Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to eight years of additional imprisonment and seventy-four more lashes after a perfunctory five-minute trial in Tehran in late January. It is yet another disgraceful chapter in the shameful history of the theocratic Iranian regime. Mohammadi is vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, led by the Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi. News of Mohammadi’s sentence was released on Twitter by her husband Taghi Rahmani, who lives in exile in France. Details of the charges and verdict against Mohammadi are unknown, but she has been arrested several times in recent years. She was released from prison in October 2020 following a five-year prison sentence. She was sentenced again in May 2021 to thirty months in jail and eighty lashes for “propaganda against the Iranian political system” and “defamation and rebellion” against the prison authority.
Mohammadi’s most recent conviction is simply the latest in a long line of similar corruptions of justice in Iran. Earlier in January, Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah was returned to the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, accused of violating the rules of her house arrest. Adelkhah was originally arrested in June 2019 along with Roland Marchal. Both were academics carrying out research for Sciences Po, France’s leading university on the social sciences. Adelkhah was initially charged with espionage, punishable by the death penalty, “propaganda against the political system of the Islamic Republic,” and “collusion to endanger national security.” The espionage charge was later dropped in January 2020.
Marchal was falsely charged with “collusion to endanger national security.” He was freed in exchange for the release of an Iranian engineer detained in France and allowed to return to Europe in March 2020. Iranian authorities have always refused to recognize dual nationality, so, unlike Marchal, Adelkhah was not allowed to receive the services of any French consular officials. She went on a prolonged forty-nine-day hunger strike in protest at her unjust arrest and sentence, severely damaging her kidneys and ending up in the Evin Prison hospital. Her reimprisonment will pose a serious risk to her health. Earlier this month Iranian poet, filmmaker, and dissident Baktash Abtin died of Covid-19. He had been released from prison on furlough after contracting the disease and died in a hospital. Leading human rights organizations have accused the Iranian regime of being directly responsible for his death.
The mullahs’ perverted justice system treats dual nationals who venture into Iran as hostages, ideal for blackmailing the West. This was certainly the case for Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe, a young British mother arrested in 2016. She traveled to Iran on holiday from the UK with her daughter whom she had brought to Tehran to visit her parents. She was falsely accused of “plotting to topple the Iranian government” and sentenced to five years in prison. She was eventually freed and returned to the UK early in 2022. The mullahs had demanded the repayment of £600 million ($815 million) paid by the Shah of Iran to the UK for military equipment prior to the 1979 revolution. The equipment was never delivered, and Nazanin’s mistreatment appeared to be directly linked to this case.
It is believed that at least thirty dual and foreign nationals are currently imprisoned in Iran. Their arrests are always followed by a pattern of prolonged solitary confinement and interrogation, a denial of due process, denial of consular access or visits from UN or humanitarian organizations, secretive trials in which the detainee is given limited or no access to counsel, and long prison sentences based on vague or unspecified “national security” and “espionage” charges. The gangster clerical regime has become an expert at blackmail, extortion, and the protection racket.
But none of this should come as a surprise to the West. For years we have watched in horror as the mullahs have accelerated their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs and squandered billions on proxy wars in the Middle East. Iran has supported Bashar al-Assad in Syria, terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, violent Shi’ia militias in Iraq, and Hamas in Gaza. Now with the sham election as president of Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s position as the world’s most repressive and criminal regime has been compounded. Raisi is known as ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ for his key role in the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 and, when he was head of the judiciary, for ordering the killing of over 1,500 protesters during a nationwide uprising in Iran in November 2019.
Last week, four hundred and sixty international human rights and legal experts, including a former head of the International Criminal Court (ICC), plus more than a hundred current and former UN officials, told the UN Human Rights Council that Iran’s 1988 prison massacre may amount to “crimes against humanity” even “genocide.” This is explosive news as perpetrators of those crimes, like Raisi, occupy today the highest executive and judiciary posts in the country. In his report to the UN General Assembly last summer, Professor Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, raised concerns regarding the destruction of evidence of the extrajudicial executions that took place in 1988. In August 2021, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances called for an “international investigation” into the 1988 massacre in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The Working Group reiterates the concerns expressed about the ongoing concealment of burial sites across the country,” the report stated.
Now, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity and for his involvement in murder, enforced disappearance, and torture.
If the mullahs are counting on ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna as a blank check in human rights violations, they are wrong. Crimes against humanity and genocide are not prone to be wiped off the table by political or other Issues. It is time to end such impunity. The West must send the clearest possible message to Ebrahim Raisi. His crimes will not be forgotten or forgiven. His victims and their families demand justice. He will be held to account for crimes against humanity, murder, human rights violations and genocide. The UN must launch a full investigation into these crimes and hold accountable all those involved. The outrageous jailing and flogging of brave human rights defenders like Narges Mohammadi and others will be avenged.
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14), and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).