Hunger strikes hit Iranian regime hard

 

As more political prisoners in Iran are choosing hunger strikes in order ot obtain the justice they didn’t receive in the Iranian courts, the regime is feeling the pressure and desperately wants these hunger strikes to end. At this very moment, there are at least 10 Iranian political prisoners who are on hunger strikes and some may be breathing their last breaths on earth. Saeed Shirzad, Nizar Zakka, Ahmadreza Jalali, Ali Taheri, Ali Shariati, Arash Sadeghi, Morteza Moradpour,  Mehdi Rajabian, Hossein Rajabian and Vahid Sayyadi Nasirpour are all refusing to eat until their demands are met. Their hunger strikes are their final weapon to hit back at the intolerance of the regime which put them behind bars in the first place and the regime is scrambling to find a suitable way to handle these stubborn and brave “criminals”/activists.

Hunger strikes put the regime in an uncomfortable position: As long as they live, they are an embarassment to the regime and a magnet for their supporters and the moment they die, their status as a cause skyrockets up to the level of martyrs. All of the hunger strikers are taking the long road by allowing themselves to drink, effectively prolonging their strike and their ordeal – the record hunger strike to date is 16 years by Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila.

As such, the hunger strike is one of the most effective forms of protest ever developed by pacifist activists. Many remember Ghandi’s famous hunger strikes, but human history is filled with examples of men and women who chose to shut their mouths in order to make the loudest noise.

These hunger strikers are not “ordinary criminals”. They are not rapists, thieves, murderers etc…Some are activists who have tried to bring about change in human rights and were sent to jail for charges such as “propaganda against the state” while others are simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, dual nationals who visitied Iran and were thrown in jail for charges such as “colluding with enemy states”. But these “criminals” have a lot in common: their presence bothers the regime, they didn’t have fair trials, their judges showed no mercy and their basic human rights and freedoms were torn out of their lives suddenly and violently.

So, what are the regime’s options? Apart from simply allowing the hunger strikers to continue their hunger strikes, the regime has very few options and all of them lead to dead ends:

  • Giving in: Giving in to the hunger striker’s demands is dangerous for the regime since it will be a sign to other political prisoners that hunger strikes are effective. But then again, the authorities don’t have a problem in promising promises that they don’t intend to keep as in the cases of the Rajabian brothers and Arash Sadeghi who ended their hunger strikes following promises by the authorities and then resumed their hunger strikes once it became clear that the authorities would not uphold their promises. The end result is the prolongation of the hunger strike and an increase in the possibility that the hunger striker will die.
  • Force feeding: The option of force-feeding the hunger strikers has not yet been tested but it is also a “dead end”. Force-feeeding the hunger-strikers is not only viewed as a form of torture, it would only serve to prolong the hunger strike and the embarassment and would lead to more pressure on the regime.
  • “Disappearances”: There is already one hunger-striker, Ali Taheri, who has gone missing after falling into a coma. No one knows if he is alive or dead and no one even knows his where-abouts. The regime has, in the past, made people disappear and such a solution has obviously crossed some of the Iranian leaders’ minds. But a “disappeared” hunger striker, just as a dead hunger striker, is more worrisome to the regime than a live one since he or she will tak eon the status of a martyr.

So what’s Tehran to do? The only thing that it knows how to do best: Blame others. Blame the prisoners since they are “convicted criminals who deserve to rot in jail”. Blame the media since it is the media which is amplifying the hunger strikes by communicating them to the Iranian population and the world. Blame the protesters and activists for giving the hunger-strikers the support that strengthens their convictions to conntinue to the inevitable end. Blame the UN and the West for turning these “criminals” into human rights causes. Blame Rouhani since he’s blamed for everything anyway. Blame anyone who can be blamed, deny all wrong doing and, most importantly, evade responsibility.

The regime has to wake up to a new world, a world in which activists can emulate Ghandi’s heroic and successful struggles using hunger strikes instead of hitting the streets and protesting. A world in which, no matter how many walls are erected by the regime to isolate the hunger strikers from the world, words, images and videos will always find their way out. A world in which human rights activists and supporters will increase their pressure on the regime for every day that a hunger striker shuts his or her mouth. A world where the simple act of not eating can turn a prisoner into a hero. A world in which a president such as Rouhani cannot pass himself off as a moderate as long as so many political prisoners are willing to die for justice.

 

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Montazeri jailed for 6 years for airing father’s audio-tape of 1988 massacre

The Iranian judiciary has added insult to injury yet again – this time, by jailing Ahmad Montazeri.

On Agust 9th, Ahmad Montazeri published an audio-tape of his late father Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri from 1988 in which Montazeri senior, who was slotted to become the Supreme Leader after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is heard attempting to dissuade the regime from carrying out Khomeini’s horrific orders to execute all political prisoners who supported the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). In the tape, Montazeri senior calls the planned executions “the greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you (the officials in the meeting). Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals…Beware of fifty years from now, when people will pass judgment on the leader (Khomeini) and will say he was a bloodthirsty, brutal and murderous leader…We will not be in power forever… Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault…the people are now revolted by the Velayat-e Faqih (the regime)”.

Montazeri senior then tried to gain support from regime officials to try to change Khomeini’s mind and claimed that his willingness to defy Khomeini resulted from his fear of “not having an answer on Judgment Day” and out of his “duty to warn Imam (Khomeini)”. Montazeri senior’s objections were unsuccessful and an estimated 30,000 political prisoners were systematically massacred within a few months while Montazeri senior was doomed to live under house arrest for the rest of his life.

All of this had been suppressed by the regimes in the following decades but the surfacing of the Montazeri senior tape brought the massacre back to life. And sure enough, within three days, Montazeri junior received a phone call from the ministry of Intelligence “requesting” to delete the audio-file which he subsequently did. But Montazeri junior’s tribulations had just started. Within days he was “invited” to two successive interrogations which were then followed by formal charges of “sharing state secrets”. Two days ago, he was convicted to 6 years in jail. In fact he had been convicted to 21 years in jail (10 years for “acting against national security”, 10 years for “publishing a secret audio file” an done year “propaganda against the state”) but the sentence was then commuted to 6 years because, as Montazeri junior claims, his brother “was a martyr” or as the court claims, they took “into account his age and lack of prior criminal record”. The court which handled Montazeri junior’s case is the Special Court for the Clergy in Qom which is independent from the Judiciary and is under Khamenei’s direct authority.

Montazeri junior’s defense was simple: the audio-tape was never marked as a secret and that the contents of the tape were published earlier in his father’s memoirs so publishing it was not a crime. But the court at Qom decided that the recording was a secret anyway and Montazeri junior claims that the verdict, which he plans to publish, “contains things that were never mentioned during the trial” . But why did Montazeri junior publish the tape in the first place? He claims that he did so following continuous attacks on his father’s memory by hardliners. In fact, his defiant publication of the recording echoes his father’s calls to stop the massacre, albeit 28 years after the fact: “What I’m insisting on is that eventually the state manage and settle the issue about the 1988 executions instead of trying to hide it…If the Islamic Republic is transparent about it, and forms a truth commission, as suggested by MP Ali Motahhari, and possibly rectifies any wrongdoings, it would be a big step in restoring the greatness of the Islamic Republic”.

Well, the regime has a different idea of what “the greatness of the Islamic Republic” should be and that is suppressing Montazeri junior just as it suppressed Montazeri senior and 30,000 helpless political prisoners.

 

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Tehran tries to justify the 1988 massacre

The tape-recording of Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Ruhollah Khomeini’s would-be successor, describing his objections to the systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 by the orders of Khomeini himself, is echoing increasingly louder despite the fact that the audio-file was online for just one day until the Ministry of Intelligence persuaded Montazeri’s son to delete it (he was then “interrogated” twice for sharing “state secrets” and was “offered” to sign an affidavit that he wouldn’t upload similar content in the future…he refused).

Within 3 months, approximately 30,000 politically prisoners, most of them supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), were executed after short two-minute trials by the “death commissions”, or in some cases weeks of interrogations and torture. The whole process was systematically organized, from cutting off the prisons from communications with the outside world all the way up to transporting the bodies at night in refrigerated trucks to be buried in mass graves.

While most of the buzz outside of Iran is critical of the massacre and the people within the regime who carried it out, especially since some of them hold powerful positions in the regime today, the voices in Tehran are growing louder and more polarized. On the one hand, there are calls from the grass-roots levels and from political leaders who are echoing Montazeri’s objections with their own while other voices call to officially justify the massacre. And then, of course, there is the classic strategy of Tehran to simply blame the West for spreading propaganda – not one leader of importance has accepted the need to at least examine the legitimacy of such a massacre as well as the responsibility of the regime and the people within it.

One of the few politicians who did speak up is Mostafa Poumohammadi, then representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and now the Minister of Justice. At first, Pourmohammadi denied his involvement and his responsibility in this heinous crime but then decided to come clean with a vengeance: “I didn’t even have ONE NIGHT OF SLEEPLESSNESS in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“. It’s a fitting choice of words since on tape, Montazeri says clearly the opposite: “I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SLEEP and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours…what do you have to tell to the families? How much (did the) Shah execute? Compare our executions to his“.

What is more horrifying? The fact that the regime massacred 30,000 defenseless prisoners for their beliefs, or the fact that some of those who were involved are actually proud of what they did, or perhaps the fact that those same proud people maintain top positions in the regime?

 

Listen to Khomeini

Khomeini’s fatwa, a religious decree which is law, was as short as it was deadly:

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

In reaction to some criticism and objections to the massacre, Khomeini made his position clear: “Those who insist on their position of hypocrisy in prisons across the country, are enemies of God and condemned to death… It is naïve to have mercy on enemies of God… Those gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions, must not allow themselves to have any speck of doubt…Anyone at any stage, if persists on hypocrisy, he/she is punishable with death. Swiftly, annihilate the enemies of Islam. As for the examination of the cases, those measure are preferable that would expedite execution of the verdicts…The decisiveness of Islam before the enemies of God is among the unquestionable tenets of the Islamic regime. I hope that you satisfy the almighty God with your revolutionary rage and rancor against the enemies of Islam. The gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or concern with details. They must try to be as ferocious as possible against infidels. To hesitate in the judicial process of revolutionary Islam is to ignore the pure and holy blood of the martyrs.”

As to Montazeri’s objections, Khomeini was even clearer: “Since it has been made clear that after me (Khomeini), you (Montazeri) will hand over Iran to liberals and through them to the Hypocrites, you have lost the competence and legitimacy for future leadership of the regime…the responsibility (of being Supreme Leader) requires more endurance than you have shown“.

The fact that all this was written by Khomeini in a time of duress as he “swallowed the poison” of making peace with Iraq is crucial: Khomeini, under pressure for not winning the war, focused his frustration on a much easier target – defenseless political prisoners who were serving time for being affiliated to the PMOI. And once again, he covers up any questions regarding the legitimacy of such a massacre with the “God-given” right of “revolutionary Islam” and the “holy blood of the martyrs”.

 

 

Listen to Montazeri

The audio-tape recorded a meeting between Montazeri on August 15th 1988 and Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, then the regime’s sharia judge and now head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges, Morteza Eshraqi, then the regime’s prosecutor, Ebrahim Raeesi, then deputy prosecutor and until 5 months ago Iran’s Attorney General and now the chief of the influential Astan Qods-e Razavi foundation, and Pourmohammadi, then the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and today the Minister of Justice.

During this meeting, Montazeri tried to put a stop to the massacre which had begun one month earlier. As Khomeini’s confidante and would-be successor, Montazeri had publicly voiced his objections for which he would be publicly disgraced and lose his shot at succeeding Khomeini. But in this tape, we can hear just how much he was horrified by the massacre:

  • Montazeri explains the historical ramifications: “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals…Beware of fifty years from now, when people will pass judgment on the leader (Khomeini) and will say he was a bloodthirsty, brutal and murderous leader…We will not be in power forever“.
  • Montazeri understands who is to blame: “Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault…the people are now revolted by the Velayat-e Faqih (the regime)“.
  • Montazeri on the planning before the massacre: “(The ministry of) Intelligence wanted to do it (the massacre) and had made investments. And, Ahmad (Khomeini’s son) had been personally saying for three or four years (prior to the massacre) that the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) must all be executed, even if they read their newspapers, publications and statements“.
  • Montazeri shares some grizzly details: “Someone was in prison. They said his sister was also accused. So, they went and brought his sister. They executed the man. Her sister had been imprisoned for only two days. She was only 15. They asked her sister what do you say? She said I liked these people. They said because her brother was executed, execute her as well…In Isfahan, a pregnant woman was among them [those massacred]. In Isfahan they executed a pregnant woman (he adds that in clerical jurisprudence) one must not execute a woman even if she is a mohareb(enemy of God). I reminded [Khomeini] of this, but he said they must be executed“.
  • Montazeri on dealing with the PMOI: “The Mujahedin-e Khalq are not simply individuals. They represent an ideology and a school of thought. They represent a line of logic. One must respond to the wrong logic by presenting the right logic. One cannot resolve this through killing; killing will only propagate and spread it“.
  • Montazeri asks for mercy: “For God’s sake, it is the month of Moharram, the month of God and the Prophet. At least feel some shame from Imam Hussein. Cutting off all meetings and suddenly engaging in such butchery!!… Is something like this done anywhere else in the world?
  • Montazeri on his feelings of guilt: “I haven’t been able to sleep and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours … what do you have to tell to the families?…(I) will not have a response on the Day of Judgment…(It is my) duty to speak up and warn Imam (Khomeini)“.

It’s obvious that Montazeri felt that the atrocity being carried out on Khomeini’s whim was a tragic mistake for the regime and for Khomeini as well. He didn’t accept the legal or religious justifications and he was willing to stand up to try to stop the atrocity as he saw it clearly. Up until now, the regime continues to claim that it wasn’t an atrocity but a shining moment of the regime and of Khomeini.

 

 

Listen to the regime

Two weeks ago, the Assembly of Experts reacted to the furor over Montazeri’s tape-recording in the expected manner of the regime: the 1988 massacre was “a historic and revolutionary decision by his highness Imam Khomeini“, and “a prompt decision” to “deal seriously and decisively with the Hypocrites (the Mojahedin)“, indicating Khomeini’s “deep and insightful understanding.” In fact, Khomeini’s fatwa is described as a decision to have a “fair trial for leaders and some members” of the PMOI.

Many politicians went out of their way to try to remove any stains from Khomeini and themselves but the most vocal was none other than Pourmohammadi who at first denied his involvement but then decided to simply justify his deeds: “We are proud we have implemented God’s order about the ‘hypocrites’ (PMOI or MEK). You cannot show mercy to the hypocrites, because if they can bloody and soil you, they will…We have stood against the enemy of God and people and confronted them with power…I didn’t even have one night of sleeplessness in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“.
So, if the regime isn’t to blame, then who is? The West, of course: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a would-be moderate who supports Rouhani, expressed his regrets over “a new wave of attacks directed against Khomeini…The wave has embraced virtually all foreign opposition media, to the extent that the mayor of Paris recently held an exhibition which recreated the scenes of executions in those days… The extent of support for the Mojahedin Organization at this time deserves to be pondered…The main objective of our international and domestic enemies is to take revenge from the unprecedented role and status of Imam (Khomeini).”

The regime and the people running it seem to have no regrets. The 30,000 victims of the massacre and the systematic organization of this massacre are not even irrelevant but are a testament to the true path of the revolutionary regime which exterminates anyone and anything that stands in its path. From Khamenei to Rouhani, the voice in Tehran over the massacre is clear: no regrets, only pride.

 

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