NCRI - Hashem Khastar, a prominent Iranian activist, member of the teachers’ union and former political prisoner, has said human rights’ conditions have deteriorated drastically in Iran.
Mr. Khastar, who resides in Mashhad in northwestern Iran, and who was imprisoned three times for his political and civil activities, told Al-Arabiya in an interview that executions in Iran are carried out in mock courts that resemble “dark rooms” amid the absence of minimum of legal standards.
He called on the civil society to work to stop executions, massacres and daily violations against activists and people from different social categories.
Mr. Khastar also condemned Tehran’s interference in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the region’s other countries and said “Arabs and Muslims must know that the Iranian people want to live with them in peace.”
The following are excerpts from the interview with Al-Arabiya:
Q: Mr. Khastar, as an activist and a member of the teachers’ union who has been arrested several times for your activities, how do you evaluate the human rights situation in Iran?
A: It’s deteriorating a lot. The government in our country does not care about human rights at all. For example, the regime does not allow free elections at the teachers’ union or at non-governmental organizations here in Khorasan and other provinces, although these organizations were established 13 years ago when president Mohammed Khatami was in power. There aren’t even the simplest forms of freedom in Iran and the government does not grant citizens any of their basic rights. You may get arrested and imprisoned for organizing a simple cultural activity.
If you see me free now, it’s because they don’t want to create an uproar like what happened previously when I was detained by the intelligence apparatus. They’ve reached the conclusion that they should release me because keeping me in prison would cause them trouble in the international arena and on the media front. But if they do decide to imprison me again, nothing can stop them from doing so.
Q: The recent mass executions of 25 imprisoned Sunni Kurdish activists coincided with the anniversary of the elimination of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. In your opinion, why did the regime go back to the policy of mass executions?
A: All dictatorships across the world resort to murder and assassination as a means to spread terror and fear so that people do not take to the streets demanding their rights. These governments practice terrorism to silence their citizens and our country is not an exception. The elimination of political prisoners in 1988 was an unprecedented crime in the last 200 years of Iran’s history. It was a horrific massacre that made people wonder and ask what is this hardship that has plagued our country?
I condemn these mass executions which happened against our brothers from the Sunni sect and everyone condemns these executions that happened in mock courts that resemble dark rooms.
Q: Activists and human rights organizations say the intelligence fabricated accusations against these Sunni activists. What do you think of that?
A: I have said several times that the authorities in our country do not respect basic human rights and that Iranian ethnic groups, particularly Kurds, have been greatly persecuted. If certain activities happen in Shiite areas in the country, judicial rulings against the perpetrators are lenient while in Sunni areas, such as Kurdish ones, the rulings are strict and can range from many years in prison and can go as far as execution.
I was imprisoned with 12 Sunni preachers in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad and I witnessed how they were tried and sentenced to between two years and 10 years in prison on flimsy charges. When I got to know them and learnt about their cases, I found out that they haven’t committed any crime to be punished.
Q: Why do authorities focus more on activists from religious minorities and ethnicities when carrying out executions?
A: There is a direct relation between the rise of awareness among ethnic groups in terms of their rights, and the increase in executions against them. Meaning, the more aware these Iranian ethnicities are, the more the regime restrains them because it wants to keep the situation under its control, through imprisonment and executions. This is the truth in Iran.
Q: How influential was your activity as well as other activists’ work in exposing violations against prisoners and others?
Primarily, I think we must work as per our moral duties. We are not asking our friends or the Iranian people to risk their lives but I have several times said that if it hadn’t been for these activities which exposed these violations, the regime would have skinned us and displayed our bodies in schools to set us as an example to others. The work done by human rights activists and political activists makes the government pay a high price for its suppression and so we are trying not to be an easy target for the government.
I have done everything I can to defend those who fight for the sake of freedom, democracy and promotion of human rights in Iran so that the government does not easily crush them. When an activist is detained, we spread this news in media outlets so that the government cannot do whatever it wants against them, like what happened with the Sunni preachers. Silence and not spreading the news about their cases allowed security forces to persecute them, away from the public eye.
Q: How do you see the future of popular protests against poverty, unemployment and corruption and what about the regime’s negligence of people’s problems while being preoccupied with its interference in the countries in the region?
A: Civil activity among Iranians has become very strong. They do not harbor ill will towards others and want to be friends with the people in the region. We condemn our rulers' interferences in Syria and their support of the Assad regime and we condemn their interferences in Yemen and Iraq.
The civil society in Iran has become strong and it will strengthen democracy. We want to build our country and also want to have ties of brotherhood and friendliness with neighboring countries.
Q: Are international condemnations enough to stop violations and executions in Iran? As a human rights’ activist, what’s your message to the international community?
A: There’s no doubt that condemning these executions is a very good thing but it’s not enough. The world must help the Iranian people. We don’t want to tell the outside world what to do but at the same time, we want the international community to choose the path which does not harm the people of Iran.
The Iranian people have reached a high degree of political awareness and they know the path they should take. They no longer buy the ruling regime’s tricks. They reject all these executions and detentions. For example, people held a massive reception for the families of the two teachers imprisoned on political charges but we did not spread any news about this out of fear the security forces will harass them. However, this courageous move by the people was greatly welcomed inside and outside Iran.
The Iranian people will choose paths that lead them to democracy and freedom at the lowest costs. We call on the world to support the demands of the people and to support them via the means they deem appropriate without any harm befalling the people. This will certainly be in the interest of stability in the region and the world.
The article first appeared in the Arabic-language Al Arabiya website on August 9, 2016.