Rouhani under heavy fire from all sides

Since he was elected, President Hassan Rouhani has been the target of repeated attacks from hardline elements in the regime but lately, the pressure against him is building up dramatically, culminating in a harsh criticism by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The attacks are based on two main themes:

  • The nuclear deal: Hardliners are bashing Rouhani for signing the deal which although has brought Iran in from its isolation, the economic benefits of the deal are still far from being fulfilled.
  • Internal politics: Rouhani’s open criticism of hardline elements in regards to freedom of speech, regime corruption, women’s rights and political opposition is exasperating hardliners who want to maintain the status quo at all costs.

Let’s start with Khamenei since his criticism holds more weight than all the other critics together. Although Khamenei allowed Rouhani to lead Tehran into the JCPoA, he always did so reluctantly. The nuclear deal’s weaknesses from Khamenei’s perspective is twofold: 1) the nuclear deal opens Iran to the influence/”infiltration” of all countries who want to trade with Tehran and 2) the JCPoA has forced Tehran to deal with the Great Satan, the US, which is contrary to Khamenei’s revolutionary ideals. The issue of foreign infiltration, or as Khamenei calls it “the soft war”, is not a clear cut issue since Khamenei has no real qualms in dealing with non-Western countries such as Russia, China, India, Azerbaijan etc…What he is really worried about is specifically Western infiltration from the EU and, of course, from the US. His fear from the EU is also not too well defined since it depends on just how much EU countries support the US and Israel. But Khamenei’s harshest criticism of Rouhani is based on relations with the US. During the negotiations, Khamenei issued several “red lines” to Rouhani and his negotiators and one of them was to not deal with the US on any subject apart from the JCPoA. At the same time, he banned 227 American brands from entering the Iranian market and has never stopped from aiming his fiery rhetoric at the US on issues of human rights, the use of sanctions, supporting terrorism, the presidential elections etc…

The US congress’s vote to extend non-nuclear sanctions against Iran have triggered Khamenei’s latest attack on the US and on Rouhani as well: “The West side is not committed to this agreement, while some Iranian officials rushed to sign it“. Of course, Rouhani spearheads the list of “some Iranian officials” but in a way, this attack is definitely petty on Khamenei’s part since the nuclear deal would not have been signed without his express approval. Khamenei then goes on to criticize the sanctions themselves: “There is no difference between imposing a new ban or resuming one that has lapsed, the second is an explicit negation of what has been agreed upon previously by the Americans”. Here, it seems that Khamenei hasn’t read the JCPoA since the nuclear deal specifies the removal of nuclear-related sanctions but not any other sanctions that are related to different aspects of the regime such as human rights and supporting terror and therefore the renewed sanctions do not breach the nuclear agreement in any way. Khamenei only has himself to blame for this since during negotiations, the US tried to include issues such as human rights and terrorism within the deal only to be told that the JCPoA is to be focused on Iran’s nuclear program and nothing more.

But Khamenei is not alone in trying to attack Rouhani’s strategy of “constructive engagement” with the West.

Hossein Shariatmadari, Khamenei’s representative at the powerful Kayhan institute openly challenged Rouhani to “name one of the 100 sanctions (that) have been lifted” following Rouhani’s call to focus on the “100” sanctions that had been lifted instead of focusing on the sanctions that weren’t. He also pointed to the contradiction of sanctions being lifted while major international banks continue to stay at arm’s length form Iran despite the fact that they are doing so not out of fear from US sanctions but because of FATF rules which continued to place Iran within the category of a country which supports terrorism and because of the uncertainty of the Iranian economy. Shariatmadari opposition to Rouhani comes as no surprise since he has been adamantly opposed to the nuclear deal from day one. In fact, he openly endorsed Trump: “The wisest plan of the crazy Trump is tearing up the JCPOA…The JCPOA is a golden document for the US but is considered nothing except humiliation and a loss for Iran”. On both counts, Shariatmadari is way off target: the JCPoA is definitely not a “golden document” for the US since the US has not gained in any way from the nuclear deal and it is hard to see how Tehran is humiliated by the hundreds of diplomats and trade delegations which have landed in Tehran since the signing of the nuclear deal.

Shariatmadari’s criticism of Rouhani is echoed by the IRGC as well: Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative at the IRGC attacked Rouhani with a more religious overtones: He accuses Rouhani of “making (too many) concessions to America but then adds that Rouhani is “Godless”, is “unfamiliar” with prayer and lacks an understanding of the Quran. Such attacks are very dangerous in Tehran since the religious overtones are bound to attract the hot-headed hardliners who act from a purely religious view. The fact that Shirazi is an IRGC man is also a key factor here since the IRGC was against the nuclear deal from day one.

Rouhani’s efforts at eradicating corruption and the promotion of the freedom of speech has earned him yet another powerful political enemy: The chief of the Judiciary, Sadeq Larijani. Before we get into the nature of this clash, it is noteworthy that Larijani has two brothers who are also a part of the regime: Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) and Javad Larijani, the chief of human rights. Larijani, a hardliner who is one of the candidates to become a Supreme Leader after Khamenei passes away has always been critical of any efforts by Rouhani to bring about changes in the sphere of internal affairs and the two have had some minor clashes in the past. But now, Larijani has raised his criticism to a much higher level based on two separate issues: Rouhani has called for an investigation into 63 bank accounts under Larijani’s name which are suspected to have been used to funnel corrupted money to Larijani and others. Larijani denies any wrong doing, claiming that the bank accounts are “by no means personal and belonged to the Judiciary as a government branch” but the allegations have hit a raw nerve. In fact, the situation has been aggravated by the fact that Khamenei has refused to even talk to Larijani since these allegations were exposed.

The second issue in the latest war between Rouhani and Larijani concerns Ali Motahari, a relatively liberal MP who is also the deputy-speaker of the Majlis. Motahari was all set to deliver a speech in Mashhad in the province of Khorasan Razavi but his speech was cancelled the night before by the local prosecutor general without explanation. The cancelled speech sparked a massive social media campaign and Motahari quickly penned an open letter to Rouhani demanding to know how the prosecutor was empowered to cancel his speech: “Please clarify who rules Khorasan Razavi province: the governor, or the prosecutor-general and the Friday prayer leader?“. The governor of Mashhad was then dismissed and Motahari proceeded to file a lawsuit against the prosecutor general claiming that the judiciary had “blocked the execution of the constitution and individual freedoms”. Enter Rouhani who instructs his interior and justice ministers to investigate the issue and lamented that “some people want to shut the mouths (of their critics) and lay the ground for radicalism and discord within society”. Larijani took this as a personal attack on the judiciary and on himself and was quick to respond: “The President’s conduct who had responded to Mashhad event by calling the situation ‘source of shame,’ is violation of his duties as president…unfair remarks using the Parliament as the media would reserve strong decision to investigate why such unfounded allegations are voiced in the Parliament”.

Within one week, Rouhani has been attacked by the Supreme Leader and two of his representatives at the Kayhan institute and the IRGC as well as by the judiciary. And some believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg and such attacks on Rouhani will only increase as the elections approach. With so much pressure around him, Rouhani needs to make the Iranian people believe that his presidency, which brought on the nuclear deal, should be awarded four more years to continue to steer Tehran towards diplomatic and economic engagement with the world instead of the isolation that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad created.

 

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Regime in Tehran covers up rapes by Quran reciter

Saeed Toosi is a renowned Quran reciter in Iran and judging from a quick search in Google, he seems to be famous all over the world for his skills at reciting the Quran. But Googling “Saeed Toosi” today will focus more on the fact that he is being accused by no less than 19 men – 4 of whom have formally accused Toosi while the others have not yet made formal charges – of being raped when they were 12-14 years old. These victims were all pupils of Toosi and the rapes took place over 7 years.  But the big issue, beyond the traumas of the victims, is that the regime in Tehran, beginning with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is doing its utmost to save Toosi and to criminalize his victims.

According to the accusations, Toosi molested his students on trips they would take to Quranic contests outside of Iran – there he would book rooms with the children and proceed to rape them. Since most of these boys come from conservative families, many would-be accusers “let it slide” or tried to deal with the issue in a non-confronting manner, knowing that Khamenei’s open endorsement of Toosi could become problematic to say the least. By law, homosexuality and rape in Iran are capital offences which can lead to executions so Toosi should be quite fearful for his life.

Four years ago, the families of a few of the victims decided to take Toosi to court only to find that the case was dismissed by the judiciary. The reasons for the dismissal are clouded by too many different versions of the truth: some claim that the case was dismissed because Toosi had “repented”. Others claim that the case was too weak because it lacked the evidence needed to indict him. And still others claim that the accusations are simply lies by disgruntled students.

But the main theory is much more simple and much more horrifying: Toosi is a common guest of Khamenei’s Quran recitals and Khamenei described him as an “exemplary model to be followed”.  What happens when a Supreme Leader makes a mistake in character judgement? He changes the facts to maintain his judgement.

Well, some of the families decided to fight back: they took to the foreign media to state their accusation and suddenly the sordid accusations flooded the media around the world, apart from in Iran since foreign media is blocked by the regime. Some of the accusers went on video or on tape to state their claims and they published an audio tape released in which Toosi claims that “his majesty (Khamenei) told Larijani (Sadeq, the chief of judiciary) to terminate the dossier” and added that “If they try (to get rid of me), I’ll take 100 people down with me”. Toosi, by the way, denies the whole issue, claiming that the accusers are lying, but then again, Iranian authorities stated that they received a “repentance letter” from Toosi in which he admitted the crimes but claimed that “he is a changed man”.

But once the news was leaked abroad, it began to spread like wildfire on social media in Iran, especially on the hugely popular social media platform, Telegram (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc… are all banned in Iran). As Iranian media picked up on the story, the regime dug in its heels: Iran’s attorney general stated that the claims of rape were simply meant to “destroy the state’s prestige and dignity, and to call our values into question” and Larijani lashed out at the media for using Toosi’s case as “a false flag designed to attack the state and its justice system” and then threatened to prosecute any media who would publish this story and threatened to punish the victims who went to the foreign “hostile media” for being “disloyal” to the “revolution”. The well-oiled wheels of the regime turned into motion and in a flash, a serial rapist of his young pupils is safely beyond the law while his victims and their families remain helpless.

So, what’s the situation now? Toosi and his accusers continue to be shielded by the regime in an effort to bury this inconvenience. According to Mullah Ejei, a spokesman for the judiciary, the case is not yet finalized but he hinted that a prominent judge claimed that there wasn’t enough proof. Furthermore, Ejei, also joined larijani in threatening the media and added another shroud of secrecy on the case claiming that it should be “classified”.

And there you have it. A religious man, who is revered for his religious abilities, is accused of being a serial rapists of teenage boys but he is going to get away with it simply because he is well connected to the Supreme Leader who may want to avoid a religious-based scandal. And the victims? Like many other victims in Iran who find themselves opposing the regime, they are “shut down” or “eliminated” in order to save the regime the embarrassment of having to deal with the issue. That’s what the regime does to political opponents, inconvenient minorities, artists, reporters, activists etc…Anyone who is in a position to criticize or hurt the regime is automatically labeled an enemy of the state and is bound to be “shut down”.

15 reasons why Tehran hates the EU strategy report

The EU parliament finally voted and released its report on its strategy towards Iran following the implementation of the JCPoA. Most of the report is filled with good diplomatic and economic intentions and the overall strategy is based on developing a much better relationship with Tehran. The motives are clearly economical which will appeal to Hassan Rouhani’s government which is intent on increasing foreign investment into Iran but there are quite a few points in the report which the hardliners in Tehran are bound to object to.

The first to voice his objection was Javad Zarif, the chief of human rights in Iran who just happens to be the brother of Sadeq Larijani, the chief of the judiciary, and Ali Larijani, the head of parliament.

Human rights:

  1. The death penalty: “Reiterates the European Union’s strong, principled and long-standing opposition to the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances, and emphasises once again that the abolition of the death penalty is a key objective of EU human rights and foreign policy; remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty” and “notes with concern that Iran has the highest level of death-penalty executions per capita in the world” – The death penalty is an integral part of the Shariah law which is the basis for Iranian law and is, in the words of Iran’s human rights chief, Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, “opposing the death penalty, is in fact in opposition to Islam, because Qisas (retribution) is clearly stipulated in the Quran” while his brother, Javad Larijani added that “Qisas is very beautiful and important“. Since 70%-80% of the executions are drug-related, Javad is now pushing for a bill to curtail the death penalty on all drug traffickers but the death penalty will definitely survive as long as the regime is in power.
  2. Executions of juvenile offenders: “Calls on Iran to ensure that this prohibition (of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) is fully implemented and that all relevant offenders are made aware of this right; calls on Iran to declare a moratorium on the death penalty” – Apart from the general support of the entire regime for the death penalty, Tehran has executed numerous juvenile offenders, waiting until they reached the age of 18 to carry out their sentences. Zainab Sokian, a child-bride who was married at the age of 15, was convicted of murdering her husband at the age of 17, who she claims beat her repeatedly and would not allow her to divorce him, is awaiting execution after she delivered a still-born baby in jail (pregnant women cannot be executed under Iranian law.
  3. Human rights: “Respecting the rights to freedom of expression both online and offline, of opinion, of association and peaceful assembly, of thought, conscience, religion or belief and by guaranteeing in law and in practice the enjoyment by its citizens of individual, social and political rights without discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status, as provided for in these instruments; points out that this includes a basic right to equality before the law, as well as the right of equal access to education, health care and professional opportunities” – Where to start? Anyone that is not in tune with the Revolutionary and Islamic ideals of Iran is persecuted and oppressed. Anyone and everyone. That includes critics of the regime (activists, politicians, reporters, bloggers etc…), religious and ethnic minorities, women, gays etc…There is no “freedom of expression” and anyone who criticizes the regime in any manner is swiftly arrested, interrogated, imprisoned and/or executed. No pressure from the EU or the entire world can change this situation or as Javad Larijani aptly put it, the EU “lacks the competence” to tell Tehran what to do about human rights and that the EU “should know that the (Iranian) Judiciary will definitely not allow the establishment of such a den of corruption in Iran”.
  4. Gender equality: “Calls for full gender equality through measures to eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women and to ensure women’s equal participation in the labour market and in all aspects of economic, cultural, social and political life” – Gender equality doesn’t exist in Iran. Workplaces are segregated, as are sports stadiums, concert halls, cafes. Women are not even allowed to ride bikes or even sing in public. The day that women will gain full equality will be the day that the regime falls apart.
  5. Fair trials: “Expresses serious concerns that the Code does not fully guarantee international due process safeguards; calls on Iran to undertake a review of the 2014 Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees; calls on Iran to review and amend the law in order to ensure that statements elicited as a result of torture, ill‑treatment or other forms of coercion are excluded as evidence in criminal proceedings, and that all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment brought to the authorities’ attention are automatically investigated” and “calls on the judiciary to respect fair trial and due process and to grant suspects access to a lawyer” – Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution has strict guidelines to conduct fair trials, in reality, the judicial system is inherently flawed because of the relationship that it has with the Iranian authorities and most importantly, the IRGC. There are too many cases in which suspects were imprisoned for months without going to trial, were denied access to lawyers, family members and even doctors, were not even given access to the evidence presented against them. How? All these travesties of justice can usually be found when the charges against the suspects includes charges such as “working against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the state”, “spying for a hostile government”, “enemies of the state”, “terrorists”, “corrupting the earth”, “insulting the Supreme Leader/the regime/the Prophet etc…”. All of these charges allow the judicial system to bypass any efforts at offering the accused a fair trial, working on the assumption that they are guilty until proven innocent.
  6. Freedom of speech and access to information: “Considers the lack of freedom of expression online, the systemic surveillance and monitoring of internet traffic and the lack of digital freedoms to be an obstacle to trade with Iran, as well as a violation of people’s rights and freedoms” – The EU is a bit late on this track. Iran just launched its own “national internet” which will allow it to do what it has done in the past but more efficiently: monitor and block content that isn’t in tune with the regime’s Islamic or Revolutionary ideals and arrest the Iranians who are sharing such content. Sharing such content has landed many in jail including bloggers and models.
  7. Arrests of dual nationals: “Expresses grave concern over the arrest of EU-Iranian dual-nationals upon their entering Iran, and stresses that these arrests hinder the possibilities for people-to-people contacts; calls on the Iranian authorities to allow the Iranian diaspora in Europe to safely travel to their country of birth” – It is ironic that while this report was being written three American-Iranians (Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi and Reza Shahini) were sent to extended periods in jail (10, 10 and 18 respectively) and Nazanin Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian was sent to jail for 5 years. On what charges? The Americans were charged with “collaborating with a hostile government (the US) and the charges against Nazanin are “secret”. Over the past year, there have been more and more cases of dual nationals returning to Iran to visit family or to do business who were imprisoned. Some believe that they are pawns used by hardliners to bash Rouhani while others believe that they are pawns to be freed for exorbitant ransoms.
  8. Political prisoners: “Calls for the release of all political prisoners; calls on Iran to free imprisoned EU citizens who have been detained or convicted under a judicial process that did not meet international standards, including: 58-year-old Nazak Afshar, held since March 2016, 76-year-old Kamal Foroughi, held since May 2011, 65-year-old Homa Hoodfar, held since June 2016, and 37-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held since April 2016” – According to Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, there are no political prisoners in Iran, since “Iran does not jail citizens for their opinions“. They are simply prisoners who didn’t respect the law. These include foreign nationals as well as reporters and political opponents including the leaders of the failed Green Movement of 2009 who are under house arrest since 2011. Tehran even feels uncomfortable to call the 30,000 prisoners in 1988 as political prisoners, preferring to claim that they were “terrorists”.
  9. Religious minorities: “Concerned that the number of individuals imprisoned from religious minority communities or because of their beliefs has increased; calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law and that religious freedom is extended” – “Fully respected”? Ask the persecuted Sunnis and Christians who have watched their places of worship destroyed and are often raided and imprisoned. Ask the Baha’is who are denied further education, have had their business closed and lands robbed and have been imprisoned for simply being Baha’is. The only religion that is protected in Iran is Shiite Islam. All of the other religions are legally, socially and morally persecuted.
  10. Afghan refugees: “(EU) stresses the need to take concrete measures that safeguard the human rights of Afghan migrants and Afghan refugees in Iran, including their right to due process and equality before the law” – The case of the Afghan refugees is a delicate one. Iran has accepted to date approximately 3 million Afghan refugees. On the whole, their status is not on par to Iranians and many Iranian hardliners often denigrate them publicly. But, and this is a big “but”, Afghan refugees are often recruited to fight for Iran in Syria and in Iraq. The recruitment is sometimes voluntary although Afghans have complained that many of the recruits were forced to join or face prison or extradition.

Economy:

  1. Economic transparency: “(EU) stresses that for Iran to realise its economic potential, it will have to take steps to create a transparent economic environment conducive to international investment and take anti-corruption measures at all levels, particularly regarding compliance with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) addressing questions such as the cessation of financial flows to terrorist organisations” and “calls, in this regard, on Iran to ensure transparency of its financial sector and to fight corruption and money laundering, in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)” – In a country in which approximately 70% of the economy is run directly or indirectly by the state (specially through the IRGC) and is a proud state sponsor of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, such a call for transparency is simply ludicrous. The IRGC itself, including many of its generals are on Interpol lists as terrorists and since the IRGC is one of the strongest bases of the regime, there is no comprehensible way to adhere to FATF rules.

War and terror:

  1. Regional conflict and promotion of terrorism: “Calls on all the states of the region, in particular Saudi Arabia and Iran, to refrain from hostile rhetoric fuelling conflicts, action and support for hostile armed groups in the region, including the military wing of Hezbollah and Al-Nusra; expresses concern about growing militarisation in the wider region and supports efforts towards greater arms control, non-proliferation and countering terrorism” and “expresses concern at the development of Iran’s ballistic missile tests, which, despite not constituting a breach of the JCPOA, are inconsistent with the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015)” – This will be one of the main problems of Tehran in regards to the EU report since a) Tehran doesn’t consider the Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization (although it is designated as one by the West and most of the Arab world), b) the leaders in Tehran all the way up to Khamenei have consistently threatened Saudi Arabia (the Saudis are just as guilty) and c) Tehran believes that testing long-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload is a natural right. Tehran likes to call itself a champion against terrorism and an “island of stability” in the region but at the same time, it promotes terrorism, subversion and military conflicts in in the region. Just as in the story of the scorpion and the frog who drowned because of the scorpion’s nature while crossing the river, Tehran is duty-bound constitutionally to “Export the Revolution” and Hezbollah plays an important part in this ambition: it has successfully done this in Lebanon, is currently doing so in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and is trying to do so in Bahrain, Nigeria and other countries.
  2. Iran’s influence in Syria: “Regrets the fact, however, that Iranian input has to date not led to a marked improvement in the situation, and calls for it to contribute at least to further facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid to increase protection of the civilian population from attacks and to continuously seeking a long‑term solution to the conflict; notes in this context that the Assad regime in Syria has become increasingly dependent on Iran for its own survival and therefore calls on the Iranian authorities to use their leverage to bring the Syrian conflict to a peaceful conclusion” – The Assad regime, which has never held truly open elections since he inherited the post from his father in 2000, is totally dependent on Tehran. Without Tehran, Assad would have fallen years ago and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Syrians would still be alive today. Tehran has adamantly stuck with Assad and has blocked any efforts to force Assad to step down or even to call for a general election which might clear up the question of his legitimacy as the President of the Syrian people. Last week, for the first time, Zarif proposed to hold a general referendum on the issue and hopefully Assad and the Syrian rebels will agree to this.
  3. Ensuring safety in the region: “Calls for a model of EU diplomacy based on political priorities rather than religious identities and on the principle of ensuring respect, safety and security for peoples in all countries in the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestinian people” – Tehran doesn’t recognize Israel as a state and will never do so for fear of losing its ground as the Islamic Revolutionary state which has continuously stood up for the Palestinians.
  4. Israel and the Holocaust: “Strongly condemns the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and the regime’s policy of denying the Holocaust” – Tehran has continuously called for the destruction of Israel and has denied the Holocaust. This rhetoric has inflamed and justified the leaders of Israel over the years and has increased the threat of a regional or even a global war.

 

And there you have it…The EP might have thought that it has created a strategy that will help it to carve a bigger slice of the Iranian economy but it doesn’t realize three simple facts:

  • The regime is focused on maintaining the status quo and is averse to change that would negate its revolutionary ideals.
  • The regime is much more powerful than Rouhani who has claimed to be a moderate who wants to initiate change.
  • The regime would rather deal with the East (Russia, China, India etc…) than with the West (EU/US).

It’s a lose-lose situation that can only be rectified if the EU accepts the regime in Tehran “as is”, without trying to change it one iota.

Tehran beating on the drums of war

Tehran is becoming more aggressive by the day. This heightened level of aggression is manifested in incessant taunts which are meant to elicit some form of aggressive response from Tehran’s enemies which can generally be categorized as Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel, the PMOI (Iranian resistance in exile) and anyone who supports them. It’s not that any of this is totally new to Tehran but the levels of aggression have risen sharply over the past few weeks. Examples of Tehran’s increased aggressive behavior can be found on many levels:

  • Increased anti-Saudi rhetoric
  • Increased anti PMOI rhetoric and military maneuvers
  • Increased military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
  • Increased military presence in Syria and in Iraq
  • Increased talk of Russian-Iranian military alliances
  • Increased hardline speeches by Iranian “moderates”

Tehran will probably not be the first to take these aggressions to military level against any of its enemies since it prides itself on not starting wars but the increase in aggressive behavior from Tehran points to one direction: Tehran is willing to taunt enough people in order to be attacked and it feels safe enough by Moscow’s side to say and do whatever it wants.

 

More anti-Saudi rhetoric

Last week, Khamenei relaunched his tirade against Saudi Arabia with a vengeance as it became clear that neither Riyadh nor Tehran were ready to get over their differences in regards to the agreements needed to allow Iranian pilgrims into Saudi Arabia. Khamenei’s rant represented a distinct escalation and was vicious even by his standards: The Saudis, he ranted, are “oppressive”, “arrogant”, “faithless”, “blaspheming” “murderers” who are in collusion with the US and Israel and have made Saudi Arabia “unsafe” for pilgrims and for that reason, he called on Muslim countries to “fundamentally reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of the holy sites, although he didn’t offer any advice on how such a “reconsideration” is to take place.

Rouhani echoed Khamenei’s rant and called for Muslim unity (“the “Hajj period should be regarded as a chance to safeguard the interests of the Muslim Ummah and foster unity within the Islamic community”) against Saudi Arabia by calling on Muslim countries to “take coordinated actions to resolve problems and punish the Saudi government”. But he didn’t stop only at the issue of the Hajj: “If the existing problems with the Saudi government were merely the issue of the hajj… maybe it would have been possible to find a way to resolve it…Unfortunately, this government by committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism in fact shed the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen”. Finally, he added his own thoughts on his favorite subject, terrorism: “Regional stability depends on ending support for terrorism…everyone knows which countries are assisting them from inside and outside the region and which countries are supplying terrorists with weapons and armaments”. Of course, Rouhani doesn’t mention how Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, are shedding Muslim blood in “Iraq, Syria and Yemen” nor does he mention how Iran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, an organization designated by the western world and the Arab League as terrorist but designated as “shining freedom fighters” in Tehran.

And what about Javad Zarif, Tehran’s star diplomat? He joined the attack and sounded more like Khamenei than Khamenei himself: “Saudi rulers are brazen enough to openly express alliance to the Zionist regime; they have abused and taken hostage sacred Islamic shrines in line with their petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist policies in serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons; ‘stupidity,’ ‘fanaticism,’ ‘intransigence,’ and ‘unlimited wealth’ have rendered the Saudi family callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands, with a penchant for ‘beget, foster, and spread terrorism’ to plague the world and larger parts of the Middle East including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen with the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred spewed by its unexperienced rulers”. This is the same Zarif who had told an Omani minister only one week before to “abandon the illusion of rivalry” in the region. “Illusion of rivalry”? Mr. Zarif, this is no “illusion”, this is a reality in which a “cold war” developed into a series of “proxy wars” and is now in danger of developing into an all-out frontal war which is bound to engulf the whole region in flames.

The recalling theme of Riyadh’s ties to the “Zionist” cause is partly true: the main reason that Israel is warming up to diplomatic and other ties with the Gulf States is the mutual fear of Tehran. Of course, the Saudis and the Arab League will not openly endorse a firm relationship with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue isn’t dealt with but the Arab States are also cooling a bit on the Palestinian issue specifically because Tehran’s influence on Hezbollah and even Hamas continues to grow. If the gulf States are more open to dealing with Israel, Tehran can only blame itself…or perhaps, that’s exactly what Tehran wanted from day one – to place Saudi Arabia with Israel against the Palestinians.

In any case, the guys in Tehran didn’t get the support they needed from the Muslim countries, specifically, the members of the Arab League who joined Saudi Arabia’s call to Tehran to stop politicizing the Hajj. Tehran reacted in the expected manner and called again on the Arab League to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop funding terror and to stop killing civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, without mentioning, once again, its own supports for terrorist organizations and its own responsibility for the deaths of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenites.

But Tehran didn’t give up yet: Both Khamenei and Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian parliament, called for an international “fact-finding” commission to investigate last year’s disaster in Mina. But then again, no one in his right mind in Tehran would support an international fact-finding commission in regards to the 1988 systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners by the regime.

 

More military actions and rhetoric

But Tehran’s aggressive mood isn’t aimed only at Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies and the chances of the Tehran-Riyadh conflict evolving into an open war seem slim despite the constant taunts from both sides. Tehran’s enemy of preference remains the US and it has backed its fiery rhetoric against the “Great Satan” with some military taunts as well.

Tehran seems to have made a strategic decision to harass the US Navy which sends out regular patrols to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the case last year in which the Iranian navy boarded a US Navy vessel which mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters, the Iranians are now harassing US navy ships and planes in international waters and air-space: It sent some of its boats to harass US cruisers until the Americans fired some warning shots and it warned Navy pilots that they would be shot down even though they were flying in international air-space.

This may sound like a storm in a tea-cup since no harm was done, but the rhetoric from Tehran is just as taunting: the Iranians denied overstepping international laws and claimed that “the (American) claims are not only untrue, but stem from their fear of the power of the Islamic Republic’s soldiers”.

But it’s not only about military actions. Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, advised Tehran to begin developing a nuclear bomb within 48 hours and not be worried about sanctions: “we must know that we do not fear and that we are ready”. Ready for what? For more sanctions? For a war? A world war?

Up until now, Tehran has always placed great emphasis on the fact that its army was for defensive purposes and as such, strengthening the army’s capabilities was a natural right since it’s meant to defend itself. This frame of thought is in tune with Tehran’s pride in not initiating a war or invading a country in centuries but this logic comes apart in regards to the numerous long-range missile tests and the numerous countries in which Iranian armies or its proxies are actively fighting – specifically in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Tehran’s military activities in all these countries is growing, not diminishing as can be viewed from the growing number of Iranian troops fighting in Syria and in Iraq and from the continuous presence of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s star chief of its elite Qods unit, in the battlefields.

And then, But Khamenei issued a statement in which he stressed that Iran’s “defensive and offensive capabilities” is an “inalienable and clear right”. The addition of the “offensive” to the “defensive” was a first for Khamenei. Why did he choose to stress the offensive capabilities of Iran’s army now?

 

Why now?

Timing is everything and now seems to be an ideal time for Tehran to become more aggressive.

On the one hand, Tehran is frustrated with the ongoing wars in Syria and in Yemen which do not seem close to a victorious end for Iran but on the other hand, Tehran enjoys an unparalleled support of Russia in many levels – both of which explain the rise in aggressive behavior.

Furthermore, Tehran’s growing conflict with Riyadh is creating a situation in which all countries with any connection to the region have to take sides and on the whole, the Arab countries chose to ally themselves with Saudi Arabia.

And then there’s the issue of the West’s support of the PMOI, the growing exiled Iranian resistance which is creating a lot of tension within the regime.

Finally, Tehran is gearing up for the next presidential elections and Khamenei’s hardline tone is being echoed by hardliners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is calling for a redefine “revolutionary ideals” and is forcing Rouhani to become more hardline if he wants to win a second term.

But perhaps the single element which is most instrumental in increasing Tehran’s aggression is Khamenei himself, or more specifically, the legacy that Khamenei wants to leave after his death. The nuclear deal that Rouhani brokered together with Zarif might have achieved its initial purpose in lifting nuclear-related sanctions and allowing Tehran to openly ally itslef with other countries.

But the nuclear deal did not sit easily with Khamenei who kept on stressing his “red lines” only to watch some of his “red lines” crossed. The further complications with non-nuclear sanctions only increased Khamenei’s distaste for signing a deal with the “Great Satan”.

And then, there is his cherished vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” and a “New Islamic Civilization” which is slipping away from him at a time when his health is deteriorating and his death is approaching. For Khamenei, now is the time to instill in Iran the pride of his Revolutionary Ideals and take on the world because the last thing that he will want to be remembered for is that Tehran capitulated to the Western powers under him..

Will Iran finally unleash its aggression? Will it attack Saudi Arabia or make a run for a nuclear bomb? Will Russia continue to support Tehran in these cases? No one really knows but one fact is certain: Tehran has had enough of being aggressive under cover and too many people in Tehran are itching for a war…specially its Supreme Leader, Khamenei.

 

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Tehran should practice what it preaches

Call it double standards, different perspectives, politics, hypocrisy, Taqiyya or lies…the rhetoric that’s coming out of Tehran is loaded with messages which makes one want to blurt out “right back at you” or “why don’t you take a look in the mirror”. It’s as if the leaders in Tehran live in a vacuum and are totally disconnected from the realities as viewed by the rest of the world, especially the Western and the Arab world.

They redefine concepts such as “terrorism”, “foreign policy” and “human rights” by simply changing perspectives and then blame the seeming contradictions on cultural, political and geographical “disconnections”. In such a manner, Tehran can position itself as a champion against terrorism although it fully supports terrorist organizations, can position itself as the guardian of its neighbors’ interests although it meddles subversively in local politics and position itself as the champion of Islamic human rights although its human rights record is one of the worst in the world.

This process of “redefinition” has increased dramatically under the government of Hassan Rouhani and the signing of the JCPoA. This makes sense since before Rouhani, Iran was politically an defectively isolated and ostracized – the regime didn’t really need to try to manipulate the mind-set of the world. But since Tehran began trudging down the path of “constructive engagement”, redefinitions have become a defining strategy to position Tehran in a better light and take the world off-guard.

The best way to understand this is to listen to what Iranian leaders are saying. For the sake of this article, we will focus on statements by Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader), Ali Akbar Velayati (Khamenei’s chief adviser on foreign policy), Hassan Rouhani (Iran’s president), Ali Larijani (speaker of Iran’s parliament) and Javad Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) on the issues of “terrorism” and “regional foreign policy”…another article in the future will focus on Tehran practicing what it preaches in the realm of “human rights”.

 

Tehran as a champion against terrorism

The issue of Islamic terror escalated dramatically over the past two years. Sure, 9/11 had brought Islamic terror to the West but 9/11 looks “tame” in view of the barbaric rampage of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Spotting an opportunity, Rouhani presented his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative to the UN to a standing ovation. The war against terrorism became Tehran’s carte blanche to kill or destroy whoever was in Tehran’s way and another carte blanche to tarnish any Western and Arab anti-terror activities. Why was Tehran involved in Syria? Why was the US forbidden to fight ISIS in Syria? Why did Tehran execute 20 Kurds in one day? To fight terrorism, of course.

Terrorism became the magic word to allow Tehran to fulfill its political agenda regardless of the fact that an organization such as Hezbollah (as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad etc…), which is fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen etc… is wholly financed by Tehran and is designated as a terrorist organization by most of the Western and Arab nations. Here are some statements by Iranian leaders which show that Tehran is eager to preach against terrorism but is much more wary about practicing what it preaches on this subject:

  • Velayati on the West’s efforts to differentiate between legitimate Syrian rebel groups and ISIS: Iran “will mobilize all resources to fight the terrorists that are perpetrating crimes against oppressed nations in the region regardless of the ridiculous categorization of those terrorists as moderates and extremists“. By this logic, Tehran refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is just as “ridiculous“.
  • Rouhani on categorizing terrorism: Rouhani also called for the fight against all types of terror groups, saying the terrorists should not be divided into good and bad ones in pursuit of “short-term interests”. Is not Tehran’s categorizing of all Syrian rebel factions as “bad terrorists” and its opposition to categorize Hezbollah as “bad terrorists” not a clear example of Tehran pursuing its own “short term interests“?
  • Zarif on the dramatic increase of terrorist attacks all over the world: “We should not and will not rest until those behind terror in Istanbul, Dhaka, and now Baghdad, and their ideology are defeated“. Notice, no mention of Hezbollah and Tehran’s ingrained “ideology” of “Exporting the Revolution”, two critical factors in fighting Assad’s war in Syria.
  • Larijani on tactics and strategies of terrorism: “We have on multiple occasions warned the countries in the region that the tactical use of terrorism is a strategic mistake“. So why, oh why, is Tehran using Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, to fight Assad’s civil war? And why is Tehran using Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government? A clear “strategic mistake“.
  • Khamenei the fate of those who support terrorism: “However, the creators of terrorism will not remain secure from the repercussions of terrorist acts either“. Mr. Khamenei should remind himself this since the rise in Tafkiri terrorism is, in part, a “repercussion” to Tehran’s state-sponsored Shiite terrorism.
  • Khamenei on the aims of the US in the region: “Behind our western border, the S.is training terrorists. It is spending money and handing out weapons to be used against the Islamic republic…the Americans have dangerous plans for (Iraqi) Kurdistan … Their plans are not aimed at defending the Kurdish people, but they want to control them“. Perhaps…but 1) Tehran is spending billions of dollars in “training terrorists” and “spending money and handing out weapons” to terrorist organizations and to help Assad win his civil war and 2) Tehran has excelled in “controlling” nations such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Azers as well as efforts to do so in Yemen as well.
  • Zarif wants to cooperate with Mali and Ghana to fight terrorism: “Iran is prepared to cooperate with Mali in the area of fighting terrorism and extremism“, “The Islamic Republic is ready to cooperate with Ghana in the fight against terrorism and extremism“. “Cooperate“? The same “cooperation” which Tehran gave to Nigerian Shiite sheikh Ibrahim Zakazaky who was charged by the Nigerian government of trying to overthrow it?
  • Rouhani on “exporting” its experience on fighting terrorism: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran has valuable experience in fighting terrorism and is ready to transfer it to other countries. Very admirable, but…Tehran has gained quite a lot of “experience” from fighting against terrorism since the advent of ISIS in 2014 but has a lot more “experience” in supporting terrorism since 1979.
  • Rouhani on the how to effectively fight terrorists: We should block income sources and channels of arms transfer to the terrorists“. And yet, Tehran continues to be the major “income source” and “channel of arms transfer” to Hezbollah (a terrorist organization), Yemenite Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemenite government and subversive Shiite organizations in the Gulf States.
  • Zarif on the methods to combat terrorism: “Terrorism and extremism cannot be eliminated only through military, political, or economic means; rather a cultural and ideological approach is also needed“. Well said Mr. Zarif but first, Tehran has to deal with its own “cultural and ideological approach” in supporting terrorist organizations in its struggle to “Export the Revolution”.
  • Larijani on how not to combat terrorism: “Terrorism is not a simple and tactical issue and cannot be solved by airstrikes“. He’s 100% right but he remains one of the biggest supporters of Moscow’s efforts at combating ISIS through…”airstrikes” which incidentally also targeted other Syrian rebels and civilians.
  • Larijani on blaming Saudi Arabia: He also said those countries which provided terrorists with arms and missiles are responsible for crises in Syria (and that) those who make blood bath in Yemen are the ones who are to blame for tension in the region. Who is providing Assad and Hezbollah with “arms and missiles” in Syria which are extending the “blood bath” there?? Who provided “arms and missiles” to the Houthis rebels in Yemen to overthrow the Yemenite government and initiated the “blood bath” there? Tehran, of course.
  • Velayati on the purported support of Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels: “However…some reactionary regional states are training terrorists and providing them with support in violation of international law“. Wait a minute…isn’t the fact that Tehran is “training” Hezbollah and “providing them with support” also a “violation of international law“?

Tehran’s modus operandi is simple: Support (mostly Shiite) terrorist organizations while doing two things at once – 1) Deny that the organizations being supported are really terrorists and 2) Blame the West (the US, EU, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) for the rise in Sunni terrorism.

 

Tehran as a champion of regional foreign policy

Tehran is very active in its neighbors activities and has positioned itself as the master of foreign policy in the region. This self-appointment is a direct result of the amount of control Tehran has in some countries in the region, namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as its continued efforts to expand its control in other neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and other Gulf States. Furthermore, the signing of the JCPoA has strengthened diplomatic power with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan etc… and after years of isolation, Tehran has finally become a crucial regional power.

That’s all good for Tehran but the problem is that Tehran doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to regional policy. It will warn Western powers to not meddle in local politics while it does so incessantly in its efforts to “Export the Revolution”. It blames countries like Saudi Arabia for helping the Yemenite government to beat the Houthi rebels while it is helping Assad to beat Syrian rebels in the same manner. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for creating division amongst Muslims while it does so as well. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for diplomatic incompetency while it tries to survive from one blunder to another.

Here are some choice statements by Iranian leaders which illustrate just how little Tehran practices what it preaches.

  • Zarif on who should control Syria: “We believe only the Syrian people should decide about their future and others can only facilitate this political process to resolve the crisis“. OK, but if “only the Syrian people should decide about the their future” why is Tehran so adamant in helping Assad who inherited his power without then how does Zarif explain the amount of influence Tehran has on Assad
  • Velayati on interfering in Syrian affairs: “No country has the right to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs and decide for fate of others“. Exactly. Not even Tehran who has the biggest foreign military involvement in Syria and who has taken upon itself to “decide the fate” of Syrian by blindly supporting Assad for its own agenda of “Exporting the Revolution”.
  • Khamenei on the slippery notion of intervention: “The people in those (Muslim) countries should decide about their own destiny and prevent any foreign intervention“. Strange…when a Western power involves itself in the region, it is “foreign intervention” but when Tehran involves itself in the fate of countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc… it isn’t simply because Iran is Muslim? Khamenei, “intervention” from Iran in these countries is just as “foreign” as “intervention” from Saudi Arabia or from the US.
  • Velayati the legalities of foreign intervention: “The presence in Syria by such countries as the US and Saudi Arabia, who intervene there without the Syrian government’s consent, is illegal“. Velayati is basing this statement on the fact that Assad formally “invited” Tehran to help him fight his civil war. There are two problems in this statement: 1) Since Assad inherited his power without a popular vote, the question of the legitimacy of his government is problematic to say the least and 2) Isn’t Tehran’s “presence” support of the Houthi rebels in Iran to overthrow the government also “illegal” then?
  • Velayati on Iran-Russia cooperation in the region: “There is unprecedented cooperation between Iran and Russia. This cooperation will not be limited to Syria, as a patch of this cooperation can be seen in Iraq and Lebanon…It will be extended to Yemen too“. Tehran’s new-found “cooperation” with Moscow embolden it to include Moscow not only in its war for Assad but also in another proxy war in “Yemen too” (Moscow hasn’t agreed to such a move yet) but this never stopped Tehran from warning Saudi Arabia and the US from “interfering” in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen.
  • Velayati on the delicate issue of meddling: “Iran opposes any kind of change of the legal regimes through power, military force, coups, violence and separatism, as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries“. This is an admirable statement except for the fact that Tehran actively used “power, military force, coups, violence and separatism” to support Houthi rebels to overthrow the government in Yemen.
  • Rouhani on wars in the region: “How can we remain silent while Yemeni people are savagely bombed everyday by those who call themselves the custodians of the Grand Mosque (Saudi Arabia)“. Rouhani is definitely “silent” on how the Syrian rebels and the Syrian civilians are “savagely bombed everyday” by Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, by Assad’s forces with the support of Tehran and by Iranian military personnel.
  • Khamenei on the benefits of cooperation: “We will not cooperate with America over the regional crisis“. It should be noted here that Tehran has vehemently opposed the “interference” of the US in Syria although it did welcome Moscow to “help”. Isn’t ending the “regional crisis” and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of future victims” not worth involving whoever can help? Especially since the US still holds a lot of influence over Tehran’s southern rival?
  • Khamenei on double standards of impunity: “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region…(Khamenei issued) a directive to Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to intensify attacks against the West and its allies around the world“. Khamenei obviously doesn’t mention the hypocrisy in not allowing countries which are deemed as enemies of Tehran to not “act with impunity” but doesn’t think twice about issuing a directive to do the exact same crimes he is lamenting about.
  • Zarif on Saudi Arabia’s agenda: “Some people in Riyadh seem bent on dragging whole region into crisis (and) Iran has no desire to escalate tensions…They (the Saudis) can continue to support extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred, or choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security“. If only Zarif would convince Tehran to not strive to “drag” the “whole region into crisis“, to stop supporting “extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred” and “choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security” because Tehran is doing the exact opposite in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and other Gulf States.
  • Larijani on the Saudis’ effect on the region: “The Saudis have fomented crises for certain regional states and are pursuing disintegration of some other states“. Wow. Larijani conveniently “forgets” to mention that Tehran’s efforts to support the Houthi rebels actually ended in their the “disintegration” of the Yemenite government which then led to the Saudis declaration of war on the Houthis together with the reinstated Yemenite government.
  • Khamenei on Muslim division: “One of the main tools used by the enemies to prevent the birth of modern Islamic civilization is through creating divisions among Muslims…Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries?”. Are not “Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (and) the United Arab Emirates” not Muslims and, therefore, won’t such a statement only increase Muslim division?
  • Khamenei on the Shiite Sunni divide: “The Arrogance front (the US) is making massive efforts to introduce this confrontation as a war between Shiite and Sunni“. This is a ludicrous statement to make following the torrent of accusations by Tehran on the responsibility of Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia in the development of Tafkiri (Sunni) terrorism which only serve to increase the “war between Shiite(s) and Sunni(s)“.
  • Zarif the problems the Arab governments are facing: “The Arab world’s intelligentsia and the grass roots feel a sense of frustration after developments in recent years and the lack of proper reaction by their rulers (and) the governments are trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“. Let’s just accept this statement as true for a second…isn’t that exactly how the “intelligentsia and the grass roots” in Iran are feeling and isn’t Tehran “trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“? Yes and definitely, yes.
  • Khamenei on the art of negotiations: “They (Rouhani, Zarif and all the Iranians who worked to sign the nuclear deal) believe (that) Middle East or domestic problems can be solved by JCPOA; this means giving up principles and redlines, and yielding to the arrogance“. In negotiations, there is always give and, as Zarif pointed out so well, it isn’t a “zero-sum game”. Negotiating for a deal meant to get rid of all nuclear sanctions means “giving up (on some) principles” because if Tehran had not given anything away, the deal would not have been signed.

These statements clearly show that Tehran is intensifying a double standard in the region: Tehran “helps”, others “interfere”. Tehran promotes Muslim “unity”, others promote Muslim “division”. Tehran’s meddling is “legal”, others are “illegal”. Russia is “good”, US is “bad”. The double standards go on and on as the leaders in Tehran try to paint a picture in which they are the heroes and everyone who is not supporting it is a villain.

 

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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.

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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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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Drugs and Death in Tehran

drugs

The most positive aspect of Iran’s war on drugs is that it is responsible for 74% of the opium busts and 25% of all morphine/heroin busts in the world. According to Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, “the battle against drug smugglers is a serious issue in Iran that should be heeded at an international level because the whole world will in practice benefit from the fight“…OK, but apart from the statistics and Larijani’s hype, the positivity ends abruptly because the efficiency of this war is doubted on three levels:

  • Strike 1 – War on drugs leads to executions: Drug trafficking in Iran is punishable by death. It’s estimated that 70% of all prisoners and all executions in Iran are drug-related and accounts for approximately 1,000 executions a year. Furthermore, the UNODC, the UN’s organization against the trafficking of drugs, donates at least $20 million dollars a year to Iran’s war on drugs which makes the UN partly responsible for the executions. Other EU countries, which are the main destination for most of the drugs passing through Iran, also chipped in added millions to support this program although some, like the UK and Denmark stopped doing so because of the executions. It would be hard to find any country in the world which doesn’t support the war on drugs but it is much harder to find countries which are willing to take responsibility for the executions of drug traffickers.
  • Strike 2 – War on drugs inefficient in Iran: The number of drug addicts in Iran is soaring alongside the growing number of executions so local determent is obviously not a positive factor. Don’t think of these drug addicts as simply weed or hash smokers – local meth labs and heroin from nearby Afghanistan are the real problems. Unofficial estimates point to over 6 million drug users, 2.2 million overall hard-drug addicts and 1.3 million addicts undergoing treatment in private facilities since the government doesn’t condone rehab programs. Iran is also one of the biggest importers of pseudoephedrine (the key ingredient in crystal meth) in the world.
  • Strike 3 – War on drugs benefits corruption: It is a known “secret” that the drug trade, whether within Iran or through it from Afghanistan, could not succeed as it does without the support of crooked IRGC officials on the take. This fact makes a lot of sense since the IRGC is in control of a large chunk of Iran’s economy and drug smuggling, along with smuggling of any kind was a big money-maker for the IRGC during the sanction years. Drug sales in Iran account for $3 billion and since the IRGC had been running the war on drugs it was in the perfect position to reap commissions. In fact, the IRGC has developed close ties with drug cartels in Latin America.

In a nut-shell, Iran is running a war against drugs, which is leading to the rise in capital punishment, which is ineffective in reducing the number of addicts in Iran and which is benefiting corrupt officials. Oh, and this war on drugs has also resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 drug-enforcement officials.

This might sound like a clear-cut case to instigate a change to this program but change is hard to come by in Tehran. 70 MP’s have actually signed a petition to legalize some drugs and to abolish capital punishment for drug-related crimes but the petition was buried by the regime. In fact, despite the continuing criticism against capital punishment for drug traffickers, word got out last week that Iran was planning to execute another 100 drug traffickers and Iran’s VP for family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, shocked the world by claiming that “we have a village in Sistan-Baluchistan where every single man has been executed” for drug trafficking.

It’s time for Tehran to revamp its war on drugs for three simple reasons:

  • Executions are not acceptable any more: The linkage between drugs and executions: The link between executions and drug seizures, however big they may be, is becoming unbearable for many Westerners who will continue to pressure Iran to abolish the capital punishment laws.
  • The timing is right for change: The nuclear deal, the opening of Iran to international business, the increasing power of moderates in the regime, the growing power of women and youths…all point to an environment which can foster change.
  • Rehabilitation more successful then death: The fact that the number of addicts in Iran is growing is a clear statement that drug addiction is an epidemic which cannot be eradicated and that rehabilitation is sometimes the only option.

In this context, it’s strange that Larijani, in an interview last week, stated that the “system of punishment in Iran is not based on revenge; it is for rehabilitation“. Executed drug-related criminals cannot be rehabilitated. Larijani should take the issue of rehabilitation more seriously and introduce laws that will allow Iranian drug addicts the hope of rehabilitation.