World must not forget Iran’s detained protesters
Although demonstrations against the Islamic Republic generally grab international attention, less focus is placed on the situation after the protests end and the policies the Iranian regime pursues following its successful suppression of widespread demonstrations.
Every wave of protests has further questioned the legitimacy of the regime and challenged its hold on power. Nevertheless, from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, protests are a good opportunity to unleash a sweeping crackdown on their opponents. For example, during the 2018 protests, about 7,000 people were arrested but, soon after the regime silenced the protesters with brute force, the international community appeared to have forgotten about the plight of those captured by the authorities.
The Iranian leaders have declined to report how many people were arrested and killed during last month’s protests. This is a classic strategy employed by the authorities in order to hide the scope of the ongoing crackdown and to impose fear in society. Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, accurately pointed out that: “Keeping families in the dark about the fate of their loved ones while ratcheting up an atmosphere of fear and retribution is a deliberate government strategy to stifle dissent.”
The regime is attempting to extract forced confessions by threatening detainees and their families
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Human rights groups believe that at least 140 people were killed and thousands were arrested during the recent public display of discontent in more than 100 locations across Iran. Iranian officials have announced that at least 97 people identified as “leaders” or “influential actors” have been arrested. Those arrested are most likely to be among the younger members of the population, women and university students.
The international community must pay close attention to the domestic situation in Iran after protests are violently crushed. It is also critical to continue shedding light on the fate of the detainees. The regime generally labels protesters as rioters, foreign conspirators or political dissidents. This gives the authorities the power to send them to the Revolutionary Courts and keep them in notorious political jails such as Evin Prison.
Iran’s Revolutionary Courts are known for their lack of due process and for denying detainees access to lawyers. Detainees generally face ambiguous charges such as endangering the national security of the government, attempting to overthrow the government or conspiring with “enemies” and foreigners.
These courts are also known for passing harsh sentences, which range from long-term solitary confinement to execution. Several Iranian officials have already recommended the government sentence protesters to death. The representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office in Khuzestan Province, Mohammed Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, told the official Persian language IRNA news agency that “rioters who used the increase in fuel prices to come to the street and damage public property were trained by foreigners and… should be executed.” The Persian language newspaper Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Khamenei, wrote: “There are reports that suggest judicial authorities consider execution by hanging as the destiny for the rioters.” It is worth noting that the act of insulting Khamenei or chanting “Death to Khamenei” is punishable by death.
The Iranian regime is most likely also resorting to various methods of torture. For example, following the extensive protests in 2009, reports emerged from a specific detention center, Kahrizak, where detained protesters were tortured and raped. Several detainees died there, according to human rights groups. Two major institutions will be playing crucial roles in this regard: The Ministry of Intelligence and the judiciary, which are both dominated by hard-liners.
In addition, the regime is attempting to extract forced confessions by threatening detainees and their families. In such situations, detainees are normally required to state that they were cooperating with foreign governments, spying, and inciting anti-government protests. These “confessions” are videotaped and broadcast to the rest of the world in order to justify the harsh sentences and buttress the Iranian regime’s argument that the demonstrations were acts of foreign “sedition,” while proving that the regime continues to enjoy a high level of domestic popularity. Iran’s state television channels have already broadcast several such coerced confessions.
Some people also die in detention centers because of the torture, and the regime attempts to brush off these deaths as “suicides” without providing any details.
Other detainees will most likely be lashed in public in order to send a strong message to their peers that demonstrations against the regime will not be tolerated. Family members will also be threatened and warned against speaking to the media or writing posts about their situation on social media.
As the Iranian regime is unleashing its sweeping crackdown, the international community must put pressure on the authorities to stop their campaign of oppression and release innocent detainees.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh