Human rights deteriorate in Iran despite European optimism

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

No amount of trade and economic growth can make up for the suffering and loss of life caused by Iran’s brutal regime. The West must demand change before deepening relations with Tehran, writes Gérard Deprez.

Gérard Deprez is a veteran member of the European Parliament, is vice-president of the Belgian Liberal Mouvement Reformateur Party and chairs the Friends of a Free Iran group in the European Parliament.

Last week I, together with 270 of my colleagues in the the European Parliament from all political groups, including six vice-presidents of the Parliament, signed a joint statement decrying the human rights situation in Iran. We called on European governments to require improvements to that situation before further expanding relations with Tehran and expressed our concern for the  rising number of executions in Iran since the so-called “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani took office three years ago.

In his latest reports to the UN Human Rights Commission, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, pointed out that nearly 1,000 people were put to death in Iranian jails during the year 2015 alone. He has clarified that this represents the worst period of executions in 27 years, in a nation that consistently executes more people per capita than any other.

The trend continues to this day, even in the wake of the implementation of the Iranian Nuclear Deal. It continues even as some European politicians insist on regarding the Rouhani administration as moderate, and as a potential source of internal reforms in the months and years to come.

Iranian opposition sources have added to Shaheed’s statistics by noting that President Rouhani has overseen a total of approximately 2,500 executions during his three years in office. Various Iran-focused human rights organisations have continued to report executions in recent weeks and have pointed out, for instance, that at least 73 people were hanged in May, some even in front of public crowds that included young children.

Such brutal spectacles are only one of the ways in which the Iranian regime maintains its commitment to plainly medieval values, regardless of whether Western observers keep up scrutiny and pressure on Tehran’s behavior, or praise it for its “moderation”. Repressive measures against women and religious minorities have continued to increase. The joint statement by the European lawmakers highlights not only the overall scope of executions, but also the fact that Iran leads the world in executions of juvenile offenders. Victims of Iranian hangings include political prisoners convicted of “crimes” like “enmity against God”, which may consist of nothing more than donating money to media outlets linked to the opposition PMOI, or otherwise speaking out against the regime’s abuses.

Even those who avoid the noose may be punished with either excessively long prison sentences or forms of legally mandated violence that would be shocking to any civilized person. According to the last report from Amnesty International, the country’s fundamentalist leadership continues to cling to the literal doctrine of “an eye for an eye”, and has very recently carried out punishments that involve blinding prisoners or removing their limbs.

Sentences of flogging are not only eagerly meted out by Iran’s revolutionary courts; they appear to be increasingly popular as ways of attempting to “correct” the behavior of a restive population, particularly women, who are thoroughly fed up with forced Islamic dress codes, comprehensive media censorship, and the criminalisation of anything resembling Western society. Near the end of May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned “the outrageous flogging of up to 35 young men and women in Iran” who  had been rounded up at a graduation party and almost immediately subjected to 99 lashes each for removing headscarves and dancing with the opposite gender.

For those who have been waiting for signs of reforms from inside the Iranian regime, surely that wait has gone on long enough. Former claims of moderation have been thoroughly contradicted in both word and deed by the regime in general, and by the Rouhani administration in particular. The laws leading to the above-mentioned executions and physical violence have all been eagerly embraced by the Iranian president, who has described them as “the law of God” and “the laws of the parliament, which belongs to the people”.

In reality, the Iranian parliament belongs to no one other than the ruling theocracy. The recent political victories for Rouhani’s faction were nothing other than victories of one hardline wing over another. All genuine reformists were ousted from the race long before the Iranian people had any opportunity to weigh in on the future of the country. And more than that, many of the staunch opponents of repressive theocracy and fundamentalism were ousted from the country altogether, years ago.

On 9 July, many lawmakers from Europe, the United States, and throughout the world will join in the international rally of the Iranian opposition in Paris under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi to emphasise our commitment to supporting the Iranian people’s aspiration for democratic change.

Our message is that the Iranian people cannot afford European and American policies that continue to avoid putting pressure on the regime over the human rights situation. No amount of economic growth or trade with Iran can make up for the pain and loss of life that will persist if the regime is allowed to commit its newfound wealth to the same old human rights abuses.

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