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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, and severe restrictions are commonplace when people try to voice basic, collective demands. But those efforts are accelerating anyway, as people call for the overthrow of a theocratic system that does not align with their aspirations for self-governance and peaceful membership in the international community.
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 dozens killed and thousands more jailed and tortured. Then, less than two years later, even greater repression emerged in response to an even larger uprising. After residents of roughly 200 cities and town participated in the demonstrations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened fire on crowds, killing 1,500 protesters and bystanders.
That crackdown and its aftermath have reaffirmed that the clerical regime remains one of the most active 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 as the mullahs wage an ideological war on women both in the legal system and in the broader society, denying them basic rights and freedoms.
The ruling clerics actively spread propaganda and misinformation against opponents as well. The regime has taken the astonishing step of bombing the religious shrines to incriminate those opponents. It has also systematically conducted extra-judicial murder, killed Christian priests, brutalized minorities, and perpetrated crimes against humanity. The Iranian regime does not accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and insists that its perceived abuses are actually justified by local culture, ideology, and alternative concepts like “Islamic human rights.”
The regime conducts a systematic war on 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.
Practices such as public execution, gouging out eyes, and amputating limbs are horrendous in their own right. But they are made worse by the nature of the “offenses”.
Citizens cannot express politically incorrect opinions or criticize government officials; women must wear hijabs, and everyone lives in constant fear of straying from what the regime deems “appropriate” public behavior. Meanwhile, the regime takes pains to paint itself to the rest of the world as a democratic nation. However, the people of Iran and many international human rights activists know it is actually an inhumane dictatorship that must be overthrown.
This has been clear to some, like the Iranian Resistance leader Massoud Rajavi, since at least 1981. And between then and now, the regime’s brutal repression has only reinforced most Iranians’ eagerness 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, 30,000 political prisoners were arbitrarily executed in a matter of months. Most of them were affiliated with the main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK), and all had received definitive jail terms which they were serving at the moment of execution.
The victims of the massacre comprise more than one-sixth of the approximately 120,000 “martyrs” that the MEK has identified over the past four decades. Many of these individuals have had biographical details published by the organization, but government repression has made it difficult to obtain information about the regime’s crimes. Merely researching the matter can expose Iranians to harsh punishment.
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 developed countries promote 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. At the same time, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) runs a major part of the narcotics trafficking in Iran, generating huge profits that the IRGC then uses for its extraterritorial activities and terrorism.
The vast majority of Iran’s executions are in contravention of internationally recognized standards, such as the presumption of innocence, access to lawyers, and trials in open court. Even among those whose death sentences are connected to charges that rise to international standards for the “most serious” crimes, many are convicted and sentenced only after being forced to provide false confessions under vicious torture.
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 the Iranian regime’s legal code, it is justified.
In most cases, juvenile offenders are held in prison but are not executed until after they turn 18. This practice was no doubt implemented as part of an effort to push back against international criticism without actually halting any of the regime’s abuses. Toward that same end, the judiciary has publicly announced the review of some capital cases involving juvenile offenders and other persons who have become the subjects of international appeals. But in almost every case in recent years, the death penalties have been upheld on appeal and carried out when global news coverage has died down.
The eventual implementation of these sentences is a testament to the regime’s contempt for foreign “infiltration” into matters such as domestic human rights. A prominent new example of this phenomenon appeared on September 12, 2020, when the Iranian judiciary hanged the activist and 27-year-old wrestling champion Navid Afkari. His case had been taken up by individuals and groups including Amnesty International and US President Donald Trump, after it was reported that Afkari had been falsely accused of murder, then tortured into a false confession.
The Afkari case is only one of many examples of this sort of coercion.
Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of NCRI, responded to news of Afkari’s hanging by urging the international community to exert more pressure on the regime, and by declaring that “silence and inaction give a green light to [the regime] and are considered as complicity in these crimes.”
In advocating for high-pressure strategies for dealing with Iran, the MEK contrasts such assertiveness with Western policies of “appeasement” that date back at least to the summer of 1988, when the Iranian regime summarily and extra-judicially executed tens of thousands of political prisoners held in jails across Iran. Activists had tried to warn international media outlets and policymakers about the massacre as it was unfolding, but they were largely rebuffed by those who feared undermining tenuous relations with the regime.
The massacre was carried out on the basis of a fatwa (religious decree) issued by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, probably on July 26. 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, but the regime continues to hide or destroy evidence. This underscores the urgency of appeals that Amnesty International and the MEK itself have issued in recent years regarding the prospect for a proper, UN-led investigation into the unpunished crime.
The regime has never formally acknowledged those executions or provided any information as to how many prisoners were killed, even though in recent years, some of its officials have expressed “pride” at having carried 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 were slaughtered, the overwhelming majority of them being activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK).
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… 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” to this task. It was 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. The committee’s trials generally lasted just a few minutes and usually consisted of little more than an interrogation session. The questions were focused on whether the inmate continued to have any allegiance to the MEK, whose affiliates made up more than 90 percent of the prisoners who were taken before the “Death Committee.”
If the prisoners were not willing to collaborate 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 identified themselves as “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.”
As important as this acknowledgment of the massacre was, the direct appeal to Iran’s regime was misguided insofar as the regime has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of interest in addressing the issue. And in August 2020, the release of an archival document from Amnesty International clarified that this lack of interest is not based on ignorance of the massacre or its severity, but rather on a shared commitment to downplaying or covering up what has been called the “worst crime of the Islamic Republic.”
The document in question, one of 16 of its kind, was a letter that Amnesty had sent to Iranian authorities during the 1988 massacre, urging them to halt the execution of political prisoners and to admit human rights observers to Iranian prisons. This corroborated Resistance narratives about the massacre which held every major, contemporary Iranian official responsible for either participating in it or turning a blind eye.
But the regime’s comprehensive endorsement of the killings had already been made clear by the numerous instances of officials being promoted through the ranks of that regime despite, or perhaps because of, clear evidence that they had played a role in the massacre. As of 2020, both the Minister of Justice and the head of the Iranian judiciary were former “death commission” members.
As the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre are now effectively in charge of Iranian law enforcement, it is certainly no surprise that Iran’s abuse of the death penalty continues unabated. It is also no surprise that other forms of corporal punishment remain as popular as ever, even as they are subject to a growing chorus of condemnation both from the international community and from ordinary Iranians.
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 often carry out these cruel and inhumane punishments in public.
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. These have been systematically condemned through 65 UN statements issued by the organization’s various organs. But torture and other ill-treatment such as prolonged solitary confinement remain systematic, especially during interrogations.
The official record of torturous interrogation and extra-judicial punishment grew substantially in September with the release of a new report by Amnesty International titled “Trampling Humanity: Mass arrests, disappearances, and torture since Iran’s 2019 November protests.” The report collected personal and eyewitness statements regarding “beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, forced administration of chemical substances, and deprivation of medical care,” all directed against arrested participants in the November uprising.
Although torture is most common among opposition activists, it has also been experienced by a wide range of other prisoners, some of whom have died as a result. In 2018, 13 people died under torture following their arrests in connection with the protests in late 2017 and early 2018. Officials claimed some had committed suicide, but these assertions were disputed by the victims’ families.
Over nearly four decades, scores of former political prisoners have testified to international bodies, including UN commissions, on this subject. And volumes of personal testimonies on their affidavits stand as proof that the cruelest torture has been used against tens of thousands of prisoners in Iran.
It is common practice in the Iranian regime for people to be punished by flogging, often in public, on charges such as theft, attending peaceful protests or cultural gatherings, having extra-marital relationships, and attending mixed-gender parties. A citizen may also receive a flogging for offenses such as breaking fast in public during Ramadan, accessing websites or social media platforms that are “forbidden,” publishing anything deemed to be “false” news, and criticizing government officials.
Other crimes, including theft, continue to be punished with the medieval practice of amputating limbs. As recently as October 8, this sentence was upheld in Urmia Prison for brothers Mehrdad and Shahab Teymouri. This closely coincided with the passage of a new sentence for a 32-year-old prisoner named Arash Ali Akbari. Each of the three men has been ordered by a judge to lose his right hand.
There are many other instances of similar punishment, not always involving the right hand, or not only the right hand. Some prisoners are blinded as punishment for their alleged crimes, in a literal application of the principle of “an eye for an eye,” also known in the Iranian justice system as qisas, or “retribution in kind.” The regime’s “Islamic” Penal Code also calls for stoning as a method of punishment and execution.
But violent retribution in Iran very rarely has a direct analogue in the “crime” that brought it upon the accused. The regime regularly responds to civil disobedience, both inside prisons and in the broader society, with amputations, blinding, eye-gouging, and public executions.
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 during 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 crush all attempts at the freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. 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 have erupted in nearly every Iranian province starting in late December 2017 have been 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 their second week. Detainees were denied access to legal representation and threatened with more serious charges if they sought counsel.
The regime has admitted some aspects of its repressive response but has attempted to conceal the number of arrests. Meanwhile, officials openly spoke of “preemptive” arrests to curb further disturbances.
At least 12 of the people arrested during the uprising died in custody under suspicious circumstances. And numerous videos circulated widely on social media channels showed authorities using potentially lethal force against protesters. At least 50 were directly shot dead by state security forces before the nationwide movement faded near the end of 2018.
Journalists, like women and ethnic or religious minorities, are at elevated risk of repression by regime authorities. Should the facts and opinions that they disseminate be at odds with the regime’s official version, journalists, bloggers, and social media activists risk arrest and even execution.
Even ordinary citizens face reprisal for using illegal platforms like Facebook or Twitter to broadcast unorthodox ideas. So naturally, the regime does not tolerate journalists publishing data or stories that paint it in an unflattering light. 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 practices. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been blocked for years.
The Iranian regime is among the top violators of the rights of religious minorities. Widespread and systematic attacks continue 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 some have been handed prison sentences of 10 years or longer.
Followers of Ahl-e Haq or Yarsanism have been arrested in large numbers, then brutalized and imprisoned. Sufi Muslim religious sects have long complained of harassment by Iran’s Shiite rulers, who view them as heretics. And Iran’s Bahaiis are severely oppressed and frequently deprived of basic citizen’s rights such as access to education and employment.
The denial of basic rights to women affects all aspects of public and private life in Iran. Should a woman enter a public space without hijab, or “proper” covering, flogging is a possible consequence. Depending on the “severity” of the “crime,” she may receive several lashes or several dozen.
A woman can be pulled over while driving or walking if an agent considers her hijab to not be properly covering her. This can lead to fines or detention, but public harassment is a form of punishment unto itself. It also threatens to inspire disturbing public vigilantism like that which manifested in sporadic acid attacks on women around the city of Isfahan in 2014. The assailants were reportedly associated with the paramilitary Bassij force, and their attacks blinded some of the women who were deemed to be inappropriately covered.
While these actions were not officially claimed by the regime, officials did nothing to seriously investigate the vicious assaults and no one was arrested or prosecuted. This further convinced 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 improving their 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 mistreatment paints a vivid picture of the attributes women are forced to adopt: submission, silence, and obedience. Women in Iran are nevertheless resilient, and many have fought back.
Some 137 women put their names forward to run for president in the most recent election cycle, knowing full well that they would not be allowed past the vetting process by the Guardian Council. While some of the more optimistic commentaries on Iranian affairs suggested that the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani might somewhat make up for the absence of female candidates by appointing one or more to his cabinet, this did not come to pass in either of his terms.
However, women play a leading role in the Iranian opposition, comprising more than 50% of the NCRI’s membership. Its main constituent group, the MEK, is led solely by women, and it has put forward Mrs. Maryam Rajavi as the President-elect to lead a future transitional government in Iran.
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. Baluch human rights activists believe that more than 100 people, including innocent bystanders, are killed every year in government operations that target residents of the poverty-stricken region who are smuggling Gasoil to make ends meet. Security forces are not held accountable for the murders.
Similarly, the IRGC and other regime forces have continued to unlawfully attack and 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.