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One Year After Massive Crackdown, Human Rights Abuses in Iran Remain Underreported

MEK, NCRI, IRGC, Khamenei
Iran, November 2019 protests

November marks the one-year anniversary of the most significant anti-regime uprising to date in Iran. On November 14, 2019, the regime’s officials announced there would be sharp increases in government-set gasoline prices, thereby adding to the already severe economic pain being felt by the population. Public protests broke out on the very night of the announcement and quickly swept across the entire country. Fearing their regime would fall, mullahs’ committed one of the worst repressions in the nation’s history.

The extent of that repression was not immediately recognized by the international community. And in fact, it has never been recognized in such a way as would leave the Iranian regime with the impression that it faces serious accountability for domestic human rights violations. But at the beginning of September, Amnesty International released a report under the title “Trampling Humanity” in which it detailed some of the beatings, floggings, electric shocks, chemical burns, mock executions, and other instances of torture that political detainees had experienced in the aftermath of the uprising.

These reports are disturbing in their own right, but the torture was only a supplement to the mass murder the regime had already perpetrated while the uprising was still ongoing. Still panicked over the lingering effects of previous anti-regime protests, regime officials immediately dispatched the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to confront demonstrations with deadly force last November. IRGC criminals did not hesitate to open fire on crowds, and in a matter of only days, the death toll mounted to 1,500.

Most of the victims have since been identified by name by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). MEK played a leading role in public unrest since it first broke out on a national scale in the final days of 2017. Meanwhile, the Iranian Resistance movement has been working to bring greater international attention to the explosive situation inside Iranian society.

On October 7, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) hosted an online conference featuring dozens of current and former members of the European Parliament, during which many of them condemned current policies as maintaining a longstanding tendency toward “appeasement.” Michèle Alliot-Marie, a former MEP and French Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, used the event to say, “I deplore what is going on in Iran today. It is in contradiction of the values I hold dear and the values of the EU. I regret the fact that those European bodies that defend democracy are remaining silent on these issues.”

Alliot-Marie was referring both to last year’s human rights abuses and people’s protests. Like the uprising that was already underway at the beginning of January 2018, the message of last November’s movement was regime change leading to Iran’s first truly democratic government. Both uprisings featured slogans urging the ouster of all leading regime officials and explaining that the public’s interests are not represented by the “hardline” or the “reformist” factions of the regime.

The Iranian Resistance domestic and international leading role in struggle for freedom has infuriated the regime. Thus, in an attempt to prevent its downfall, the Iranian regime had resorted to the most spectacular repressive measures. But in resorting to those methods, the Iranian regime has effectively admits of its own vulnerability. It did the same in the midst of the January 2018 uprising, when its public acknowledgement of the MEK’s role undermined literally decades of regime propaganda.

Following a massacre of political prisoners in 1988, during which MEK members comprised the overwhelming majority of over 30,000 victims, regime authorities simply declared victory over the Resistance movement and began acting as if it had been driven to the brink of extinction. Toward that end, the regime’s officials and state media began describing the MEK as a “grouplet,” while the regime’s lobbyists worked to spread this false notion that there is no alternative to the vicious dictatorship in Iran.

All the while, the regime’s officials have been publicly declaring that all manner of brutal treatment is justified for the MEK’s “Resistance units,” and supporters. In recent years, as the history of the 1988 has been revealed to a broader audience, some of the perpetrators of that massacre have openly defended its legacy and even suggested that it could be a model for future crackdowns, depending on factors such as the international reaction.

In a 2016 state media interview, then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi fondly recalled his own role in the “death commissions” that decided on the massacre’s victims, and he proudly declared that he had been carrying out “God’s command” by killing innocent prisoners. Such shameless endorsement of crimes against humanity shows that the killing and subsequent torture of protesters was only a preview of worse abuses to come.

Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi defends Iran's 1988 massacre

In October’s virtual conference, Slovakian MEP Ivan Štefanec explicitly stated that recent and ongoing Iranian human rights violations are “the continuation of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners which remains unpunished,” and that those violations have accelerated because “Iran is on the eve of a great explosion.” Under those circumstances, he added, European governments continue to downplay Iran’s domestic issues for the sake of preserving the 2015 nuclear deal and the overall status quo.

“Human rights should come first,” Štefanec concluded. And it should be difficult to imagine any of his colleagues in the European Parliament or in European government as a whole taking a different position. Yet, the EU has done so in practice, prioritizing its economic interests over people’s lives in Iran.

A year after the nationwide Iran protests, and as the regime continues its human rights violations in Iran, it is imperative for the international community to stand by the Iranian people. Undermining the regime’s human rights abuses only emboldens the regime to further continue its malign activities both inside and outside Iran.

Also, two weeks thereafter, the international community will have to confront Iran’s ongoing commitment to state terrorism, as November 27 marks the trial date for a diplomat-terrorist arrested for masterminding a bomb plot that targeted the NCRI near Paris in June 2018.

Czech MEP Stanislav Polčák underscored the importance of this proximity in his remarks to the NCRI’s virtual conference. “We usually deal with human rights violations and terrorist activities of the Iranian regime as two separate issues whereas [they] are two sides of the same coin,” he said. Both behaviors are indicative of desperate efforts to hold onto power in the face of serious domestic and international challenges. So, it is time for the international community to adopt a firm policy aimed at addressing the mullahs’ violent strategy for reinforcing their rule.