The phone rings and it is one of my former colleagues from Iran. “They arrested Hossein as well.” she says as her voice trembles hysterically. This is the fifth call I have received in the past two weeks with the same bad news.
While the Iranian government is celebrating the lifting of international sanctions as a result of nuclear deal and the international investors rush to Iran’s highly profitable market, for Iranian activists, journalists and writers the new era of misery has just started. Since the beginning of the last round of nuclear negotiation, the number of detentions, executions and persecutions jumped to a whole new level.
Iranian intelligent service has launched two parallel projects: First, using foreign citizens as hostages to strengthen Iran’s position in nuclear negotiation and second, putting pressure on Iranian activists to suppress any potential domestic criticism. Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini both Iranian-American citizens were already in the hands of security forces when Jason Rezaian, Iranian-American journalist, and recently Siamak Namazi, Iranian-American businessman, were arrested. At the same time, a new wave of arrests and long-term imprisonments of Iranian intellectuals and activists has been launched by various security, paramilitary and intelligence departments.
Atena Farghdani, Iranian cartoonist and children’s rights activist, was arrested for the second time and sentenced to twelve years and nine months in prison. The court order was issued after a video of Atena was released in which she talked about the harassments and abuses she experienced in the prison. She was recently the subject of a virginity test in the prison. (1)
Bahareh Hedayat, Women’s rights and student movement activist, was sentenced to another two years in prison while she was about to finish her previous seven years prison term. (2)
Atena Daemi, children’s rights activist, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. (3) Mehdi Mousavi, Fatemeh Ekhtesari , Iranian Poets, were sentenced respectively to 11 years and 9 years in prison and 99 lashes for each. The prison sentence was for writing provocative poetry and 99 lashes were for “kissing”.(4) Keyvan Karimi, filmmaker, was sentenced to six years in prison and 223 lashes for making documentaries about child laborers in Western Iran and having illegitimate relationships. (5)
These are just the few among many recent preposterous sentences against writers, artists and activists in Iran.
Shortly after the Iran’s nuclear deal was made, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei declared that this deal will not lead to any agreement over human rights in Iran. In his letter of approval of Iran’s deal, once again, he pointed out the regime’s conditions for commitment to the deal:
“The nuclear deal will be rendered void if any future sanctions are imposed on Iran by any country, or under any pretext — including “human rights” and alleged support of terrorism.” (6)
It seems that the Iranian regime is using the deal as a shield to harshly suppress the intellectuals and human rights activists once and for all. If we look back at the history of Islamic regime, we will find this as an old tactic.
On 20 July 1988 Iranian regime reluctantly accepted resolution 598 and the bloody war between Iran and Iraq was over. However, less than a month after the agreement, Khomeini’s ghastly decree was issued (some would say it had been issued even a day before the agreement):
” Since those hypocrites (leftist prisoners) do not believe in Islam and their leaders confessed to their apostasy and regarding that they are at war with our nation […] those who are in prisons throughout the country persisting on their hypocritical belief are the enemy of God and are sentenced to death. […] having mercy upon these enemies of God is nothing but credulity. ”
Prisoners were tried once again with simple questions: Are you Muslim? Do you believe in God? Are you willing to denounce your respective organization in TV interview? Are you willing to execute the other members of the organization? “No” for answer meant immediate execution.
The estimated fatalities is between 2500- 6000. (7)
Once again, we are on the verge of a new agreement, which I support with all my heart since it might possibly prevent another bloody war. But there are signs that the days after the agreement would be similar to 1988 when the regime relieved of the international pressures came for those who were making trouble inside the country. Just like a drunken violent husband who smiles at neighbors assuring them that everything is alright inside the house. Then he locks the door and comes for his frightened trembling family.
About a week ago, Iran’s supreme leader warned against the “cultural and intellectual infiltration” in Iran. Shortly after more than 50 student activists, writers, journalists and artists were arrested. Recently, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Army announced that the recent arrests are related to a “network of infiltrations led by foreign hostile countries”.
For Iranian activists such announcement has a clear message. Soon enough, there will be a big TV show of confessions. In 1998 Iranian intelligence service admitted the existence of an elimination project that led to assassination of more than 20 Iranian intellectuals. Iran’s supreme leader asserted in his speech that “I cannot believe that these agents were not connected to the foreign intelligence agencies and did not take orders from them.” (8)
Shortly after a video of brutal interrogation of former intelligence agents leaked, in which they confessed of being connected to CIA and Mossad. One of the interrogators later explained in the court’s hearing: “when the supreme leader believes that these agents are connected to the foreign intelligence agencies, I have the religious and professional duty to get the same confession out of them by any means.”
It seems that the same scenario is on the agenda once again. The Iranian regime is intentionally and stubbornly worsening the human rights situation to send a clear message to the international community and the Iranian opposition: “From now on the matter of human rights in Iran must stay out of question.”
And So far, Iranian regime seems to be relatively successful in persuading the international community to compromise over the systematic violation of human rights in Iran after nuclear deal.
The Latest UN report on Human Right Situation in Iran, issued on October 2015, has faced absolute media silence. In the same month, Philipp Geist, German artist, was invited by German Embassy to present a light installation on the body of “Liberty Tower” in Tehran. (9) His project entitled “Gate of Words” and he projected the words “Freedom”, “Democracy” and “Peace” in different languages on Liberty Tower while on the other side of the city the real “Gate of Words” called “Evin prison” is holding more than 1000 artists, writers, journalists, and activists simply because of their “words”.
Today, the international community, especially EU’s fundamental values, is facing a historical test. Do they compromise over the human rights in Iran in exchange for securing a crucial deal with Iranian regime?
I hear the trembling voice over the phone: “I can’t talk much on the phone. You know… It’s getting difficult to breathe; really difficult. Do something if you can.”