Where Are the US and the EU on Iran’s Human Rights Violations?

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The Iranian regime’s suppression, torture and execution of political prisoners and those who protest against the theocratic establishment have reached an unprecedented level. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Iranian regime is one of the world’s leading executioners. (Image source: iStock)

While the Biden administration and the European Union are forging ahead to revive the Iran nuclear deal – which, by the way, Tehran never signed — and lift sanctions on the Iranian regime, they are turning a blind eye on the regime’s alarming and increasing human rights violations.

Human rights violations committed by the Iranian regime have become even more shattering and appalling. Unfortunately, Iran’s leaders have been acting with full impunity. First, the suppression and execution of political prisoners and those who protest against Iran’s theocratic establishment have reached an unprecedented level. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Iranian regime is one of the world’s leading executioners. In 2020, Iran’s regime executed more than 230 people. These include individuals who committed their alleged crimes when they were children.

To execute political prisoners, Iran’s judiciary brings up vaguely defined charges, labelled as “national security crimes,” against the defendants. These “crimes” include moharebeh (“enmity against God”), ifsad fil arz (“sowing corruption on earth”), and baghi (“armed rebellion”).

It is not only the number of executions that is alarming, but also the nature of some of them. The executions from 2020 until March 2021 have involved juveniles, women and individuals from ethnic and religious minority groups, including Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds and Sunni Muslims. Although Iran ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, President Hassan Rouhani’s government has made no effort to alter the country’s Penal Code, which allows girls as young as nine to be executed.

Concerning the persecution of the ethnic minorities, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, pointed out in a statement: “The recent escalation in executions of Baluchis and Ahwazi Arabs raises serious concerns that the authorities are using the death penalty to sow fear among disadvantaged ethnic minorities, as well as the wider population.” These sometimes follow what the organization calls “flagrantly unfair trials.”

The Human Rights Watch “World Report 2021” mentions the execution of high profile figures such as the international wresting champion, Navid Afkari. Afkari and his brothers were tortured to force them to testify against each other to extract “confessions,” which were then aired on television. Afkari wrote in a letter:

“For around 50 days I had to endure the most horrendous physical and psychological tortures. They would beat me with sticks and batons, hitting my arms, legs, abdomen, and back. They would place a plastic bag on my head and torture me until I suffocated to the very brink of death. They also poured alcohol into my nose.”

Another prominent figure executed in 2020 was the dissident Iranian journalist Rouhollah Zam. He lived in exile in France and was reportedly kidnapped by operatives working for the Iranian regime on October 11, 2019, shortly after he left for a trip to Iraq. Zam had run the online news site AmadNews, and his channel on the messaging app Telegram reportedly had more than 1 million followers. By executing such high-profile figures, Tehran is attempting to instill fear and send a warning to the population that opposition to the political establishment will be dealt with harshly.

To suppress political prisoners even further, Iran’s judiciary system and its courts deny the defendants access to legal counsel and the most minimal standards of justice. Lack of due process, forced confessions and physical or psychological torture are prominent in the process through which the judiciary sentences defendants to the death penalty. As the latest report by the Human Rights Watch exposed:

“Iranian courts, and particularly revolutionary courts, regularly fall far short of providing fair trials and use confessions likely obtained under torture as evidence in court. Authorities have failed to meaningfully investigate numerous allegations of torture against detainees. Authorities routinely restrict detainees’ access to legal counsel, particularly during the initial investigation period.”

In 2020, ordinary citizens’ basic freedoms, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion deteriorated in Iran. The regime has also ratcheted up its discrimination against religious minorities such as the Baha’i.

It is a step in the right direction that the US Congressman Joe Wilson introduced a bill on the eve of Nowruz, Iran’s New Year, to hold Iran accountable for human rights violations. The bill, called “Iran Human Rights and Accountability Act of 2021,” includes Hezbollah and the Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq. But this bill alone is not enough.

In rewarding Iran for malign behavior — by again showering millions of dollars on the Iranian regime, lifting sanctions and reviving the nuclear deal — the US and the EU are empowering the ruling clerics of Iran to further suppress and crack down on dissidents, torture and kill their citizens and expand their tyranny abroad.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh –  a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at [email protected]

© 2021 Gatestone Institute.

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