World must not forget detained Iranian protesters
The Iranian regime is committing egregious human rights violations in order to instill a tremendous amount of fear in society. The Iranian leaders are also attempting to send a message to protesters that any opposition to the regime, particularly Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, will not be tolerated and that any dissent will be dealt with using an iron fist. This is why the international community and human rights organizations must impose significant pressure on the Iranian leaders and hold them accountable.
First of all, the theocratic establishment is resorting to imposing harsh sentences, such as execution, long-term imprisonment and public lashing, on protesters, including students, teachers, actors, human rights and political activists, lawyers, and celebrities, among others. For example, according to Iran International: “Nazila Maroufian, a journalist, was sentenced to two years in prison, fined 15 million tomans ($350) and banned from leaving the country for five years on the charge of ‘propaganda and publishing lies through an interview with Mahsa Amini’s father.’” It added: “Another journalist, Vida Rabbani, was sentenced to 11 years behind bars. Her mother wrote a letter to the chief justice saying that ‘Vida, now at the age of 33, has to spend 11 years of her young age behind bars arbitrarily upon verdicts issued based on bias.’”
Three major institutions are most likely playing critical roles in the ongoing human rights violations against protesters in Iran: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its paramilitary group the Basij, the Ministry of Intelligence, and the regime’s judiciary system. Since the latest round of protests broke out in September last year, at least 517 protesters have been killed and more than 19,200 arrested.
Unfortunately, the international community seems to have forgotten about the protesters arrested by the Iranian regime. If the international community and human rights organizations disregard the dire situation in Iran, executions and harsh sentences will likely continue in the country. The regime executed more than 55 people in the first 26 days of this year.
Several more are on death row, including teenagers Arshia Takdastan and Mehdi Mohammadifard and 31-year-old Javad Rouhi. According to Amnesty International, they each received “two death sentences in December 2022 for ‘enmity against God’ and ‘corruption on Earth.’ The court stated that the young men ‘incited … widespread’ arson or vandalism by dancing, clapping, chanting or throwing headscarves into bonfires during protests in Noshahr, in northern Mazandaran province, on 21 September 2022. Javad Rouhi received a third death sentence for ‘apostasy’ based on his ‘confessions’ under torture that he burned a copy of the Qur’an during protests. The men’s appeal is before the Supreme Court.”
From the perspective of the Iranian leaders, protests are a good opportunity to detect opponents, unleash a sweeping crackdown and silence them.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Over the past 40 years, several nationwide uprisings have questioned the legitimacy of the regime and threatened the regime’s hold on power. But it is important to point out that, from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, protests are a good opportunity to detect opponents, unleash a sweeping crackdown and silence them. For example, during the 2018 protests, thousands of people were arrested and the regime silenced the protesters with brute force.
One of the other strategies that the Iranian regime employs in order to impose fear in society is torturing detainees. Amnesty International last month warned: “The Iranian authorities must immediately quash the unjust convictions and death sentences of three young protesters who were subjected to gruesome torture including floggings, electric shocks, being hung upside down and death threats at gunpoint … The organization learned that Revolutionary Guards agents raped one of them and sexually tortured another.”
One of the other methods used by the regime to silence dissent and spread propaganda is extracting forced confessions by threatening detainees and their families. Family members will also be threatened and warned against speaking to the media or writing posts about their situation on social media.
It is critical that human rights organizations and world leaders continue drawing attention to the fate of the tens of thousands of protesters who are currently in the regime’s custody.
Finally, the international community needs to remember that this is a regime that committed the 1988 massacre — cleansing prisons of thousands of dissidents and opposition activists and carrying out secret mass executions, dumping the bodies in unmarked mass graves. Ultimately, tens of thousands of people lost their lives in that brutal bloodbath. Amnesty International released a comprehensive report on the slaughter.
In a nutshell, the Iranian regime is committing egregious human rights violations against protesters in order to impose fear. The regime will continue to torture detainees and issue harsh sentences, such as execution, if it is not held accountable. It is critical that the international community and human rights organizations act immediately to demonstrate that these people have not and will not be forgotten.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.