to think and say whatever they want regardless of the narratives portrayed by the government without worrying about being censored or incarcerated. The right to free speech is a cornerstone of democracy allowing, and even celebrating, criticism by individuals, organizations, politicians and the media.

Iran presents itself as a democracy through the fact that elections are held every four years to choose a president but it is definitely a “flawed” democracy for several reasons:

  1. Many parts of the regime are chosen and not elected: some of the key governing bodies in Iran such as the IRGC, the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader, to name a few, are all governing bodies which are chosen by the regime itself and are not elected by popular votes.
  2. Popular elections are preceded by selection by the regime: all candidates who are running for elections in Iran have to be approved by the Guardian Council which selects and disqualifies candidates based on political criteria including sex, religion and loyalty to the regime.
  3. Not all Iranian citizens enjoy equal rights: women may have the right to vote and get elected but are legally worth less than men and minorities such as Baha’is and Kurds are oppressed in such a manner that they are not represented equally in government.
  4. Political opposition is censored and shut out: harsh anti-regime and anti-Islam laws are used to brand political oppositionists as dissidents and they are either incarcerated (google crackdown on artists, journalists, activists etc… in Iran) or put under house arrest (Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi).
  5. Fair trials in Iran are flawed by a politicized judiciary: Iran is notorious for informal arrests, torture during interrogations, forced confessions, incarceration without trial, preventing council with lawyers, impartial trials, “two-minute” trials, harsh sentences etc…all of which are sheltered by the Iranian constitution, “security laws” and the regime.


Zarif’s “second wife” is a spy?

The case of Zarif’s “second wife” being accused as a spy broke last week when Mohammad Hossein Rostami, who holds the incredibly long title of “the head of Iran the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Center for Electronic Resistance, of Amariyun Strategic Center for Resistance to the Soft War waged Against Iran”, posted on his facebook page the following message: “I am about to unveil information that would cause a political earthquake…Afrin Chitsaz, Zarif’s second wife, is a spy whose crimes were proven by the official authorities”. Rostami made it clear that Saaz was not the problem and emphasized that the more urgent issue was that “the movement of foreign influence has arrived to your (Zarif’s) bed” implying that Zarif may have been an unwitting partner in her crime. Asked on the reliability of his information, he ominously wrote that all was true and that “when they sue me or the allegation being denied, then I’m going to publish the documents”.

Chitsaz’s “crime”, it must be understood, is punishable by death according to Iranian law but Chitsaz is just a pawn mean to hurt Zarif and subsequently hurt Rouhani. Chitsaz, an independent journalist, was arrested in the crackdown of November 2015 along with three other journalists charged with colluding with foreign “influences” to wage a “soft war” on Iran. She was denied access to a lawyer and is being held incommunicado in Evin prison and nothing was heard about her until she was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “collaborating with foreign governments” and “assembly and collusion against national security”.

The problem is that Zarif has never even acknowledged that he was having an affair with or is married to Chitsaz and he has not commented on her arrest or on the allegations of Rostami. Chitsaz’s connection to Zarif was implied by the IRGC last year prior to her arrest but Zarif didn’t bite the bait. So, for now, Chitsaz is still in jail for being a journalist and Zarif is ignoring the issue.

The regime is not only guilty for incarcerating a journalist, thereby exemplifying the lack of freedom of speech, it is guilty for trying to hurt Rouhani through Zarif.


Rafsanjani’s daughter is an enemy of the state?

The case of Rafsanjani is much clearer but equally as troublesome. Rafsanjani has distinguished herself as a political activist who openly criticized the regime since the notorious 2009 elections in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected despite accusations of a fixed elections which sent opposition leaders Karroubi and Mousavi to house arrest. She herself was arrested several times for her open protests. She was finally taken to trial in December 2011 and was sentenced to 6 months in jail which she served to completion in Evin prison. Rafsanjani is dangerous to the regime not only because she is the daughter of a president who is himself critical of certain aspects of the regime but because she is not willing to accept customs which are not “beneficial to society, especially to girls and women”. To make matters worse,  she claims that her time in jail was the “best time of my (her) life” and that she forged lasting relationships with some of her inmates.

It is exactly one of these relationships which is threatening to send Rafsanjani back to jail: two weeks ago, Rafsanjani visited a former inmate, Fariba Kamalabadi, a Baha’i activist serving 20 years in jail for being a part of “Friends”, a Baha’i organization aimed at supporting Baha’is in Iran. Kamalabadi was on a five day furlough from jail to visit her family and Rafsanjani made a point of visiting her former cellmate at her home. The main problem with this visit is that Baha’is are facing discrimination by the state in regards to the Baha’is “economic, civil an deducaitonla activities” since Baha’ism is viewed by the regime as a “deviant” and “fake” sect which is opposed to Islam and Baha’is are suspected of being “agents of Israel and America”. But the problems really began when a picture of Rafsanjani and Kalamabadi’s family was shared on social media.

Hardliners smelled blood and went on the attack by demanding that she be tried for her “crime”. The spokesman of the judiciary didn’t mince words: “This was a very ugly and obscene act

” and was further angered by the fact that Rafsanjani was not apologetic. In fact, Rafsanjani refused to apologize stating that she “didn’t regret it” and that she was ready to “pay the price” if necessary. Even her father admonished her visit: “Faezeh made a bad mistake and needs to correct it and make up for it…the misguided Baha’i sect is a colonially built sect and deviant”.
Once again, the regime is guilty not only of discriminating against Baha’is and anyone communicating with Baha’is, it is guilty of trying to hurt Rouhani through Rafsanjani.


Rouhani and Obama in a Hate/Need Relationship

Before the negotiations on the nuclear deal began, mutual enmity had been the status quo between the US and Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Washington viewed the regime in Tehran as a dangerous, destabilizing Islamic fundamentalist element in the region while the Islamic Revolution was based in part as an opposing alternative to the American dream and the global influence of the US. The levels of hate grew as the US and the UN slapped on Iran a series of economic sanctions related to Tehran’s suspect nuclear program, its support of terrorist organizations and its flagrant abuses of human rights. Iran’s reaction only fueled the mutual hatred: It proudly increased its nuclear program, its support for terrorism, its abuses of human rights and its anti-US rhetoric. Meanwhile, whatever the US did in the Middle East only increased Tehran’s hate: supporting Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, invading Iraq, supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia, unknowingly incubating ISIS, supporting Syrian rebels…all seen by Iran as a direct attack on the regime and its ideals.

This situation could have continued indefinitely were it not for the elections of Barak Obama and Hassan Rouhani into office. Both Obama and Rouhani share a mutual predicament and a mutual trait: both were ready to put hate behind them at the risk of political suicide and both were stubborn enough to do something about it. If the relationship between the US and Iran could be boiled down to these two alone, the gulf between both countries would have been bridged by now although no one knows if such a bridge would benefit the Iranian and the American people.

Unfortunately for them, they both face opposition from elements in their countries which are not ready to bury the hatchet and are still paranoid, justly or unjustly, of the motives of the other side. In Iran, the opposition centers around Khamenei and the hardline elements of the regime which have legally and politically crippled any efforts to foster peace with the US. In the US, the opposition is not as solid since, unlike Rouhani who will always be subordinate to the Supreme Leader, Obama holds the highest office in the US, but he has to face the criticism of his political enemies and the fickle nature of the American public opinion.

The signing of the JCPoA was meant to defuse the enmity between the two countries but instead, it has created confusion and a strange form of need-hate relationship. Obama and Rouhani may need each other but the overall narrative between the two is definitely filled with hate and paranoia:

Anti-US rhetoric: unlike the US where American leaders are split between rooting for or against Iran, Iranian leaders are all critical of the US. The US is the “Great Satan” who is constantly trying to shatter the Islamic Revolution by any means that it can. It’s not only “hardliners” like Khamenei who are bad-mouthing the US…seasoned diplomats such as Rouhani and Zarif are doing the same. The US is being blamed for everything from terror to sanctions, from a “soft war” against Iran to being a “has-been”. Iranian politicians, ministers, generals, MP’s and mullahs have only bad things to say about the US and are proud of calls by Iranians of “Death to America“. This doesn’t mean that all Iranians are anti-US, far from it, but the narrative in the media is definitely that the US was, remains and will continue to be, Iran’s arch-enemy.

no cokeThe bans on American brands: The ink on the JCPoA was still damp when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned 227 American brands from the Iranian economy and banned any further negotiations with the US on any subject. That move, in itself, was a slap in the face for the Obama administration: the US had paved a road to Tehran’s doors which would be used by all the world except for itself – thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars had resulted in a deal which Americans could not benefit from while other countries, Russia and China, the EU and Iran’s neighbors were given the royal welcome in Tehran. It’s as if the US had signed the check for a massive party only to find that a) Iran had taken over the role of the host, b) the US was not invited to the event and c) Iran was using the party to fuel hatred towards the US. It seems strange, but perhaps fitting, that the Iranians who simultaneously criticized the economic sanctions as being “inhumane” and belittled their effects on the leadership of Iran would choose an economic sanction of its own against the Americans. In any case, America, once of the main instigators of the deal, was shut out and remained an enemy.

The Iranian missile test: Iran carried out missile tests which might, or might not, have breached the “spirit” of the JCPoA. Accusations, denials and counter-accusations were traded between Tehran and Washington and once again, the Obama administration made it clear that the missile tests were not enough to break the nuclear deal. At the same time, fears that the funds released from the sanctions would be used for war and terror by the regime increased the tension. The narrative from Washington was all mixed up: the White House stood by the deal and wanted to let the missile tests slide but this feeling was not shared by the rest of the Americans. The narrative from Tehran, on the other hand, was simple: the deal that was signed may have given the world an opportunity to monitor closely Iran’s nuclear program but as to the rest, it was “business as usual”, which meant that America remained an enemy.

The Syrian quagmire
: Tehran has supported Bashar al-Assad from day one in any way it could: Hezbollah and Iranian troops fought for Assad, weapons flew in from Tehran to Damascus, Assad was given huge lines of credit and loans by Tehran and Iran’s FM Javad Zarif incessantly pressed for an end to the war which would be beneficial to Assad (and to Iran). Zarif’s rhetoric on Syria is hypocritical to say the least: he keeps on hammering the point that the situation in Syria should be determined by Syrians but has no qualms about Iran’s involvement in Syria nor about pushing his presence into negotiations between Assad and the Syrian rebels. He continues to maintain that there is no military solution to the Syrian civil war while Iran continues to maintain the largest foreign military power in Syria. He warned the West, and specially the US, of not getting involved militarily in Syria while he applauded Moscow’s military involvement there. As far as Tehran was concerned, Iran was simply helping a friend by official request, and the US continued to be the meddling enemy.

The war on terror: The war on terror, or more specifically, the war on ISIS, is probably the most confusing issue of all. Since Rouhani launched his WAVE (War Against Violence and Extremism) initiative, the narrative on terrorism has been splintered: Tehran, once acknowledged by the West as being a state-sponsor of terrorism through its own troops and its terrorist proxies, suddenly took the lead in fighting ISIS. This was a game changer for two distinct reasons: a) ISIS is designated as the single worst terrorist organization by the whole world, including the West and b) ISIS was incubated and perhaps even supported at an early stage, by Saudi Arabia and the US. Suddenly, the US had lost its title of champion against terror to…Iran, a state-sponsor of terror. Furthermore, the supreme court ruling that Iran would recompense victims of Iranian-related terror only caused more pressure and led to a counter sue by the Iranians requesting that the US pay for damages done by the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war since the US was supporting Iraq. The question of “who is a terrorist?” brought back negating answers as Hezbollah was presented by Tehran as a “shining sun” instead of a dark organization responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of victims in Syria and in the world while the US was presented as the world’s largest supporter of terrorism, and therefore, the enemy of the world.

The bottom line is that the JCPoA did formally bridge the huge divide between the US and Iran but it is a bridge which is out of bounds for Americans and Iranians alike. Obama is stuck in a CATCH 22 position in which he can either continue to play ball with Rouhani, thus helping him present a huge win to the Iranian public, while trying to defend, ignore and justify the negative narrative from Iran or he could pull out its support for Rouhani, forcing him to present a “could-have-been-a-great-deal” to the public which would probably make him lose the elections in 2017.

Rouhani, on the other hand, could try to soften the anti-US sentiment in Iran at the risk of being sidelined by his supreme Leader and his numerous hardline enemies or he can join the anti-US narrative in the hope of remaining president in 2017. For Obama, it’s only a question of legacy but for Rouhani, it is a question of his political career, and some believe, his personal freedom.



Ankaboot 2: Tehran Crackdown on Fashion

Following the crackdown on journalists which began in November 2015, the regime in Tehran is now focusing on the fashion industry. The campaign, nicknamed Ankaboot (spider) 2, is targeting approximately Iranians in the fashion industry, (models, photographers and make-up artists) who are “promoting a culture of promiscuity, weakening and rejecting the institution of family, ridiculing religious values and beliefs, promoting relationships outside moral rules, and publishing the private pictures of young women” by simply sharing pictures of women without hijabs.

This new crackdown is not only a nightmare for its victims but is part of the ongoing clash between hardliner Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani. This struggle, which ranges across many issues such as the economy, foreign policy and human rights, is bound to culminate in the next presidential elections in 2017 which will decide if the Iranian people endorse Rouhani’s efforts for change or Khamenei’s efforts to maintain the status quo established by the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Meanwhile, just as in the previous crackdown on free speech, Iranian civilians who don’t want to emulate all of the hardline ideals of the Islamic Revolution will be oppressed, harassed and imprisoned.


The mechanics of the crackdown

The mechanics of the campaign are relatively simple: The IRGC regularly monitors, through the aid of internet “spiders”, social media for content that runs counter to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution and this time, the monitoring focused on pictures of female models without the required hijabs.

The models, photographers and make-up artists who shared these pictures on social media suddenly found themselves defenseless against the sanctimonious and patriarchal forces of the regime and the results were crushing: businesses were shut down, social media accounts were blocked and some of the “criminals” were dragged to court under charges of “spreading prostitution”, “promoting corruption” and promoting “immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity”.

Some of these “criminals” have fled Iran while others are reluctantly forced to play the game by “confessing” to their “mistakes” and by promising to return to the narrow path dictated by the Islamic state. None, to date, have taken an activist stand and most are unwilling to fight the system, knowing too well that such a fight will lead them directly to jail or worse.

Even Kim Kardashian has come under the fire of the regime: She is now being accused by Tehran of being a secret agent, in conspiracy with Instagram no less, with a mission to influence Iranian youths to “abandon their religious principles” by looking at and sharing her revealing selfies.


It’s not about fashion, it’s about politics

While this may seem to some people as legitimate since the victims of this campaign have de facto broken Iranian law, it should be obvious to all that the campaign is not really about the transgressions of these “criminals” but is, in fact, a political campaign targeting Rouhani and his “moderate” government as well as the moderates who were elected to parliament in February 2016.

The crackdown on journalists began in November 2015 soon after the beginning of the implementation of the JCPoA, the “nuclear deal” meant to lift sanctions, monitor Iran’s nuclear program and re-integrate Iran into the global economy. Hardliners, led by none other than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, were upset that some of Khamenei’s “red lines” were crossed and felt that the JCPoA had somehow diminished the respect to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. Despite Rouhani’s open stand against the crackdown, 4 of the arrested journalists were sentenced to 5 to 10 years in jail through sham trials and the persecution continues unabated.

Khamenei made it clear last week where he stands on the issue of the basic freedom of sharing content on the internet: according to him, the internet “is a real battlefield. The clerics and seminary students should prepare to enter this field and fight against deviations and erroneous thoughts”. Iranians, according to Khamenei, will have to keep any thoughts or actions which might be considered “anti-Islamic” or “anti-regime” to themselves or risk feeling the wrath of the regime.

Rouhani, without a doubt, has been critical of the chauvinist attitude of the regime towards women for a while as can be seen from these quotes from 2014: “Those who are scared of women’s presence and excellence, or have other views, are asked to please not attribute these wrong views toward religion, Islam, and the Quran…is it even possible to marginalize 50% of the members of society?“. He has also taken an open stand against the over-zealous implementation of hijab laws and even the establishment of the 7,000 strong undercover “morality police” intended to enforce these laws.

And yet, just as in the case of the jailed journalists, it seems that Rouhani will, once again, be powerless to help the victims of the fashion crackdown. Rouhani understands the regime all too well to pick a fight which could force him out of his position to join political opponents of the regime such as Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Moussavi under house arrest which he had promised to free during his election campaign in 2013. Instead, he is focusing on drumming up enough support from the Iranians who do want social change and more personal freedom to re-elect him in 2017.


Pressure is effective and is required

The issue of human rights in Iran is not an easy one to tackle. On the one hand, it seems natural that the citizens of a country should respect the laws of their land making this issue a local one. On the other hand, following the implementation of the JCPoA, countries and businesses around the world can choose whether to deal with Iran or not based on many factors including human rights.

But pressuring Iran on human rights can be effective: the premature release of Atena Farghadani, the cartoon artist who was sent to jail for 12 years for lampooning Iranian members of parliament and then released after only 18 months, is just one case which should inspire NGO’s and governments around the world to pressure the regime. To further complicate the matters, pressure from the world on human rights in Iran can strengthen Rouhani in the eyes of the Iranian public but will definitely weaken Rouhani in the eyes of the regime.

Were Iran a true democracy, the issue would be easily settled in the next presidential elections but since the regime in Tehran is wholly undemocratic, no one can foresee if and when the regime could lash back at efforts for change just as it did in the elections of 2009 in which accusations of a flawed election were met by a crackdown on the “dissidents” who found themselves to become enemies of the state.

Just as Iranians have a choice to back or bury Rouhani, the world has a choice to pressure or to ignore the regime’s harsh oppression of human rights. It’s time to choose.


Related Articles:

How To Talk Human Rights with Iranian Leaders

Last week, I came across an article in Iran Wire which seems to have been long overdue called ‘How to Talk to Javad Zarif About Human Rights“. The article outlines 8 specific points that journalists interviewing Iran’s foreign minister on the issue of human rights and hopefully some journalists will actually implement these suggestions. These suggestions were meant for journalists who want to interview Zarif but they are also relevant for interviews with other Iranian leaders such as President Hassan Rouhani, speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani, chief of human rights in Iran Javad Larijani and chief of the judiciary Sadeq Larijani, to name a few.

The issue of human rights in Iran is a slippery one because any accusation of problems in human rights in Iran is usually met with dismissals, denials, “sugar-coating”, hypocrisy and lies as well as counter-accusations of politicization of the issue and problems of human rights in the US or in Israel.

Let’s face it, the state of human rights in Iran will never be on par with the Western world simply because all issues of human rights in Iran are subject to Shariah laws as would befit an Islamic State as is explained by Sadeq Larijani: “We only accept the Human Rights that is based on our religious teachings…we cannot abandon the Quranic teachings for the sake of your human laws that are being implemented in European countries”.

But pressure form outside Iran on improving human rights does work: Once Tehran realizes that horrid human rights impede political and economical ties with the West, change is possible. In order to do so, one has to understand how to speak about human rights to the Iranians.

How do Iranians leaders view human rights?
According to many Iranian leaders,  Iran doesn’t even have a problem with human rights. Here are a few quotes by these leaders regarding human rights that exemplify the massive hypocrisy surrounding problems of human rights in Iran.

  • In Iran, “the government follows the people, not the other way around”.
  • “The will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the government”.
  • Tehran “genuinely and meaningfully” involves its citizens “without any discrimination of any kind”.
  • Iran creates and maintains the “necessary measures for the protection of the rights of the vulnerable groups” (especially women and children).
  • All Iranian nationals are “equal before the law”, “have the right to choose their own lawyers” and can count on “the presumption of innocence”.
  • Tehran has “continuously worked for the promotion of human rights ” (with the UN).
  • Tehran continues to “fully participate” for the “promotion and protection of human rights”.
  • Tehran adheres to a full separation of powers (executive, legislature, judiciary).
  • The Iranian police has a “most immaculate record” and is “free of racial discrimination and ethnic impartiality”.
  • Tehran prohibits the use of torture and arbitrary arrest.
  • “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinions”.
  • Tehran never “targets Baha’is just because they are followers of this faith”.
  • “If an individual commits a violation, it has nothing to do with Shiites, Sunnis, or others in Iranian society”.
  • There are no forced legal marriages of children in Iran.
  • “That they say we execute homosexuals is not more than a lie”.

All of these statements do not reflect the dire truth in Iran in any way and are an affront to all the victims of human rights abuses in Iran. In Iran, criticizing the regime, the regime’s operating bodies such as the IRGC/Basij, Islam, the Supreme Leader etc… is a “sin” which leads to vague but harsh charges of “insulting Islam/the Prophet/the sanctities/the Supreme Leader”, “spreading propaganda against the regime”, “collusion to commit crimes against national security”, “spreading corruption on earth” etc…These charges hold penalties that range from long jail sentences (12 years in jail for cartoonist Atena Farghadani who lampooned the Iranian members of parliament) or execution (Sohel Arabi for sharing a criticism of the regime on his facebook page).


How to prepare for an interview?

Here’s the list of suggestions as well as some more tips.

  • The first suggestion is that journalists should not worry about angering or embarrassing Zarif in public. Many journalists fear that if they ask hard questions, they will not be allowed to interview prominent Iranian leaders in the future but the point is that Zarif needs the Western media more than the Western media needs Zarif. Unfortunately, The fact that Zarif holds the status of a political superstar in Iran and the world impedes on the journalist’s duties to discover the truth.
  • The second suggestion is to not allow Zarif to pass the blame on to Iran’s judiciary. Unlike Western countries, the government, the parliament and the judiciary are not wholly separated and are in fact deeply intertwined through the regime’s revolutionary bodies such as the IRGC whose powers are evident in all three bodies. The simple fact that the brothers Larijani hold top jobs in parliament, human rights and the judiciary highlights the problem. Many innocent people are imprisoned for their political value such as the house-imprisonment without trial of Mehdi Karroubi  and Mir Hossein Mousavi since 2011, the imprisonment of Iranian Americans such as Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, journalists such as Afarin Chitsaz, Eshan Manazandarani, Eshan Safarzaiee…all jailed for political purposes.
  • The third suggestion seems obvious but most journalists don’t implement it: read up on specific case studies. Questioning Zarif on human rights in general or even the imprisonment of journalists or Baha’is in particular is a sure way of getting nowhere. Journalists have to pose specific questions about specific people – the name of the person, the circumstances of the arrest, the behavior of the interrogators, the list of formal charges, the ability to confer with a lawyer or to have family visits, the length of the trial, the name of the judge sitting at the trial, the details of the sentence, his/her welfare in prison etc…Hard facts and statements by the “criminals” are harder to dismiss then general inquiries.
  • The fourth suggestion is to ask about specific results of so-called improvements in human rights in Iran. Zarif, Larijani (all three of them) and Rouhani like to point out that the state of human rights in Iran is improving but when it comes to specific improvements, they tend to keep it as vague as possible. A case in point is the problem of drug-related executions which represent approximately 80% of the executions in Iran. All of the leaders mentioned above have at one time or another justified these executions as a means to ease the problems of drug addiction in Europe and are eager to point out that some EU countries are actually supporting Iran’s war on drugs financially in order to attain this goal. But when it comes to facts or even estimations regarding the benefit of these executions on drug addiction in the EU, there are never any answers.
  • The fifth suggestion deals with the problem of “double standards” in relation to other countries with bad records of human rights. Iranian leaders faced with accusations of poor human right in Iran are quick to point out that problems of human rights exist in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and, specifically, Israel. While these counter-accusations may hold merit, they serve as an escape route from dealing with the accusations themselves. Journalists should press men like Zarif to choose between positioning Iran as part of the problem or as part of the solution since it is always easy to look good by placing oneself in comparison with others who are worse. Furthermore, journalists should press on about Iran’s double standards: If Iran wants to be compared with countries with worse human rights records, does that not place Iran in a double standard of its own?
  • The sixth suggestion focuses on the Iranian understanding of the word “respect”. Respect is a very loaded word in Iran since the whole essence of the Islamic Revolution is based on being respected and proud. The whole regime thrives on respect but this respect is usually a one-way street. Tehran strives to be respected but it holds no respect for its critics in the UN, the West or within Iran. The multitudes of cases of “disrespect” to critics of the regime is endless and includes arbitrary arrests, imprisonment without formal charges, sham trials, forced “confessions”, inability to meet with lawyers and family members, torture and abuse in prison, lack of medical attention etc…Here’s a small anecdote on the level of respect that the regime holds for its citizens: A judge sentenced an Iranian man to death for drug-related charges which the defendant continued to deny fervently. The judge listened to the defendants pleas of innocence and then reportedly said that the sentence would stand and that if the defendant was really innocent, he would then go to heaven. Respect? None.
  • The seventh suggestion relates to the lack of transparency on the issue of human rights in Iran. A special rapporteur was designated by the UN to oversee the issue of human rights in Iran but Iran has barred its doors to the special rapporteur since 2005 because Tehran felt that the assignment of the special rapporteur was politicized in the first place but that did not stop the rapporteurs from issuing scathing reports through third party information. If the state of human rights in Iran is so good, why doesn’t Tehran open its doors to showcase it? And why does Tehran get into a fuss whenever Western diplomats try to meet with local Iranian activists? And why does Tehran punish prisoners who manage to communicate their predicament to the UN, to NGO’s or to the media? Just as Tehran signed the JCPoA which is based on more transparency on its nuclear activities, why can it not produce the same level of transparency for its judicial system?
  • The eighth and final suggestion is the place of human rights in Iran’s “brand”. Rouhani and his government have worked hard to reposition Iran as a great partner in business, in “fighting terrorism” and in “helping” its neighbors. Iranian leaders are quick to point out how technologically advanced Iran is in many fields and how it is the strongest military power in the region. What the guys in Tehran find so frustrating is that Western businessmen and diplomats eagerly nod their heads in approval for all of these successes but remain critical of Iran’s state of human rights which is well below the standard of Western countries. Western businesses, in general, have grown a conscience which reflects the collectives consciences of their clients who want to minimize the oppression of human rights by choosing to purchase products and services from businesses and countries with strong human rights ethics.



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Salavati: Iran’s Judge of Death

Abulghasem Salavati is a 49 year old Iranian judge who heads the 15th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran who is also known as the “Hanging Judge” or the “Judge of Death” for his pension to issue death sentences, or incredibly long prison sentences, to Iranians accused of criticizing the regime in any way.

Salavati’s “work” and his career exemplify everything that is wrong with Iran’s judicial system: His loyalty to the regime is reflected in the harshness of his sentencing and overwhelms any effort at managing a fair trial. In fact, his management of his trials and his rulings usually include outright contradictions to Iran’s laws and constitution or the “bending” of these laws while Salavati takes on the role of prosecutor as well as judge. With his rough looks and his “dead” eyes, he has turned into a man who is feared by most Iranians, reviled by most of the world and respected by the members of the regime.


Bridging Between the Regime and the Courts

Iran’s judicial system is, according to its constitution, a separate entity from the regime, the parliament and the government. Unfortunately for Iranians, sentences for politically tainted crimes such as “propaganda against the state”, “colluding against national security”, “assembly and collusion”, “insulting the regime”, “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “insulting the IRGC”, “insulting the Prophet”, “spreading corruption on earth” etc… are, on the whole, politically motivated. All of these “crimes” are based on criticism against the regime and its leaders and are taken for granted in the free world as a basic freedom of speech. But the regime doesn’t take criticism lightly – in fact it is considered a sin – and the sentences the Iranian “criminals” receive for criticizing the regime are outlandishly harsh ranging from a few years in jail to execution. These sentences are compounded by the fact that these “criminals” are usually denied bail and therefore are jailed for months until their trial, are usually (illegally) denied access to their lawyers and families, are mistreated, harassed and tortured while in jail, in part as an effort to force them to sign “confessions”, are systematically denied medical care and are rarely paroled on appeal.

The regime requires the services of judges who are ready to punish anyone who is critical of the regime because the alternatives are too problematic. It could simply kill critics of the regime, as it has done on numerous occasions in the past, but witnesses and the families and friends of the murdered “criminal” can create embarrassing situations for the regime. On the other hand, since the regime is not a democracy, it strives to maintain its power through the use of oppression and fear which, paradoxically, weakens its legitimacy and therefore any unpunished criticism can lead to a counter-revolution. Knowing that these two options are not viable for the regime, the only real alternative is to employ people who are 100% loyal to the regime in the army, the police, the courts etc… .


Salavati is Notoriously Ruthless

Salavati has handed down tens of death sentences and over 600 years in prison. He works fast (sometimes, a double digit prison sentence can be handed down within minutes), prefers closed door trials without the defendant nor his/her lawyer present and doesn’t distinguish between hard evidence and the “evidence” procured by the ministry of Intelligence, the IRGC or the police. His trials include human rights activist Narges Mohammadi (11 years in jail for “assembly and collusion against national security”), former MP Esmail Gerami Moghaddam (6 years in jail for “collusion against the state”), physicist and activist Omid Kokabee (10 years for “conspiring with foreign countries”), human rights activist Mohammad Ali Dadkah (9 years in jail for “interviews with foreign media”) , blogger Soheil Arabi (sentenced to death for “propaganda against the state”) and many many more.

In his latest high profile case, Salavati handed out sentences of 5-10 years in jail to reporters who were arrested following the post-JCPoA crackdown. One of them, Davoud Asadi isn’t even a reporter but his brother is. Their official “crimes” were, as usual, quite vague and included the usual “propaganda against the state” and such. Rumors even abounded that they would be tried for spying for foreign media but in the end, it must have been seen as too ludicrous. They have been in jail since November 2015.

Make no mistake, Salavati is not alone in being such a sorry example of a judge – he is one of six judges who specialize in dealing with politicized criminals. As an Iranian human rights lawyer explains, “they impose sentences that do not correspond with the crime committed; they ignore the defense case put by defendants and their lawyers; they approve indictments that have no legal basis; they are unfamiliar with the law and legal matters; and they undeniably come out with erroneous rulings“. These judges include Salavati,  “Mohammad Moghiseh, former justices Yahya Pirabbasi and Hassan Zareh Dehnavi (known as judge Haddad), and appeal judges Hassan Babaee and Ahmad Zargar“.


Salavati is Beginning to Lose Ground

Salavati’s problem is that numerous of his cases have reached appeal courts which have drastically reduced the sentences, raising questions on Salavati’s ability to function as a judge.

Take the case of the trial of Mohammad Amin Valian, a protester during the problematic 2009 elections. Valian took to the streets to protest the election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because of widespread accusations that the elections were rigged to beat the more moderate candidates. Valian joined the other protesters and threw rocks at the police forces and was subsequently convicted to be executed based mostly on his own “confession” that he had thrown three rocks. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to three years in jail with no new evidence!

More recently, there is the famous case of Atena Faraghdani. Faraghdani is an Iranian artist who posted a cartoon in 2014 which she drew depicting the Iranian members of parliament as animals. The impetus for this drawing was a bill in parliament which was meant to prohibit vasectomies and minimize the sale of contraceptives in Iran. Through her drawing, Farghadani criticized the bill, the MP’s, the regime and the Supreme Leader. She was arrested and was convicted by Salavati to 12 years and 9 months in jail. Nearly two years into her sentence, after being tortured and forced to a virginity test, and following numerous hunger strikes, a court of appeals drastically reduced the sentence to 18 months in jail. From nearly 13 years to 18 months with no new evidence!

Salavati, along with some other judges have been sanctioned by the US, the EU and the UN for his role as the regime’s pawn in punishing critics of the revolution. Hopefully, the Iranian people will one day overthrow them in the hopes of offering every Iranian a fair trial.


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