Is the Obama administration aware that it is trusting and dealing with a country that has just broken the world record in executions? Of course the President is aware of that, and it seems that he has decided to turn a blind eye to Iran’s increasing aggression and oppression inside and outside of its own country.
According to the recent and fifth report by the special United Nations investigator of human rights, human rights violations in Iran are rising even since the nuclear agreement was reached. Accordingly, execution rates have been increasing at “an exponential rate” in Iran. In 2014, 753 were executed and at least 694 people (including women and juveniles) were executed from January 2015 till mid-September. This is reported to be the highest rate of execution the Islamic Republic has had in 25 years.
If we take the ratio of the population into consideration, the Islamic Republic breaks the world record in number of executions per capita. As Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, pointed out, “The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to execute more individuals per capita than any other country in the world. Executions have been rising at an exponential rate since 2005 and peaked in 2014, at a shocking 753 executions[.]” According to the UN analyst, Iran is on track to execute more than 1000 people by the end of this year. Of course, these are only the official numbers being reported by the Iranian regime, the unreported number of executions by the government is likely much higher.
An execution may be ordered over many things, such as insulting the Supreme Leader, enmity toward Allah, and other non-violent offenses. According to the U.S. State Department's Human Rights report on Iran, “the law criminalizes dissent and applies the death penalty to offenses such as ….‘attempts against the security of the state,’ ‘outrage against high-ranking officials,’ ….(moharebeh), and ‘insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.’”
In addition, when it comes to journalists, social media activists, and women, political rights, discriminatory laws, as well as arbitrary detentions have been on the rise as well. According to the global gender gap index of the World Economic Forum, the Islamic Republic is ranked 137 out of 142, followed by Mali, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen.
In contrast to the report, a more liberal, softer and open image of the Islamic Republic has been repeatedly projected to the international community by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Western-educated foreign minister, and his technocratic team.
There was an assumption by liberals that several developments, including the improving ties between the West and Iran, the nuclear agreement, and the presidency of a moderate political figure would translate into improving civil liberties, social justice and removing restrictions on political critics in Iran. However, the real picture inside the country suggests a much different landscape. As Azita, an Iranian human rights activist and teacher from the ethnically Azeri-populated city of Tabriz said, “This is similar to, or even worse than, the period of Khatami where Basij, moral police, and IRGC increased suppression in order to tell the young people particularly that the laws will not changed.”
The State Department report clearly highlights the notion that the superficial illusion of a softer image projected by Iran belies the social, political, and economic reality inside the country.
This explains three phenomena. First, although President Rouhani promised that he will improve several critical issues such as civil liberties, social justice, freedom of expression, assembly, and press, and women's rights, he decided to instead solely focus on the nuclear deal in order to get Iran out of the financial sanctions that restrained its growth.
Secondly, one can make the argument that President Rouhani has also decided not to cross the boundaries of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by cooperating with them and allowing them to have full control over domestic social and political policies, as well as foreign policy (Syria, Hezbollah, etc.).
Third, the hardliners are increasing their repressive tools and cracking-down on civil liberties in order to send a message to the Iranian young people and the West that the nuclear agreement does not mean Tehran is going to open up its political system and loosen Sharia law.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, and his social base (the hardliners) are very concerned that Iranian youth might become a source of revolution. As a result they attempt to keep the country closed and they fear Western political and cultural influence on young people.
As Mr. Khamanei warned the senior cadre of the IRGC, "The main purpose of the enemies is for Iranians to give up on their revolutionary mentality…Enemy means global arrogance, the ultimate symbol of which is the United States….Economic and security breaches are definitely dangerous, and have dire consequences…But political and cultural intrusion by the enemy is a more serious danger that everyone should be vigilant about.”
Finally, the nuclear agreement seems to have overshadowed the human rights conditions inside Iran and the repressive Shiite Islamist laws. European countries and the Obama administration appear to have been turning a blind eye and have been becoming less critical of the Islamic Republic's human rights record since the nuclear negotiation began and after the nuclear deal was signed.
It is time for the Obama administration to draw attention to the real face of the so-called moderate president of Iran who contradicts the truth by depicting himself and his country in a softer image to the world while simultaneously allowing executions and egregious, appalling and atrocious human rights abuses on his watch.