It is time to hold the Iranian regime accountable
The US and EU ought to prioritize addressing the Iranian regime’s human rights violations at this crucial time. Iranian citizens from all walks of life have been protesting for more than a month. The protests — which erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of the regime’s morality police after she was arrested for violating the country’s hijab mandate — have become completely political. In the meantime, the Iranian authorities are taking desperate measures to suppress them.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all Iran’s major domestic and foreign policy issues, has backed the security forces and police, while instructing them to harshly crack down on the protesters. He this month called the demonstrators “thugs, robbers and extortionists.” And he declared: “Those who ignited unrest to sabotage the Islamic Republic deserve harsh prosecution and punishment.”
The chants that have become popular across Iran include “We are all Mahsa, fight and we will fight back,” “This year is a year of sacrifice. Seyyed Ali (Khamenei) will be overthrown,” “Death to the dictator,” “Death to Khamenei,” “Freedom, freedom, freedom,” “From Kurdistan to Tehran, I sacrifice my life for Iran,” and “Imprisoned teachers must be freed.”
The regime’s forces are deploying full-scale brute force to suppress anyone who dares to protest. It should be alarming that the theocratic establishment has been targeting children, many of whom have been killed by the security forces.
A woman from Sanandaj described one incident to Human Rights Watch: “(Security forces) ran toward a 13-year-old boy who was standing among the crowd. He was so delicate and small that he didn’t even resist. He was on the grass protecting his head while they were beating him. I yelled ‘Leave him alone’ and walked toward them. They fired in the air and people started fleeing while they dragged the boy across the street. While I was running, I kept yelling ‘He is my brother,’ thinking that was going to provoke their mercy. I saw an officer turning, sitting down and aiming at me. I saw the fire from his weapon. I got scared and ran away. I had a burning sensation until I got home and realized that I was hit in my chest.”
It is time to hold the Iranian regime accountable
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Many have been arrested and their fate is unknown. This ought to be the time that the international community steps up in order to pressure the Islamic Republic into releasing the detainees. Many of those arrested are likely to be young.
Even though some mainstream media outlets may soon begin focusing less on the domestic situation in Iran, it is critical to continue shining a light on the regime’s crackdown on the protests, as well as on the fate of the detainees.
The Iranian regime generally labels protesters as political dissidents and keeps them in notorious facilities, such as Evin Prison. There is a lack of due process and they are generally denied access to lawyers.
They will likely face ambiguous charges such as endangering the national security of the government, attempting to overthrow the government or conspiring with “enemies” and foreigners. Their sentences can range from long-term solitary confinement to execution. The act of insulting the supreme leader by chanting “Death to Khamenei” is punishable by death. Torture is a classic tactic that the regime uses in such scenarios, according to Amnesty International.
Up to this point, the regime’s hold on power has largely depended on a strong sense of impunity that has grown out of its avoidance of consequences for incidents like the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. The international community’s failure in this regard was acknowledged by several UN human rights experts last year, when they wrote an open letter about this crime against humanity and noted that no relevant bodies had followed up on a December 1988 resolution that recognized that year’s increase in politically motivated killings.
Ordinary Iranians are appealing to the international community for assistance in preventing a dramatic rise in the number of fatalities resulting from the regime’s crackdown on the protests. 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. Human rights organizations and the US should closely monitor the situation in Iran. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran can play a critical role by opening a full-scale investigation.
It is incumbent on the US and EU to place the Iranian regime’s human rights violations and brutal crackdown on protesters at the top of their agenda and to hold the Iranian authorities accountable for their crimes.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh