Earlier this month Iran executed at least two dozen political prisoners on various charges of activities against the regime or membership in extremist groups. Though there was nothing new either with the charges or the number of executions, the action this time brought wide condemnation, especially by Kurds who thought the world was turning a blind eye to Iran's human rights violations due to its nuclear deal with the West.
"The application of overly broad and vague criminal charges, coupled with a disdain for the rights of the accused to due process and a fair trial have in these cases led to a grave injustice," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Among those hanged was Hassan Afshar, a 19-year-old who was arrested and convicted of rape at the age of 17. Al Hussein called the execution of juveniles "particularly abhorrent."
On August 2, the Iranian government announced that it had executed 20 members of a "takfiri" group (a term used by Iran to denote false Islam) that were mainly Kurdish and Sunnis. A few days later, members of the family of Kurdish nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri said that he had been executed.
These executions immediately caught the attention of rights groups who described them as shameful and made Iran a regional leader in executions.
"Iran's mass execution of prisoners on August 2 at Rajai Shahr prison is a shameful low point in its human rights record," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release on August 8.
"With at least 230 executions since January 1, Iran is yet again the regional leader in executions but a laggard in implementing the so far illusory penal code reforms meant to bridge the gap with international standards," she added.
Many have blamed the West, the United States in particular, for not holding Iran accountable to its human rights violations mainly in order to keep their Vienna nuclear deal in place. But the US State Department says that it remains concerned about human rights in Iran and has raised the issue with them through many channels.
"We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases," a State Department official told Rudaw English. "We have consistently and publicly expressed our concerns about Iran's human rights record through a range of channels."
Emad Kiyaei, Director of External Affairs at the American Iranian Council, says that his council has condemned the recent executions in Iran and that it has raised the issue with the US government. However, he believes that the nuclear deal does not mean Iran has been given a blank check to act as it wants. On the contrary, he sees the deal as a chance to bring the Islamic Republic out of isolation and help improve its human rights record.
"Instead of resorting to coercive policies, the Council recommends the creation of a joint working group between Iran and the EU to examine policies and methodologies to reform the judicial system in Iran," Kiyaei told Rudaw English.
Kiyaei said that the issue of human rights in Iran should be separated from the nuclear deal as it was specific to dealing with Iran's nuclear program, which was not intended to address all the issues that exist between Iran and the international community. "Therefore, it is unlikely that human rights issues would derail this accord."
He argued that keeping the sanctions on Iran could only worsen the situation for prisoners and would not necessarily reduce the number of executions.
"The Council does not believe that coercive or further sanctions on Iran would improve the human rights condition within the country," Kiyaei said, adding, "Instead, through open dialogue, diplomacy and weaving Iran more intimately within the international community would be more conducive in empowering those within the Iranian government who seek to reform, moderate and transform the country to be more in line with universal human rights."
Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow and Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington differs. He does not think the nuclear deal would improve Iran's human rights record as it was only to make sure Iran did not become a nuclear power which has now turned into a business scheme.
"The nuclear deal was never meant to change Iran's overall character but simply to make sure it did not become a nuclear weapons power," Vatanka told Rudaw English. "I don't see any signs that the P5+1 would want to void the deal because of Iranian behavior towards its own people at home."
Vatanka believes that Tehran uses the executions as a show of force especially to deter its opponents and drown any dissent.
He argues: "At the moment the int. community wants to safeguard the nuclear deal and is looking for commercial opportunities in Iran. Unfortunately the human rights record of Iran is not on the top of the list in either Europe or in America."
Some critics of Iran's judicial system believe that the authorities seem to be particular in who they execute and they mostly target minority groups, chief among them the Kurds.
"We should know that currently out of 915 political prisoners documented, 411 are Kurds," Taimoor Aliassi, UN representative of the Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan - Geneva (KMMK-G), told Rudaw English, adding that 75 % of Kurdish prisoners are accused and convicted of being mohareb, a judicial term in Iran for enmity against God.
Aliassai said that since the establishment of the Islamic Republic nearly 4 decades ago more than 14,000 prisoners have been executed, a great majority of them ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Balochis and Afghan refugees and most of them not announced to the public.
"A significant number of these victims are political prisoners and ethnic rights activists who were executed under the cover of drug offences," he said. "Regarding the last mass executions, they are all Kurdish and faith political prisoners sentenced in a hasty and unfairly manner for crime of mohareb based on Articles 279 and 286 of Iran???s Penal Code."
In 2015, Iran was the 2nd highest executioner in the world after China but 1st per capita.
Aliassi urged the world powers, especially the US and European Union, to make the lifting of sanctions and easing of economic and diplomatic ties conditional to Tehran's respect for human rights and the rights of groups such as Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs and Baluchis.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is governing by spreading violence, fear and terror. So hanging prisoners in public is part of controlling mechanism and Islamic Republic will not abolish death penalty unless there is a change of regime."
Source: rudaw.net, August 25, 2016
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