Millions of Iranians are criminalized by Tehran

The regime in Tehran is built on Islamic laws with zero-tolerance and Iranian citizens who deviate from these laws are deemed criminals. These “crimes” have nothing to do with “hard” criminal acts such as terrorism, murder, theft or rape, crimes which are viewed around the globe as acts which justify arrests and incarceration. No, these crimes are much “softer” and are based on the repressed freedoms which are taken for granted in the West: criticizing the regime in any way, being a religious or cultural minority, protesting lay-offs , visiting people in jail, dressing up in “Western” fashion, emphasizing female beauty, partying with the opposite sex, drinking alcohol, watching foreign content on the internet or on TV, owning a dog…the list goes on and on and on.

The problem is that enforcing the laws against these “crimes” is turning the majority of Iranians into “criminals” in the eyes of the regime and the regime is reacting the only way it knows how: crackdowns. A bigger problem is that although the regime may view these crackdowns as a show of force but the Iranian population views them as a sign of the inherent weakness of the regime which can only resort to force when faced with the demands for change.

Whether the regime likes it or not, criminalizing so many Iranians is bound to blow up in its face. It’s OK to imprison or execute hardened criminals but when Iranians realize that according to the law, most of them are de facto criminals, they are bound to re-question the legitimacy of these laws and of the regime.

 

“Everything” can be a crime in Iran

Here are a few examples of crackdowns which are making “criminalizing” the Iranian population:

  • Criticizing the regime is a crime: the authorities have been cracking down on activists, reporters, bloggers, artists since the signing of the JCPoA. These men and women are arrested, are sometimes flogged and are convicted to long sentences in jail for charges that usually include “spreading propaganda”, “undermining the regime”, “insulting the sacred/regime/Supreme Leader”, “working against national security”, “spying” etc…all legal terms for criticizing the regime and supporting social changes. But these are definitely the “hardcore” few who are willing to risk their careers and their lives to stand up against the regime to fight for change. The majority of “criminals” in this category are much more naive: they may have posted a joke about the regime on social media but since all social media is monitored and censored in Iran and since the authorities have the legal right to search their phones and computers, sharing “critical” content makes them criminals. If every person who shared content which was deemed critical by the regime were arrested, there would not be enough prisons in the world to hold them.
  • Partying is a crime: Alcohol and mixed-gender parties are a crime in Iran but the laws against having a good time are no match for the will of younger secular Iranians who want to enjoy themselves. These people aren’t denying all of Islam but are simply demanding the freedom to choose which laws and regulations to observe and which not too. Their exposure to the experiences of Muslims and non-Muslims in other countries convince them that dancing with someone of the opposite sex is not necessarily a crime, nor should it be. Last month, 35 students celebrating at a graduation party were imprisoned and flogged (99 lashes each) and now 50 more students were picked up for the same reason. As one Iranian official stated, “families must be more vigilant regarding their children to make sure they do not end up in such circumstances” and “law-breakers who use excuses such as freedom and having fun in birthday parties and graduation ceremonies” will not be tolerated. Sources within Iran claim that these few arrests belie a situation in which millions of Iranians can be found to be criminals for drinking alcohol or for smoking drugs or for social interactions between non-married people. As younger Iranians grow away from religion, their will to choose how to party is bound to grow creating more tension with the religious autocratic and outdated regime. It’s only a matter of time until these secular youths decide to stand up against the overbearing religious regime.
  • Enjoying foreign content is a crime: Every few months, Iranian authorities crack down on Iranians who want access to content and have confiscated satellite dishes which are also illegal in Iran. In the last round of crackdowns, 100,000 dishes were confiscated and destroyed and fines of approximately $2,800 were handed out. The satellite dishes are not meant only for watching foreign TV shows and movies, they are used also for freer access to the internet. The problem is that in a digital age, where there is a demand for content, people will find ways to access it and if they can’t access it through satellite dishes, they will do so through mobile appliances. The minister of culture has estimated that 70% of Iranian homes have satellite dishes or other means of accessing foreign content. In other words, 70% of Iranians are breaking the law! Imagine what would happen if millions of Iranians resisted the authorities’ attempts to confiscate their satellite dishes…
  • Dressing up in a “Western” fashion is a crime: The morality police has led another crackdown on women not wearing their hijabs properly. Hundreds of thousands of women are approached, harassed and fined and in some cases, they are arrested as well. But the fear of “improper hijab” is now accompanied by the fear of people wearing clothes with Western words and icons on them and youngsters sporting “Western” haircuts. It’s not clear exactly how a spiked haircut or T-shirt with an American flag or “Don’t Worry, I’m a Queen” written on it can be illegal but the morality police doesn’t really care and the “criminals” who are wearing these clothes feel powerless to fight back. You have to listen to the official take on this “problem” in order to understand just how strained the situation is: “In the early years of the revolution people accepted the hijab without much force, but this trend did not continue and now we have a situation where we are moving from lax observance of the hijab to no hijab at all…the spread of these kinds of products (“Western” clothing) are against public morality and indicate a lack of attention by the officials in charge of cultural matters…there are dirty and disdainful phrases printed on the back of these manteaus and so they should be banned from sale and removed from stores as soon as possible”. Unlike criticizing the regime, partying or enjoying foreign content, the issue of clothes is even more personal since people are harassed on the spot for how they look, what they are wearing and how they are wearing it. Millions of Iranian women want hijab to be worn by choice…millions.
  • Owning a pet is a crime: Yep, owning a dog is illegal in Iran but many Iranians went ahead and adopted dogs anyway. But every once in a while, the authorities carry out massive crackdowns on pet-owners by either injecting acid on dogs in the streets or picking up dogs from their houses under the pretext of vaccinations and then making the dogs “disappear”. Nobody knows how many Iranians own pets but it is estimated to be close to a million people. One million Iranians are now criminals for simply owning a pet and have to watched their loved ones being killed or taken away forcibly. Some of the pet owners are even forced to endure floggings (74 lashes). It’s hard to imagine how many more pets will have to die before Iranian pet lovers will stand up against the regime.
  • Visiting family in Iran is a crime: the number of dual nationals who are imprisoned while visiting their families in Iran is growing. There have been at least 15 known arrests within the past year and since Tehran doesn’t legally recognize dual-nationality, they have no support from the embassies and governments of the countries they live in. The charges against them mirror the charges against critics of the regime but their situation is worse since their loved ones are powerless and thousands of miles away. Too are systematically denied legal advice and medical care, and are literally cut off from contact with their loved ones. Their only real hope is that at some point in time, Iran will initiate or accept a swap of prisoners as it did following the signing of the JCPoA. The result of this crackdown is that millions of Iranians living abroad, along with millions of their loved ones in Iran, are rethinking their plans to reunite in Iran, knowing full well that such a trip could easily turn into a one-way ticket to jail.
  • Being a minority in Iran is a crime: Despite Iranian laws against discrimination against religious and cultural minorities, minority groups such as Baha’is, Sunnis, Kurds, Ahwazis and Christians are systematically persecuted by Iranian authorities and the communities they live in. Places of worships are destroyed or blocked, shops and businesses are shut down, further education is denied and leaders of the these communities are arrested and sometimes executed. These “criminals” and their followers are in real danger since their crimes legally merit executions in many cases. But once again, the problem is not the tens of thousands of people who have been arrested but the millions of followers who understand that they are second class citizens and even criminals in the eyes of the regime.

What’s important to notice is the sheer number of Iranians who are “criminalized” by the regime for not adhering to laws which seem outdated and irrelevant even to the majority of the Iranian population. This isn’t about a few hundred or even a few thousand Iranians who can be marginalized. This is about millions of Iranians who may still be afraid of the powerful regime but who may, at any time, decide that they don’t want to fear the regime any more for “crimes” which are viewed in their eyes as legitimate freedoms.

 

When a criminal minority becomes a criminal majority

For now, the regime believes that it can control these “deviants” by simply cracking down on them: fining them, arresting them, interrogating and torturing them, flogging them, incarcerating them and even executing them. What the regime doesn’t seem to comprehend is that such a situation is bound to blow up in its face: as long as a small minority of the population is viewed as “criminal”, the weight of the majority is enough to stifle out any aspirations to change the regime. But when the majority begins to question the laws and the legitimacy of the regime because it is deemed as criminal by the regime and when this majority is aware of the alternatives to such a regime, this is the stuff that fuels counter-revolutions.

For now, the regime in Tehran is stuck between a rock and a hard place: if it tones down its crackdowns, increases its tolerance and allows for more personal freedoms, it may appease the “criminal majority” but it will anger the ruling bodies of the regime – the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, the mullahs, the Assembly of Experts, the Basij volunteers…in short, the “hardliners”. On the other hand, if it doesn’t tone down its crackdowns, the chances of an uprising will rise.

But it’s not only the regime which is stuck in the middle: President Hassan Rouhani, the self-proclaimed “moderate” president is in a more delicate predicament. During his election campaign and throughout his presidency he maintained that he encouraged more personal freedoms for Iranians and less policing of laws which curtail these freedoms. This attitude was immediately pounced upon by the hardliners who are using every opportunity to impede his political power and his popularity. But Rouhani, without a popular grass-roots support, cannot stand up to the hardliners and is destined to remain a small voice of reason drowned out by the loud raucous of the sanctimonious hardliners who want to maintain the status quo.

As it is, the tensions in Iran are mounting and the regime is reacting the only way it knows how: crackdowns. Not only do these crackdowns increase the tensions, they are scaring away would-be foreign investors who are hard-put to invest in a country with a volatile political climate. The wariness of foreign investors is explained by the regime to the Iranian people as the fault of US sanctions but whether the Iranians believe this or not, the end result is the same: more pressure on the economy and a declining popularity in supporting Rouhani.

 

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The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

Magic tricks are based on a magician’s ability to misdirect the audience’s attention to her manipulations in order to create an illusion. The audience, who missed the manipulation, is then asked to focus on the end result of the manipulation and the illusion is thus complete. The regime in Tehran has turned the basis of magic tricks into its leading strategy. Whenever Tehran is under pressure, it immediately denies any wrong-doing and then proceeds to misdirect the world’s attention by accusing someone else in order to present a fait accompli of its agenda.

It’s not that Tehran is the only regime guilty of manipulation: most political entities are doing so on a regular basis. But Tehran is perfecting its game to a point where even if it is caught in creating an illusion, it immediately returns to denials, counter-accusations and misdirections in order to maintain the illusion.

It looks something like this: Wrongdoing => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion etc…

Tehran can continue to claim that it doesn’t promote terror, that there are no human rights problems in Iran, that it isn’t meddling in its neighbors’ affairs, that it isn’t failing in implementing the JCPoA as long as it wants but if you look closely and avoid the misdirections, you will be able to see through these illusions and see Tehran for what it is: a brutal, meddling, religious theocracy with ambitions to create the biggest illusion of them all – to lead a Global Islamic Awakening meant to change the Western hegemony and influence on the world.

 

The illusion of fighting against terror

When Tehran is criticized of supporting terror, it immediately denies supporting terrorism, misdirects the world’s opinion towards ISIS and blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terrorism, while positioning itself as a champion against terrorism.

In this case, the brutal nature of ISIS is the perfect misdirection in order to manipulate its audience into believing that Tehran is actually against terror since ISIS is probably one of the few terrorist organization which is recognized globally as such. Anyone fighting against ISIS is automatically seen as “the good guy” even if this does include people with blood on their hands such as Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Ali Khamenei (Iran) and Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah).

Tehran’s denial of supporting terrorism is not an easy misdirection since Tehran openly supports organizations, such as Hezbollah, which are designated as terrorist organizations by many countries in the world. But even if Tehran can’t fool all the people all of the time, it can fool enough people some of the time and as long as enough people believe that Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, the illusion can be pulled off successfully.

Blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terror is a more delicate misdirection since it is based mostly on the Saudi Arabia’s ties with al-Qaeda and the fact that ISIS was established in an Iraqi prison under US rule. Tehran continues its misdirection by linking the US and its allies to ISIS even though such a link is, at present, far from the truth but such a theory is appealing to people with anti-American sentiments and that is enough for Tehran. Meanwhile, Tehran is actively encouraging Islamic terrorism by pitting its terrorist forces, such as Hezbollah, against legitimate Syrian rebels and the Yemenite government.

The weakness of this illusion can be easily spotted the fact that, although Tehran is actively fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq, it continues to support terrorism through its Quds forces and its terroristic proxies. Tehran continues to support terrorism on a regional and a global scale and not amount of misdirections can erase this fact.

 

The illusion of human rights in Iran

brothers in lies 2When Tehran is criticized for the state of human rights in Iran, it denies having any problems of human rights in Iran and immediately attacks the US and the UK for problems of human rights within their own countries and blames a lack of cultural misunderstanding.

Once again, Tehran, the supreme illusionist, doesn’t try to deal with the accusations nor alleviate the problem of human rights in Iran despite the fact that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of globally designated human rights abuses in Iran. By misdirecting its Western audiences to focusing on #BlackLivesMatter or the tortures in Guantanamo, it portrays itself as a champion of human rights despite the fact that Tehran systematically abuses and oppresses religious and cultural minorities as well as political opponents, activists, critics of the regime, women and gays.

But since this is usually not enough to convince Western audiences who are appalled at the blatant abuses of human rights in Iran, Tehran tries to misdirect them even further by claiming that the reports of human rights abuses are not only politically motivated to hurt Iran but are lacking in their veracity since they do not take into account basic cultural differences between secular and democratic governments and theocratic Muslim governments. In this manner, Tehran plants seeds of doubt on the notion of global human rights in the first place.

The weakness of this part of the illusion is that many of the problems of human rights in Iran do not stem from Islamic law but the environment of zero-tolerance  to any statement or act that could be interpreted as criticism against the regime. It’s not only about the treatment of gays, women and executions which is dictated by Shariah law, it’s about the treatment of religious minorities, reporters, activists and “dissidents” who are oppressed for criticizing the regime and it’s about a judicial system which limits the chance of a fair trial and a punishment which correlates the nature and the dangers of the crime committed (unlike Atena Farghdani who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for drawing a satirical caricature).

Whether the mullahs in the regime like it or not, Tehran is a systematic abuser of human rights and no amount of finger pointing or claims of cultural differences can erase the abuses of the thousands of Iranians who were oppressed, harassed, arrested, fined, tortured, imprisoned and executed up until this very day.

 

The illusion of helping its neighbors

When Tehran is criticized for its subversive meddling in neighboring countries, it denies doing so and immediately misdirects these accusations towards its regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, insisting on the fact on being “invited” by its neighbors to help the “oppressed” people there.

Blaming Saudi Arabia is an easy misdirection since Riyadh doesn’t even try to hide its efforts of always taking a position opposite Iran in regional conflicts due to the vary basic and age-old Shiite-Sunni conflict which has taken millions of lives since its inception 1,400 years ago. Tehran may openly call for Muslim unity but underneath such calls remain a very basic distrust and hatred which is fueled by each and every act of Sunni-Shiite violence. But Tehran is more meddling in nature than Riyadh for one simple reason: it continues to emulate Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of “exporting the revolution” to any country which might accept it while Riyadh has no such ambitions. Tehran, in this manner, justifies its involvement in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, conflicts which have led to hundreds of thousands of casualties.

And then, we come to the justification by invitation: Tehran claims that it was “invited” by the government of Syria to join the civil was and is highly critical of the fact that Riyadh claims that it was “invited” by the Syrian rebels to do the same. On the other hand, in Yemen, it is Riyadh who claims to be “invited” by the government while Tehran was “invited” by the rebels. Does Assad, as the president of Syria, a country torn apart by civil war because Assad refused to hold democratic elections, even have a moral right to “invite” Tehran to crush the Syrian rebels? Do the Houthi rebels in Yemen have such a right? And does the fact that Houthis in Yemen and the Alawites in Syria (to whom Assad belongs) are both Shiite-like religions not emphasize that Tehran is selectively trying to save its Shiite neighbors in an effort to export to them the revolution?

Face it: Tehran isn’t “helping” its “oppressed” neighbors by “invitation”, it is helping itself to achieve its Islamic revolutionary ideals of a Global Islamic Awakening which is Shiite in nature and which is headed by the mullahs in Tehran.

 

The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

When Tehran is faced with problems of fully enjoying the fruits of the JCPoA because of remaining non-nuclear sanctions (terrorism, missiles, human rights etc…), it denies any wrong-doing and blames the US for attempting to derail the nuclear deal.

To be honest, the JCPoA was not meant to be a peace treaty with the P5+1 nor was it meant to deal with any other issue other than monitoring and restricting Tehran nuclear program. Tehran made this clear whenever the Western negotiation teams would try to include issues such as Iran’s missile programs, its support of terrorism, its flagrant abuses of human rights etc… When the deal was finally signed the US, the EU and the UN lifted all the nuclear-related sanctions but other sanctions remained. Furthermore, these sanctions were reinforced by Tehran’s continued transgressions in testing long-range missiles, in supporting terrorist organizations and in abuses of human rights.

But the illusionists in Tehran misdirected the world’s attention to the remaining sanctions as if they were in contradiction of the JCPoA, trying to present the US as the one who was not fully implementing the nuclear deal. The fact that the US secretary of State John Kerry practically begged foreign investors to invest in Iran even though Khamenei banned US brands from Iran was viewed presented by Tehran as futile.

And when an IAEA report pointed to the fact that, despite Tehran’s denials, efforts at militarizing its nuclear program were evident from soil samples taken at the Parchin military base, Tehran maintained its denials, accusing the IAEA of politicizing its report.

Yes, Tehran is implementing the JCPoA, as is the US. The problem is that all sides want the JCPoA to be a much more encompassing solution which it isn’t and both sides are selling an illusion of a peace treaty which never really existed. The problem is that Tehran is looking at the problems of implementing the JCPoA as an excuse to return to large-scale enrichment which would then force the West into either accepting Tehran’s militarization of its nuclear program of into trying to stop from doing so.

 

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Kurds openly fighting Tehran

For 27 years, the Kurds in Iraq and in Iran have, in general, refrained from openly fighting against Tehran. 4 weeks ago, the status quo was broken as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) called on its troops to cross the border from Iraq into Iran to fight the Iranian army and the IRGC leading to dozens of deaths on both sides.

The tense situation is bound to increase as both sides are entrenching themselves further for a major conflict if and when Iranian Kurds join their Kurdish brothers and rise against the oppressive rule of Tehran.

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Tehran answers with zero-tolerance

The IRGC’s answer to the Kurds battle-call was as quick as it was arrogant: “If Mr. Barzani (the head of the KDPI)  doesn’t act against the anti-revolutionists who enter into our territories, we will destroy them all“. Furthermore, Tehran was quick to develop a conspiracy theory, blaming “foreign influences” (namely Saudi Arabia) for the resurgence of violence by Kurdish “terrorists” (always sounds better to claim fighting terrorists) but the Kurds maintain that their quarrel is directly with Tehran for its oppression of Iranian Kurds: “the rulers in Teheran believe that if they have domestic problems they blame it on Israelis and Saudis, and the problem in Iran is solved! But this is absurd…we are talking about the Kurdish issue in Iran and it has nothing to do with tensions with Iran or the Saudis or other countries“. The problem, the Kurds believe is that “the Shia theocracy in Tehran has never shed its mistrust of minorities, and Kurdish is not taught in school, while the predominantly Sunni Kurds find that the government discriminates against them on religious grounds too. Kurdish political parties remain outlawed, and activists are routinely thrown in jail and tortured“.

The IRGC then threatened to invade Iraq in order to deal with the Kurdish forces, a threat which is being taken very seriously by the Kurds especially since Tehran’s influence over Baghdad is so strong. For now, the Iranians are finding it sufficient to simply bomb Kurdish villages in Iraq, more evidence of meddling by the Iranian army in Iraqi territory since most of the casualties there are civilian in nature. The Kurds have bitterly criticized these attacks: “if they (Iranian forces) are brave, they should come and fight Peshmerga (Kurdish troops) on the battlefield instead of targeting and threatening Kurdish civilians“.

 

The Kurds are aiming high

For now, the KDPI claims that its troops have entered into Iran and “are now moving around, making contacts with people, and are ready to act in self-defense only if attacked. But in future stages, our forces will move to the attack mode. This is a process that will gradually unfold” as the KDPI is sure that the “Iranian Kurds are ready to rise“. The KDPI insists that this move is justified by the fact that the regime in Tehran “has stepped up pressure on Kurds and has not left space for meaningful civic or political work (inside Iran)”. Without the uprising of the 10 million Kurds in Iran, the skirmishes are not likely to really hurt the Iranian military since its estimated that the Kurdish troops number only 2,000 for now.

The pressure from the Kurds has reached President Hassan Rouhani: at the beginning of last month, Rouhani stated that “the mother tongue of ethnic groups, especially of Kurds, should be respected and recognized and that Kurdish will be taught in schools” adding that “Sunni and Shiite are all brothers, we are all equal…Kurdistan is the eye of Iran“. Unfortunately, statements such as these are seen as “too little too late” by the angry Kurds. In a later speech in a Kurdish area, Rouhani’s speech was interrupted by anti-regime slogans and condemnations of the “oppressive (and) starving policy” of Tehran against the Kurdish people.

The Kurds understand too well that fighting the Iranian forces is useless in open battlefields and that their only hope is to bring the skirmishes to Kurdish-dominated cities in Iran. They hope that such skirmishes, and more importantly, the IRGC’s harsh responses to such skirmishes, are bound to stir up more tension within the Kurdish communities in Iran which would lead to a crackdown on Kurdish activists which would then lead to a counter-backlash on the human rights front and hopefully, an open rebellion. An outbreak of human rights abuses by Tehran against the Iranian Kurds can also help to mobilize international pressure on Iran although the international community has yet to really pressure Iran on the numerous cases of abuses of Kurdish human rights.

 

A conflict that can blow up or fizzle out

146731Image1But for now, the Iranian Kurds are maintaining the tense peace with Tehran. The KDPI has called on Iranian Kurds to stage a general strike but the nature of such a strike is still unknown. The KDPI is also initiating terrorist activities such as an armed ambush on Iranian parliamentary officials which killed two and wounded two more.

Tehran must plan its next move well in order to not open up another battlefront, this time within Iran. If it reacts too weakly, the Iranian Kurds might view this as an opportunity to demand equal rights. If it reacts too harshly, tensions are bound to flame up which would lead to open insurgence. The timing for Tehran could not be worse: Tehran is involved in three wars outside its borders (Syria, Iraq and Yemen) for now, as well as efforts at supporting insurgences in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, is being increasingly pressured on its human rights records and is in a top-level power-struggle between Rouhani’s “moderate” government and the regime’s hardliners (including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).

 

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#FreeNarges Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi is an Iranian human rights activist who was sentenced to 6 years and then another 16 years in jail for her efforts in defending human rights, women’s rights and establishing an anti-death penalty movement in Iran. In her own words, she, along with hundreds of other political prisoners “are all charged due to our political and religious tendency and none of us are terrorists“.

Her biggest problem is that Tehran consistently and vigorously denies the fact that there are any political prisoners in Iran to begin with and that all of these prisoners are “terrorists” or “enemies of the state”, placing Mohammadi and her fellow inmates in a legal and political limbo. Furthermore, since Mohammadi’s case has generated global support, she has been targeted by the authorities to harsher treatment in the easiest way it can: Mohammadi is not allowed contact with her family and since being imprisoned in May 2015, she has spoken to her children, Kianna and Ali, aged 9 and living in Paris, only once in April 2016, and then, only for a few minutes. To make matters worse, her health is rapidly declining (she’s on 15 pills a day) and the fact that she has chosen to go on a hunger strike since June 27th as a means to force the regime to allow her family visits is weakening her even more.

Mohammadi’s call is a simple one: “I am asking for nothing other than being allowed to talk to my children on the phone. If this demand is too great, irrational, immoral, unlawful, or against national security, please let me know…Convince me, please. Clarify why a mother, declared a criminal by the state, must be denied hearing the voices of her children“.

Tehran’s response, as expected was as cruel and as callous as ever and it exemplifies the regime’s attitude to criticism of any kind: First, it was explained that allowing her contact with her children is a “security issue and the decision is up to security officials” and then, when she maintained her hunger strike, Abbas Hajiloo, the judicial representative stationed at Evin Prison “had a threatening conversation with her and told her she must stop the hunger strike because enemy media outlets are taking advantage of it (and that if she continued her hunger strike) she will not be allowed to talk to her children on the phone“.

A recent global campaign on Twitter to free Mohammadi was backed by over 200,000 people, of which 100,000 were Iranians. This is an incredible fact since Twitter is banned in Iran which means that the Iranians supporting her had to break the law in order to support her. The campaign was spearheaded by NGO’s such as Reporters Without Borders, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, and Amnesty International and was publicly supported by some Iranian celebrities who are risking their careers and their lives by supporting her.

Her mother has written an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani pleading with him as only a mother could to save her daughter’s life: “In this country”, she wrote, “being a mother is a crime”.

It is easy to sit back and do nothing, blaming the supreme power of the regime and its zero-tolerance regarding any criticism aimed at it and its revolutionary ideals but the truth of the matter is that international pressure does help. Atena Farghadani, the famed artists who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for drawing a caricature of Iranian MP’s as animals in an effort to fight a bill to outlaw birth-control in order to fulfil Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s demand for higher birth rates, was released after “only” 18 months in jail after a massive global campaign called for her release. It’s worth reading about her tribulations in her own words now that she is free in order to understand that massive global support can save Mohammadi just as it saved Farghadani.

Now it’s your turn: please add your voice to the call to #FreeNarges and make sure to support these sites:

https://twitter.com/UnitedForNarges, https://www.facebook.com/International-Campaign-for-Human-Rights-in-Iran-49929580840/?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsiran/?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/StealthyFreedom/, https://www.facebook.com/nobelwomen/, https://www.facebook.com/Free-Narges-612133508960995/?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/lddhi.fidh/?fref=nf, http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/iran-take-action-for-narges-mohammadi/ and others.

Thank you, on behalf of Narges and the hundreds of other political prisoners whose lives will continue to be destroyed without your help.

 

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Tehran furious over NCRI “terrorist” rally in Paris

On July 9th, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), exiled in Paris, held its yearly rally under the call for a “Free Iran”. This year, the rally attracted over 100,000 supporters including high ranking diplomats from all over the world and was viewed as a huge success with global media coverage especially in the Arab world. The “Free Iran” movement calls for the removal of the mullah’s regime in Tehran in favor for a true democracy based on equality in gender, race and religion and is the biggest opposition group in the world.

A huge success for the NCRI is obviously a huge drawback for the regime in Tehran which went on the war-path to find ways to delegitimize the rally, its organizers and its supporters. As usual, since President Hassan Rouhani launched his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative 3 years ago, the obvious point of attack was…terrorism.

Yes, as always, whenever Tehran gets stuck between a rock and a hard place, it is bound to blame terrorism, or more precisely, the Western support of terrorism. From Tehran’s perspective, the NCRI, or more precisely, its former military wing the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the MEK/MKO, which had at one time been designated as a terrorist organization, didn’t merit the support of the world. The fact that the MEK was delisted from being a terrorist organization by all the countries in the world apart from Iran didn’t make a difference just as the fact that all Western countries view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization doesn’t bother Tehran from openly supporting and using Hezbollah in its wars outside of Iran.

So according to Tehran, the NCRI is a “terrorist” organization and anyone supporting it is inciting “terror”. The problem is, no one outside of the regime in Tehran is buying this narrative.

 

The MEK Listed and then de-listed

The NCRI embodies a number of smaller organizations but at its core, it is the political wing of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the MEK/MKO. The MEK was established in 1965 as a left-wing group opposing the Shah. Their happiness in seeing the Shah overthrown was quickly exchanged to disappointment on understanding the dictatorial theocratic implications of the Islamic Revolution under Ruhollah Khomeini and the MEK soon found itself being persecuted by Iranian authorities and the Hezbollah – hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested.

By 1981, most of the MEK supporters fled Iran either to Iraq or to France. During the war between Iran and Iraq, the MEK sided with Iraq, a move which further angered Tehran and led to the mass executions (1,400 – 3,000) of MEK supporters. Following the invasion of Iraq, the remaining MEK’s were herded into “Camp Liberty” in Baghdad and it has become a favorite target for Iranian attacks and bombardments.

For a while, the MEK continued to carry out high-profile assassinations in Iran and during this time, the MEK was designated by the US as a terrorist organizations in 1997 and then later by the EU in 2002. But the MEK had denounced the use of violence back in 2001 and by 2009, the EU scratched the MEK of its terror list and the US followed suite in 2012. To date, the MEK is a terrorist only in the eyes of the regime in Tehran.

 

Tehran’s hypocritical finger-wagging

Following the rally, Tehran began finger-wagging everyone who seems to have supported the event, including its host, France, and some of the countries which were represented at the rally by high-profile diplomats, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Ambassadors were called in for a “reprimanding” and everyone just nodded their heads and went on their way.

Simultaneously, Tehran hit the major media outlets, complaining that the hosting of a “terrorist event” in Paris went counter to the need to fight terrorism on all fronts. Tehran’s anti-terror rhetoric is so strange that it would not be believed by any one with common sense but for the fact that Iran was openly fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq and ISIS, at least in its infancy was supported by the US and its allies. ISIS, being the “black & white” magnet that it is, made it easier for Tehran to position itself as a champion against terrorism despite the fact that it still actively supports, financially, politically and militarily, terrorist organizations around the globe.

Special attention was placed by Tehran in the media regarding the presence of a former Saudi official at the rally, another “proof”, from an Iranian perspective, that Saudi Arabia is the leading cause of terror in the region. Tehran’s hypocrisy surrounding the redefinition of a terrorist organization is no laughing matter and judging on the importance the West gives Iran in peace talks in Syria and in Yemen, it has been resoundingly successful. But just because something is a success doesn’t make it true.

 

Terrorism in the past vs. the future

The MEK was quite rightly designated as a terrorist organization for all its terroristic activities in the past. But since its renouncement of violence in 2001 and certainly since it was delisted in 2009/2012, there are no ties between the NCRI and terroristic activities anywhere in the world. The NCRI is today, what Khomeini was in the 70’s: an opposition to the government of Iran working in exile because opposition to the regime is tantamount to torture, imprisonment or death – just ask the supporters of the failed 2009 Green Movement, which was brutally crushed while its leaders are under house arrest to this day.

It’s a critical link between opposing factions in Iran which are stifled and persecuted and the West. Despite the NCRI’s optimism, its chances of toppling the regime are albeit slim but without it, there would not be any real opposition to the regime

The West has nothing to fear from the NCRI since it is neither terroristic nor extremist but Tehran has much to worry about the NCRI since it is the alternative voice of Iranians, those who want to live a less revolutionary and a more secular life. As such, it should be supported by any and all who view the regime in Tehran as a dangerous model based on trampling on human rights and constant meddling in the affairs of neighbors, all in the name of maintaining and exporting the revolution.

 

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