Time to Confront Iran’s Human Rights Abuses
Image Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office, Kremlin

Time to Confront Iran’s Human Rights Abuses


Whether one supports the nuclear deal with Iran or not, one must accept that it is the new reality in which further Western policies toward Iran will have to operate.

With that in mind, anyone who is concerned about Tehran’s behavior both within and beyond its borders should now be focused on the question of how to generate the strongest possible unity of purpose in confronting those issues diplomatically, economically, and if need be militarily. Regardless of how one feels about the nuclear agreement, it is time to put aside those differences in the interest of working together to the greatest extent possible with respect to the many non-nuclear threats that Tehran regime poses to the world community.

That nuclear agreement will put many people’s lives at risk if its verification proves as unreliable as many critics think. Aside from threats it poses to the Iranian people, it could ultimately put the very existence of the state of Israel at risk. After all, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei just this month expressed hope that within 25 years, the Jewish homeland will be no more. So the consequences of Iran’s successful push for a nuclear weapon are extraordinary, but by most accounts they are at least several months away.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

By contrast, Iran’s influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, and Bahrain, as well as its systematic repression of dissent and its enforcement of a fundamentalist view of law and governance put thousands of lives at risk every single day.

However, the presence of Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly on September 28 provides an excellent opportunity to put the spot light on Iran’s egregious human rights conduct.

Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Council have repeatedly raised the issue of Iran’s sky-rocketing use of the death penalty. The per capita rate of executions in the country was already the highest in the world long before Hassan Rouhani took over the presidency of Iran amidst promises of broad-based moderation. Yet since then, the rate has climbed to an average of three executions per day, putting the Islamic Republic on track to hang well over 1,000 people in the year 2015 alone, most of them non-violent offenders.

Some of these victims are sure to be political prisoners, as well. The Committee to Protect Journalists routinely ranks Iran as one of the worst jailers of reporters in the world. More than 50 are known to be in custody today, and these constitute only a fraction of the overall population of prisoners who have been targeted simply for their affiliations, their public activities, or their privately expressed political and religious views. The Islamic Republic effectively retains carte blanche to execute these sorts of people by charging them with vague crimes like “enmity against God,” which carries the death penalty in the theocracy’s legal system.

This very charge was used, for instance, to justify last year’s execution of Gholamreza Khosravi, whose only offence was donating money to the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI).

Other political prisoners may not be made subject to the death penalty per se, but this is no guarantee that their lives are not in danger whenever they are in custody of the regime. It is well known that Tehran utilizes torture in its interrogations, and a number of people have died as a result. It also routinely denies essential medical treatment to some inmates. In the case of Afshin Baymani, another political prisoner with links to the PMOI, it has done so for 16 years, even as he has suffered chronic pain related to severe heart disease exacerbated by notably poor prison conditions.

Add to these deaths the immeasurable human costs of Iran’s backing of the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War, its connection to a July 28 bombing in Bahrain that killed two police officers, and its constant supplying of terrorist groups with money and weapons, including a large cache that was seized by authorities in Kuwait in mid-August.

When viewed collectively, it is clear that these activities represent a more clear and present danger to regional stability and global security than a nuclear deal that has been handled poorly by the West, but has been handled nonetheless.

Debate and coordinated actions are still needed on that point, but they should never come at the expense of action on Tehran’s human rights abuses and support for terrorism.

Whichever side you come down on with regard to the nuclear deal, you should recognize that there are legitimate grounds for disagreement. But there are no such grounds for disagreement on the appalling human rights situation in Iran or Tehran’s sponsor of terrorism.

Iran will receive at least 56 billion dollars once the deal is implemented, according to the Obama-administration. Some other experts and U.S. lawmakers estimate the actual number to be as high as 150 billion dollars. Nevertheless, there are some economic sanctions that will remain in place because they are specifically related to Iran’s human rights record and regional behaviors. There is nothing to prevent Western governments from amplifying and aggressively enforcing these sanctions as Iran’s human rights situation deteriorates and the number of executions increases.

What policy the West decides to pursue, silence on Tehran’s abysmal human rights record is and must not an option. The West’s adherence to its principled and moral values will come to a test next week at the UN General Assembly.

It is worth remembering that the world is watching, first and foremost the Iranian people who are true allies when it comes in formulating a viable policy on this strategic country.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass is an independent member of the UK House of Lords and prominent member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF), www.iran-freedom.org

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief