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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Human rights in Iran: The thin line between Islamic laws and the regime’s zero-tolerance

thin-line

Following on the heels of the EU strategy report on Iran which included a harsh criticism of the state of human rights in Iran, the UN issued a new resolution which echoes the exact same sentiment: Iran is a serial abuser of human rights on many levels and in order to normalize relations, Tehran will have to change.

The UN resolution includes severe criticism on many levels in regards to the abuse of human rights in Iran: “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, “alarmingly high frequency of the death penalty” and “human rights violations against women and girls”.

The EU’s report was similar including the fact that the EU “remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty”, calls on Tehran to respect “the rights to freedom of expression…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”, demands that Tehran “eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women”, is worried that Tehran doesn’t “fully guarantee international due process safeguards (and) ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees”, “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”, “calls for the release of all political prisoners” and  “calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law”.

In order to get a better understanding of the nature of the criticism by both the UN and the EU, it is necessary to define two distinct categories:

  • Islamic laws: Abuses of human rights due to Islamic laws which include the oppression of women and religious minorities as well as the use of the death penalty.
  • The regime: Abuses of human rights due to the intolerance of the regime to accept criticism and calls for change by activists, political oppositionists.

These two categories of the West’s view on human rights in Iran is mirrored in Tehran’s categorical rejections of the EU/UN critique:

  • Islamic laws: There is a basic difference between Western ideals of human rights and “Islamic human rights” which must be acknowledged and accepted by the West.
  • The regime: All criticism by the West against Iran on the issue of human rights is politicized, hypocritical, arrogant and based on double standards and the regime is not susceptible to pressure from any source, least of all from the West…in fact, Tehran views such resolutions as an “abuse” of human rights in itself.

Of course, the regime doesn’t differentiate between both categories but from a Western perspective, the distinction between these two categories should be critical. It really is arrogant of the West to expect an Islamic country to give up its Islamic values in order to kowtow to the norms of the West and the issue of Shariah laws has put the West into a Catch 22 situation: if the West places such high import on religious beliefs and religious freedoms, it must accept that Shariah laws are legitimate in an Islamic country even if they seem outrageous from a Western perspective. Qisas, usually understood through the “eye for an eye” form of punishment, is brutal and barbaric from a Western perspective but it is deemed as “beautiful and important“. Tehran accepted to hold talks on human rights with the EU based on “mutual respect”, devoid of “double standards” and understanding that there is a fundamental difference between Western human rights and “Islamic human rights”, a difference which may not necessarily bridged. The West can try to “tone down” the harshness of some of these laws and to allow for more personal freedoms by pointing out that many Islamic countries have done just that but at the end of the day, as long as the Islamic regime exists, Islamic laws will prevail.

The issue of the death penalty in Iran is exemplary of this issue: according to the regime, 75%-80% of all executions are drug-related. Up until now, Tehran has vehemently defended these executions based on the fact that Shariah laws endorse the execution of drug-dealers and that it’s war on drugs benefits the West since most of the drugs are destined to Western users. Unfortunately, this defense is weakened by two simple facts: 1) the death penalty doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for drug dealers even according to Iranian leaders and 2) not all Westerners agree that limiting the inflow of drugs is worth the 700+ drug-related executions a year. Since Iran holds the dubious title for the largest number of executions per capita, and since the regime is intent on normalizing relations with Western countries (apart from the US, of course), the mullahs in the regime have understood that it might be worth it to be more lenient on most drug-related offenders, convicting only the largest repeat offenders to be executed. But then again, change cannot be immediate as the Iranian deputy foreign minister made it clear that negotiations over human rights with the EU could take 3-4 years and that Tehran will not give up capital punishment under any circumstances.

So what about the second category? The regime’s inability to allow for dissent, opposition and change? This is much firmer ground from a Western perspective because the issue isn’t related in any way to Islam, only to the ideals of democracy which allow for pluralistic views and for the respect of minorities of any kind. It’s important to remember that Iran has repeatedly and proudly claimed that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East even though is not a true democracy (more like a “democtatorship”) due to the huge powers of unelected bodies of the regime. In fact, the bases of power in Iran emanate from democratic vote (the election of the president, government, the Assembly of Experts etc…through popular vote) and from the regime’s dictatorial resolve to choose its own leaders (such as the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the IRGC etc…). Tehran’s pride at being democratic coupled with its inherent fear of accepting democracy 100% is an inherent weakness of the regime. Slamming the regime for “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, the lack of “freedom of expression”, “the discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, “political prisoners”, the lack of “fair trial”, the oppression of “religious and ethnic minorities” etc…” all emanate from the regime’s fears of losing its power.

These issues should spearhead the West’s efforts to help the cause of human rights in Iran. If these issues are dealt with, if Iranians have a say in the way they are being governed, the Islamic religious issues will take care of themselves. Let’s take the issue of compulsory hijabs for women. To be sure, not every Iranian woman and definitely not every Iranian man is in favor of women wearing hijabs. The problem is that with the current regime, no one really knows if the majority of Iranians want compulsory hijabs or not. But if the whole of the regime was elected by the people and if enough people would decide that women should not have to wear hijabs, laws will be changed to accommodate such a sentiment. If the majority of the Iranian people would vote for more freedom of the press, for the release of political prisoners, for a fairer judicial system etc…, these changes would come about as well.

That’s why the West should place more weight on abuses of human rights in Iran which aren’t directly related to Islamic laws. . The systematic oppression of women and even the use death penalty, as such, must be accepted since they both stem from religious beliefs. Such a strategy echoes the statement of the liberal Iranian MP, Ali Motahari who wants Western criticism to be split into “two dimensions”: “one is related to Islam’s laws that is unnegotiable and not understandable for them (the West), and the second is related to affairs common to all human beings that has nothing to do with a certain ideology”.

 

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Narges Mohammadi to stay in Jail until 2026

The renewed trial of Nargess Mohammadi, an Iranian activist, once more exemplifies that people who are identified by the regime as “political criminals” for criticizing the regime have no chance to a fair trial: Mohammadi is to remain in jail until 2026.

Why? Let’s start from the end: On September 28th, the Tehran court of Appeals upheld a sentence against Mohammadi which would keep her in jail for another 10 years for a number of political charges – “assembly and collusion to commit crimes against national security” (5 years), “spreading propaganda against the State” (1 year) and “establishing and running the illegal splinter group LEGAM” (10 years). But what exactly were her “crimes”? She was a member of an organization whose goal was to abolish capital punishment in Iran. She met with the former EU representative Catherine Ashton in Tehran without permission. She made a speech at the gravesite of Sattar Beheshti who died after being tortured by the regime. All of these “crimes” can be lumped into one bigger “crime”: criticizing the regime.

Unfortunately for Mohammadi, the regime in Tehran has zero tolerance for criticism of any kind: the regime’s goal is to sustain itself and the only way it can do this is to maintain the status quo from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, effectively barring any change that could endanger the regime. Furthermore, the regime is all encompassing in that it has it maintains its power bases in the non-elected bodies such as the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council, in the Assembly of Experts, in the Majlis (parliament), in the government, in the judiciary, in the IRGC (includes both military and economy), the military/police/intelligence, the Basij (volunteer paramilitary), the nuclear program etc… These interacting tentacles of power in all the aspects of the lives of Iranians ensure that any one criticizing the regime, its ideals, its laws or its governing bodies can be punished without any effort to maintain the civil rights of the “criminal”. In this vicious circle, all the people and organizations under the influence of the regime work together to stifle or oust any danger to the regime itself. In such a manner, an activist for human rights or for social change, such as Mohammadi,  can easily be arrested, charged and convicted with trying to overthrow the regime, a “crime” which carries heavy prison convictions or even execution.

It’s irrelevant to the regime that Mohammadi, and activists like her, do not receive the benefits of a fair trial. Mohammadi wasn’t even present at the verdict of her trial in which she was convicted to 11 years in jail. She can’t even enjoy the benefits of Iranian law which stipulates that “criminals” do not have to serve accumulating prison sentences on different charges but should serve only the largest sentence (10 years in her case).

The fact that Mohammadi is a mother of two who will not see her children grow up is irrelevant and the fact that her health has deteriorated rapidly while in jail is irrelevant as well because Mohammadi’s fate is not her own: her fate is meant to be a deterrent to all would-be activists in Iran with one clear message: criticizing the regime will lead to a loss of freedom and dignity.

Mohammadi’s plight has generated massive support from the UN, Amnesty, Front Line Defenders, Nobel Women, Reporters Without Borders and a host of other governments and NGO’s which have all decried Mohammadi’s cause and the reaction from Tehran has been, to date, “butt out!”. If there’s one thing that bothers the regime more than criticism from Iranians, it is criticism from non-Iranians. Yes, some believe that an increase in global pressure might hurt Mohammadi’s cause into leading the regime to dig its heels in harder but most activists believe that with enough pressure, Hassan Rouhani’s government might have to rethink its ways if it wants to maintain its new-found ties with Western countries.

So, please add your own weight to helping Mohammadi by either sharing this article or join the converstion at any of these sites.

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

Thank you.

 

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Tehran prosecutor gets away with torture and murder

During the protests of the Green Movement in 2009, many Iranian protesters were arrested, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. Some were lucky and were subsequently released. Others remained in jail or were sent to jail again since then. And still others died as a result of being tortured. Three of these victims, Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani and Mohsen Rouholamini died from torture at the Kahrizak prison facility. They were sent to Kahrizak by the general prosecutor of Tehran,  Saeed Mortazavi, who then proceeded to falsify their cause of death as “meningitis”.

Mortazavi was not unknown to the victims: he reputedly visited the prisoners in Kahrizak and warned them to not divulge any information regarding the tortures (they did) and in order to cover up the evidence, transferred the prisoners who were set to be released to Evin prison for 2-3 weeks where they were taken care of in the clinic so that “the torture marks” on their bodies would not be “so visible”. The victims were forced to walk barefoot on hot asphalt, were beaten regularly, sometimes while being strung up to the ceiling, were forced into crowded cells, were living off meagre rations etc…For the survivors, the nightmare remains all too vivid even if they did flee the country.

While most victims and their families resolutely put their suffering behind them for fear of reprisals, the Rouholamini family decided to take Mortazavi to court on charges of murder and falsifying documents. Last month, Mortazavi was acquitted of the murder charges but was fined $60 for the falsified documents. The Rouholamini family has yet to give up and plan to appeal the decision.

During his trial, Mortazavi offered the court and victims’ families some sort of an apology accompanied by a self-exoneration:  “As I was the Tehran prosecutor at the time, I express shame for this terrible incident, even though it happened without any deliberate intention, as God and my conscience are my witness…the bloody incidents that happened after the great plot hatched during the June 2009 presidential election were described as a crime by the supreme leader of the revolution (Ali Khamenei), and I, the prosecutor at the time, deeply apologize and seek forgiveness from the innocent martyrs Javadifar, Rouholamini and Kamrani, and hope God Almighty would bless them with the highest rank”. It’s hard not to notice the irony in the fact that Mortazavi elevated the statute of the victims to “innocent martyrs” (after being charged as seditionists) and that he places the “blame” on the fact that Khamenei described them as “criminals”. In short, much as many Nazi officers claimed during their trials, Mortazavi was sorry but he was just doing his job and fulfilling orders from above.

But some of the surviving victims didn’t buy his apology: “His apology is an insult” says Reza Zoghi, a survivor who fled to Turkey on his release. He was held and tortured at  Kahrizak for 5 days and then sent to “recover” in Evin for 17 days until his release. Zoghi is not in a forgiving mood and feels helpless due to the fact that he is unable to take his case to court: “In fact, none of us were actually able to pursue our cases. In the end, only the Rouholamini family was able to drag Mortazavi to court. But what upsets me was that none of our names were mentioned during the trial. It’s true that we survived, but we were all tortured. Amir Javadifar died beside me as he was begging for water. I can never forget those moments”.

To be honest, Mortazavi is not blameless nor is he alone to be blamed. Mortazavi was part of the regime which exhibited zero-tolerance for anyone brave enough to voice criticism against it. Mortazavi is as guilty as the torturers of Javadifar, Kamrani and Rouholamini , as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who declared them criminals, as the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who rigged the elections and as the intelligence and IRGC officers who handled the arrests and some of the tortures. For the survivors and the families of the victims, it’s uncertain what’s worst: the actual crime or the sham trial that exonerated the criminal and the actual people who tortured them (or led to their tortures) or the regime which orchestrated it. In any case, Mortazavi’s apology is too little too late.

The Green Movement, from its birth to its demise is a snapshot of everything that is rotten in the regime: It was born as a protest to what seems to have been a rigged election that brought Ahmadinejad into power and ended the minute Khamenei declared the movement’s leaders and participants as “seditionists”. The fate of the Green Movement remains one of the biggest fears for anyone in Iran who wants to criticize the regime or the all-powerful Supreme Leader who, as one unnamed Iranian diplomat said “is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot“. Furthermore, the fate of the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are still under house arrest after 5 years despite President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to release them, is a living testament to all would-be protesters – criticize the regime and lose your freedom and your human dignity, or, die. And there’s nothing that a “moderate” president can do about it as Barbara Slavin aptly put: “Probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country“.

The only hope for Iranians who do want to change their lives and increase their personal freedoms is either an implosion of the regime or a protest so massive that the regime will have to back down.

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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The 1988 massacre that continues to haunt Tehran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The fatwa that led to the massacre

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

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

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

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

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

 

The systematic organization of the massacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The cover-up of the massacre

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

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

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

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

 

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The Brothers in Lies on Human Rights in Iran

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

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

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

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

 

Denials and counter accusation are their answer to criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Islam and Shari’a are their answer to human rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranians Desperately Need a King or a Ghandi

Millions of Iranian people would like to see far-reaching changes in the amount of freedoms accorded to them by the regime. These are the same people who voted for Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election 2013 and who voted for reformists in the parliamentary elections in 2016. These are the same people who are being oppressed by the regime because of their sex, their religion, their values and their political ideals. They are forced to live in a manner which doesn’t suit them but they feel powerless to lead a change out of fear of another crackdown such as the one in the botched elections of 2009. And yet, too many Iranians have had enough:

But without a leader, from the “inside”, one who could lead these dissatisfied people to demonstrate in the streets, to demand their rights, to challenge the unelected regime, they will remain hopeless and no amount of foreign pressure can help them. It’s time to find and support an Iranian Martin Luther King or an Iranian Mahatma Ghandi, someone who will stand up to the regime and drum up enough support before he, or she, will inevitably be killed.

 

Rouhani’s voters voted for change

shattered hopes in tehranNo one knows exactly how many people in Iran would like to change the nature of the regime and many Iranians are obviously hardline supporters of the regime since the regime is in power without a popular election. The hardliners in the regime would like the world, including the Iranian people, to think that the Iranians who strive for change are a small marginalized minority but one can intuitively find them within the people who voted for Rouhani (nearly 19 million people) in 2013 and for the “List of Hope” (41%) in 2016.

According to the Rouhani Meter, Rouhani made 20 distinct promise in domestic policy in his successful campaign to the presidency: these include freeing the leaders of the Green Movement who are still under house arrest, increasing the support to NGO’s, respecting and allowing minorities to practice of religious rituals, assuring equality for men and women, assuring equal rights for all Iranian ethnicities, encourage and welcome criticism of his administration etc… To this date, he has achieved 2 of these promises – 10% in 3 years. As opposed to domestic policy, Rouhani fulfilled 2 out of 7 (29%) of his promises in foreign policy.

The truth is that Rouhani, although rightly portrayed as a moderate in Iran, is actually helpless when it comes to fighting for the rights of the Iranian people quite simply because the regime, and specially, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, wants to maintain the status quo.

The upcoming presidential elections in Iran are already heating up as hardliners are proposing none other than Qods chief Qassem Suleimani to run against Rouhani. The problem is that Rouhani cannot be judged for all his good intentions, since he is cobbled by the regime, and the regime is working overtime to place the blame on Rouhani himself.

 

Pressure from abroad is not enough

There’s no doubt that many leaders and organizations are pressuring Iran into change. There isn’t a day that goes by without a new call on the regime to change. But since the regime is not listening and is so paranoid about “foreign influence”, the chances for such a change to reach fruition is minimal.

The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) is upping the pressure by presenting the world, and the Iranian people, with an alternative: a “Free Iran”. Tehran’s response to this alternative can be summed up in one word: fear.

Following the “Free Iran” rally in Paris on the 9th of July, the regime in Tehran went into “attack mode“, accusing the NCRI of being a terrorist organization (only Iran has designated it as such), accusing the French of allowing such a rally to take place (that’s the wonder of democracy), accusing Saudi Arabia of using the rally in its regional conflict with Iran (it did), accusing Egypt of sending a delegate to the rally etc…Not one word was expressed in regards to the claims of the NCRI. Such an attitude reflects Tehran’s response to any criticism in internal affairs: first, denial (“nothing’s wrong, everyone’s happy”) and then counter-accusations (“they”, meaning everyone but the regime, are the “bad guys”).

Such a stance is a result of the inherent weakness of the regime: the regime may legally retain its power “forever” but it will fall apart the instant that enough people within Iran will be disillusioned by the regime. In order to maintain the perceived support of the Iranians, Tehran cranks up its propaganda machine and presents any opposition to the regime as “un-Islamic”, “counter-Revolutionary” and “anti-Iranian”. The regime’s worst fears are that enough Iranians will actually consider an alternative to the regime. The NCRI is just such an alternative although its leader, Maryam Rajavi might find too many hurdles in her path to returning home as did Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

There have been numerous instances when pressure from abroad did lead to positive results but most of these cases are isolated and are not widespread enough to make a crack in the regime.

 

Pressure from within is needed


What Iran needs now is a leader who will be ready to stand up for the rights of the Iranians who feel oppressed by the regime. Such a leader is bound to find himself or herself in jail or killed, just as King and Ghandi were, but if he or she has enough time and enough support, a movement can be started, the masses can make their voices heard and the regime might either panic and fight back too harshly, which would only strengthen such a movement, or might lose the will to fight at all.

This is not a task for the faint at heart but for a person whose belief in the struggle for change is unstoppable.

It could be an Iranian man, someone who was in the regime but is now disillusioned by it, someone like Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who tried to run for parliament but was disqualified by the Guardian Council or someone like Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s reformist ex-president who is now under a strict “media ban”.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance that such a person might be a woman. Women represent the largest group of legally and morally oppressed Iranian citizens. They look about them and see that women around the world enjoy freedoms which they can only dream of since they live under the laws of a gender-segregated regime. For them, being forced to wear hijabs or not being allowed to ride a bike might be trigger to rise up against the patriarchal regime which will be place in an unbearable situation: if it allows such women to openly demonstrate against the regime, it will look weak and if it crushes these women by either imprisoning or killing them, it will look desperate.

Whoever it may be, the people of Iran are waiting.

 

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Millions of Iranians are criminalized by Tehran

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

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

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

 

“Everything” can be a crime in Iran

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

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

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

 

When a criminal minority becomes a criminal majority

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

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

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

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

 

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The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

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

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

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

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

 

The illusion of fighting against terror

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

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

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

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

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

 

The illusion of human rights in Iran

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

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

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

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

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

 

The illusion of helping its neighbors

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

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

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

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

 

The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

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

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

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

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

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

 

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