While the leaders of U.S. and European countries focus on finding a way out of the impasse left by the flawed nuclear deal forged with Iran in 2015, one issue that is receiving less attention is the fate of hundreds of thousands of protesters who poured into the streets of Iranian cities at the turn of the year to express their outrage at social, economic, and political grievances.
Some western media outlets have declared the end of the protests, parroting announcements made by Iranian officials claiming to have restored peace and security across the country. This assessment couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The regime has taken no action to address the legitimate grievances of the Iranian people. Instead, it has tried to restore order by establishing a reign of terror.
According to a statement by the opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran, in the first two weeks of the nationwide uprisings, the regime’s notorious Revolutionary Guards and other suppressive forces arrested at least 8,000 protesters, most of whom are under the age of 25. A large number of them have disappeared, and a number have been killed under torture, which the regime dubiously claims the prisoners have committed suicide.
The families of the detained protesters gathered in front of various prisons to demand the release of their loved ones. Their response has so far been more violence by regime forces and denial of access to information about the fate of the detainees.
The Iranian regime has a track record of violently clamping down on dissent when it feels an existential threat. In 1988, as Iranian authorities prepared themselves for the repercussions of a ceasefire that would suspend eight years of fighting with their western neighbor, Iraq, Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, ordered the execution of all political dissidents in Iran’s prisons. The measure was meant to prevent opposition forces from flourishing at a time that the regime was at its weakest. More than 30,000 prisoners were executed in the span of a few months.
With the emergence of online services and social media networks, the Iranian regime learned that directly unleashing its violence in the streets will backfire by providing the people with a chance to document its crimes and spread it across the world, as it happened in 2009, when footage and images of repressive forces cracking down on protestors were distributed on social media. That’s why the regime’s security forces quickly changed tactics, arresting protesters and taking them to clandestine prisons, where they subjected them to horrific tortures.
The same thing is bound to happen again after the 2018 uprisings. “The shroud of secrecy and lack of transparency over what happened to these detainees is alarming,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Mughrabi also called on the Iranian regime to investigate the events that have happened in its prisons and to punish any authorities involved in human rights abuses. But that’s not going to happen. It is up to the international community to step up for the rights of the protesters who linger in the Iranian regime’s prisons, a responsibility it has not yet fulfilled.
At a recent European Council meeting, NCRI President Maryam Rajavi said, “I urge the Council of Europe, the European Union and its member states, and the United Nations to stand beside the people of Iran and not the mullahs’ theocratic regime. The regime must understand that it has to pay a high price for opening fire on demonstrators and killing them under torture.”
This can be fulfilled by preventing the Iranian regime from concealing its crimes, as it has in the past. Rajavi called for the formation of an international inquiry delegation to investigate the deaths, detention, and disappearances of Iranian protesters and those murdered in prison.
And the international community can compel the Iranian regime to accept this delegation. “All diplomatic and economic relations with the Iranian regime must be put to halt. Iran’s rulers must face comprehensive sanctions for decades of crimes against humanity,” Rajavi said. “Iran’s economy is concentrated at Khamenei’s headquarters and in the hands of the IRGC. Doing business with this regime will only fuel its killing machine and its export of war and terrorism.”
Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an Iranian human rights activist.
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