On Thursday, the Iranian regime’s judiciary carried out four executions in just one prison, thereby reiterating its contempt for universal human rights principles. In another prison one day earlier, the judiciary finally hanged a prisoner who had previously been transferred to solitary confinement on at least two occasions as a form of mock execution. Such tactics of psychological torture are commonplace in Iran under mullahs and will be growing even more prevalent under present conditions.
Prominent among those conditions are the regime’s obvious fears of public unrest. This has been a more or less constant fact of life since the end of 2017, when Iran was rocked by the first of three nationwide uprisings. In the face of popular calls for regime change, the regime’s authorities initiated a crackdown, killing around 60 protesters and arresting thousands of others. But this crackdown had but a periodic benefit for the regime, because people’s uprising re-formed and emerged on a national scale once again in November 2019.
The second uprising proved to be even larger than the first, encompassing around 200 cities and towns, including many that the regime for long been portrayed to be its strongholds of support. In all of those localities, slogans like “death to the dictator” emerged spontaneously from demonstrations that were initially sparked by the announcement of sharp increases in the price of gasoline. Recognizing and fearing the movement’s rapid spread and strong anti-regime message, Tehran quickly responded by urging the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to shut down the uprising by any means necessary.
The IRGC opened fire on crowds of demonstrators, and Amnesty International later observed that agents were clearly shooting to kill. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), through its both an established intelligence network and given its leading role in protests, set to work calculating the fatalities and identifying the victims.
For nearly a year, the MEK has been reporting that Iranian authorities killed approximately 1,500 peaceful demonstrators in a matter of only days in November 2019. That figure was later confirmed in a Reuters report that cited anonymous sources from inside the Iranian regime. Yet, the international community has failed to take concrete steps toward preventing the repetition of such abuses by Iran’s theocratic regime.
The international community’s failure in holding the regime’s authorities to account has emboldened the regime to continue its killing spree. In this regard, and while condemning the recent executions, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) urged “the United Nations Secretary General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, relevant special rapporteurs and all international human rights organizations to immediately act to stop torture and executions in Iran and to submit the dossier of the Iranian regime’s cruel and systematic human rights violations to the UN Security Council.”
It is frankly shocking that such calls have not been heeded at any time in the year since Iran experienced what may have been its worst single crackdown on dissent in more than 30 years. It is even more shocking that the standing record for such crackdowns – set all the way back in 1988 – has received little international attention despite being and obvious foundation for constant domestic repression by the Iranian regime.
In the summer of 1988, that regime carried out a systematic massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, most of which were members and supporters of the MEK. None of the regime’s official has ever been held accountable for the killings, to say nothing of the regime as a whole. For years, the NCRI has spearheaded efforts to spur an UN-led investigation into this crime against humanity, with the ultimate goal of filing charges at the International Criminal Court against known perpetrators who remain in prominent government positions even today.
In absence of such charges, those perpetrators remain free to play a leading role in the regime’s crackdown on dissent following the January 2018 and November 2019 uprisings. And as long as the international community delays in holding criminals ruling Iran to account, the entire regime will continue to defy international human rights standards by way of mass executions, mass shootings, physical and psychological torture, politically motivated arrests, and so far.
A set of four executions would be an odd spark for international action against a system whose legacy includes prior sets of hundreds and even thousands. But there must come a time when the accumulated death toll in Iran becomes too much to bear for foreign governments that see themselves as global defenders of human rights. In other words, the international community should act rather than waiting for the next instance of the regime attempting to stamp out dissent en masse.
Unless Tehran is given strong disincentives, another such large-scale crackdown is all but inevitable. Regime authorities themselves have left little doubt about this, insofar as they have been warning one another for the past three years about the looming threat of further public unrest.
There is a clear through-line linking the January 2018 uprising to its sequel in January 2019. In a recent retrospective article, the state-owned Resalat daily acknowledged that the society’s restiveness throughout the year 2019 was contributed to “one of the highest levels” of property destruction and clashes with authorities after citizens poured into the streets in November.
Resalat also noted that “organized cadres” of the MEK, had taken advantage of those conditions to general public outrage into specific appeals for the mullahs’ ouster. These organized “Resistance units” continue to operate today, despite the regime’s oppressive measures. In fact, their efforts and public support for them have both been amplified, thereby setting the stage for another uprising at some point in the near future.
Neither public protest nor the regime’s repression was halted in the wake of last year’s uprising. It would be a dereliction of duty for the United Nations or its member states to act as if they were. Those entities should be planning at this very moment for the day when the Iranian people once again rise up against the regime, and the regime tries to put them down. The underlying conflict has been constantly escalating since the first major clash, and it will continue to escalate until Iranian people’s inevitable victory. History will judge the West for which of these outcomes it helps to realize.