Iran’s torture and execution of champion wrestler Navid Afkari is consistent with a new Amnesty International report on the regime’s flagrant human rights violations. Inadequate international censure for such abuses and for repeated breaches of the Iran nuclear deal serve to appease and embolden Iran. It also alarms regional states aligning in opposition to the belligerent theocracy.
The report, Trampling Humanity, documents a campaign of brutality that accompanied thousands of arrests and detentions in Iran’s November 2019 protests, triggered by rising petrol prices. Assisted by an internet shutdown and the absence of free speech, association and assembly, government forces killed more than 1,500 unarmed demonstrators and bystanders and injured at least 4,000. During the crackdown that followed, more than 7,000 adults and children as young as ten were arbitrarily arrested. The victims suffered a litany of torture, including flogging, sexual violence, electric shock, ripping out of nails and months of solitary confinement. Using coerced confessions, a complicit justice system handed out several death sentences and prison terms of up to 10 years.
Covid-19 has devastated prisons that lack hygiene, testing and adequate quarantine measures. Qarchak, the largest of Iran’s women’s prisons, is notorious for unsanitary conditions, insufficient food, severe overcrowding, rape and murder. Violent offenders are left to roam and harass political prisoners. Controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qarchak is considered a punishment for political prisoners, including British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, serving a decade for alleged espionage. Another dual national, British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was dealt a five-year jail sentence for allegedly plotting against the regime. Both women are probably pawns in Iran’s hostage diplomacy.
Other political prisoners include Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer serving 38 years in prison. She has defended dissidents and women who removed their mandatory hijabs in public.
The US State Department recently called for accountability regarding the execution of about 30,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, who assisted the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 but turned against the theocratic dictatorship. Investigations into the massacres were never undertaken by the UN or Western governments. Systematic arbitrary detention is used by the regime to obstruct journalists, forcing some to conform to government directives and pushing others onto social media. Freelance journalist Khosro Sadeghi Borojeni was recently sentenced to seven years in prison on vague security and ‘insult charges.
The EU is fully committed to defending universal human rights as foundational to long-term peace and stability and the UK has announced a raft of human rights sanctions that target organisations and individuals globally. Yet both tend to downplay Iran’s egregious human rights abuses, effectively granting its leaders exemption from accountability. In the UNHRC, Iran is rarely scrutinised and even praised by member states for protection and promotion of human rights. Execution of gays and minors, oppression of women and persecution of minorities are ignored, as are pretensions to a fair parliamentary system, with candidates for election vetted by hard-line clerics who also have the power to block legislation.
Prior to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal), the UN Security Council had passed a number of resolutions that imposed sanctions and an arms embargo on Iran to prevent nuclear weapons development. Automatic reintroduction of all pre-existing, non-rescinded sanctions, or ‘snapback’, was embedded in the event of Iran’s non-compliance with the deal.
The five permanent members of the UNSC plus Germany (P5+1) hoped Iran would comply and moderate after sanctions were lifted and before sunset clauses permitted uranium enrichment after 10 to 15 years. Instead, Iran breached the agreement by increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium and accelerating the development of ICBMs capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran’s financial windfall arising from the nuclear deal bolstered the extraterritorial Quds Force, commanded by Qassem Soleimani before he was killed by a US airstrike in January 2020. The Force has armed militia proxies such as Hezbollah, vastly expanding Iran’s messianic revolution and Shia empire. Hezbollah’s terror tentacles have reached Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and beyond, into Europe, the UK and South America. Capitulation to Hezbollah’s malevolence encourages Iran as well as other regional and global forces of Islamist extremism.
Nevertheless, the P5+1 are averse to penalising Iran or renegotiating a tighter agreement. They refused to support US motions to extend the arms embargo which expires on 18 October this year or endorse the snapback to restore UN sanctions that predate the JCPOA. Predictably, China and Russia voted against the motions, claiming the US had forfeited the right to trigger snapback when they abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018. The UK, France and Germany (E3) abstained, despite being targets of Hezbollah terrorism and depots for the militia’s weapons and ammonium nitrate explosives.
Rather than focus on Iran’s nuclear deal infringements and destabilising foreign adventurism, the E3 cling to the unsigned and arguably non-legally binding agreement like a life raft, hoping for rescue by a Biden election win. That outcome could see the US return to the JCPOA, with the lifting of sanctions and resumption of trade with Iran, including weapon sales. Recently, the US unilaterally reimposed pre-deal sanctions in order to curb Iran’s nuclear, ballistic missile and conventional arms development. If these sanctions are opposed in the UNSC, the US can exercise a veto. Appeasement allows Iran to evade penalties for gross human rights violations, expansionism and nuclear deal non-compliance, and it exposes the international community’s hypocrisy and cowardly accommodation of the theocracy’s grievous behaviour.
A prudent alliance against Iran has formed between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain in the wake of a US drawdown in the Middle East. This partnership, with momentum for adding more member states, is also opposed to other Islamist extremist entities such as the Muslim Brotherhood, expansionist Turkey and Qatar. Appeasement of Iran could jeopardise the region’s bold new coalition and its welcome front against other malign Islamist forces.
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Ida Lichter is the author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression
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