Crackdown on Iranian political prisoners reveals Rouhani's true colors

While Tehran's diplomacy apparatus has been trying to portray a moderate image of the Iranian regime, the realities inside the country reveal a completely different truth.

On July 30, a few days before the inauguration of Hassan Rouhani's second term as president, the special guards of Gohardasht Prison, Karaj (60 kilometers west of Tehran), also known as Raja'i Shahr, raided a ward where political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, and students were kept.  The prison guards forcibly transferred some 50 inmates to a separate hall without allowing them to take their personal possessions, including their medicine.  In the process, several of the prisoners who protested the unlawful act were beaten and injured.

Hall 10, where the prisoners have been transferred, is a high-security section.  Surveillance cameras and listening devices are installed in every corner, including the bathrooms, in order to keep the prisoners under strict control.  The hall lacks minimum facilities, including beds and hygienic accessories, and the windows are sealed from both sides, preventing ventilation.

The measure is apparently a reaction to the prisoners' protests to their deteriorating conditions and their secret correspondence with international bodies about the inhuman treatment of inmates in Iran's prisons.

In response, the prisoners have gone on a hunger strike and demanded their transfer to their previous ward and the return of their personal belongings.  After nearly a month, despite their deteriorating health and constant threats by prison guards to send them to solitary confinement or execute them, they've remained steadfast in their resolve to restore their rights.

The brutal treatment of the prisoners has sparked a wave of condemnation around the world by human rights activists.  Supporters of the Iranian resistance have staged protests in several countries, demanding that the international community hold the Iranian regime accountable for its gross human rights violations.

"The fact that detention conditions have become so poor that desperate prisoners feel they are forced to go on hunger strike to demand the most basic standards of human dignity is disgraceful and highlights the urgent need for reforms to Iran's cruel prison system," said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Amnesty International, in a statement published on the organization's website.

Amnesty International called on the Iranian authorities to allow international monitors, including the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent, unannounced inspections of Gohardasht Prison and other prisons across the country.

The opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran has issued several statements, warning against the threats to the lives of the prisoners and calling on international human rights organizations to take action.

The hunger strike of Gohardasht inmates has also garnered support across Iran.  In solidarity with the prisoners at Gohardasht, inmates in other prisons across the country have gone on hunger strikes, including in Tehran, Zabul, and Ardebil.  Dr. Mohammad Maleki, the first chancellor of Tehran University after the 1979 revolution and a prominent political dissident, also declared his support of the hunger-strikers.

The Iranian regime has a history of unleashing its rage against political prisoners when it finds itself in dire straits.  In 1988, Khomeini, Iran's then-supreme leader, ordered the execution of 30,000 political prisoners when he feared for the future of his regime.

Now the regime is again facing a precarious situation.  It no longer has the tacit support of the Obama administration, is faced with setbacks in its regional agendas, and is dealing with mounting activism and protests by opposition supporters inside the country.  The increased pressure against political prisoners could be a prelude to a bigger disaster.

This is yet more evidence that moderation within the religious dictatorship ruling Iran is a myth.  In the past three decades, the presidency of Iran has been occupied by so-called "reformists" and "moderates" for most of the time.  However, there's been no sign of improvement on the human and civil rights fronts – only hollow promises and deceitful rhetoric that have yielded no results.  During Rouhani's first term alone, more than 3,000 executions were carried out, a figure that dwarfs that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is considered a hardliner by Western politicians.

On August 23, Tehran's general prosecutor, Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, who is subject to sanctions by the European Union for serious human rights violations, reiterated the regime's decision to continue mounting pressure against political prisoners, claiming, "The judiciary would not succumb to the hunger strike of prisoners."

Shamefully, since the beginning of the hunger strike of Gohardasht prisoners, the international community has done little hold the Iranian regime to account for its actions.  If Western politicians are waiting for the government of Hassan Rouhani to show a sign of moderation, they're in for a big disappointment.  Meanwhile, the lives of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners hangs in the balance, and they've resorted to a hunger strike, the only measure they have to defend their lives and dignity.

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