Iran remains the second most prolific executioner in the world, after China. The regime reportedly executed at least 8,000 people in the years 2000-2019. In the first month of 2021 alone, at least 27 prisoners were reportedly hanged in Iran. "The executions in Islam," Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini used to say "are executions of mercy... It's like a doctor ridding our society of corrupting influences with his knife." Pictured: A prisoner sentenced to death for murder is brought to be hanged in Noor, Iran on April 15, 2014. (Photo by Arash Khamooshi/AFP via Getty Images)
Taking huge personal risks, 38 Iran-based dissidents have asked the Biden administration to retain "maximum pressure" on Iran. In a letter dated February 1, they urge President Joe Biden to maintain "maximum political, diplomatic, and financial pressure on the regime" and to support the Iranians' "determination in seeking a secular democratic government through a non-violent, free, and fair referendum".
"Following the JCPOA agreement, when Iran received substantial financial benefits, the Islamic Republic lost a major opportunity to implement meaningful welfare reforms for its people..." the Iranian dissidents write in their letter.
"Instead, the regime spent billions of dollars gained from the Iran nuclear deal on exporting its totalitarian ideology by providing funds to terrorist networks, developing missile technology as offensive leverage to dominate the Persian Gulf and beyond, and causing chaos in the Middle East.
"Today, despite the regime's brutal confrontation against protesters... Iranians continue their protests and strikes against the Islamic Republic and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, nationwide," the letter adds. "The theocracy in Iran has lost its legitimacy with its people... The events in Iran in conjunction with the signing of the Abraham Accords signals a significant geopolitical shift in the Middle East...the Islamic Republic Theocracy is on the verge of collapse".
"We saw lately when Trump was in power [that] his policies made our rulers suffer for the first time," one of the signatories of the letter, activist Fatemeh Sepehri, recently released from prison, said in an interview published on Twitter on February 5. "It was his maximum pressure [that] he imposed on regime officials. It targeted the oil sales and the money released by the Obama administration. It really hit the rulers."
Asked what she would say to critics who claim that the sanctions negatively affect ordinary people, Sepehri replied:
"Listen, if you talked to ordinary people in the street who have suffered from the repression of the regime, they'd say long live Trump for tormenting our rulers, so that perhaps one day we can get rid of this regime...
"Those who affirm [that] maximum pressure affects ordinary people foremost don't represent Iranians. Sanctions were never directed at food products and medicine. But the Islamic Republic blames sanctions for the slightest problem... We want the new American president to follow Trump's path in terms of maximum pressure... we Iranians have been taken hostage by the Islamic Republic of Iran... the moment Biden joins the nuclear deal and unblocks the money for the Islamic Republic, the regime will once again dish out money even to Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, but Iranians will keep remaining in a bad state."
"We don't have human rights in Iran", Sepehri, whose brother remains in prison, said. "People are repressed in Iran... Executions, unjust sentences, abysmal prison conditions...hear our cries... We Iranians don't want the Islamic Republic any longer".
Will the US and Europe, however, hear these Iranians' cries? For 42 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been executing its own people, while the world has stayed largely silent.
"The executions in Islam," Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini used to say "are executions of mercy... It's like a doctor ridding our society of corrupting influences with his knife."
Iran remains the second most prolific executioner in the world, after China. The regime reportedly executed at least 8,000 people in the years 2000-2019. In the first month of 2021 alone, at least 27 prisoners were reportedly hanged in Iran. Among those recently executed were at least four political prisoners from the Baluchi minority, three Sunni political prisoners and one juvenile offender, in addition to Ruholla Zam, the Iranian anti-regime activist and journalist who had lived in exile in France and whom the Iranian regime lured back to Teheran and executed in mid-December. Iran also executed its championship wrestler, Navid Afkari in September and then executed a second wrestler, Mehdi Ali Hosseini, four months later.
The regime, in addition, recently sentenced, women's rights activists for educating women about their rights in marriage, and young protesters for their participation in the November 2019 demonstrations, in which 1,500 protesters were killed and thousands detained.
"Detainees flogged, sexually abused and given electric shocks in gruesome post-protest crackdown," Amnesty International wrote in a September 2020 report about the aftermath of 2019 protests. "Widespread torture including beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, forced administration of chemical substances, and deprivation of medical care," were part of the treatment that protesters received after being arrested by Iranian security forces.
The regime also continues to deny political prisoners, such as human rights activist Arash Sadeqi, who suffers from bone cancer and is serving a 19-year prison term, proper medical treatment, and keeps prisoners in abysmal conditions. Nasrin Sotoudeh, for instance, the prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, who is serving a prison sentence of 38 years for her work defending dissidents and who suffers from health issues, was moved in October to Qarchak prison, known as one of the most dangerous for women in Iran. It houses at least 2,000 female prisoners and has been described as a place where, "Health conditions are horrible and drinking water is salty." One former political prisoner and labor activist, Atefeh Rangriz, said, "Qarchak is the nickname for Hell."
Other prisoners remain detained without even being charged with a crime. Two Iranian students, Amir Hossein Moradi and Ali Younesi, were violently arrested in April 2020 and have been detained since without being charged. The students have been accused of having ties to anti-revolutionary groups and of pursuing "destructive" actions.
Recently, Iran also sentenced three people to flogging for having extramarital relationships, while a senior Iranian MP, Seyyed Nasser Mousavi Laregani, even as Iranians are suffering severe economic hardship, called for "petty thieves" to have their fingers amputated. At least eight people were reportedly sentenced to finger amputation in 2019 and six others in 2020.
Iranian security forces also continued to arrest ethnic minorities. Since January 6, 96 Kurds were reportedly arrested, thereby prompting 36 human rights groups to condemn Iran for carrying out arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions and "enforced disappearances" of its Kurdish minority. Iranian security forces also arrested an unspecified number of Christian Iranians in several provinces for affiliation with what they called "Zionist Christianity".
The list of grave human rights abuses goes on. A new report published by the Statistical Center of Iran on January 31, showed that more than 9,000 child marriages of girls aged 10-14 took place in the course of just three months last summer. A new parliamentary bill that increases the amount of "marriage loans" for girls under 23 years of age was recently approved and is expected to increase the already staggering amount of child marriages. "In such cases, families prefer child marriages to child labor, as it will have better conditions for the child," children's rights activist, Tita Ghozati said. Iran reportedly has up to seven million child laborers.
The serious hardship that Iranians are now facing, is causing a new wave of protests.
More than two million stock market investors have lost their savings and many have been protesting in 20 cities across Iran, along with pensioners, who have taken to the streets four times in the past two months to protest their low pensions. Joining the protests are Tehran nurses demanding higher wages; employees of the National Iranian Oil Company, demanding better livelihood conditions and healthcare; as well as petrochemical workers, airline workers, teachers and farmers, among many others. In the past, anti-regime protests also began as economic protests. The latest one, in November 2019, began as an economic protest against a sharp increase in gas prices, but quickly turned into calls for an end to the Islamic Republic and its leaders. "The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at the time. State media is now reportedly warning officials of another uprising.
While using arrests, torture, and executions to intimidate the public and deter dissent is what the Iranian leadership does on a regular basis, it especially does so when it feels threatened. In June 2009, when millions took to the streets to protest the rigged elections that had just taken place, 115 people were executed between June, the date of the disputed election and August, the inauguration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There was "mounting evidence that the trend had emerged in response to the political tumult that followed the June presidential election," human rights groups said. More executions and ever-increasing crackdowns on Iranians are therefore to be expected.
Although President Biden has said that he would work on "calling out the [Iranian] regime for its ongoing violations of human rights ... and wrongful detention of political prisoners", he and his team, since the inauguration, have largely been silent about Iranian human rights abuses. When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked in his January 19 Senate confirmation hearing about Iran's executions of people for homosexuality -- something that Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif endorses -- Blinken replied that the United States would be in a "much better position" to deal with such actions if it prioritized preventing Iran from potentially developing a nuclear weapons capability in the near future.
Returning to the JCPOA (nuclear deal) on Iran's terms will require lifting sanctions -- an act that will strengthen and embolden the Iranian regime. Lifting sanctions is what the dissidents in Iran are literally pleading with the Biden administration not to do.
"If Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing," Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently announced. Europe, similarly, has stressed its "strong commitment to and continued support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."
"As an ordinary Iranian, I'm a prisoner of this regime, just like 85 million Iranians," Fatemeh Sepehri, the activist said. "Popular news outlets... Come and hear our voice... We don't want this regime and we're asking Biden not to give the regime a chance for survival".
Is anybody listening?
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.