Iran’s corruption of justice cannot go unpunished

Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to an additional eight years in prison and seventy-four additional lashes after a cursory five-minute trial in Tehran in late January. This is yet another shameful chapter in the shameful history of Iran’s theocratic regime. Mohammadi is vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, led by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. News of Mohammadi’s sentencing was posted on Twitter by her husband Taghi Rahmani, exiled 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 after serving a five-year prison term. She was again sentenced in May 2021 to thirty months in prison and eighty lashes for “propaganda against the Iranian political system” and “defamation and rebellion” against the prison administration.

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 conducting research for Sciences Po, France’s leading social science university. Adelkhah was initially charged with espionage, which carries 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 accused of “collusion to endanger national security”. He was released in exchange for the release of an Iranian engineer detained in France and allowed to return to Europe in March 2020. Iranian authorities have consistently refused to recognize dual nationality, so unlike Marchal, Adelkhah has not been authorized to receive the services of any French consular agents. She went on a prolonged forty-nine-day hunger strike to protest her unjust arrest and sentencing, severely damaging her kidneys and ending up in hospital at Evin Prison. His reincarceration will pose a serious risk to his health. Earlier this month, Iranian poet, filmmaker and dissident Baktash Abtin died of Covid-19. He had been released from prison after contracting the disease and died in a hospital. Major 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, perfect 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 overthrow the Iranian government” and sentenced to five years in prison. She was eventually released and returned to the UK early 2022. The mullahs had asked for reimbursement of £600 million ($815 million) paid by the Shah of Iran to the UK for military equipment before the 1979 revolution. The equipment was never delivered and the mistreatment of Nazanin seemed be directly related to this case.

It is believed that at least thirty foreign and dual nationals are currently imprisoned in Iran. Their arrests are always followed by a pattern of prolonged solitary confinement and interrogations, denial of due process, denial of consular access or visits by UN or humanitarian organizations, secret trials in which the detainee has little or no access to a lawyer, and long prison sentences based on vague or unspecified charges of “national security” and “espionage”. The gangster clerical regime has become an expert in blackmail, extortion and protection racketeering.

But none of this should surprise the West. For years we have watched in horror as the mullahs ramp up their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs and squander billions on proxy wars in the Middle East. Iran has backed Bashar al-Assad in Syria, terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthi rebels in Yemen, violent Shiite militias in Iraq and Hamas in Gaza. Now, with the fake presidential election of Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s position as the most repressive and criminal regime in the world has worsened. Raisi is known as “the butcher of Tehran” for his key role in the massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 and, when he was head of the judiciary, for ordering the murder of more than 1,500 protesters during a national uprising in Iran in November. 2019.

Last week, 460 international human rights and legal experts, including a former head of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as more than 100 current and former UN officials, told the UN Human Rights Council that the 1988 prison massacre in Iran could amount to “crimes against humanity” or even “genocide.” This is explosive news because the perpetrators of these crimes, like Raisi, now hold the highest executive and judicial offices in the country. In his report to the United Nations General Assembly Last summer, Professor Javaid Rehman, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, raised concerns about the destruction of evidence of extrajudicial executions that took place in 1988. In August 2021, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances called for an “investigation” into the 1988 massacre in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The task force reiterates the concerns expressed about the continued concealment of burial sites across the country,” the report said.

Today Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity and for his involvement in murders, enforced disappearances and torture.

If the mullahs are relying on the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna as a blank check for human rights abuses, they are wrong. Crimes against humanity and genocide are not likely to be wiped off the table by political or other issues. It is time to end this impunity. The West must send the clearest possible message to Ebrahim Raisi. His crimes will not be forgotten or forgiven. Its victims and their families are demanding justice. He will be held accountable for crimes against humanity, murder, human rights violations and genocide. The UN must fully investigate these crimes and hold everyone involved accountable. The outrageous imprisonment and flogging of courageous human rights defenders like Narges Mohammadi and others will be avenged.

Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Change in Iran (CiC). He was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), Chairman 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 the chairman of the “In Search of Justice” (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international speaker on the Middle East and is also President of the European Association for Iraqi Freedom (EIFA).

Picture: Reuters.

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