For the past 15 years, Dwight Bashir has worked on international conflict, human rights and religious freedom issues. He is a senior advisor for an independent U.S. commission focusing on international religious freedom. The views expressed here are his own personal views.
The good news is that since the June 12 elections in Iran, much of the world has been exposed to the egregious human rights abuses committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The bad news is that we are witnessing the kinds of practices that have been carried out since the inception of the Islamic Republic some 30 years ago.
Yesterday, the Iranian government announced that it was releasing 140 detainees associated with the post-election protests only after reports surfaced that several prisoners had been beaten and tortured resulting in some deaths. Today, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) announced that trials would begin next week for approximately 20 post-election protesters. Their crime? “Planning and carrying out sabotage.”
This kind of contrived charge exemplifies the fact that the Iranian government will crack down on any individual who does not fully espouse the repressive ideals of the Islamic Revolution or any individual or group who is a perceived threat to the legitimacy or continued existence of the regime. This includes political dissidents, reformers, women’s rights activists, religious and ethnic minorities, to name only a few.
While it is vital that there continue to be a spotlight on the treatment of the post-election protesters and dissidents targeted by the regime, it is just as important that the same level of attention be given to those who have suffered a similar fate long before the elections took place.
Disfavored Muslims and non-Muslim religious minorities surely fit into this category. Dissident Shiite clerics who seek reform or advocate a separation of religion and state have been targeted and imprisoned for years. Several members of the minority Sufi Nematollah Gonabadi Order have been in prison since last year without charge.
The largest and most persecuted non-Muslim minority in Iran are the Baha’is. At least 30 Baha’is are in prison solely because of their religious identity. Seven Baha’i leaders have been held in the notorious Evin prison for more than a year now on unsubstantiated and baseless charges, two of which carry the death penalty. Their trial could take place at any time, and if the past is any indication, they could be tried, convicted and sentenced on the same day.
Since March, two Iranian converts to Christianity have been held in Evin prison without charge. The concern is that they will be charged with apostasy, a crime which can carry a death sentence in Iran. The list goes on and on.
On July 25, in more than 100 cities worldwide, thousands came together in a Global Day of Action to highlight and condemn the range of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Iranian government. One of the objectives of the campaign is to encourage UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send an official delegation to Iran to investigate postelection human rights violations in Iran. While dispatching an envoy is no doubt warranted, the Secretary General should ensure that any envoy’s mandate includes looking into violations committed against those targeted by the regime long before the June 12 elections.
In addition, the international community must step up its collective efforts to demonstrate that it will not tolerate such systematic human rights abuses by the Islamic Republic without repercussions, similar to the way it has taken a strong stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
– Dwight Bashir