The Poet Iran Executed

The Poet Iran Executed

The hanging of poet Hashem Shaabani tells you everything you need to know about Iran’s regime.

As Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani was dangling from a noose two weeks ago, desperately grasping for his last breath of air, one wonders what he would have thought about Western leaders who call President Hassan Rouhani a moderate.  What exactly is moderate, Shaabani could have thought, about a regime which brands a poet an “enemy of God” and strangles him to death?

The crazy thing is that by the logic of the Iranian government, Shaabani had to be killed.  He criticized God and the punishment for blasphemy is clear: death.  Technically, Shaabani criticized the regime by speaking out against repression of ethnic Arabs in the Khuzestan province, but since the regime sees itself as the representative of God on Earth, his fate was sealed.  It’s not called a theocracy for nothing.   

Islamic scholar and former Iraqi parliamentarian, Iyad Jamal al Din, once told me of Iran’s Supreme Leader:

Ayatollah Khamenei is a man just like me. He’s a cleric and I’m a cleric. But he says, “I am the representative of God.” From him, these words make me sleepless. You all [in America] sleep normally because you don’t know what that means. I know what it means. He means that he is right and the others are wrong. And wrong must not live. You should be defeated and destroyed.  

President Rouhani and foreign minister Mohamed Zarif are making quite a show of Iran’s supposed moderation.  They speak at ritzy conferences in Davos and Munich, maintain Twitter and Facebook accounts (despite banning them in Iran) and talk of Iran’s commitment to peace and justice.  But behind the soothing rhetoric is a regime which tortures journalists, imprisons bloggers and hangs poets.

As world powers attempt to negotiate an accord with Iran, they would do well to keep Shaabani in mind.  What does the hanging of a poet have to do with nuclear negotiations?  Everything. It gets to the heart of the nature of the regime.

Can the world trust a government which doesn’t even trust its own people?  Can the West rely on a regime which so fears dissidents that it puts them to death?  Can nukes be entrusted to the murderers of Neda, the young Iranian woman whose bloody death was captured on YouTube at a 2009 protest?  

Shaabani, and the more than 300 Iranians executed since Rouhani took power, are powerful reminders that the Iranian government remains as fanatic as it is dangerous.  The scores of students, bloggers and peaceful activists languishing in Evin prison are living testaments to Iran’s ongoing brutality.

When the Iranian government no longer fears its own people, then we will no longer have any reason to fear it.


Important Takeaway Notes from Congressional Events on Iran This Week

This week I covered the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on Iran as well as a Senate Briefing on the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Here’s some important quotes and points from all of the distinguished panels. 

Representative Ros-Lehtinen: 

  • The two month delay in reaching the interim nuclear deal was calculated and planned by Iran to buy time. 

Representative Royce:

  • Stoning is still going on inside Iran for capital offences, so for a country that is stoning with one hand, they shouldn’t have nuclear capabilities in the other.
  • EVEN IF Iran dismantled 80% of their centrifuges, Fordow, and their light water reactor, Iran would STILL be 6 months away from nuclear breakout

Representative Poe:

  • We cannot plan to turn sanctions on and off like a light switch, it doesn’t work like that.
  • The Supreme Leader of Iran has NOT changed his ultimate goal, he still wants to see the end of Israel and the US.
  • “Iran is the mischief maker of the Middle East.” They’re sending rockets to Hezbollah, they’re responsible for attacks on Camp Ashraf, and they’re expanding their ICBM and war capabilities. Why would we believe they’re going to cut back? 

Representative Higgins;

  • Rouhani couldn’t have won without Khamenei’s approval and the US is currently getting played by the leaders of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Mike Wallace, United Against a Nuclear Iran:

  • Sectarian tensions will be more volatile, or even worse, nuclearly volatile if Iran gets nukes.
  • Iran’s role in Syria is also being completely left out of the talks too. 

Gregory Jones, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center:

  • The biggest problem in the nuclear deal is that they can retain their centrifuge enrichment. Additionally the sunset clause is a huge issue that once the agreed-upon time period is complete, the Iranian nuclear program will be treated the same as any other non-nuclear weapon state party.
  • They can also import centrifuges, they’re not only making them themselves.
  • The Joint Plan of Action (JPA) is setting the stage for further enrichment.
  • When it comes to a nuclear-capable Iran, there are NO good options. Strikes will lead to war, so instead the NPT system needs to be strengthened, i.e. more disclosure from IAEA. 

David Albright, ISIS:

  • The real challenge comes in negotiating the long term agreement, as the interim deal is a “confidence-building measure.”
  • There must be a comprehensive deal with more verification and transparency, i.e. will they let the IAEA into Parchin?
    • Iran has been “very resistant to verification”
  • The IAEA has been denied access to Parchin for 18 MONTHS. Iran also needs to allow follow-ups, not just one time visits where Iran can manipulate the findings. There have been cases where inspections have worked, like Libya and South Africa and Iran needs to follow this path.

Ambassador Marc Ginsberg:

  • “Maliki has tied his wagons tightly to the mullahs of Iran”

Ambassador Robert Joseph:

  • The US must avoid “endless” negotiations and turn the “desperation of an illegitimate regime into leverage”.
  • Recommended that the US should “support the opposition” and stand for human rights. 
  • Iran is using nuclear technology to reach out to other countries, especially in South America (i.e. Bolivia).
  • Sanctions go beyond the economy, they threaten legitimacy. We are where we are because of sanctions.


Iran hangs 40 people in two weeks amid surge in executions

Iran hangs 40 people in two weeks amid surge in executions

Iran has carried out a total of 40 executions since the beginning of 2014, with at least 33 carried out in the past week alone, said Amnesty International today. 

“The spike in the number of executions carried out so far this month in Iran is alarming. The Iranian authorities’ attempts to change their international image are meaningless if at the same time executions continue to increase”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

The death penalty is a violation of every human being’s right to life and is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. 

“The Iranian authorities must urgently take steps to abolish the death penalty, which has been shown again and again not to have any special deterrent effect on crime,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said. 

Since the beginning of 2014, Amnesty International has recorded 21 executions which were officially acknowledged by the Iranian authorities, as well as 19 additional executions reported through reliable sources. 

In the week since 9 January 2014 more officially acknowledged executions were carried out in Iran than during the whole month of January 2013. 

At least one public execution was carried out on 14 January 2014 in Saveh, Markazi Province, northern Iran, of an individual convicted of murder. 

Public executions in Iran are usually carried out using cranes which lift the condemned person by a noose around the neck in front of a crowd of spectators. 

The organization is calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately adopt an official moratorium on all executions and commute all death sentences. The Iranian authorities must also end all secrecy surrounding their use of the death penalty.

Most of those executed in Iran had been convicted of alleged drug-related offences. Under international standards, non-lethal crimes such as drugs offences do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” to which the death penalty must be restricted. There is also no right to a meaningful appeal for drugs offences under Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Law, contrary to its international obligations to ensure that anyone convicted of a criminal offence has the right to appeal the conviction. 

“In Iran drug-related offences are tried in Revolutionary Courts which routinely fall far short of international fair trial standards. The reality in Iran is that people are being ruthlessly sentenced to death after unfair trials, and this is unacceptable,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. 

Revolutionary Court trials are frequently held behind closed doors and judges have the discretion to restrict lawyers’ access to the defendant during pre-trial investigations in limited cases. 

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.

Iran’s reformists frustrated with slow pace of change

Iran’s reformists frustrated with slow pace of change

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Just one hour before the ceremonies were due to begin at the sometimes controversial annual celebration of weekly reformist magazine Chelcheragh, the judicial order was delivered.

It was time for the journalists, musicians, movie directors and athletes on the 2,000-strong guest list to go home.

Iran’s conservative judiciary had declared that last week’s party was off. “As the news came all the excitement turned into depression,” one attendee said. “We felt those in the main power centres never loosen their grip over power and do not let reformists breathe.” A hardline newspaper, Kayhan, said the artists and athletes were just there to provide cover for a political gathering and that former reformist president Mohammad Khatami had been due to make a speech.

The slow pace of cultural and political change under centrist president Hassan Rouhani has angered reformists, who expect more from the man they backed in last June’s presidential poll, even as they blame fundamentalists for blocking the government’s moves to ease censorship and suppression.

Mr Rouhani owes his unexpected victory to the pro-reform groups and leaders who mobilised people to vote for him. In return, he promised reconciliation with the world through the resolution of the nuclear crisis and better times for an economy long battered by international sanctions.

Since then, Iran has agreed with the six big powers – US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany – to restrict its nuclear work in return for modest relief of sanctions. There have also been some economic gains; inflation has eased to 39.3 per cent from 40 per cent and the rial has stabilised against the dollar.

But reformist hopes for a cultural flowering and an easing of internet censorship have not been met. Since Mr Rouhani came to power, the judiciary has not only cancelled last week’s gathering but stopped reformist journalists from publishing new newspapers. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter – and from last month VChat – continue to be blocked. Some MPs have criticised government support for women singing solo as propagating anti-Islamic mores.

Last week, Mr Rouhani said he was not scared of “yellow cards” – official parliamentary warnings to arts and culture ministers which can pave the way for their impeachment. “When we tie up art and artists, we in fact pave the ground for the enemies’ planes to land,” he said.

Yet reformists remain frustrated. While some moderate politicians have been appointed to regional governorships, there are few prominent reformists in Mr Rouhani’s administration, a fact that privately irks those who backed him. At the same time, opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, key figures in anti-regime street protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election, remain under house arrest. Fundamentalists fear their release would strengthen support for reformists ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

“Other than foreign policy and nuclear negotiations and to some extent the economy, it is difficult to find out what the government’s policies in cultural and political fields are,” said one reform-minded analyst. “It is not right to say it’s still early. But probably because of the huge devastation the government has inherited in all fields, it has decided to focus on foreign policy and economy.”

The pace of change is even slower in the provinces. In Khuzestan, once home to winter cultural events because of its pleasant weather, so little has changed that commentators say it is as if previous fundamentalist president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is still in power.

“We expected some dynamism but are getting disappointed that nothing may happen in [southern] Khuzestan province,” one local journalist said. In the northeastern province of Khorasan-Razavi, an analyst said members of parliament have put local officials under pressure not to implement any new policies. “You see a widespread disappointment being shaped among reformists as previous officials are not replaced and no change in policies is seen,” he added.

All this speaks to the fact that Mr Rouhani faces a tricky balancing act, analysts say. Too much reform could anger fundamentalists and jeopardise nuclear negotiations. “Rouhani seems to be even distancing [himself] from reformists to ease the pressure from fundamentalists,” one reformist politician said.

Also on the horizon are the 2015 parliamentary elections. The hardliners’ determination to stop the reformists gaining ground in these polls is evident in their continued reference to the 2009 street protests. Mohammad-Javad Larijani, a senior judiciary official, said western countries “hope to revive those who were involved in the sedition [unrest] in another form in the future”.

Once a sustainable nuclear agreement has been agreed, Mr Rouhani may be emboldened to stand up to the fundamentalists. “If the government comes out of the nuclear crisis triumphantly and eases economic woes, then Rouhani’s hands will be more open in domestic politics,” one reformist politician said. “But if he fails in the nuclear talks and loses the parliamentary election, he will have a very difficult time even for his own re-election.”