FPI Bulletin: Iran’s Human Rights Abuses Persist as Nuclear Talks Near Deadline

June 9, 2015

The Iranian regime’s ongoing oppression of its own people offers a bleak reminder of the stakes of the nuclear negotiations as a June 30 deadline nears. Although President Obama has said that a nuclear deal may “strengthen the hand of those more moderate forces inside of Iran,” the truth is that Tehran continues to execute innocents, torture prisoners, stifle free speech, and subjugate women, gays and lesbians, journalists, political dissidents, and ethnic and religious minorities. Iran’s behavior is not improving, and its disregard for both its own commitments and international norms indicates that the regime will subvert and circumvent any nuclear deal it negotiates.

Upon taking office in 2013, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged to advance moderation and reform, including equal civil rights and free speech. Some two years later, he continues to serve as the public face of a theocratic dictatorship that ruthlessly suppresses these rights. In 2014, the first full year of Mr. Rouhani’s government, Amnesty International reported that Iran executed more than 700 citizens — more than any country in the world other than China.

In a March 2015 report, Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, painted a grim picture of Iran’s abysmal human rights record under Rouhani. “The use of capital and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment,” the report noted, “persist at alarming rates.” Moreover, the government's "influence over the media, civil society, political organizations, and the legal community” has expanded.

As Tehran and the P5+1 reach the final stages of nuclear negotiations, Iran’s human rights abuses show no sign of abating. It has even issued brazen denials of its actions. “We do not jail people for their opinions,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Charlie Rose in April 2015.

Yet as he spoke, Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi lay on death row for “insulting the Prophet” on Facebook. Earlier this month, Iranian artist Atena Farghadani received a prison sentence of more than 12 years for drawing Iranian leaders as monkeys and cows on Facebook. In May 2015, Iran imposed a seven-year sentence on Atena Daemi for Facebook posts the regime deemed “insulting [to] the Supreme Leader and the sacred,” among other allegations, and prosecuted Iranian writer Reza Khandan Mahabadi for writing posts on Facebook that criticized state censorship.

In April 2015, Iran sentenced six people to prison terms of five to seven years for their Facebook posts. Last year, Iran hanged Mohsen Amir Aslani for allegedly committing heresy and insulting the Prophet Jonah. And three Iranian-American citizens continue to languish in prison on trumped-up charges.

These developments represent a minute fraction of the executions and imprisonments Iran has imposed. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), Iran has executed some 329 people so far this year after trials devoid of meaningful due process. Mr. Shaheed, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights on Iran, noted in March 2015 that citizens also face execution for “adultery, sodomy, alcohol consumption, and for vaguely worded national security offenses.”

A February 2015 report issued by the U.N. secretary-general criticized Iran’s “continued crackdown on media professionals, the pervasive restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, including the closure of newspapers and magazines, and the ongoing monitoring, filtering and blocking of websites that carry political news and analysis.” “Some 5 million websites,” it added, “are currently blocked,” and the regime continues to restrict peaceful assembly and association. In the same month, opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard marked the fourth anniversary of their extra-judicial house arrests.

Women constitute a central target of the regime’s brutality. A March 2015 IHRDC report describes “a climate of state-sanctioned ideological intolerance that has set the stage for violence” against women, including the 2014 acid attacks against women by unidentified men putatively seeking to enforce the Islamic dress code. The regime imposes restrictions on dress, employment, salaries, marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, education, leadership opportunities, and participation in sporting and artistic events.

Ethnic and religious minorities, including the Baha’ai, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, as well as Iran’s Kurdish, Christian and Arab communities, among others, also face discrimination, including the prospect of arbitrary imprisonment or execution. Moreover, Iran imposes the death penalty for same-sex relations between men, and 100 lashes for same-sex relations between women.

Even as the human rights of average Iranians deteriorate, the regime has taken great strides to advance its nuclear program, consistently violating its international obligations and successfully extracting concessions from the P5+1 that would permit it to retain its nuclear infrastructure as part of a final deal. In this context, the nuclear agreement being negotiated is less likely to promote moderation in Iran than solidify and extend a grim status quo.

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