End the silence on Iran’s human rights abuses before the current crackdown worsens
The nationwide protests in Iran, which began on December 28 in Mashhad, gave voice to the economic frustration of ordinary Iranians, but quickly expanded to slogans like “death to [President] Rouhani”, “death to the dictator”, and “reformists, conservatives: the game is over.” In short, the protesters were demanding democratic change in Iran.
To no one’s surprise, Iranian authorities responded violently, with at least 8,000 arrests and upwards of 50 deaths. The predictability of the suppression should have prepared Western policymakers to respond appropriately and effectively.
Despite such brutality, the protests have continued. Earlier this week, several Iranian cities, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Gorgan, Arak, Bandar Abbas, Bushehr, and Khorramabad were the scenes of protests, in which young people were repeating the slogans as those in the protesters in early January.
The theocratic dictatorship has a virtually uninterrupted record of human rights abuses dating back to the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution. Struggling to retain its hold on power near the end of the Iran-Iraq War, then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the mass execution of prisoners deemed a political threat.
In 1988, an estimated 30,000 political prisoners were hanged or shot after being briefly interrogated about their political affiliations. The vast majority were members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK). But despite this effort to stamp out the leading resistance group, the MEK remained an underground force for pro-democratic activism.
Iran’s current Supreme Leader recently took the unusual step of acknowledging the leading role played by MEK activists in the latest protests. “These incidents had been organized, and the MEK implemented the plans,” Ali Khamenei said in a speech on January 9. “The MEK had prepared for this months ago and its media outlets had called for it.”
On January 27, the Deputy for Political Affairs for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said, “The leaders and those inciting the protests.…. were from the ‘Hypocrites’ (the pejorative term with which the regime describes the MEK).
The recent popular uprising are testaments to the fortitude of the Iranian people in the face of persistent political repression and a lack of serious support from the Western world. Europe can reclaim its human rights credentials today, if the European Parliament responds to calls for an international commission of inquiry into the ongoing human rights abuses committed against Iranian protesters and activists of every stripe.
Reports continue to trickle out of Iran on a near-daily basis regarding people who have been tortured and killed for their contribution to the latest push for regime change. These reports will only continue to worsen as long as Europe remains silent, especially if that silence is accompanied by trade agreements and normalized relations.
Iran’s economy is concentrated at Khamenei’s headquarters and in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards. Doing business with this regime will only fuel its killing machine and its export of war and terrorism.
By sanctioning the regime and making business conditional upon improvements in these areas, Europe can do more than just help to mitigate the present crackdown; it can help the Iranian people to ultimately achieve their long-frustrated goals of freedom and democratic governance. That message of support can be greatly strengthened by reversing the longstanding Western silence on past crimes like the 1988 massacre.
Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Eliot Engel (D-NY) are among the original cosponsors of H. Res. 188, which condemns the Iranian regime that incident and calls for a United Nations investigation aimed at bringing its main perpetrators to justice.
The Resolution referred to a November 2, 2007, report by Amnesty International, which said, ‘‘between 27 July 1988 and the end of , thousands of political prisoners [in Iran], including prisoners of conscience, were executed in prisons nationwide.”
The very people responsible of the 1988 massacre are in power today and are torturing and murdering the 2018 protesters.
The European Parliament should introduce and quickly pass a similar resolution on the 1988 massacre, and then use it as a jumping-off point for more explicit expressions of support for the Iranian Resistance and its mission to secure a free, democratic future for the Iranian nation.
Column by Moe Alafchi. Mr. Alafchi is president of Association of Iranian-Americans in New York