OPINION: Why Are Iran’s Human Rights Violations Ignored by Sanction Opponents?

FILE PHORO: Iranian students protest at Tehran University. REUTERS/Stringer

By Azadeh Karimi

A large number of those who voted in the last two Iranian presidential elections sincerely believed that President Hassan Rouhani was not a fanatical ideologue, but rather a moderate politician who would deliver on his promise of reforms, democracy, and social justice.

Curiously, the same disillusioned electorate whose hopes have been dashed by the failed policies of conservatives and reformists alike is now urging the Iranian people to remain silent in the face of injustices committed by the Islamic Republic.

In the past four decades, the regime has populated its prisons with political dissidents, rights activists, and ordinary Iranians.Through their silence, many of those who voted for Mr. Rouhani became complicit in atrocities committed by the regime against protesters who took part in the civil unrest that began on December 28, 2017, in Mashhad, capital of the northeastern Khorasan Razavi Province, and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Their refusal to speak out against the arrests, torture, and imprisonment of ordinary Iranians has exposed their hypocritical stance on freedom and human rights.

The nationwide protests in the past year and a half have shown that slogans of democracy, freedom, and human rights were empty promises which tricked people into voting in the elections.

Meanwhile, rights groups in Iran have emerged from among the people, including labor activists, workers’ unions, and those opposing the mandatory hijab. The public does not channel its demands through a particular political party or faction any longer. The Iranian women’s rights movement, for instance, has gained momentum in recent years with ordinary citizens and activists publicly challenging many discriminatory and oppressive laws, including the compulsory hijab.

Curiously, these actions have encountered resistance even from some women’s rights groups, who have criticized many activists including Masih Alinejad, founder of the online movement “My Stealthy Freedom” in 2014 — named after the Facebook page on which many Iranian women posted photographs of themselves not wearing headscarves.

Activists and rights advocates who are vocal on social media play a crucial role in drawing attention to various causes inside Iran. People around the country have been protesting in the streets in recent months, demanding a wide range of new political, social, and economic changes. There is no definitive data available on the exact number of people in prisons, because the regime does not allow international human rights organizations into Iran. Reports by many rights groups, however, show that arrests, tortures, and executions are common occurrences in the country.

The Iranian Judiciary considers being active on social media a crime punishable by imprisonment. A person could get up to 10 years in jail for recording an event on his or her mobile phone. Courts hand down severe and lengthy sentences to women’s rights activists, political dissidents, intellectuals, members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community, animal rights activists and religious and ethnic minorities.

On August 2, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced three anti-compulsory hijab protestors — Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Ariany, and Mojgan Keshavarz — to a total of 55 years in prison. The three had given flowers to women wearing the hijab in the Tehran Metro to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

In February 2018, security forces brutalized striking workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Plant in the southern province of Khuzestan. They were demanding their unpaid wages and workplace insurance.

Authorities arrested a labor activist Esmaeil Bakhshi whose forced confession was broadcast on state TV.

In early June, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Amir Salar Davoudi, a human rights lawyer, to 30 years in prison. On August 29, Saba Kord Afshari, a 20-year-old anti-compulsory-hijab activist was sentenced to 24 years in jail.

“With her camera, Saba Kord Afshari made the world hear her defiant voice against oppression, and now it is her mother’s turn to stand in front of the lens and be the voice of her daughter,” Masih Alinejad said in a post on her Instagram page. “Saba’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, has said: ‘I call on all mothers and daughters to be our voice. We cannot depend on the media and celebrities, and therefore, need to support each other. We must not allow [the authorities to] silence Saba, Yasamin [Ariany] and others by imprisoning them. It is up to us to demand justice for them.’”

Mr. Alinejad’s Instagram post included a video clip of Saba Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi.

“I am Raheleh Ahmadi, Saba Kord Afshari’s mother,” Mrs. Ahmadi said in the clip. “[The court] has issued its verdict, sentencing my daughter to 24 years in prison. Honorable judge Afshari, please listen to the cry of my broken heart. You told me to remain silent and not to make a public display. I kept quiet and did not create a scene. Is this the result of my silence? What had my daughter done? She was not a thief or an embezzler or a murderer.”

“My 20-year-old daughter was compelled by her honor, humanity, and conscience to advocate the rights of workers, unknown prisoners, and the disadvantaged. She said no to the compulsory hijab. Should a person go to prison for 15 years for removing her headscarf? Should she spend the best days of her life in jail?” Ahmadi added. “So where are the murderers, thieves, and embezzlers? They are in Canada on vacation. This is an injustice. Please do not play with numbers. You must be fair.”

View this post on Instagram

صبا کردافشاری با یک دوربین صدای اعتراضش به ظلم را جهانی کرد حالا مادرش مقابل دوربین ایستاده تا صدای دخترش باشد: راحله احمدی مادر صبا نوشته: از مادران و دختران ایرانی هم درخواست می کنم صدای ما باشید، نه رسانه های این سرزمین و نه سلبریتی‌ها هوای ما را ندارند، خودمان پشت هم بایستیم و‌اجاره ندهیم صباها و یاسمن ها را با زندان ساکت کنند. صدای حق خواهی شان باشیم. #صبا_کردافشاری #یاسمن_آریانی . . . #مادر_قهرمان صفحه اینستاگرام مادر صبا کردافشاری

A post shared by Masih Alinejad (@masih.alinejad) on

Ahmadi pleaded: “I call on artists and actors. Where are you? Why don’t we hear from you? You live prosperous lives in foreign countries where you do not have to wear the hijab. Why have you turned your back on your fellow Iranians? Why don’t you express your outrage at the imprisonment of my 20-year-old daughter? Why are you silent? Reformists and members of the Majlis [Iranian Parliament], people like my daughter voted for you. Why are you silent? Why don’t you become the voice of Saba, my 20-year-old daughter?”

“Even if you all remain silent, I cannot. I am a mother and cannot keep quiet. I will be the voice of my innocent daughter. I will make sure the world will hear about my daughter. I will make God listen to my desperate cries. You will pay for all your crimes,” Ahmadi said.

Does the international community expect human rights to improve in Iran under these conditions?

Admittedly, non-partisan and independent rights organizations are limited in scope and capabilities, for which they receive ample criticism. Unfortunately, they have not intensified their efforts given the recent civil unrest in Iran. Most Western governments are hoping to improve the state of human rights in Iran by appeasing the Islamic Republic.

Meanwhile, many of the people who vehemently U.S. and EU sanctions because they hurt ordinary Iranians remain conspicuously silent about the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic regime against political dissidents and rights activists. Many of the sanctions relate directly to human rights violations, including those imposed on the sale of copper, steel, iron, and aluminum. By improving its human rights record, the regime could facilitate the lifting of these sanctions.

Curiously, the human rights activists who support the Islamic Republic consider a move by the U.S. to highlight the plight of 800 political prisoners in Iran interference in the domestic affairs of that country. Back in March, The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran Javid Rehman for another year with 22 votes in favor, seven against and 18 abstentions. The UNHRC has failed in its mission to persuade Iran to improve its human rights record.

In April, the EU extended its sanctions on Iran which target 82 Revolutionary Court judges, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), cyber operations and senior police and security officers. Although related to Iran’s human rights record, the EU sanctions have been mostly ineffective. It would appear that the EU is less concerned about Iran’s human rights record than saving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal.

The international community has issued a limited response in the form of statements condemning the imprisonment of women’s rights activists, political dissidents, workers, animal rights advocates, Gonabadi dervishes, and religious and ethnic minorities in the past six months.

While the Revolutionary Courts, the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence continue to crack down on various rights groups and activists, the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, has launched a massive campaign which ostensibly targets rampant corruption within the regime but it is really a clever ploy to eliminate political dissidents and civil rights activists. Ironically, the Judiciary is one of the principle corrupt agencies of the regime.

Opportunistic and corrupt actions of conservative and reformist groups inside the Islamic Republic combined with the EU’s policy of appeasement towards the regime have systematically victimized political activists and civil rights advocates in Iran. The civil rights groups, activists and ordinary Iranians who protested in the street in December 2017 demanding political, economic and social justice have, therefore, no other choice but to remain independent and fight their own battles.

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]