Human Rights: The Inhumane Regime of Iran
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The Iranian regime is a theocratic state based on the principle of velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule). The authoritarian rulers of Iran violently clamp down on popular demands, including calls for greater personal freedoms and equality.
Freedom of assembly is effectively non-existent in Iran. That is why various social sectors are severely restricted and suppressed when they assembled to voice collective and basic demands. In this context, the Iranian people have increasingly called for the overthrow of the theocracy, believing it does not align with their democratic aspirations and inclination to join the international community as peaceful and responsible actors. In December 2017, people in more than 130 cities in all of Iran's provinces rose up against the regime in large numbers and demanded democratic change and separation of religion and state. The protestors were violently suppressed, with hundreds killed and thousands more jailed and tortured.
The clerical regime ruling Iran remains to be one of the worst active and persistent abusers of human rights in the world today. Every year, hundreds are executed, including dissidents. Prison conditions are horrendous, with many political prisoners deprived of proper medical attention and forced to endure long-term sentences on trumped up charges. And, women experience double oppression both legally and practically because the ruling mullahs are ideologically misogynistic and aggressively wage war on women, denying them basic rights and freedoms.
The ruling clerics actively wage propaganda and misinformation against opponents as well. In previous years, the regime astonishingly bombed its own religious shrines to incriminate opponents. It has also systematically conducted extra-judicial murder, killed Christian priests, brutalized minorities, and conducted what are described as crimes against humanity. The Iranian regime does not accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, instead conflating the issue by injecting demagogic concepts such as “Islamic human rights.”
The regime conducts a systematic war on its own people by violating their political, personal, legal, and human rights on a daily basis. Nearly any detail, minor or otherwise, of a typical Iranian’s day-to-day life, reflects in some way the denial of basic and fundamental rights and liberties, relative to the rest of the developed world. A seemingly bottomless pit of transgressions exposes the inhumane treatment of Iran’s people, and the absence of religious, judicial, and legal freedoms.
While gouging out eyes or amputating limbs or executing people in public is horrendous, what truly stands out are the “offenses” that “warrant” such responses. Citizens cannot express politically “incorrect” opinions, women must wear hijabs, people cannot criticize government officials, and they live in constant fear of violating what the regime deems “appropriate.” Meanwhile, the regime takes pains to paint itself as a “democratic” actor to the rest of the world. However, the people of Iran and many international human rights activists know that this is truly an “inhumane” dictatorship that must only be overthrown, as first noted by Massoud Rajavi, Leader of the Iranian Resistance, back in 1981.
Despite the regime’s brutal repression of Iranians since its inception, the majority of Iranians are eager to express their opinions, voice their outrage, and, above all else, facilitate democratic change within their country.
The Iranian regime has persistently held the world record in the number of executions per capita. Since 1981, some 120.000 opponents have been executed by the ruling regime.
In the summer of 1988 alone, 30000 political prisoners primarily affiliated with the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), along with other activists, were arbitrarily executed in a matter of months even though all of them had received definitive jail terms which they were serving at the moment of execution.
A more global list containing details of 20.000 MEK members executed since 1981 has been published by the organization. Due to severe repression, information about the regime's crimes is hard to obtain, and research on the matter is punishable by harsh measures.
Iran’s casual implementation of the death penalty is ironic, given the stringent and lengthy list of offenses that land one in jail. Of the more than 450 executions that took place from January through September 2017, many victims were alleged to be drug addicts and substance abusers. Whereas other countries of the developed or western world dedicate or at the very least advocate substance abuse programs and state-run rehab initiatives, Iran elects to kill off its citizens whom it accuses of falling victim to drug abuse, regardless of extenuating circumstances. This is while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) runs a major part of the narcotics trafficking in Iran, generating huge profits, which the IRGC then uses for its extraterritorial activities and primarily terrorism.
Virtually all of these executions are in contravention of internationally recognized standards, such as the presumption of innocence, access to lawyers, public trials, and due process. Those not being executed on drug offense charges are often given the death penalty for other ordinary offenses, often alleged after subjecting the victims to vicious tortures to extract confessions.
As confirmed by previous UN investigators on Iran’s human rights record, many dissidents have been executed on the pretext of committing crimes such as drug trafficking. Of course, the regime has never been hesitant about executing its opponents, sometimes en masse on security related charges, whether they be activists of the principal opposition movement, the MEK, or dissident ethnic minorities, such as Kurds, Baluchis, or Arabs. Adherents of other faiths are not spared either. Dozens of Sunnis, Christians, Bahai’s, Dervishes and others have also been given the death penalty.
Contrary to the regime's so-called Citizen Rights Charter, Iranians do not have a right to life.
The current official age at which execution is permissible is nine lunar years for a girl, and 15 lunar years for a boy. The idea of executing a 9-year-old female or 15-year-old male conflicts with every international standard and ethics code known to the free world, but according to Iranian regime’s legal code, it is justified. In many cases, victims are held in prison until they reach 18 years of age, when they are then executed.
In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime summarily and extra-judicially executed tens of thousands of political prisoners held in jails across Iran. The massacre was carried out on the basis of a fatwa (religious decree) by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. More than 5.000 names of those massacred have been published by the MEK. The location of mass graves of those executed are known in 36 Iranian cities, where the regime continues to hide or destroy evidence.
There are strong indications that Khomeini’s fatwa, which led to the massacre, was issued on July 26, 1988. The regime has never formally acknowledged those executions or provided any information as to how many prisoners were killed, even though in recent years, many of its officials have expressed "pride" to carry out "God's orders" against the MEK. The majority of those executed were either serving prison sentences for their political activities or had already finished their sentences but were still kept in prison. Some of them had previously been imprisoned and released but were re-arrested and executed during the massacre. The wave of the massacre of political prisoners began in late July and continued unabated for several months. By the time it ended in the autumn of 1988, some 30,000 political prisoners, the overwhelming majority activists of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), were slaughtered.
In his infamous fatwa, Khomeini decreed: "Whoever at any stage continues to belong to the Monafeqin (the regime’s derogatory term to describe the MEK) must be executed. Annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately." He went on to add: "... Those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the MEK are waging war on God and are condemned to execution... It is naive to show mercy to those who wage war on God."
Khomeini assigned a committee nicknamed the "Death Committee” comprised of three individuals: A representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, a religious judge and a prosecutor. The final decision rested with the Intelligence Ministry official. They held trials lasting for a few minutes that resembled more of an integration session. The questions were focused on whether the inmate continued to have any allegiance to the MEK. The MEK-affiliated prisoners made up more than 90 percent of those taken before the “Death Committee.” If the prisoners were not willing to collaborate totally with the regime against the MEK, it was viewed as a sign of sympathy for the organization and the sentence was immediate execution. The task of the Death Committee was to determine whether a prisoner was a so-called “Enemy of God” or not. In the case of MEK prisoners, that determination was often made after only a single question about their political affiliation. Those who responded "Mojahedin" (MEK) rather than the regime's preferred derogatory term "Monafeqin" ("hypocrites") were sent to the gallows.
On August 28, 2019, Amnesty International reiterated its call on the United Nations to set up an independent investigation into Iran’s 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners. A large number of testimonies regarding the massacre are public record.
Asma Jahangir, the late UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, spoke of the massacre in her six month report on human rights in Iran, during her address to the seventy-second session of the General Assembly in New York on October 25, 2017: “The families of the victims have a right to remedy, reparation, and the right to know about the truth of these events and the fate of the victims without risking reprisal. I therefore reiterate my call upon the Government to ensure that a thorough and independent investigation into these events is carried out.”
Despite all the pressures they are subjected to, political prisoners keep their morale and often do not miss opportunities to express support for the opposition and the resistance movement.
No less than 74 distinct forms of torture are registered to have been practiced in the regime’s prisons, mainly to extort forced confessions from political detainees or force them to take part in televised propaganda shows against the opposition. Judicial authorities carry out, including in public, cruel and inhumane punishments amounting to torture.
Detailed cases of torture have been recorded by official organizations worldwide with an abundance of related material documented by the UN Human Rights Commission and related committees. Practice of torture has been systematically condemned through 65 UN statements issued by the organization's various organs.
Torture and other ill-treatments, including prolonged solitary confinement, remain systematic, especially during interrogations.
Although the main victims of torture are to be found among activists in relation with the opposition, even torturing to death is not limited to political activists.
In 2018, 13 people died in custody and under torture following their arrests in connection with the protests in late 2017 and early 2018. Officials claimed some had committed suicide, assertions that were disputed by the victims' families.
Scores of former political prisoners have testified to international bodies, such as different UN commissions, during nearly four decades, and volumes of personal testimonies on their affidavits stand as proof to the most medieval forms of torture upon tens of thousands of prisoners in Iran.
Punishments by flogging, many times in public, on charges of theft and acts such as attending peaceful protests and cultural gatherings, having extra-marital relationships and attending mixed-gender parties are common practice.
A citizen may receive a flogging for offenses such as breaking fast in public during Ramadan, accessing websites or social media platforms that are “forbidden,” publishing false news (the key word being “false,” of course, which is at the discretion of the government), and criticizing government officials.
Amputation sentences continue to be issued and executed.
The authorities continue to issue blinding sentences.
The regime’s “Islamic” Penal Code calls for stoning as a method of punishment and execution.
Publicizing executions is intended to intimidate the masses, making them afraid of expressing their views and their opposition to the regime. Interestingly, the so-called moderate president Hassan Rouhani is on record as saying that people should be hanged in public to make examples out of them for other citizens. “Conspirators should be hanged in Friday prayers for people to see them and to have more of an impact,” he said when he was a parliament deputy. The preferred method of spotlighting capital punishment is public hangings from cranes in city centers and squares.
Iranian authorities crushed the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, by cracking down on peaceful protesters. The swift and violent suppression of protests and the number of deaths in custody suggest the extent to which freedom of assembly and expression have deteriorated.
The protests that erupted in nearly every Iranian province since late December 2017 were met with a state response that was notable for its harshness and disregard for the law.
According to reports from inside Iran and from within the regime, the number of detainees of the protests amounted to at least 8,000 by the end of the second week of the demonstrations. Detainees were denied access to legal representation and threatened with more serious charges if they sought counsel.
Despite the regime’s attempts to conceal the number of arrests, it admitted to parts of it.
Meanwhile, officials openly spoke of “preemptive” arrests to curb further disturbances.
Twelve inmates died in custody under suspicious circumstances.
Numerous videos widely circulated on social media channels showed authorities using potentially lethal force against protesters. At least 50 protesters were directly shot dead by state security forces during the street protests.
Securing data about the situation of women and human rights in general is itself a daunting task. Journalists are no safer than women in their day-to-day endeavors. Should the facts and opinions that journalists disseminate be at “odds” with the regime’s official version, journalists, bloggers, and social media activists risk arrest and even execution. Freedom of expression and opinion is harshly suppressed. In the weeks and months preceding tightly-controlled state elections, the crackdown on dissident opinions can be particularly severe. Ordinary citizens using illegal platforms like Facebook or Twitter to broadcast unorthodox ideas, or established journalists publishing data or stories that paint the regime in an unflattering light, risk punitive reprisals. The regime can shut down whatever newspaper, magazine, website, or social media account it deems responsible for advocating peaceful protests or thought-provoking ideas. The Iranian regime, both directly and indirectly, controls and signs off on every television program, magazine article, and news broadcast. Censorship of all forms of media and jamming of foreign satellite television channels are common practice.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remain blocked.
The Iranian regime is among the top violators of the rights of religious minorities. Widespread and systematic attacks continued to be carried out against religious minorities.
The Iranian regime continues to harass, interrogate and arrest Christians. Many have been charged with spurious, security-related charges such as “acting against national security” and sometimes handed prison sentences of 10 years or longer.
Followers of Ahl-e Haq or Yaresan were also arrested in large numbers, then brutalized and imprisoned.
Members of the Sufi Muslim religious sect have long complained of harassment by Iran’s purportedly Shiite rulers, who view them as heretics.
Iran’s Bahaiis are seriously oppressed, and deprived of even citizen rights.
The denial of basic rights to women affects all aspects of public and private life. Should a woman enter a public space without hijab, or proper covering, a possible consequence will involve her being lashed – dozens of times, depending on the “severity” of the “crime.” A woman can be pulled over while driving or walking, if an agent views her hijab as not properly covering her. Wardrobe malfunctions can have much more disturbing consequences. In 2014 in Isfahan, sporadic “acid attacks” began all over the city, when self-appointed vigilantes associated with the paramilitary Bassij force splashed acid into the faces of women deemed inappropriately covered. A number of these women went blind from the attacks. While the actions were not officially claimed by the regime, officials did nothing to seriously investigate these vicious assaults and no one was arrested or prosecuted, further convincing the public that the government had sanctioned the attacks.
Iranian women have little representation in government, are second-class citizens and under the current legal code, have no hopes for improvement of the situation. They are subject to discrimination as trivial as being banned from attending official sporting matches and are barred from practicing sports unless dressed in full hijab.
This maltreatment paints a vivid picture of the attributes women are forced to adopt: submission, silence, and obedience. Women in Iran are resilient, nevertheless, and many have fought back.
None of the 137 women who put their name forward to run for president passed the vetting process by the Guardian Council. Consequently, there were no women candidates in the presidential elections. Further, no women have been appointed as ministers in Rouhani’s current cabinet.
Women however play a leading role in the Iranian opposition, with more than 50% of NCRI’s members being women. The main opposition force MEK is led solely by women and has Mrs. Maryam Rajavi as the president-elect for the future Iran.
Women face serious discrimination in family and criminal law, including in relation to divorce, employment, inheritance and political office.
Women are routinely harassed and assaulted in public places by the “morality police” for failing to comply with Iran’s strict “Islamic” dress code. Women are banned from singing and at times playing musical instruments in public.
Ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, Lors and Arabs, have been subjected to oppression for years at the hands of Iranian authorities.
Hundreds of people were arrested around Ahvaz in 2018 amid protests against the regime’s discriminatory policies, as well as water and power shortages and poverty.
Azerbaijani Turkic minority rights activists were also targeted.
Iran’s Baluch minority numbers between one and four million people, based mainly in the southeastern region of Sistan-va-Baluchestan.
Several Baluchis have been killed while smuggling gasoil to make ends meet in this unemployment-stricken area. Security forces are not held accountable for the murders.
Baluch human rights activists believe that more than 100 people, including innocent bystanders, are killed every year in anti-smuggling operations in Iran’s Baluch populated province.
Regime forces, mainly the IRGC, continued to unlawfully attack and even open fire on scores of unarmed Kurdish men known as Kulbars (porters) who carry huge packs of goods on their backs and cross the border on foot to supply customers with goods not widely available in Iran, like alcohol, foreign clothing, and other consumer goods.