Let’s not forget the victims of the Iranian regime’s egregious human rights violations

Iranian Human Rights activist Narges Mohammadi, serving a 16 year sentence for founding Legam, an anti-Death Penalty campaign

Iran is rarely out of mainstream media’s coverage of international affairs. Yet somehow new revelations about the regime’s severe and ongoing human rights violations are not making it into the Australian media.

For instance, Amnesty International recently called Iran the “top executioner of children in the world” following the secret executions of two 17 year old boys last month, in what Amnesty called an “abhorrent violation of international law”, and a display of “utter disdain” for the rights of children.

The cousins, Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat, were arrested when they were 15 and held in detention for two months, during which they were beaten and given no access to a lawyer. According to Amnesty, they were convicted on multiple rape charges following an unfair trial.

On April 24 this year they were transferred from a juvenile correction centre in Shiraz to Adelabad prison, apparently without knowing the reason. The following day their families were informed of their execution and asked to collect the bodies. Marks showed the boys had been flogged before their deaths.

“The use of the death penalty against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime is strictly prohibited under international human rights law and is a flagrant assault on children’s rights. It is long overdue for Iranian parliamentarians to put an end to this harrowing situation by amending the penal code to ban the use of the death penalty against anyone who was under 18 at the time of the offence,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Director.

Iran is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Yet in violation of these instruments, Iran carries out numerous executions of juveniles. Moreover, because of the secrecy involved it is feared that the number of executions is greater than that recorded.

Also in the past month, the attorney for jailed human rights activist Narges Mohammadi told the official Iranian news agency that his client was being denied an operation for a serious medical condition. She is currently serving a total of 16 years’ imprisonment for “founding an illegal group”, “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda.”

The “illegal group” is Legam, an anti-death penalty campaign. The “evidence” relied on by the court comprised interviews Mohammadi gave to international media, and a meeting with the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Amnesty International called her prison sentence “barbarous”, and said it came after years of harassment and intermittent periods of detention, all of which had taken a devastating toll on her family and her health.

Like her countrywoman, Nasrin Sotoudeh, sentenced to a 33 year prison term and 148 lashes in March, Mohammadi is an internationally recognised human rights activist and the recipient of prestigious human rights awards.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities continue to detain demonstrators, including labour activists and journalists, who took part in a May Day rally outside the parliament building in Teheran. They were protesting against rising inflation and living costs, as well as calling for the right to establish independent labour organisations. At least eight of the activists are still being held.

On May 15, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for their immediate release. One of those arrested at the May 1 protest told HRW that security forces attacked the demonstrators ten minutes after they’d gathered, arresting approximately fifty men and women, beating some of them. The source added that all detainees were charged with “disrupting public order” and “participating in an illegal demonstration”, while some were also charged with “acting against national security”.

The ICPPR, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Iran is also a party, protect the right to form and join labour unions.

There are also allegations that Iran has recently escalated its longstanding persecution of its Baha’i minority.

The Baha’i faith is a 19th century offshoot of Shiite Islam, originating in Persia. Baha’is are considered by many Muslims as apostates from Islam, and Iran’s more than 300,000-strong Bahai community is not recognised in the nation’s constitution. Its members are subjected to arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture, confiscation of property, forcible closure of businesses, bans on public sector employment and denial of access to universities.

According to researchers with Amnesty International and HRW, in the past year dozens of Baha’is have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and prosecutions in an attempt to delegitimise the community.

Dr Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian-born political analyst at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, suggests the situation has worsened since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) because the regime felt more confident to persecute minorities. The targeting of the Baha’i is, he believes, due to “existential anxiety”. “The messianic approach of the Baha’is has its roots in the Shiite belief in the divine saviour. However, unlike the Shiites, the Baha’is believe that their saviour has already emerged in the world.… If the Baha’i narrative becomes the [accepted] interpretation of religion, then the Shiite mullahs and their zealous followers will have no pretext to advocate for an Islamist system…[which] paves the way for the emergence of the Mahdi [saviour] at the end of the world.”

Persecution of Baha’is on the basis of faith extends to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who, after seizing the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, have arrested and charged dozens of Baha’is and sentenced one of the community’s leaders to death.

Baha’i representative to the UN Diane Ala’i   has also recently said  the situation of “ongoing systematic persecution” had “gotten worse” in recent times.

Speaking at a 2018 US conference on religious freedom, Ala’i also said Iran’s long-running denials of Western accusations that it persecutes Baha’is shows that it realises such mistreatment is a bad thing and thus it was important “to pressure Iran to abide by its (human rights) commitments.” The ICPPR states: “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”