Will Rouhani uphold human rights in Iran?

No matter how hard some in the West and more accurately in Europe try to prove differently, the answer to that question is no. In Iran, Hassan Rouhani was inaugurated for his second term as president in a luxurious ceremony and in sharp contrast to mullahs’ claims that they are against it.

But that is not all. He invited European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and other people of this type for his inauguration - European elites and the tinpot dictators they enable. Mogherini’s ‘embarrassing’ selfies with some members of mullahs’ Majlis (parliament) created commotions and sent some unprecedented shock waves through the Iranian regime hierarchy. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei and his faction are furious because they see it as yet another step toward succumbing to the West.

Don’t get it wrong, Khamenei is not against rapprochement with the West but he wants to do it on his own pace and take the final credit himself and what economic windfalls come with it; as he did with the nuclear deal with the six world powers-P5+1 group.

Where does Rouhani stand in all of this? It is simple: He wants a bigger share power and wealth for his faction, that which was formerly Akbar Hasheimi Rafsanjani’s when he was around. Rafsanjani was Rouhani’s mentor. Now in his absence, Rouhani tries to fill his shoes but he is no match for the current Supreme Leader’s might or his powerful arm, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

What is often missing in approaching Iran -- at least in the past decade since the negotiations for reaching a deal with the regime on nuclear issue was underway -- is its human rights record. Amnesty International, in its latest report, stated: “Iran vilifies human rights defenders as ‘enemies of the state.’" It reveals that under Rouhani’s first term human rights abuses have intensified in an unprecedented rate. “Iran’s judicial and security bodies have waged a vicious crackdown against human rights defenders since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, demonizing and imprisoning activists who dare to stand up for people’s rights,” Amnesty International said in its August 2 report.

Under Rouhani's first term, more than 3,000 executions had been recorded. Only last month, according to Iran’s main opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, 101 prisoners were hanged. NCRI’s statement has some revealing facts: “The majority of those executed were young, including two men, aged 24 and 27, who were hanged in public in Torbat Heydarieh; a 25-year-old woman in Babol; a 24-year-old man in Kerman, two 26-year-old men in Zahedan, a 28-year-old man in Zabol, and another 28-year-old man in Gohardasht, Karaj.” Iran has more than 5,000 death-row inmates between the ages of 20 and 30.

Rouhani has simply shrugged off the responsibility of hangings on his watch by saying they were carried out according to “laws” and laws were handed down by the parliament.

Public hanging has been for long an instrument of intimidation of citizens in Iran. The mullahs’ regime has been shaken to the core with public display of anger and utter repugnance for its suppressive measures in dealing with the citizens’ daily demands. From merely lack of decent drinking water; to ordinary citizens who have lost their entire life savings to fake banks set up by IRGC commercial conglomerates; to frequent power outages especially in scorching heat of Southern Iranian provinces such as Khuzestan to ethnic, religious and all other minority groups that have been suppressed in mullahs’ regime since day one, protests have engulfed the country.

The 29th anniversary of the mass execution of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988 is an ongoing nightmare for Iranian regime officials. In those fateful months, according to few eyewitness prisoners whose lives were mercilessly saved, their fellow inmates were sent to gallows merely for saying no to mullahs’ regime.

What first shined light on all of this was an audio tape that was leaked out by the late Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri’s son in August 2016. Montazeri, the handpicked successor of Khomeini, was sacked for his public objections to mass executions in 1988. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest and died in 2009.

Rouhani’s main challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, in the sham May presidential election in Iran lost because he was a member of “Death Commission” responsible for handing down death sentences. Iran main opposition to mullahs’ rule, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) set off a massive awareness campaign in Iran at the same time with May elections. Raisi in the final days of his campaign came out after nearly three decades and fully stood by the massacre and asked to be decorated for his crimes. Ahamd Khatami an infamous Friday Prayers’ leader and a Khamenei’s confidant said: “Then we see some people who on their websites switch the place of martyrs and murderers. It was a divine move by [Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini] to force the [PMOI (People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran)] out of the country. All those who acted based on these orders should be rewarded with medals… however; those who on their websites have switched the place of martyrs and murderers should repent and beg for forgiveness.”

Hassan Rouhani is highly unlikely to change course during his second term in office. He has been an active participant and a decision maker since the 1979 revolution. He has demonstrated his resolve for pleasing the Supreme Leader every step of the way. Rouhani quietly nags Khamenei for a bigger share of power which is often misread by some in the West as a sign of outright defiance to IRGC or the Supreme Leader. Moderation in Iran’s ruling mullahs has been an illusion created by those in the West who want to have a bigger share of Iran’s market.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to lending support to forces in Iran for a peaceful transition of power from a ruthless religious dictatorship to democracy. There is no better place to start than that of holding mullahs accountable for their human rights record, something President Obama failed to address in 2009. 

Reza Shafiee (@shafiee_shafiee) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

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