Bring attention back to Iran’s human rights abuses

The head of the Iranian regime’s judiciary recently disputed the very concept of international standards for human rights. “We don’t expect the West to impose its assumptions on human rights and human dignity to all societies,” Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani said during a meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer. In other words, Larijani believes that the Iranian regime should be free to redefine human rights to allow torture and systematic repression of dissent, and he would like the West to actively endorse that notion.

Larijani’s argument, though absurd, is worth calling attention to, in large part because it comes at a crucial time for both Iran and the U.S.

The July 14 nuclear agreement between the Iranian regime and the P5+1 has given way to a contentious fight over review and implementation on both sides. That, however, appears to be wrapped up, allowing the deal to go into full effect, ultimately providing the regime with tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

No doubt it will be difficult for the international community to adapt to a situation in which the future of the Iran nuclear deal is not on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But this adaptation doubles as a clear opportunity for Western powers, Tehran’s Middle Eastern adversaries, and global human rights activists, to bring the matter of Iran’s terrible behavior back to the public discourse.

In recent years, only some of the most intimate or shocking human rights abuses by the regime have made their way into media reports. The execution of Rayhaneh Jabbari, for instance, was preceded by urgent alerts from Amnesty International, which gained some traction within the global media and generated legitimate outrage among the public over its sheer injustice. The 26 year-old was killed last October even though prior international attention had elicited delays. She had been charged with murder after stabbing an Iranian intelligence agent who was attempting to rape her.

But individual cases like this only serve as illustrations of much larger trends. Jabbari’s death speaks both to the institutionalized mistreatment of women and to Iran’s outrageous abuse of the death penalty. And the situation in these two areas – and countless others – has only grown worse over time.

Since the so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, there have been more than 2,000 executions carried out in the country. This represents a higher sustained rate of judicially-sanctioned killing than any other period in the last 25 years. Yet it still pales in comparison to the 1988 mass executions of 30,000 dissidents, mainly members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The Iranian opposition, led by a woman,. Maryam Rajavi, has been the leading voice in calling for safeguards to the rights of women in Iran. Unfortunately, in the midst of a period of nuclear negotiations between the Iranian regime and the P 5+1, these calls have been all but ignored, and the situation has deteriorated for women across the country.

Starting in October 2014 in the city of Isfahan, at least 25 women were attacked in the streets by having acid thrown on them. These crimes, which were never solved and were arguably never investigated, are generally considered to have been motivated by the Iranian regime’s fear of the population particularly women who have predominantly rejected the forced-veiling laws. After all, as. Rajavi said, Islam is against any compulsion in religion. “Despotism and tyranny under the name of Islam, the medieval Sharia laws, and the excommunication of opponents, whether Shiite or Sunni, are against Islam and the emancipating Tradition of the Prophet Mohammad,” she said.

Around the same time, several other measures were put in place in Iran to curtail the rights of women, including the enforcement of stricter segregation of the genders in public spaces and even in the workplace, and the aggressive prosecution of women’s rights activists including Atena Farghadani, a young artist who recently received a 12 year prison sentence for the crime of posting a political cartoon online.

All these rights abuses and more have gone nearly unnoticed in the U.S. and Europe in recent months and years. 

As the media and the public adapt to the new situation and the nuclear agreement follows its course, resources should come available for reporting on Iran’s deteriorating human rights situation. 

The Iranian regime certainly cannot conceal the truth of Iran’s ongoing abuses – not unless the outside world continues to let them.

Samsami is the representative in the United States for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which seeks the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.