Embracing Iranian uprising

Source: Thewhig.com / www.thewhig.com / By Geoffrey Johnston /

Iran is a stinking torture state run by a theocratic regime that maintains its weakening grip on power through the barrel of a gun and organized violence.

Iranian uprising
Iranian pro-government protesters take part in a march held after the weekly Friday prayers in central Tehran on January 5, 2018. New pro-regime protests were held in Iran, in reaction to the protests against the government and the cost of living. / AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENAREATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

When Iran’s 2009 elections were stolen by Islamic hardliners, ordinary Iranians took to the streets to demonstrate in support of democracy. The regime responded with a brutal crackdown that included beatings, shootings, torture, the jailing of protestors, and even the use of sexual violence against dissidents.

Despite coming to power as a supposed political reformer, President Hassan Rouhani has “has not delivered on his campaign promise of greater respect for civil and political rights,” a report by Human Rights Watch states.

Under Rouhani, “the hardline factions that dominate the security apparatus and judiciary continued to crackdown on citizens for the legitimate exercise of their rights, in blatant disregard of international and domestic legal standards,” Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2017 states.

The time has come for the world to acknowledge that the Islamist regime is illegitimate. It has built a political system that is designed to mimic democracy, giving the impression of governance by duly elected representatives of the people. But in reality, Iran is ruled by a brutal theocratic regime that terrorizes its citizens and the wider world.

It is time for the regime to fall and be consigned to the trash can of history.

Human rights ignored

The Islamist regime has ruled Iran with an iron fist since the Islamic revolution of 1979. And it has never subscribed to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, the concept of human rights is alien to the elderly religious fanatics who oppress Iran’s diverse and sophisticated population.

“Ever since the Islamic Revolution in Iran rose up against the tyrannical modernization of the shah [Iran’s former American-backed ruler], Islamic figures have questioned the universal writ of western human rights norms,” scholar and former federal Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff writes in his 2001 book Human Rights as Political Idolatry.

“In Islamic eyes,” Ignatieff writes, “universalizing rights discourse implies a sovereign and discrete individual, which is blasphemous from the perspective of the Holy Qur’an.”

However, ordinary Iranians hold views on human and political rights that are diametrically opposed to those of the country’s theocratic rulers.

Over the past week, courageous Iranians have taken to the streets in many parts of the country to demonstrate against the corrupt theocrats who have mismanaged the economy, persecuted religious minorities, bullied students, intimidated trade unionists, silenced artists, and murdered innocent citizens.

Iranians have good reason to push for the demise of the regime. It is a major abuser of human rights and a threat to human dignity.

According to Amnesty International’s annual 2016-17 report, Iranian authorities “heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious belief, arresting and imprisoning peaceful critics and others after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts.”

Torture, floggings, amputations and “other cruel punishments” continue to be used by Iranian authorities against prisoners of the state, the report alleges.

“Iran executes more people than any country in the world, other than China,” the Canadian chapter of Amnesty alleges. In addition, the nongovernmental organization accuses the regime of persecuting women, as well as ethnic, religious and linguistic minority communities.

The Iranian regime has a lot to hide from the international community when it comes to its deplorable human rights record. That explains why the regime has barred the United Nations Special Rapporteur from entering the country.

Not only does the Iranian regime violate the human rights of adults, it also executes children. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has condemned Iran for putting juvenile offenders to death. According to Amnesty, Iran continues to discriminate against “girls; children of religious and ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] children.”

Kangaroo courts

According to Amnesty International, trials in Iran are “generally unfair,” including death penalty cases. “The Special Court for the Clergy and the Revolutionary Courts remained particularly susceptible to pressure from security and intelligence forces to convict defendants and impose harsh sentences,” Amnesty alleges.

The human rights organization accuses Iranian authorities of flouting due process of law, including sometimes denying the accused the right to a lawyer and/or the right not to incriminate himself. And when defence lawyers are permitted, they’re “frequently denied full access to case files and prevented from meeting defendants until shortly before trial.”

Even more troubling is the fact that torture is sometimes used by authorities to extract confessions from prisoners. And coerced statements are admissible as evidence in Iranian courts, according to Amnesty International.

In addition, Amnesty reports that judges often fail “to deliver reasoned judgments” and that the judiciary fails to make court judgments “publicly available.”

The regime ruthlessly persecutes human rights defenders. For example, authorities arrested several foreign nationals and Iranians with dual citizenship and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms after being convicted on trumped up charges of “collaborating with a hostile government.”

Citing the case of Fariba Khaleghi, Amnesty reports that Iran’s Islamic Penal Code allows for stoning as a method of execution. Khaleghi remained under a death sentence at the time of the report’s publication.

In addition, “many nonviolent crimes, such as ‘insulting the Prophet,’ apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery, and drug-related offences, are punishable by death,” the Human Rights Watch report notes.

In the summer of 2016, the regime executed 20 Kurds who were convicted of charges of “enmity against God.” Human Rights Watch characterized their trials as “unfair” and declared that they were abused and tortured in detention.

Freedom of expression, association, assembly

Cracking down on protests, free speech and liberty is the modus operandi of the theocratic regime.

According to Amnesty International, the regime justifies violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly by accusing those who speak freely of national security crimes. Iranians who have run afoul of the regime include: journalists, lawyers, bloggers, poets, women’s rights activists, trade unionists, and other activists.

According to Human Rights Watch, authorities “flogged 17 miners in Western Azarbaijan province after their employer sued them for protesting the firing of fellow workers.”

Not surprisingly, Human Rights Watch found that “space for free speech and dissent remained highly restricted, and authorities continued to arrest and charge journalists, bloggers, and online media activists for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

For example, Human Rights Watch cites the cases of five journalists arrested by the intelligence branch of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in 2016. The journalists stood accused of “colluding with foreign media.”

In addition, Human Rights Watch found that in 2016 social media and the internet remained under government surveillance. “Hundreds of websites, including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, remained blocked in Iran,” the NGO’s annual report notes.

In addition, Human Rights Watch alleges that “the intelligence apparatus heavily monitored citizens’ activities on social media.” For instance, social media users were “summoned or arrested by the IRGC for commenting on controversial issues, including fashion.”

Bloggers who dare to criticize the regime can find themselves under the lash. For instance, the Amnesty International report recounts the case of a journalist and blogger who was sentenced to 459 lashes for allegedly “publishing lies” and “creating unease in the public mind.”

According to the Amnesty report, the Revolutionary Courts often cite “criticism of Iran’s human rights record on social media” as well as communicating with the UN Special Rapporteur or Amnesty International “as evidence of criminal activism deemed threatening to national security.”

To be clear, activists imprisoned by the regime are not criminals. Anyone arrested and/or jailed for defending human rights and/or political rights are prisoners of conscience — not criminals.

Women’s rights, religious persecution

If you support liberty, equality of the sexes and the rights of women, you should speak out against the Iranian regime — a regime that actively oppresses women.

“Iranian women face discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody,” asserts the Human Rights Watch report.

For example, “a woman needs her male guardian’s approval for marriage regardless of her age and cannot pass on her nationality to her foreign-born spouse or their children,” the report states. And a married woman cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad unless she has written permission from her husband.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “the Iranian regime ruthlessly promotes its strict interpretation of Shia Islam and oppresses religious minorities.” The commission was established by an act of Congress and advises the U.S. government on issues of religious liberty around the globe.

The commission’s annual report alleges that in 2016, the regime “engaged in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”

USCIRF’s annual report, published in April 2017, accuses Iranian authorities of “severe violations targeting religious minorities — especially Baha’is, Christian converts, and Sunni Muslims.”

Velvet Revolution

We are witnessing the changing tide of history in Iran.

The ongoing protests in Iran are taking place 29 years after popular demonstrations erupted in Communist Czechoslovakia, which was then dominated by the Soviet Union. On Jan. 16, 1989, playwright, poet and dissident Vaclav Havel was arrested at a street demonstration and sentenced to nine months in prison.

Havel’s detention only hardened the resolve of pro-democracy demonstrators, who took to the streets in ever greater numbers, chanting “Havel nah hrad!” (Havel to the castle). The writing was on the wall. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet empire began to disintegrate.

In December 1989, the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia crumbled and Havel became president of a free country. Remarkably, the shy intellectual had led what came to be known as the Velvet Revolution.

The situation in Iran, unlike the Velvet Revolution, is proving to be very bloody. The theocratic regime is determined to hang on to power, using lethal violence.

The Iranian regime will undoubtedly blame the popular uprising on America, Israel and foreign counter-revolutionaries. Don’t believe them. This appears to be an organic Iranian movement.

As security forces use deadly violence against protestors, Canada should declare that individual members of the regime could be held to account at the International Criminal Court if they order mass killings. The mullahs and their minions should be made to understand that history will judge them for mass atrocities.

In the meantime, Canada should take immediate steps to deter the Iranian regime from committing such crimes against humanity. For example, Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, a Canadian lawyer, suggested on Twitter that “Canada can use the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Officials Act (also known as the Sergei Magnitsky law) against Iranian human rights abusers.”

Iran has great potential. Its population is educated and sophisticated. Should the Iranian people succeed in casting off their chains and establish a democratic government, they would undoubtedly flourish.

In the meantime, the Trudeau government should forget about establishing good relations with the current regime and instead embrace the popular protest movement.

The illegitimate Iranian regime has reportedly cut off social media access in an attempt to halt the momentum of the protest movement. However, it is not clear that the regime can silence all social media.

Everyone who believes in universal human rights should send a message on social media to the people of Iran: “To the castle!”

The Vaclav Havel Center