IRAN: HUMAN RIGHTS

As the government of President Hassan Rouhani works on the details of a new foreign policy for the Islamic Republic, the founder of the Council for a Democratic Iran, Dr Behrooz Behbudi, illustrates how any international deal on the nuclear programme that overlooks Iranian human rights will only make the regime more hostile towards its own people and its neighbours.

With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president in June the Iranian people’s hopes of ending an era of suffering and destitution, brought about by the previous government, were given a boost.

They hoped Iran’s isolation in the international community – the result of its disputed nuclear programme – could be resolved and that the crippling economic sanctions that have plagued the country, might – at last – be lifted, allowing them to find peace and prosperity under the new government that came to power with a manifesto of empowering the people by granting them human and democratic liberty through its “Charter of Citizens Rights”.

However, six months into the rule of the Rouhani government, their hopes remain unfulfilled.

The strategy to lead the Islamic Republic out of the international stand-off is so crucial that even “supreme leader” Ali Khamenei surrendered to the idea of direct negotiations with the United States although, in keeping with his usual tactics, he took an ambiguous position that means in the case of failure he can boast ‘I told you so’, while in the event of success, resulting in a settlement that serves Iranian national interests, he can claim the credit. It goes without saying that after decades of animosity between the US and Iran, an end to the hostilities and the re-establishment of diplomatic links between the two countries would lead to major changes in the political map of the Middle East, creating new alliances in the region. Iran would certainly stand to benefit from such shifts of power. Turning enemies into friends would have the dual benefits of helping the Islamic Republic consolidate its political power at home while also providing the necessary support to face regional rivalries with increased confidence.

However, what worries those Iranians who strive for democracy and human rights, as well as certain regional governments such as the Saudis, spiritual leaders of the world’s Sunni Muslims, is that once the concerns of the 5+1 countries over Iran’s nuclear programme are removed and the West is content with the outcome, the regime in Tehran will be given a free hand to increase its repression of the Iranian people at home, while continuing its destructive infiltrations with its neighbours abroad, with total impunity.

The history of the Islamic Republic regime’s policies speaks for itself. This is an unreliable regime not committed to upholding any particular moral value when it comes to holding on to power, despite the fact that its founder, on his return from exile 34 years ago, promised the upholding of human values would be among the “unwavering principles” of his new “Islamic government”. Sadly, any such principles – long since abandoned – have been overtaken by a regime that has become an amalgam of deceit, corruption, treason, theft and medieval repression, one which shows no sense of responsibility towards the Iranian people or their national interest. Iranians do not trust the despotic and irresponsible regime in Tehran and they have every right to remain suspicious of its motives.

The Islamic Republic’s interferences in neighbour- ing and other Islamic countries have caused nothing but chaos, instability and strife, leading to bloody and revengeful Sunni and Shia sectarian wars and ethnic cleansing. With this documented evidence it should not come as a surprise that countries, including Saudi Arabia, remain sceptical of the Iranian regime’s foreign policy towards Middle East countries.

These concerns become even more worrying when we put the increasingly aggressive and inflammatory language of the regime’s political leadership next to the blatant threats of Revolutionary Guard commanders against Iran’s neighbours. Add to this unsavoury mix, the possibility of the Iranian regime being equipped with the latest military hardware and the image that emerges is frightening, particularly in the midst of a region already fraught with religious, political, racial and ethnic conflicts.

A closer look at the reaction of the hardliners within the Islamic Republic to the recent rapprochement of the Rouhani administration toward the US indicates that with the direct backing of Ali Khamenei their repressive policies have in fact intensified.

More Iranian political prisoners have been executed over the last month and a leading reformist daily newspaper has been closed down on charges of “publishing a misleading story of Shia traditions”. Gangs of vigilante thugs and Basij militias have attacked and arrested innocent Iranian women on the streets of the main cities for “improper Islamic dress” and the regime’s judiciary has threatened dissident activists with harsh punishments “if they ever dare resurrect the dead Green Movement”, in the words of Iran’s chief judge Amoli Larijani.

All these developments lead to the conclusion that the Islamic Republic’s change of attitude towards the West is nothing more than a change of tactics to carry it safely through the crisis that has besieged the regime and to avoid a total collapse of the system under the current social and economic problems in Iran.

And, as we look at the position of the supreme leader as being the “final arbiter” in directing the entire regime with all its factions, sadly we arrive at another conclusion: that this is a regime that can never reform itself.

A quick look at the contents of a public speech that Khamenei made a few months ago where he referred to himself as “a revolutionary not a diplomat” reveals how distant he is from the realities of governing in the modern world and of the existing international relations among the family of nations.

Khamanei demonstrated his lack of prudence and destructive foreign policy approach when he publically criticised Hassan Rouhani for his “inappropriate action” in having a short telephone conversation with President Obama, while privately he had given him his approval for any overtures made towards the US during his trip to UN.

This action of Khamenei’s was received as a green light by the hardliners. They swiftly began a campaign aimed at undermining the Rouhani administration’s diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the nuclear crisis and thereby save the nation from further hardships and misfortunes.

An added concern that should be raised as a con- sequence of such action is the unpredictability of the regime’s behaviour in the event of it overcoming the current crisis. Its partial change of attitude in adopting a more realistic foreign policy towards the international community to reach a common ground with them over the nuclear issue has not been followed up by any tangible change in its repressive domestic policies where the Iranian people’s democratic and human rights are still being systematically abused by the regime.

A glance at reports of both Iranian and international human rights bodies over the last few weeks clearly points to the worsening of the situation, vindicating those who believe the regime’s “new foreign policy” is nothing more than a ploy to deceive the international community and save itself from collapse.

The Tehran leadership is aware that the devastating foreign policy and numerous domestic social, economic and cultural problems created during the Ahmadinejad’s eight year long rule can no longer be tolerated. To survive this critical period they must present a new face to the Iranian people and the outside world.

However, the first victims of the double standards of this hypocritical regime have been the Iranian people. On the one hand their leaders give them false hope that it intends to abandon its adventurist foreign policy and put Iran back within the family of nations, but on the other hand – behind the scenes – it continues to implement its destructive old policies, which act against the national interests of the people.

And while this diabolical game of playing politics with the life of the nation continues, the debilitating sanctions on Iran remain in force at the cost of thousands of young children, old people, the needy and the sick, with the country experiencing the darkest hours of its long history under a tyrannical regime.