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Trading human rights
For the European Union, trade comes first

By Cyrus Kadivar
November 26, 2002
The Iranian

In recent months the Islamic Republic of Iran has gloated over its special relationship with the European Union. Last month a female delegate of British MP's visited Tehran to meet with their Iranian counterparts and returned to London delighted by their discovery that Iranian women had gained the right to ride motorbikes, paint their nails red and push their head-scarves well back on the top of their heads, exposing some hair. Soon afterwards the Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss paid a two-day visit to Iran where he subsequently signed an accord on avoiding double-taxation in order to "create better opportunities for investment in Iran by Swiss entrepreneurs."

At a joint news conference, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Mr Deiss, described their talks as "very positive." As for human rights the Swiss Foreign Minister stressed that his country would "respect Iran's independence on human rights, despite having some reservations on the issue." Kharrazi declared his reservations over a set of human rights issues in western countries.

"I explained that on the issue of punishment by hanging for example," Kharrazi said, "the execution is carried out in many countries and it is included among Islamic laws."

On a chilly autumn morning, Jim Muir, the BBC Tehran correspondent, was allowed to witness the execution of a young man accused of murdering a policeman. "Hashem is, perhaps, 30 and has a moustache and is quite good-looking," he reported. "He seems normal but a little nervous. Perhaps he has been drugged. At one stage he exchanges a joke with one of the officials, and smiles. Then he glances up and sees the hook of the crane which is dangling above his head. A vivid blue nylon rope appears, with a hangman's noose at one end."

Suddenly, in front of the horrified reporter the crane lifted the condemned man into the air. "For perhaps a minute, a slight tremor runs through his dangling legs, then all is still. I have a moment of envy. He is suddenly at peace, and we are not. On the ground beneath him, all that is left are the cheap, grubby orange plastic sandals he was wearing when he arrived. Islamic justice has been done."

In this climate the European Union has agreed to open talks in December 2002 with Iranian authorities aimed at improving human rights in the Islamic republic of Iran. According to the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller the EU hopes to help the reformers of Iran by the dialogue. The drive to open human rights talks follows the EU's decision in June to open a trade pact with a regime that has grossly violated and traumatised a nation for the last 23 years.

History will record that the 1979 Iranian cataclysm that ended twenty-five centuries of monarchy did not immediately lead to freedom, justice or democracy. Instead it ushered a reign of terror worthy of the terrible excesses of the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions or even the Spanish Inquisition.

No sooner had the last of the Shah's statues been toppled that the voice of moderation was drowned by a clamour for blood. The mob in the street wanted revenge and as pressure mounted extreme elements in the secular left and Islamic radicals called for the systematic elimination of all leading members of the "ancien regime." Sensing that he might lose control over the terrible forces he had unleashed the grim-faced Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Sadeq Khalkhali, a middle-ranking mullah, to execute the enemies of the revolution.

A derelict classroom in the Refah School was converted into a makeshift courtroom and executions began on the roof of the school on the evening of 15 February when four royalist generals, Nassiri, Rahimi, Naji and Khosrowdad, were shot. The killings continued for several weeks, drawing horrified protests from the Provisional Prime Minister, Mehdi Bazargan, and from international organisations. For a brief period the shootings were halted until a referendum turned Iran into an Islamic republic. On 7 April another outrage: Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the Shah's longest serving prime minister was executed.

Iran's prisons overflowed with thousands of "counterrevolutionaries" many unaware of the charges levied at them. Their trials led to a huge increase in bureaucratic activity, the taking down of names, making records of confiscated belongings. Prisoners fought each other for space and toilet facilities. That spring the International Red Cross was forbidden to visit or aid any prisoners. "All these people should have been killed from the first days instead of crowding the jails," Khomeini declared. Khalkhali toured the country looking for fresh victims.

In a helter-skelter fashion army officers, land owners, industrialists, Kurdish rebels, ex-SAVAK agents, diplomats and former politicians were summarily executed. By his own admission, Khalkhali "exterminated over 2,000" persons in less than a year. Worse than that he defended an Islamic judge who had brought back a horrible mediaeval form of killing: the judge had ordered that four sex offenders, two men and two women, be buried up to the neck and stoned to death. Drug addicts, homosexuals and prostitutes were also dispatched mercilessly.

For many of the condemned death came almost as a relief once their name was finally pronounced. Then they knew that their mental torture was finally over, that they were on the list for the day. Prison goodbyes were always dramatic; husbands were separated from wives, mothers torn from their children.

Fun, laughter and music deserted Iran. Persian culture and historical symbols considered "un-Islamic" were purged. The atmosphere of death kindled a sexual frenzy, and some Iranians took refuge in alcohol, drugs, and bouts of unbridled lust.

A new term, the "taghouti" or the devil's followers, was coined to brand all those who had not supported the revolution, who had been close to the royal family or had run major enterprises, who wore Western clothing or had gone to schools abroad, who were rich or lived in the upper reaches of the city in spacious villas, those who went to cinemas or still drank alcohol at private parties, those who drove a big car and women who displayed their ankles and wore lipstick.

The intrusion of the revolutionary "komitehs" or committees into daily life proved intolerable. Gangs of ruthless vigilantes invaded the homes of the rich looking for suspects. Magazines, home movies, whisky, opium and even silk underwear were confiscated as evidence of "decadent living" and their owners flogged.

For the many intellectuals and middle class professionals who had hoped for a fairer, freer society, the realisation that the Ayatollah was merely another tyrant caused massive disillusionment and a sense of betrayal. As the economy began to unravel Khomeini turned his attention on the importance of the hejab. Thousands of Iranian women marched for their basic freedoms only to be beaten and insulted. Morality squads, the notorious Monkerat, prowled the streets and arrested women for not wearing a hejab, and later a chador, or because they were walking or talking to a man who was not an immediate relative.

The capture of the US Embassy in November 1979 radicalised the situation in favour of Islamic militants. Bazargan and other liberal forces were swept aside and by 1980 Khomeini was on the verge of realising his great ambition -- the abolition of secular institutions and the creation of a government based on the shari'a.

In July, three months after a failed US rescue attempt of the hostages, the Islamic authorities announced they had uncovered a plot to assassinate the Imam. 600 officers and pilots were implicated. Hojatoleslam Reyshahri, the chief judge of the Army Military Revolutionary Tribunal, sentenced the key leader of the coup attempt, Air Force General Ayat Mohagheghi and 140 others to death. Wider purges of the "suspect" armed forces and government ministries continued until September when war broke out along the Iranian-Iraqi borders.

Meanwhile, the human rights situation deteriorated even further to such an extent that President Bani Sadr charged that torture and rapes were taking place in Iranian prisons and that individuals were executed "as easily as one takes a drink of water."

The revolution soon devoured its own children. In June 1981 Khomeini impeached Bani Sadr who fled to Paris along with Masud Rajavi, the leader of the Mujaheddin Khalq in a hijacked aircraft flown ironically by the late Shah's personal pilot.

In Evin prison, executions of opposition figures in prison was stepped up after Saeed Soltanpour, an openly critical poet and writer, was suddenly taken from a prison cell and shot. In the aftermath of an explosion that killed over seventy key functionaries of the IRP including Ayatollah Beheshti on 28 June, thousands were imprisoned, and at least 100 were executed within two weeks. A witch-hunt began against the Mojaheddin and Marxists Fedayeen supporters.

The great wheel of terror did not differentiate between kith and kin. It brutalised the whole society. Fifty executions a day became routine. Assassinations avenged executions, triggering further atrocities. Numerous members of the regime lost their lives, while over the months executions of opposition groups rose to several thousands -- no one knows the exact figures. In April 1982, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a former Khomeini aide, was arrested and later executed with 170 conspirators for "treason against the state."

On 18 June ten Bahai women were hanged in Shiraz for refusing to recant their faith. Over 250 Bahais and a number of Christian and Jewish Iranians were also murdered. In October Khosrow Qashqai, was executed for inciting his tribesmen to revolt.

On the blood-soaked battlefields the mullahs sent human waves made up of young boys and old men to clear the minefields. The young Basij volunteers aged between 12 and 16 were sent to war with scant military training and little equipment. Inevitably, they died in their thousands. Others suffered the horrors of war and captivity. By the end of 1982, the country experienced a reaction against the repression and a widespread feeling of disgust and insecurity because of the arbitrary actions of the revolutionary purge committees.

In February 1983, the Islamic authorities arrested Tudeh leader Nureddin Kianuri, other members of the party Central Committee, and more than 1,000 party members. Many of the rank-and-file were put to death. The elimination of the political opposition allowed the regime to concentrate in pushing back Saddam's armies.

Eight years of war had left Iran with 500,000 dead and countless casualties. By the summer of 1988, when Iran and Iraq ceased hostilities, the ailing Khomeini still found enough strength to order the wholesale massacre of an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 political prisoners including pregnant women and teenagers which continued until the autumn. Khomeini's death in June 1989 made no difference to the state of human rights in Iran. Under Rafsanjani state terror continued unabated and many executions and 80 assassinations of exiled opposition figures took place.

When President Khatami came to power in 1997 the West and segments of the population hailed him as a reformer. EU diplomats and the US State Department expressed hope that Iran might be on the way to becoming an "Islamic democracy." In reality, Khatami has been unable to challenge the hardliners who still dominate political institutions, the judiciary, the police and the military.

Amnesty International and other bodies have continued to report the worst abuses of human rights -- executions, floggings, amputations, torture, the suppression of civil liberties and press freedoms, and the jailing of editors and journalists. Ahmad Batebi a student arrested after the 1999 uprising remains in jail. So far this year there have been 292 public executions in Iran, most of the victims hanged from cranes in public squares. And yet for the first time in 20 years there has been no United Nations resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran.

Despite George Bush's labelling of the clerical regime as part of the "axis of evil" the EU has been split over pressuring Iran to adhere to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Short of hypocrisy the bastions of democracy can no longer ignore the fact that the majority of the Iranian people have distanced themselves from the current regime. "This theocratic regime is in shambles, coming to the end of its rope," says Fereydoun Hoveyda, senior fellow at the National Committee on American Policy and a former UN ambassador.

Then why deal with this regime? This question has puzzled many Iranians over the years who feel that appeasing the Islamic republic and looking for moderates has only prolonged the inevitable collapse of one of the world's repressive regimes. While the Supreme Leader Khamenei recently warned that Iran will never accept to become a democracy, President Khatami was officially welcomed by the Spanish King Juan Carlos at his royal palace in the outskirts of Madrid. It is rumoured that the Spanish monarch asked the Iranian president an embarrassing question: "When will you stop these senseless executions?"

Perhaps the December meetings with the IRI could include an EU request for the investigation and the establishment of as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights committed from 1979 to date; the fate or whereabouts of the victims of such violations; the granting of amnesty to persons who make full disclosure of all atrocities committed so far; affording victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered; the taking of measures aimed at the granting of reparation to, and the rehabilitation and the restoration of the human and civil dignity of the Iranian people.

Debating human rights in the abstract can never be an excuse for inaction on the ground. It is neither morally acceptable nor economically wise to believe that closing one's eyes to abuses opens up opportunities for trade. There is an umbilical cord between the interests of investors and exporters and the rights of citizens of the country they trade with. The credibility of the European Union requires that it respects and promotes the universal principles as laid down in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and its complementary covenants.

Source: Rouzegar-e-Now, November 2002, No.6

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By Cyrus Kadivar






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