Students face riot police near Tehran University, during a clash which started when police occupied and closed the main entrance gate of the university, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday July 13, 1999. In a flashback to the revolution that installed Iran’s Islamic government 20 years ago, police fired tear gas at some 10,000 protesters on the streets of Tehran after they marched for a sixth day in protest of hard-liners who have thwarted efforts to institute reforms.
As a sign of the troubled relations between Tehran and the West, Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno just renamed the street next to the Iranian embassy “July 9th St.” – after the date symbolizing the 1999 student pro-democracy demonstrations in Tehran. Iran responded angrily, but at the same time released a statement by its foreign minister about possible progress in negotiations over its nuclear program. While the diplomatic rhetoric may appear ambivalent, Tehran’s domestic actions appear much more clear and defiant. Last Tuesday, Iran hanged another teenager, 19-year-old Hamid Reza, who was convicted of murder. The country’s parliament is also considering a bill that could result in the death penalty being used for those deemed to be promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy on the Internet.
Ever since its establishment in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has had an abhorrent human-rights record, including summary executions of hundreds of the late shah’s supporters, executions of thousands of political prisoners and daily reports of executions, public hangings, floggings and torture. Mass graves can easily be found in any large Iranian city. Iran also tops the list for executing juveniles in direct violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child – currently there are more than 70 children on death row. Juvenile offenders Mohammad Feda’i, Behnoud Shojaee and Saeed Jazee face imminent execution, according to Stop Child Execution and Amnesty International.
Over the past few years, since the Holocaust-denying hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, the human-rights conditions in Iran have further deteriorated. There are virtually no segments of the Iranian population immune from these violations. Religious minorities such as the 300,000-member strong Bahai community, a peaceful nonpolitical offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, are under siege. Last May, seven members of its leadership group in Tehran were arrested. Fifty more were rounded up across the country in a deliberate campaign of terror and intimidation.
Since 1979 under the Islamic Republic, more than 200 Bahais have been executed. This campaign of terror and intimidation is not limited to the so-called “non-recognized” religious minorities such as Bahais. Ayatollah Borujerdi – a Shi’ite cleric who preaches a traditional nonpolitical version of Shi’ism – has also joined that list. Last year, Ayatollah Borujerdi, dared to question the Islamic regime’s interpretation of political Shi’ite Islam. He was arrested during a violent clash involving his followers and was later severely tortured along with his entire family and many of his followers. There are reports that his condition is worsening.
The Sufis (the moderate mystics in the world of Islam) received their share of Islamist mistreatment in an unprecedented assault on the Sufi center in the city of Qom in 2005. Radio Free Europe reported that according to the deputy governor of Qom, Ahmad Hajizadeh, 1,200 worshippers (also known as dervishes) were arrested as police sought to close a Sufi house of worship. Sufi groups and human-rights activists put the number of the arrests at 2,000 and the number of injured at 350 people. Following the clashes, authorities demolished the house of worship as well as the homes of two leaders of the group.
Political dissent is likewise unwelcome. Amir Yaghoub-Ali, a 22-year-old student activist was arrested last year and has been sentenced to one year in prison. (He had been charged with having collected signatures on a petition seeking greater female rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.) At least three other Iranian women’s-rights activists – Nahid Jafari, Nasrin Afzali and Marzieh Mortaz-langarudi – received flogging and jail sentences for their participation in the same campaign. Political activists such as Mr. Arzhang Davoodi and Dr. Seyed Mostafa Alavi are under increasing pressure in jail and are being ill-treated by the authorities.
Last May human-rights activist Hassan Abdul Hussein Tafah, an Iraqi refugee who later became an Iranian citizen, was sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined the equivalent of 130,000 euros. He was originally sentenced to death. His crime? He attended an international conference where human-rights issues were discussed. (At least Mr. Tafah appears to be somewhat prepared. Before seeking refuge in Iran he had spent 15 years in Iraqi jails during the rule of Saddam Hussein.)
What will a regime capable of committing such a widespread human-rights violations of its own citizens without a nuclear arsenal do to its citizens and others if and when it acquires nuclear capabilities? The international community will be well advised to ponder that question.
Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist and associate researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.