Iran: Plight Of Political Prisoners Signals Regime Turmoil

Iran is currently striving to manage a number of increasingly painstaking dilemmas. International spotlight is again on Tehran’s nuclear program, with the United States demanding United Nations inspectors be granted access to its military sites.

Equally troubling is Iran’s collaboration with North Korea to pursue their nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile capabilities. Such dossiers are enough to undermine the spirit of the JCPOA, Tehran now also considers its meddling in the Middle East indispensable in its effort to establish a regional empire reaching the Mediterranean.

As a result, receiving far less attention than it deserves is Iran’s Achilles Heel: human rights violations.

Despite pledges of reforms provided during May’s presidential election season, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has presided over more than 100 executions during the month of July alone. His first tenure, from 2013 to 2017 witnessed over 3,000 being sent to the gallows despite numerous calls for at least a temporary cessation.

In the past month another urgent plight has emerged as dozens of political prisoners in Raja’i Shahr (Gohardasht) prison of Karaj, west of Tehran were suddenly transferred into a section on July 30th and kept under “suffocating” conditions, as described by Amnesty International.

On this day over 50 political prisoners in ward 10 of Raja’i Shahr prison witnessed authorities resort to force in transferring them to the new location. This slate included prisoners of conscience, human rights advocates, trade unionists, journalists, students, peaceful political dissidents, and members of Iran’s persecuted Baha’i community.

Already deprived of any access to clean, drinking water and food, the absence of adequate beds are also robbing these political prisoners of any sleep. Even water purification devices purchased at the prisoners’ own expenses were confiscated by authorities and maintained at their previous location.

The cells’ windows are covered by metal sheets, making even breathing difficult. While inmates held in other parts of the prison have access to in-person family visits and telephone calls, such accommodations are no longer available to these political prisoners.

Such circumstances left, according to the last count, 22 political prisoners no choice but hunger striking to demand authorities to at least respect their elementary human needs. The main “charge” of most of these prisoners is supporting the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Earlier this month a number of prisoners were punished for practicing their right to a peaceful protest in launching hunger strikes, and thus forced into solitary confinement.

To add insult to injury is how the new section is checkered with closed circuit security cameras and audio surveillance devices. This has taken away any sense of privacy from the prisoners, even in private cells and bathrooms, and mounting to a flagrant rights violation.

Such situations leave no conclusion possible other than the authorities’ intention to completely cut off these political prisoners from the outside world. Officials also seek to restrict, to any extent possible, any information leak regarding their regular ordeals in Raja’i Shahr.

One result has been the prison medical clinic becoming far busier as more political prisoners are transferred due to rapid health deterioration. A number of these cases are in need of dire medical care in outside facilities. The prison warden, however, is refusing the authorization of such hospital transfers.

“The horrendous conditions at Raja’i Shahr prison point to a pattern of cruel and inhumane treatment that has repeatedly characterized Iran’s ruthless attitude to prisoners in its custody,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director for Amnesty International, is quoted in the organization’s statement on this subject.

Iranian authorities have human rights commitments they are obligated to live up to. Yet detaining prisoners of conscience by the dozens following completely unfair trials is this regime’s response in honoring these commitments.

There is no doubt that despite all the claims of Rouhani being a “moderate,” the existence of such conditions in a country’s prisons signal an urgent need for drastic alterations.

Yet despite all the odds there is no sign of these political prisoners backing down from their demands as they courageously continue their protest. Other such prisoners in different facilities across the country are launching their own similar hunger strikes in solidarity with the Raja’i Shahr political prisoners.

Furthermore, this case brings to light how these protest acts, such as hunger strikes launched by political prisoners inside the regime’s own jails and rallies witnessed across the country, enjoy important influence. The ruling elite in Tehran continue to seek effective measures to counter such movements.

This also goes to show how the entire society in Iran has reached the limits of its tolerance with this regime, and why those with knowledge of Iran’s society consider it a powder keg or a time bomb.

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ANALYSIS: How the tide is turning against Iran

As ISIS is losing ground in its two last enclaves of Raqqa and Deir el-Zor, there are many rightfully concerning reports of Iran seeking to chip further control in Syria.

All the while, there are also signs of contradictory remarks heard from senior Iranian officials, parallel to indications on the ground of how international counterparts are seeking their own interests that fall completely against those of Tehran’s.

Such incoherency signals nothing but troubling times ahead for Iran in losing its grasp of strategic interests across the Middle East, including Syria.

‘Not tantamount to meddling’

Similar sentiments were heard recently from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. Zarif exerted himself to defend Tehran’s carnage in other countries under the pretext of a mandate to defend human rights.

“The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic, based on the constitution, is a policy that is naturally founded on human rights. What is the meaning of human rights? It means defending the rights of innocent against oppressors… We have this definition in our constitution. This is not tantamount to meddling,” he claimed.

Zarif’s remarks were followed by Suleimani’s insight. “There were friends in high places, in our country’s domestic and foreign hierarchy, who argued not to get involved in Syria and Iraq, and sit back and respectfully defend the revolution. One individual asked you mean we go and defend dictators? The leader (referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) provided a clear response in saying when you look at the countries we have relations with, who is a dictator and who is not? We simply look at our interests,” he explained.

A troubling slate

The relations Khamenei refers to promote an image into the very nature of his establishment. Bashar Al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria can be read as a reign of death and destruction. With Iran’s support and in the absence of a coordinated global response over 500,000 have been killed, scores more injured, over 12 million are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge abroad, and swathes of the country is left in ruins.

Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, another figure described as Tehran’s puppet, has a similar report card unfortunately gone neglected. The Sunni community was the main target of Al-Maliki’s Iran-backed wrath, fueling the rise of ISIS.

In Yemen the Houthis and ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Salah have also been at the receiving end of Iran’s support. As the Saudi-led coalition advances against Iran’s disastrous efforts, signs of major rifts, and even reports of clashes between the two forces, constitute a major quagmire for Tehran.

The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy offspring brought to life by the IRGC back in the early 1980s, are known to instigate the Syrian war by supporting Al-Assad, and pursuing Tehran’s interest wherever needed across the Middle East.

Looking abroad, Iran has established cozy relations with North Korea and Venezuela, both dictators whose people are starving. The Pyongyang-Tehran axis is especially raising concerns considering their close nuclear and ballistic missile collaboration.

Iran’s own dictatorship

This is a regime provoking a variety of bellicosities. Recent threats by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi of relaunching certain nuclear activities are reminders of the dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Extending equally to such concerns, and not receiving adequate consideration, is Iran’s ongoing human rights violations. Over 100 executions were reported in the month of July alone. This comes after more than 3,000 were sent to the gallows during Rouhani’s first term.

President Hassan Rouhani with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis at his office in Tehran, on Jan. 18, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

More recent cases include the ongoing hunger strike of dozens of political prisoners in a jail west of Tehran going on for nearly four weeks now. These inmates are protesting prison guards resorting to violence and other repressive measures used to impose further pressures.

Concerned of this and the overall situation in Iran, Amnesty International in a statement demanded Iranian authorities “allow international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent, unannounced inspections of Raja’i Shahr Prison and other prisons across the country.”

While this and many other such cases deserve an international inquiry, they do signal a significant change in tone of courage in Iran’s powder keg society against the ruling regime.

From others’ perspectives

Fortunately, there is an end to be seen in the Syrian war. However, six years after the spark of that revolution, the Syrian people have suffered tremendously mainly due to Obama’s compelling kowtowing to Iran.

The war has been draining Iran, forcing it to seek the support of other parties, including Russia. The more parties with stakes in Syria, and with the US taking a far more active stance, the more Iran sees its future in the country threatened.

As the Levant’s forthcoming is being blueprinted, high on the agenda must be thwarting Iran’s interests. With ISIS defeated in Iraq, there will be no legitimacy for Iran’s presence in Iraq in any shape or form. The same argument goes for Syria.

The international community, coming to realize Iran’s destructive nature, should take the initiative and demand the eviction of all Iranian elements from Syria, including IRGC members and foreign proxy members transferred from abroad.

Peace is the end

All said and done, comprehending Iran’s regime thrives on the mentality of spreading crises across the region is vital. Ceasefire and reconciliation are not in this regime’s nature, knowing increasing public demands will follow.

This regime has failed to provide in elementary needs inside Iran for the past four decades. Thus, satellite states abroad will be no exception. Peace and tranquility in the Middle East hinges on containing Iran’s influence from all its neighboring countries and a complete end to its lethal meddling.

A new chapter is being written in this flashpoint region’s history.

Iran’s Chink In The Armor: Human Rights Sanctions

Discussions over United States foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran are continuing as we speak. The Trump administration and Congress have been busy slapping a variety of sanctions, some unprecedented, on Iran for its conglomerate of belligerence.

Tehran’s pursuit of ballistic missiles, controversial nuclear program, support for proxies across the Middle East and fueling sectarian strife has gained widespread attention across the international community. Gone somewhat unnoticed, unfortunately, is Iran’s atrocious human rights violations record.

The appeasement policy in practiced in the West for more than three decades now has left the Iranian people without any support in the face of ongoing executions, detentions, torture and other abuses at the hands of the ruling mullahs.

While strong measures against Tehran are necessary and in fact long overdue, emphasis should be placed on Tehran’s Chink in the Armor: human rights violations.

Recent actions are raising concerns amongst human rights organizations and activists across the board.

“Iran’s judicial and security bodies have waged a vicious crackdown against human rights defenders since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, demonizing and imprisoning activists who dare to stand up for people’s rights,” Amnesty International reported. “…activists have been sentenced to more than 10 years behind bars for simple acts such as being in contact with the UN, EU or human rights organizations including Amnesty…”

Recent reports also indicate a woman being executed on July 26th in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia, bringing the number of women executed during the tenure of the so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani to 80. To twist the knife, the “reformist” Rouhani is not appointing even one female minister for his cabinet.

Speaking of executions, human rights activists have reported 102 executions in the month of July in Iran, while 120 death row inmates await imminent hanging. The first six months of 2017 in Iran was marked with 239 executions, including seven women and three individuals arrested while under age at the time of their alleged crime.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella body consisting of a variety dissident organizations, issued a statement expressing concerns over the lives of 53 political prisoners in Gohardasht Prison, west of Tehran. These inmates have been suspiciously transferred to an unknown location to prevent any contact with the outside world.

These statements make a review of Iran’s human rights report quite necessary.

After the mullahs’ establishment hijacked the 1979 revolution, their true nature was unveiled as their crackdown on any and all dissent escalated.

For nearly 2½ years all protests and demonstrations were quelled. Dissidents, especially members and supporters of the main NCRI partner, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were detained, tortured and murdered.

The turning point arrived at June 20th, 1981 when regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to open fire on a 500,000-strong march in Tehran.

From that day forward the Iranian regime launched a ruthless campaign aimed at purging all opposition forces. Tens of thousands were arrested and tortured, parallel to mass executions in prisons across the country.

A sound file of the late Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then Khomeini’s successor, was unveiled last September, shedding light on current senior Iranian officials’ involvement in those executions. This sent shockwaves across Iran and accelerated efforts launched earlier by the Iranian opposition both inside the country and abroad to shed light on this atrocity and demand accountability.

In the 1990s Iran witnessed a series of assassinations dubbed the “chain murders” led by the notorious Ministry of Intelligence. Dozens of intellectuals and dissidents, including three Christian priests, were assassinated in brutal manner.

In 1999, current President Hassan Rouhani, then Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, placed orders for the IRGC and paramilitary Bassij forces to viciously crackdown nationwide student uprisings.

Such atrocities were witnessed yet again in 2009 when the Iranian people took to the streets protesting controversial presidential results engineered by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reach a second term.

Following Ahmadinejad to the presidency, the smiling Rouhani – naively described by the West’s pro-engagement camp as a moderate – registered a tally of over 3,000 executions during his first term.

And by taking advantage of the 2017 presidential election season to accuse the mullahs’ establishment of hinging their rule on executions and detentions, the months of 2017 and after his re-selection to a second term have been tainted with further human rights violations, as explained above.

While the US administration is raising the heat on Iran, the European Union continues to seek short-term economic gains at the expense of legitimizing the Iranian regime. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is to visit Iran for Rouhani’s upcoming inauguration, raising anger amongst the Iranian people. Tehran will usurp such a visit to legitimize its cruelties against the Iranian population and ramp up executions.

Iran must understand the appeasement policy has come to an end and its measures will not go unpunished. The new sanctions adopted by the US targeting the IRGC, itself heavily involved in human rights violations, are welcome and should be fully implemented.

What the international community must realize is how the human rights dossier is the soft spot for Iran’s mullahs. Tehran must be pressured correctly to both hold the mullahs accountable for their crimes against humanity, and support the Iranian people in their struggle.