Rouhani lies outrageously about minorities in Iran

Once again, President Hassan Rouhani is in his campaigning for the presidency mode which means that he allows himself to paint a wonderful picture regarding the state of human rights in Iran. The last time he campaigned, according to the RouhaniMeter, he issued 74 promises of which only 18% (13) were fulfilled and another 36% (27) are “still in progress. The unfulfilled promises include, settling diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, free the Green Movement leaders who are still under house arrest, assuring equality for women and men, submit bills to empower women’s rights, strengthen the value of the Rial, ending the expulsion of students and teachers because of political reasons etc… Specifically, for this article, he also promised teach Azeri to Azeris in schools,  to respect minorities and appoint members of Iran’s minority groups to become vice presidents.

Well, for the past three and a half years, the minorities in Iran have been oppressed just as they were before Rouhani took office. Sunni mosques were shut down, Christian pastors and believers were arrested, Baha’is have been oppressed through economic and academic sanctions, Kurds and Ahwazis have suffered wave after wave of oppressive measures by the regime, and the Azeris are still forbidden to learn their language in school.

One could easily put such promises aside and throw them in the garbage can labelled “promises by politicians” were it not for Rouhani’s latest take on minorities during a meeting with Sunni clerics in which he glowingly praised the positive role of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. He began by slamming the fate of minorities under the Shah’s rule, pre-1979, which “espoused a strategy of iron fist where ethnic and religious minorities found no opportunity to live their social and political life”, a mentality which still exists in “some countries” (not Iran, of course). Rouhani then sells his rose-tinted pitch: “We believe however that ethnic diversity provides opportunities for a country, and that ethnic and religious minorities should be given equal opportunities and rooms for social and political activity”.  But that isn’t all…Rouhani then echoed his earlier promise to draft a “Citizenship Rights Charter” which would soon see the light of day and that he wants to appoint Sunnis ministers in his government

Of course, Rouhani doesn’t need to mention any other minorities since they did not have representatives in the room. He spoke to Sunnis so he spoke about Sunnis. There were probably some women in the room, so he spoke about “gender equality”, being “no less important” and added that he wanted to include “Sunni women” as governors.

Of course, Rouhani is no fool and he knows that his listeners can easily find out that nothing has changed since he was elected president the first time. That’s why he adds this telling excuse: “efforts have been directed” to equality for minorities “however, there have been glitches and lack of coordination in some areas, to be honest”.

Well, judging from the fate of the minorities in Iran under his presidency, including the largest “minority” in Iran, women, minorities should not hold their breath until Rouhani’s promises will be fulfilled. Rouhani fully understands that the regime which was born from the Islamic Revolution in 1979 is racist in nature towards women, religion and ethnicity even though it claims to respect women and to strive for Islamic unity. There is no gender equality, nor religious or ethnic equality in Iran and in order for a woman or a Baha’i to be treated equally in Iran, the whole regime would have to fall. So why does Rouhani continue to lie? Well, the obvious answer is that he wants to get re-elected. But can he really expect his disillusioned voters to trust him again after he failed them the first time? Or perhaps, and this is where it could get really interesting, he will blame the “glitches” on the regime and try to renew his promises together with a much bigger promise: to place his fate in the hands of his voters instead of the regime.

 

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The 1988 massacre that continues to haunt Tehran

Last week, an audio-file was added to the website of the late Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the man who was set to succeed Khomeini as Supreme Leader but instead was forced to resign as a result of his voiced objections to the systematic and institutionalized massacre of thousands of political prisoners between July and October 1988.

The 1988 massacre was ordained by Khomeini himself through a fatwa (religious edict) whose victims were imprisoned for being members of “dissident” organizations who criticized the regime – mostly members of the Mujahedin Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and mostly Sunnis (as opposed to the Shiite regime). The men and women were imprisoned for crimes as small as distributing pamphlets and some were meant to be freed within the next few months.

During those five fateful months, a total shut-down of communications between the prisons and the outside world was implemented: TV’s and radios were confiscated, family visits and phone privileges were abruptly stopped people within 100 meters from the prison could be shot. During this time, tens of thousands of political prisoners underwent short, on-sight, interrogations following which they were either executed, tortured, flogged or exempt from the fatwa. The executions were held within hours of the interrogation, hanging six prisoners at a time in order to carry out the fatwa more efficiently. The bodies were then transported by trucks to mass graves. Firing squads were used on some occasions, but the noise of the shots only resulted in increasing the tension in the prisons. By November, the authorities began informing the victims’ families while warning them not to carry out funerals or wakes and in most cases, the authorities did not divulge the burial sites of the victims.

What made the massacre so horrifying was the planned madness of it all and the fact that the victims of this massacre died for simply being affiliated to a “dissident” political organization or for not being Muslim enough. The issue of the audio file and Montazeri’s ardent objection to the massacre have brought to light another shameful episode in the history of the regime’s brutal, secretive, systematic and deadly behavior to anyone who it deems as an “enemy of the state” or an “enemy of Islam”.

Within days of the issuing of the fatwa, Montazeri wrote three public letters in which he vehemently protested the massacres. He beseeched Khomeini to recall the fatwa because it of the great injustice it would cause, calling it “the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be condemned by history, happened by your hands”. In the audio files, he also claims that he could not have kept silent because if he had, he would “not have an answer on Judgment Day and I saw it as my duty to warn Imam (Khomeini)”. He also worried about the effect of the executions on the families of the victims and the criticism of the world since the act would be interpreted as an act of revenge or of unchecked exasperation. According to Montazeri, somewhere between 2,800 and 3,800 people were executed although eye-witness testimonies point to a much higher number (5,000 – 6,000) and the MEK claims the real number was closer to 30,000. He “resigned” (more like forced to resign) in March 1989.

Three days after the sharing of the audio file, the son of Montazeri received a phone call from the Ministry of Intelligence requesting that the audio-file be deleted from the site. He agreed to do so.

To date, the regime in Tehran has refused to talk about the massacre, to take responsibility for it and/or to recompense the families of the victims. To date, the regime continues to execute political prisoners simply because they believe in ideals which diverge from those of the regime. To date, there are still family members and survivors who are afraid to share their tales of suffering and oppression, knowing full well how the regime treats people who do.

 

The fatwa that led to the massacre

The summer of 1988 was tense in Iran: the eight war with Iraq had taken its toll and on July 18th, Khomeini had finally accepted to “swallow the poison” and to a cease-fire which was to come into effect in August. On July 22nd, Iranian dissidents fighting from within Iraq, members of the MEK, launched another attack onto Iranian soil but were forced to retreat by July 29th. At some time during this week, some believe on the July 28th, Khomeini issued a fatwa which would lead to one of the worst cases of systematic executions of political prisoners in the history of the world:

(In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,)
As the treacherous Monafeqin (a derogatory name by the regime for Mojahedin meaning “hypocrites”) do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance (Western countries, specifically the US/UK), and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

This fatwa, issued in the name of a God who seemed to be anything but “Compassionate” or “Merciful”, sealed the fate for thousands of Iranians, men and women who were imprisoned for being members of the MEK or other “leftist” (read “secular” and “communist”) organizations.

The MEK was designated, until today, as a terrorist organization but one should note that the MEK was instrumental in helping Khomeini rise to power until a fall-out between the regime and the MEK occurred in 1980 when it refused to take part in a plebescite on the new constitution, being disillusioned by the growing power of hardliners in the regime who advocated harsher Islamic rule and more power for the unelected regime. During 1981, the MEK did carry out terroristic activities but within the year, the MEK was outlawed and the string of terrorist attacks was brought to an end with the executions of about 2,000 MEK members.

Montazeri claims that Khomeini was not only sick at the time (he would die within one year of issuing the fatwa) but that he was emotionally dejected from having to accept the cease-fire with Iraq but whatever the case may be, the fact remains that in Iran, a Supreme Leader can seal the fate of his citizens without the need for the political or popular support of his government or his people. The situation remains the same today under Khamenei.

 

The systematic organization of the massacre

The systematic nature of this massacre cannot be ignored and points to preparations long before the actual fatwa was issued. For months preceding the fatwa, interrogations took place within prisons to isolate the members of the MEK, member of “leftist” organizations, secularists and atheists etc…Nothing was done except to herd the prisoners together according to their “crimes”, ie, their beliefs.

But once the fatwa was issued, the machinations of the massacre went into high gear: field trials headed by a three-man “death committee”, an Islamic judge, a revolutionary prosecutor and an intelligence ministry official, “interrogated” the prisoners and decided on the spot (some interrogations lasted less than two minutes) who would be executed, who would be tortured and who would be exempt from the fatwa.

At first, the “death committee” focused only on Mojahedins. The interrogation was based on a number of questions, the first being the political affiliations of the prisoner. If the prisoner answered that he or she was a “Mojahedin”, the interrogation was abruptly ended and the prisoner would unknowingly be escorted out to his or her death. If the prisoner answered “Monafiqin”, a derogatory word meaning “hypocrite” used by the regime to call the Mojahedins, the prisoner, would then have to answer an onslaught of questions not knowing that one “wrong answer” would mean a death sentence. The first set of questions were meant to weed out the hard-core dissidents from those who were willing to cooperate: “Are you willing to denounce former colleagues? Are you willing to denounce them in front of the cameras? Are you willing to help us hunt them down? Will you name secret sympathizers? Will you identify phony repenters? Will you go to the war front and walk through enemy minefields?”.

By August, the “death committee” widened their focus to include all dissidents: leftists, Marxists, secularists, atheists etc…Here, the interrogation was more religious in nature and prisoners were asked if they grew up in religious Muslim families or not and then they believed in the Koran, if they prayed, if they believed in Heaven and Hell etc…What they didn’t know was that the first question, the level of religion in their family split them up into two distinct groups: those prisoners who grew up in religious Muslim families but moved away from Islam, “murtad-i fitri” and those who grew up in non-religious families “murtad-i milli”. The prisoners who grew up in religious families and who answered that they were secular or atheists were, once again unknowingly, singled out for execution on the same day. Those who had grown up in secular families were then given a choice: become a practicing Muslim or get flogged five times a day (in coordination with the five times of prayer for devout Muslims).

In most cases, the prisoners were herded to their interrogation blindfolded and remained so until they were herded back to the groups of prisoners outside, not knowing that their fates had been sealed. There were numerous mix-ups as prisoners joined the wrong groups or when wardens would try to punish or protect a prisoner by sending him/her to another group. Most of the surviving prisoners speak about being beaten and tortured during their interrogations. Those that weren’t were usually the ones who were sentenced to death from the first question.

In all cases, there were no defense lawyers, no application of international and Iranian laws, no fair trial – only an interrogation followed by an execution, floggings or a miraculous exemption.

 

The cover-up of the massacre

The details of the massacre remain hazy to this date. The massacre was carried out under a heavy cloak of secrecy with on-site executions and disposal of the bodies under the cover of darkness. Some of the survivors, as did the families of the victims, shared their ordeals but most preferred to remain silent for fear of retribution by the regime. Political opposition leaders remained silent as well after seeing what happened to Montazeri who was the second most powerful Iranian leader at the time. Human rights organizations were in any case not allowed into prisons and those that did condemn the massacre were ignored by Tehran. The men who carried out the massacre on an administrative or physical level went on with their lives and some rose to prominent posts, such as Khamenei who was president at the time.

For all intents and purposes, the massacre was presented by the regime as a minimal punishment to enemies of the state, as Khamenei so eloquently explained: “In the Islamic Republic, we have capital punishment for those who deserve to be executed … Do you think we should hand out sweets to an individual who, from inside prison, is in contact with the munafiqin who launched an armed attack within the borders of the Islamic Republic? If his contacts with such an organization have been established, what should we do about him? He will be sentenced to death, and we will execute him. We do not take such matters lightly deemed as punishment”. The fact that these prisoners had little contact with the MEK in Iraq was meaningless since they were guilty by association.

Tehran continues to oppress, imprison, torture and execute any person or group which voices criticism against the regime or simply belongs to a minority viewed as harmful to the regime. Fair trials are the exceptions and not the norm and hardliners continue to press for harsher punishments and for a stronger adherence to Islamic and Revolutionary ideals.

At the same time, this same regime continues to claim that critics of its human rights are politically motivated and complain about atrocities carried out by other countries, specifically the US and Israel. What’s clear is that this particular atrocity is more horrifying not only because it was carried out by the regime in the name of the regime but because, for all intents and purposes, it is still being carried out today, alebit on a smaller scale.

 

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The Brothers in Lies on Human Rights in Iran

In general, despite tens of thousands of cases which prove otherwise, Iranian leaders speak glowingly about the positive nature of their records on 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” blah, blah, blah…

What makes Iran more unique on the issue of human rights is that the chief of human rights, Javad Larijani, happens to be the brother of Iran’s judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani (both are also the brothers of the chief of parliament Ali Larijani but that is not yet relevant to this post). This is very convenient for both since they both hold similar views regarding the state of human rights in Iran and both are extremely well coordinated in their denials and counter accusations on this issue.

In fact both brothers continue to state that not only are there no problems of human rights in Iran but that Iran can actually lead the world in developing an Islamic form of human rights which would be far superior than the existing “Western” one.

Listening to these two brothers talk on human rights is borderline comical and exasperating: One can only assume that they are both very loyal to the regime in Tehran, are both hypocritical liars and/or are both arrogant or delusional enough to believe their own statement. Here are a few new soundbites which will give you a glimpse of the madness which symbolizes the state of human rights in Iran and how it is managed by the regime.

 

Denials and counter accusation are their answer to criticism

Whenever accusations arise in regards to the state of human, the automatic response from Javad and Sadeq is denial followed by counter-accusations aimed at the people or the organizations issuing the criticism.

According to Javad, Iran’s record in human rights is “one of the best whether in terms of democracy or in terms of the judicial system” and is “honorable“. And what about the critics and the criticism of problems with human rights in Iran? They do not reflect the “realities on the ground” and are “politically motivated tactics” aimed at achieving political objectives. The highest profile critic of human rights in Iran is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human right in Iran, Shaheed Ahmed who has issued a series of damning reports. Javad’s reaction to these reports never entails actually dealing with their contents but in delegitimizing the author of the report and his motives: “Assigning a special rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran where we have the biggest democracy in the region, and judicial rules and regulations are very advanced and rigorous has been very illogical and unfair…it is tyrannical and irrational for Iran to come under a massive assault and be subject to special reporting…Iran believes that the issue of human rights is not being followed in a just and unbiased manner on the international level, and it has been sacrificed at the expense of political motivations of the big powers”. Furthermore, he states that the designation of a special rapporteur on Iran is simply “illegal“. And what is his answer to Iran’s being the country with the highest rate of execution per capita in the world? Since 70%-90% (he changes the percentage all the time) of the executions are drug-related, the World should “be thankful” and the executions should be viewed as a “positive marker of Iranian achievement” and a “great service to humanity”. But Javad doesn’t ever comment on questions regarding 1) the effectiveness of executing drug dealers as a deterrent and 2) the covert roles of the IRGC and Hezbollah in drug trafficking around the world.

If someone read to you Javad’s speech at the UNPR on the state of human rights in Iran, you might think he represents a country such as New Zealand and not Iran.

Javad’s brother, Sadeq, echoes these sentiments nearly word for word: while blaming the West for “manipulative use of human rights”, he adds, “the West acts on the basis of double standards on human rights and makes manipulative use of the issue…Regarding the human rights, we believe the West’s stance is self-serving, and hypocritical”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And it sounds totally irrational in view of the systematic oppression of women, juveniles, reporters, artists, activists, politicians, gays, minorities etc…and the hundreds of thousands of cases in which these people were harassed, arrested, interrogated, tortured, jailed and/or executed. In February, Amnesty issued a damning report on Iran’s judiciary claiming that it is flawed and inadequate on numerous levels and reduces the chances to a fair trial and a fair sentencing to nil.

Here’s a video which more or less summarizes the Larijani brothers’, and the regime’s as well, take on human rights:

It seems that a large majority of Iranians would like to change the state of human rights in Iran. These are the same people who voted for President Hassan Rouhani and the same people who voted for the “List of Hope” in the last parliamentary elections. Unfotunately for them, the Judiciary, as well as the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, the Guardian Council, the Basij and the hundreds of organizations which make up the regime are not voted into office by the people for their good but are placed into office by the regime in order to maintain the regime’s power. Just like in south Africa, where the regime of a minority of whites kept the majority of native Africans under the inhumane laws of apartheid through brutal laws and brutal authorities, the Iranian people who do want change fear that, just as in 2009, any such demands will be met by crackdowns, imprisonment, torture and death.

 

Islam and Shari’a are their answer to human rights

What makes the Javad-Sadeq Larijani’s take on human rights more intriguing is their belief that a better approach to human rights can be found in Islamic laws and traditions. This is Sadeq’s take on the future of human rights in the world: “The Judiciary will not take notice of irrational words and lies and will resolutely continue its work, because we believe that the highest human rights values are recognized in Islam…many of the issues raised on the pretext of human rights, including opposing the death penalty, are in fact in opposition to Islam, because Qisas (retribution) is clearly stipulated in the Quran”. Furthermore, he states that Islam “enjoys very rich and productive resources in the field of human rights” which can “counter” Western thoughts on human rights” and that  “Islamic human rights seeks to redeem the human dignity“.

Javad not only echoes his brother’s emphasis on “Qisas” (“Qisas is very beautiful and important“) he also has a lot to say about Islam’s, and Iran’s, role in redefining human rights in the future: “Islamic human rights” should be the “true face” of human rights since Islam is a “comprehensive” and “universal” religion. Furthermore he stated earlier this year that “a new model for public sphere is emerging: representative democracy based on Islamic rationality (and that Iran’s political establishment is) a democratic polity based on Islamic rationality rather than secular-liberal rationality”.

The problem is the judiciary in Iran works hand-in-hand with the IRGC, the Basij, the ministry of Intelligence and the police authorities in defining charges for “crimes” which, based from an Islamic perspective, Qisas is a legitimate response. Charges such as “enmity against God”, “foreign influence/interference”, “insulting the prophet/the Supreme Leader/the president/the regime”, “corruption on Earth” and “acting against national security” are levelled against anyone who criticizes the regime in any way by actions, words or art. So if someone draws a satirical drawing of Khamenei, he or she can legally be executed or at least sent to jail for a few years. How exactly do these laws “redeem human dignity”? How do these laws represent the “highest human rights values”?

And what about Islam’s ability to become the “true face” of human rights? Such a boast depends precisely on just how “comprehensive” and how “universal” Islam really is as a religion. The regime, with Ali Khamenei, its Supreme Leader at its head, have a glorious vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” in which Islam will replace Western/European/US/Chritian values and ideals with those of Islam, and specifically, those of Shi’ite/Iranian Islam. If as Khamenei claimed, “now, it’s our turn” and this “New Islamic Civilization” will take over the world creating a “century of Islam”, the words of the Larijani brothers may turn out to be prophetically true. But how realistic is such a vision when infighting between Shi’ites and Sunnis are more prevalent than conflicts between Muslims and the West? And what about Asian religions and culture? Will a billion Chinese and a billion Hindus also become Muslims? Will all the Christian in the world become Muslims as well? And what about atheists? No, Khamenei is placing the proverbial cart before the horse here and the chances of such a global movement ever coming to fruition are minimal.

For now, Sadeq has offered to hold international talks on human rights: “I suggest that the (Judiciary’s) Human Rights Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council pave the way for talks with European countries (on human rights)” but that the US must be excluded from any such discussions because “Americans are only after deception” and that “We also have things to say about human rights in Europe. We have questions and views about Europe’s approach toward humans, Islamophobia in Europe, and France’s ban on hijab”.

Yes, there is a possibility that the Larijani brothers really believe, deep in their hearts, that Islam is the best source of a new global human rights charter. And if they are, one must admire them for such a belief. But the chances are that the motive to present Islam as the “true face” of human rights has a huge political agenda for them – it is the perfect solution to 1) continue to abuse human rights an disregarding any criticism or pressure and to 2) call on other countries who are abusing human rights to do the same.

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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Iranian hardline backlash results in rise of floggings

The state of human rights in Iran is actually going from bad to worse: execution rates, politically motivated arrests and imprisonments, prolonged imprisonments without trials, denial of access to lawyers and sham trials, denial of medical treatment to prisoners, persecution of minorities and floggings and amputations…all are on the rise.

All of these cruel punishments reflect the insensitivity of the regime to the demands of the Iranian people and the fear that the regime experiences from any prospect of change that would weaken the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. To make matters worse, all of these punishments run, in fact, counter to the constitution of Iran and/or counter to international laws which Iran has formally and legally accepted – Flogging is banned by international law as a form of torture.

The latest cases of floggings offer a clear indication as to the stubborn, inhumane and even desperate nature of the regime which are backlashing the popular vote of “moderate” and “reformist” elements in the government and in parliament. These hardliners are viciously reacting to signs of change in the hope of preserving the status quo. These floggings should be stopped for two simple reasons: a) physical punishments such as these should be banned world-wide because of their inhumanity, b) most of the cases of floggings are politically motivated and are not administered to hardened criminals and c) the judicial system in Iran is inherently flawed and many of these “criminals” do not have the luxury of a “fair trial”..

 

Real people and real suffering

Here are a few of the known and prominent cases of floggings in Iran:

Other cases include Christian converts and Baha’is for being despised minorities, political prisoners and their relatives for criticizing the regime, artists who crave creative freedom, young ravers who want to dance and party, fashion models who dared to share pictures of themselves without hijabs, dog owners in Tehran walking their dogs, people chewing gum during Ramadan etc…Notice that these aren’t murderers or rapists but are men and women who, in another country, would not even be arrested let alone flogged.

For a full list of floggings in Iran (7,440 cases from 1999 up until 2013), please visit this site and make sure to look for offences of “morality/religious”, “political/speech” and the ubiquitous “other/unknown”. And if you want to get an idea as to the laws regarding flogging in Iran, you might want to visit this site.

 

The politics of floggings

The regime in Tehran continues to claim that there is no problem of human rights at all in Iran. The narrative from Tehran on this issue is two-pronged: a) human rights cannot be judged by global standards but should be viewed on a local context according to the laws of the state and b) the pressure by the West on Iran in regards to the state of human rights is baseless since it is politically motivated. The first point, the global-local perspective, is understandable – citizens of a country enjoy rights that are accorded by the governments that they chose. The problem is that most of these travesties of justice are actually in contradiction with the Iranian constitution and/or international laws which Iran has formally and legally accepted. The second point, the politicization of human rights, is equally understandable – the West is pressuring the regime politically to improve the human rights of its citizens but that doesn’t mean that the numerous infringements of human rights in Iran are not real.

It seems counter-intuitive that human rights would deteriorate following the elections of “moderates” and “reformists” in the government and in parliament and following the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1. If most of the Iranian people voted for a “moderate” president and “reformist” MP’s, would it not be logical that social changes would follow? The answer to this question is the Iranian standard “yes” and “no”. It is precisely because of the popular vote of the people for change that the hardline elements in the regime, from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei through to the hardline politicians and mullahs and the governing bodies of the regime (the IRGC, the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, the Basij etc…). The backlash against Rouhani and his nuclear deal is being paid by the Iranian civilians who felt that the times were “a-changing” only to find that the promises of some politicians had changed but the tone of the regime remained the same.

 

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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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Amnesty on Iran’s Flawed Judicial Processes

Last week, Amnesty issued a report which blasted Iran’s legal structures. The 87 page report can be summarized in one word, “INADEQUATE”, but anyone interested in Iran’s human rights should read the whole report to get an idea of just how inadequate Iran’s legal system really is.

The bottom line is that although the constitution in Iran clearly states that all Iranians are equal under the law and that they all have the right to a fair trial, the reality is that the judicial system Iran is filled with by laws which effectively cancel these constitutional rights and that Iranians who are suspected of crimes which are anti-Islamic or anti-regime are legally deprived of their constitutional rights.

Following are the summaries of the basic flaws ingrained within the judicial system as outlined in the report:

  • Legally Undefendable Crimes: One of the biggest problems within Iran’s judicial system is the ability to define crimes that, although purposefully vague, are the basis to extinguish the rights of the accused. Crimes defined as “insulting Islamic sanctities”, “insulting the Prophet of Islam”, “enmity against God”, “corruption on earth”, “apostasy”, national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” are definite “go to jail” crimes that are punishable by death and that “legally” allow the system to deprive the defendants of their constitutional rights. These “crimes” are slapped on to anyone who criticizes Islam or the regime, including journalists, artists, bloggers, lawyers, activists, religious minority leaders, politicians etc…Once such a crime has been defined, the chances of acquittal dropt to a near zero percent.
  • Legalized Illegal Arrests: Although the constitution and criminal codes of law offer many rights to people who are arrested, in reality, these rights can easily be circumvented. Suspects don’t have the right to an explanation of their arrest or of their rights. They don’t enjoy the right to be brought before a judge but can file a complaint to the investigator and they can be held in jail before trial for up to two years. They can be denied of their rights to access a lawyer indefinitely and can be forced to choose a lawyer from a restricted list supplied by the investigator. Furthermore, lawyers are forbidden to “intervene in court until “the end of the investigations” and can be forbidden to speak during interrogations of the suspect. Detentions prior to formal charges can be extended legally up to one month but the detention can be extended by a judge without further explanation. Meetings with lawyers can also be monitored and the defendant has little room to demand for more time to present an adequate defense. And if you happen to be a foreign national, the rights to communicate with representatives of your government are non-existent.
  • Limited Ability to Fight Back: The law in Iran allows for defendants to file suits demanding reparations only in regards to the conviction itself. This means that defendants can’t sue for the treatment they received during their arrest, detention or incarceration, however horrible it may have been. To make things worse, the law precludes the option for reparation in cases where defendants refused to provide evidence to prove their innocence or if they were arrested for another legal reason or if they “facilitated the conditions of their own arrest” for illegitimate reasons. These broad definitions in fact minimize the chance of defendants who were wrongly accused, wrongly arrested, wrongly imprisoned and, of course, wrongly mistreated to ever obtain financial or other forms of compensation.
  • Torture is not a Crime: Although various forms of torture such as flogging, amputation, blinding, gouging eyes etc…are legal forms of punishment, torturing a suspect or a prisoner is not a crime. Detainees of “special crimes” often undergo torture, ill-treatment, humiliation and degradation before and after their trials and have no legal way to prosecute their torturers. Torture is actually legalized by the constitution “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information” which has led to the use of torture to elicit forced and public confessions. Sexual harassment of the defendants by state officials also falls in legal grey areas: If a defendant was raped by a state official while under detention or incarceration, he or she may file a lawsuit as in any other case of rape but cases of “minor” sexual harassment such as forced nakedness, kissing, groping etc…have no chance of being brought to trial.
  • Partial Impartiality Under the Law: The constitution itself allows the courts to be partial to selected groups of people: women are legally discriminated in courts (their rights are legally half of their male counterparts) as are non-Muslims. But the partiality of the court begins with the judges themselves: women and minorities cannot become judges and judges can be dismissed based on anti-Islamic or anti-regime behavior. Once the trial is underway, it can be arbitrarily held behind closed doors and confessions, forced or real, hold more weight than evidence which is obtained legally or illegally. Even appeals are treated with partiality since the decision of the higher court may be reversed by the original court which issued the conviction. Furthermore, a defendant doesn’t have the rights de facto to be present during his/her own trial.
  • Sex is Punishable by Death: While Iranian leaders continue to deny this fact, it is not only illegal to be gay in Iran, it is punishable by death. Strangely enough, in the case of male homosexuals, the law differentiates between active and passive partners when it comes to the punishment: Passive homosexuals are to be punished by death while active homosexuals are punished by flogging unless the intercourse is by force or the active homosexual is no-Muslim. Female homosexuality is punished by flogging but in cases of both men and women, gays who are repeat offenders (convicted 4 times) face the death penalty. Illicit relations between men and women, including “kissing and sleeping under one cover” is punishable by flogging or the death penalty.

The report goes into many details regarding each of the inadequacies but the point becomes clearer with each sentence: the judicial system in Iran is intrinsically flawed and the freedoms outlined in the constitution are repeatedly and easily trampled on through sub laws or laws that allow the investigative and judicial authorities leeway to do so.

What makes this report harder to swallow is that all of these trampled freedoms continue to occur under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a self-proclaimed and internationally branded “moderate” who promised to increase the freedoms of Iranians. And if you think that after Supreme Leader and hardliner Ali Khamenei passes on things might get better, it might be worthwhile to remember that the leading candidate to replace him is none other than Iran’s judicial chief Sadeq Larijani who also happens to be the brother of Iran’s chief of human rights, Javad Larijani. In other words, change can not be expected to happen in the near future,

 

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Tehran Redefines Human Rights

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, issued another scathing report on  the state of human rights there. He does mention that Tehran is “cooperating” but there seems to be no real change for the better for the oppressed there.

Although some would like to believe that human rights should be independent of community, nationality, geography, religion and culture, the reality is that human rights remain relative to the person judging the situation. In fact, the biggest problem of discussing the state of human rights is agreeing on what are basic human rights. Without a common definition, any discussion is bound to deteriorate into arguments on how to define human rights and accusations of politicization and arrogance on either side.

Tehran under Rouhani has mastered the art of redefining issues in order to fit its worldview and aspirations:

  • Tehran redefined terrorism by fighting ISIS, thereby covering up its own support of terrorism all over the world.
  • Tehran redefined subversion as “help” to neighboring countries, thereby acquitting itself of being the biggest meddlers in the Middle East.
  • Tehran redefined oppression to mean the conduct of the “arrogant powers” (US/West), thereby side-stepping the regime’s oppression of Iranians.
  • And…Tehran redefined human rights according to Islamic Sharia law, thereby absolving itself of Western standards of human rights.

Any criticism of the state of human rights in Iran is usually answered by Tehran with indifference coupled with accusations of double standards and of politicization of the issue by its enemies and although there may be some credit to such accusations from Tehran, the fact remains that Tehran is a serial abuser of human rights by Western standards: Women, gays, religious minorities, political dissidents and anyone who isn’t in complete acceptance of the Islamic/Sharia laws are doomed to be oppressed, harassed, imprisoned, tortured or hanged.

Shaheed knows this only too well: Every report he issued was dismissed, vilified, criticized and politicized by Tehran and he himself is banned from entering the country.

Here are some issues of human rights which have been redefined by the regime – you be the judge whether these rights should be universal or interpreted locally.

 

Redefining Journalism as Spying

Iran ranks second, after China, for jailing (and harassing) reporters and journalists. Jason Rezaian is just one such reporter although the fact that he holds dual American/Iranian citizenships, that he works for the Washington Post and that his imprisonment and trial occurred in conjunction with the nuclear deal hammered out with Tehran makes him “special”.

Rezaian had been working in Iran since 2008, corresponding for WaPo on Iran. During these years he wrote numerous articles on Iranian culture and economics and met with leading Iranian politicians. In July 2014, he and his journalist wife, Yeganeh Salehi, were picked up by the Iranian authorities and incarcerated. The charges were not clear for a long time and ranged from propaganda to spying. Salehi was released but Rezaian was to remain in jail for 447 days until the verdict of guilty of spying (details of his sentence are still secret). During this time, Rezaian’s communication with the outside world and even with his lawyer was limited and information about his trial leaked out from the closed-door trial infrequently.

The negotiations surrounding the nuclear deal turned Rezaian into a pawn by hardliners who used him to attack Rouhani’s more liberal attitudes to the West as well as a pawn by FM Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani: Zarif, who was focused on the nuclear deal not only tried to defend Rezaian’s imprisonment (“We do not jail people for their opinions“), he, along with Rouhani (“I do not believe that an individual would be detained or put in prison for being a journalist“) hinted at the possibility of a prisoner swap which was quickly buried following Khamenei’s criticism on the issue.

To this day, Rezaian maintains his innocence and that he was only doing his job without any ulterior motives to hurt the regime. The case of Rezaian represents numerous abuses of human rights in regards to fair trials, due process, politicization of “criminal” cases etc… and his future looks bleak.

 

Redefining Satire as Propaganda and a Handshake as Adultery

Being a satirist in Iran is fine unless if the satire is aimed at the regime. 28 year old Iranian artist Athena Farghadani knows this too well and is now paying dearly for her efforts at satirizing the Iranian parliament over the issue of birth control: following discussions in parliament regarding banning birth control in an effort to increase the birth-rate in Iran (a directive straight form Khamenei), Farghadani drew a satirical cartoon of the Iranian parliament as animals and posted her cartoon on facebook and was picked up by the authorities in August 2014. After three months she was released and then re-imprisoned 6 weeks later. She was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time,  interrogated brutally for 9 hours a day, was forced to strip naked in front of the prison guards and was verbally and physically abused repeatedly. Her “crime” was described by the Iranian courts as an “insult” to the MP’s, to the IRGC and to Khamenei himself and she was finally convicted to 12 years in jail in June 2015.

As in Rezaian’s case, Farghadani had limited communications with the outside world, including her lawyer – in fact, a handshake with her lawyer brought up new charges against her for sexual misconduct which led to having to take a “virginity test” which could lead to an extension of her sentence.

Farghadani was sentenced It’s not that Tehran doesn’t appreciate satirical cartoons – in fact, Iran Cartoon, a site supported by the municipality of Tehran continuously invite artists to submit their satires in contests and exhibition on a wide range of issues including Saudi aggression in Yemen, questioning/denying the Holocaust,  the plight of Syrian immigrants in Europe, fighting ISIS etc…all fine and good as long as the target of the satire is not connected to the regime in any way. Tehran’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre was exemplary in its accusations against the artists: unanimous: freedom of speech is permitted as long as it doesn’t target the prophet Mohammad, Islam or the Iranian regime.

 

Redefining Women as Corruptors

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Iranian women may represent half of the population of Iran but they are continuously being mistreated under the harsh Sharia laws of Islam. Women are not equal to men under Islamic law in many respects and gender segregation is legally supported in Iran: women are not allowed to watch sports at stadiums, to perform on stage in front of men or to even to attend concerts with men in the audience.

Ghoncheh Ghavami, a young British-Iranian woman activist was arrested for attending a volley-ball game on charges of propaganda and spying only to be released after 17 months (but forced to remain in Iran for at least 2 years).

Furthermore, Iranian women have to adhere to strict dress-code laws which allow the authorities to fine women who are not adequately covered by their hijabs, for wearing make-up or “forbidden” sunglasses, for thin stockings or short socks or wearing clothes with “forbidden” symbols. The legal punishment for these crimes is a monetary fine or jail  but their fate is infinitely worst if they are apprehended by the “anti-corruption” enforcers, usually Basij or Hezbollah volunteers: These men base their legitimacy on laws to enforce dress-codes and are eager to do their part to oppress women. They patrol the streets, harass women who do not meet strict dress-code rules and, in some case, throw acid at the faces of “offenders”. Why? Because women without “proper” hijab are seen to “oppress” men by sexually arousing them and therefore justify being raped. For them, women who do not adhere to strict Sharia laws are provocative “prostitutes” at best and “devils” at worst.

And what do the Iranian authorities have to say about these “fashion police” militias: timid denouncements and silent encouragement: Rouhani may have denounced the acid throwing sprees last year but since then none of the acid throwers were caught.

As the nuclear deal begins to take effect, the regime is justifiably terrified that it will open the doors for new ideas which may empower women to finally demand for equal rights – the big question remains whether Rouhani will side with the regime or with the women.

 

Redefining Criticism as a Sin

Criticizing the regime, its leaders or Islam, is not only illegal in Iran, it is now a sin. This may sound naïve and inconsequential to a Westerner but Iranian courts take the issue of sin very seriously with punishments that can lead to death sentences. This means that anyone who openly criticizes or opposes the regime may find himself/herself hanging from a crane.

Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi posted a criticism of the prophet and of Khamenei on his facebook page and was subsequently picked up by Iranian authorities in November 2013 for “insulting” the prophet and Khamenei: In December 2014, he was sentenced to death for his “crimes” but his sentence was miraculously commuted in September 2015 – apart from the jail time that he has served since being picked up, he will serve another two years studying Islam and another seven and half years for insulting Khamenei.

But Arabi is not alone in finding his freedom curtailed for opposing the regime: during the 2009 elections, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi led the “Green Movement” against Mahmud Ahmadinejad and made the mistake of claiming that the election results were tampered with. Khamenei ruled that the elections were legitimate and Ahmadinejad became president. For two years, the two men were kept under the scrutiny of the Iranian authorities and in 2011, following the rumbles of the Arab spring and the growing criticism by the two for the unelected regime, they were de facto forced to house arrest where they remain to this date. None of them were tried in court and have not even been officially accused. This may actually save their lives because if they were tried they would probably be sentenced to death for the “unforgivable sin” of “corrupting the earth” with their presence.

Iranians who want to oppose the regime are forced to do so in secret or whispered tones for fear of hearing that fateful knock at the door which will end their freedoms and since they understand that the courts are stacked against them, they might find that their criticism also means an end to their lives.

 

Redefining Abuses as Rights

larijaniThe list of oppressions by the regime to “offending” Iranians goes on and on and includes religious minorities (specially Baha’is and Christians), gays, dissenters living abroad, pet owners etc…The crimes of these Iranians may be diverse but are viewed by the regime as one crime: not adhering to Islamic Sharia laws. These “offenders” are tried under Islamic laws which place journalists and bloggers on par with murderers and rapists under the death penalty laws. These “offenders” would not even be deemed offenders in the West in countries which value personal human rights. The UN regularly produces scathing reports on the numerous cases of abuses of human rights in Iran but these reports are immediately dismissed by the Iranian authorities as irrelevant or politicized. Javad Larijani,  the Iranian chief of human rights, prefers to simply ignore any criticism and to lie with a straight face. According to him, Iran has no problems of human rights, that the “will of the people” is being upheld, that there is no discrimination of any kind, that women and Baha’is are protected, that all Iranians are equal under the law, that there are no cases of arbitrary arrests or torture etc… Listening to him, Iran is a haven for personal freedoms and all of the prisoners of conscience simply do not exist.

Rouhani became president through his promises to carry out drastic changes in Iran – he may have succeeded in his foreign policy but he has failed dismally on the issues of human rights. Perhaps he is not to blame since he values his political career and his own personal freedoms enough to not anger the regime too much but the reality is such that the abuses of human rights have increased under his presidency.

As the nuclear deal opens Iran up to foreign investment, foreign influence and foreign tourists, the time has come to decide whether to believe Larijani or to believe the thousands of cases of people whose rights were brutally curtailed because of “crimes” against the regime or against Islam. Now is the time to either accept the regime’s abuses of human rights as local interpretations which are not related to the basic human rights awarded by Western countries or to stand up to the regime and call for a fundamental change in how human rights are treated in Iran.

 

 

No Expected Changes in Upcoming UPR on Iran

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The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to review the state of human rights in 42 states once every 4.5 years. Its recommendations are handed over to the reviewed country which can either accept them or not. The working group in charge of the UPR is composed of UN members, including the State under Review (SuR), but is open also to relevant NGO’s.

The next UPR on Iran is scheduled for the 31st of October.

Iran implements 2.3% of all recommendation from last UPR

In the last UPR on Iran from 2010, a total of 212 recommendations were placed by 51 countries – Iran accepted 126 recommendations.

To date, it has implemented 5 and partially implemented another 30. The unimplemented recommendations represent the suffering of Iranians under a regime which does not tolerate human rights. You can find an interactive map of all recommendations here.

GRAPH

The lack of implementation doesn’t come as a big surprise for people interested in human rights in Iran but it should shake up a bit the supporters of the regime in Iran. More importantly, it should serve as a clear mirror to shatter the hypocrisy of Iranian leaders who keep on denying that the regime in Tehran is a serial offender of human rights.

Two people who should answer to the UPR but won’t

Two people in particular should have to answer openly to the UPR on Iran.

The first is Javad Larijani, Iran’s human rights chief.

Unfortunately, he systematically denies any problem of human rights in Iran, believes that being gay is a sickness and condones the use of torture, stoning and hanging because they are an integral part of Sha’ariah law. He also denies the existence of political prisoners, religious persecution, and basically any reports of human rights violations in Iran. Based on his modem operandi, he will probably evade and/or deny all accusations and follow up with accusations of his own that the UPR is political and does not accept the cultural and religious laws on which the Islamic Republic of Iran was born.

Chances are, he will evade, deny, accuse and rant profusely and won’t come even close to accept, answer or change anything that turns up in the review.

The second person who should answer to the UPR is President Rouhani.

Rouhani, pegged early on as a moderate, won his presidency on a ticket of change in foreign policy and human rights.

He did live up partially to half of his promises: His open foreign policy led to the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 and to an unceasing list of foreign delegations of diplomats and businessmen to Tehran who are eager for sanctions to be lifted in order to make money…lots of money. The result of his efforts is evident in a big boost in the economy as well as numerous political and economic deals within and outside of the framework of the sanctions.

Unfortunately, Rouhani’s interior policy doesn’t live up to his promises and can be summed up in one word: silence. Rouhani has, for over a year, managed to dodge any questions regarding human rights violations in Iran even when faced with mounting evidence of abuses including state-promoted gender segregation, the highest rate of hangings to date, brutal cases of torture, amputations and floggings, imprisonment of political opponents and journalists, persecution of religious women, gays and religious minorities, clamping down on the freedom of speech and use of the internet and on and on and on.

Here’s a video which outlines the gap between his rhetoric and the reality in Iran.

He has remained silent to date and will probably remain silent.

On human rights and WMD’s

The violations of human rights in Iran and the repeated denials of the regime in Tehran symbolize not only the suffering of the Iranian people but also testify to the regime’s insistence to live according to its own perceptions with total disregard to international norms. The regime in Tehran is not open to criticism from within or from without and prefers to work only through the principles of the Islamic Revolution and the word of their Supreme Leader Khamenei.

It is this mindset that has led to the impasse on Tehran’s nuclear program as a result of multiple accounts of breaches of IAIA requirements and a low level of transparency. The growing suspicions on a military aspect to the nuclear program led to the crippling sanctions which, in a way, brought on the presidency of Rouhani and the need to negotiate. Some commentators believe that Rouhani is focusing first on his foreign policy and that once he inks a nuclear deal he will try to make right on his promises for better human rights. Maybe…or maybe the regime will continue to thumb its nose at its people and the world.