Deadly Summer in Iran

July 29, 2013

Executioners rarely rest in the Islamic Republic of Iran, even during the hot summer months. The month of July has been particularly deadly this year. At least 97 executions have been reported between June 20 and July 20, 2013. Surprisingly, the high number of executions has not triggered particular reaction outside of Iran. Nor has it affected the cautious optimism prevalent since the June 15 election, won by Mr. Hassan Rouhani, a member of the Iranian ruling elite and former nuclear negotiator. The spike in executions, following the election of a president whose campaign theme was moderation, could be a test, and the absence of reaction could be fatal for hundreds of prisoners on death row. It is in this context that the mothers of four Arab Iranian cultural activists, recently sentenced to death, are desperately calling on the international community to speak up on behalf of their threatened children[1]. Will the international community hear the mothers’ call?

 Human rights groups can document cases and echo the voices of victims, as they have recently for these four young men[2]. But they are not invited to any negotiations with Iran, whose authorities rarely engage directly with them. So far, Iran-related discussions are focused on the impact of the 2013 presidential election on nuclear matters; how to engage with the new president; and whether or not to ease economic sanctions. The current human rights crisis, including scores of executions carried out in less than a month and, importantly, the President-elect’s views about it, do not seem to be on the agenda for international stakeholders. For Iranian authorities, on the other hand, promoting their values and confronting the west on human rights issues is always a priority.

 

 On July 23, Javad Larijani, the head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters reiterated his views on the Islamic Republic’s Western critics, blaming them for using human rights as an excuse for targeting the Islamic nature of the regime.[3] Pointing to racism, discrimination, and violence in Western societies, he boasted about Iran’s democracy, stressing that Iran’s judicial norms and its high level of civil and political freedoms are unique in the whole Middle East. It may be unreasonable to expect an official of the Judiciary, the institution that manages the Islamic Republic’s killing apparatus, to talk about the 97 reported executions in the month preceding his statement. But shouldn’t President-elect Rouhani be expected to comment on them?

   Many of this summer’s executions have been reported by non-governmental sources. Who are the 20 individuals who were hanged in Karaj’s Qezelhesar Prison, for example, or the 5 women and 2 men hanged in Zahedan’s Central Prison on July 6, and what were they charged with? Were they provided the means to defend themselves or, like the four young Arab activists, were they kept incommunicado, beaten, and coerced into false confessions that were then used against them in court, in violation of the most basic human rights standards[4]? These are life-saving questions that should be part of any dialogue with the Islamic Republic’s leaders regarding its international obligations.

The arrival in August of a new Iranian presidential team provides an opportunity to bring up the issue of the arbitrary and repeated use of capital punishment in Iran and the systematic violation of due process of law and Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. No doubt, there are many important and urgent topics on the agenda of talks with the Islamic Republic, but leaving the crucial topic of human rights practices to the side sends a reassuring message to the Iranian leadership, which uses the threat of its tireless killing machine to spread fear and eliminate dissent.

 

[1] Ghazi Abbasi (son of Ahmad, born in 1982), Abdolreza Amir-Fanakhereh (son of Younes, born in 1987), Abdolamir Majdami ( son of Hooshang, born in 1970) and Jassem Moghadam-Panah (son of Saied born in 1985); who have been accused of "Enmity against God”; and “Spreading corruption on earth".

[2]http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/26/iran-halt-execution-arab-minority-men

[3] Ceremony marking the relocation of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters. http://www.dadiran.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=2351&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=74465

[4]" From the moment of their arrests till the day of their show trial, we were kept in the dark about their extreme psychological and physical torture, and the security office of the city of Ahvaz denied us any news about them. They were forced to confess to crimes they had not committed. The confessions were written by special agents in a language that is not their mother tongue." Joint letter to the people of the world, by the mothers of 4 Arab youths, inmates in Shadegan prison on death row.