“Unbearable”—The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance, June 13 – A Moment to Act

Iran Prisoners
Composite photo of dual nationals being held as prisoners in Iran.

“Unbearable.” That’s the title of Reza Khandan’s gut-wrenching Ms. Magazine report from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRI) Qarchak prison for women. Khandan is the husband of attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is imprisoned there for the “crime” of representing activists for human and women’s rights.

What is so “unbearable”? “Entering these cells is like being transported back to the Middle Ages,” Khandan writes, into a dungeon “of overcrowding, under-feeding, torture and rape” that inmates call “the end of the world.”

“Unbearable” doesn’t just apply to Qarchak. It applies to all Iranian prisons, the country’s entire “judicial” system, and the dire situation facing ALL its political prisoners.

“Unbearable” is a cry from the heart—and a call to ACT!

June 13—A Moment to Act!

This is a critical moment in the battle for the lives and dignity of Iran’s hundreds, if not thousands, of political prisoners and the global movement to free them, which has gone largely unreported in media.

For instance, on June 13, a group of political prisoners will appear in court in Tehran, possibly for sentencing. This must be met by an international outcry demanding their immediate, unconditional release—in Germany and England where two of these prisoners are citizens, and in the U.S., which has contributed so mightily to the suffering of the Iranian people, from the bloody CIA coup in 1953 right up today through America’s killer sanctions and threats of war.

The group will reportedly include Nahid Taghavi (a German-Iranian dual citizen) and possibly Mehran Raoof (a British-Iranian dual citizen) and/or a number of other women political prisoners.

Any sentences they receive would be totally arbitrary and illegitimate—just as their arrests and imprisonment.

“These people do not belong in jail in the first place,” states the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, speaking of Taghavi and Raoof.  Amnesty International has declared these two prisoners of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association,” and called for their immediate, unconditional release.

They could be charged with the catch-all “spreading propaganda against the state.” That is, thought crimes or comments critical of Iran’s regime of medieval theocratic fundamentalists.

Taghavi has been transferred once again to the general population at Evin Prison after months in solitary. By the time he appears in court, Mehran Raoof will have been in solitary confinement for eight straight months—a blatant form of torture.

Iran’s Judicial System—An Illegitimate Machine for Enforcing Theocratic Terror & Tyranny

Iran’s judicial “process” is no more about justice than an inquisition “court” in which a woman’s ability to survive an attempted drowning is deemed proof she’s a witch.

Iran doesn’t hold trials in any meaningful or recognizable sense of the word.

If you’re arrested, you aren’t considered innocent until proven guilty, just the opposite. A defendant rarely has access to a lawyer and is at the mercy of the interrogator. Forced “confessions” under torture are a routine feature of these Islamic fundamentalist courts, used to prove the victim’s “guilt.” Amnesty International documents that those tortures are “widespread” and include “beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, forced administration of chemical substances, and deprivation of medical care.”

Iran’s lawyers generally don’t get case files until right before court hearings, and are then prevented from waging any serious defense. They are often under threats or jailed themselves for defending political dissidents, as has happened to Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Nahid Taghavi only met her lawyer, briefly, at her April 28 court hearing.  The lawyer had only been given access to her case file four days earlier.

(For a chilling description of how drastically Iran’s Kafkaesque judiciary restricts defense attorneys, see “Walking in a Minefield Without a Map: The Life of an Iranian Human Rights Lawyer,” Center for Human Rights in Iran, April 15, 2021.)

The guilty verdict is usually already decided before the court date. The hearing might last 10 minutes and the sentence is generally determined by the prosecutor/interrogator more than the judge. “What we have is interrogators working on behalf of security agencies who bring the charges—and the judges have no independence,” Ghaemi explains. “They just rubberstamp the indictment brought by the prosecutor working with interrogators, and even the sentences are based on what interrogators tell them.”

Iran’s judiciary, like the rest of the IRI’s theocratic/misogynistic regime, consistently singles out women for the most vengeful punishment if they resist their oppression and revolt.

Prisoners are routinely sentenced to medieval punishments, like lashings, and more than 200 were executed last year.  A January 2017 report by Amnesty International, “Iran: Wave of Floggings, Amputations, and other Vicious Punishments,”  documents how widely these depraved punishments are carried out in Iran.

Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case is one outrageous example: she was sentenced to 78 lashes for daring to defend the “girls of revolution street”—women who refused to wear the hijab (head covering) and were protesting in public.

The Persecution, Re-Persecution, and Heroic Resistance of Narges Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi is a defiant, courageous, and world-renowned representative of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. Her case captures the tyrannical, fascist character of Iran’s legal system.

She was recently released after having been imprisoned for nearly six years of an original 16-year sentence. During her imprisonment, she was brutalized and sexually assaulted. She describes one incident in which the prison doctor was so brutal that her interrogator had to leave the room. Yet she continues to courageously resist. (See her new interview in Farsi describing in gruesome detail the “white torture” of prolonged solitary confinement. An unofficial/rough English translation by an Emergency Campaign volunteer is linked here.)

Now, suddenly, on May 22, she was sentenced once again—to two and a half years in prison, two fines, and 80 lashes! Her crime? Reportedly propaganda against the regime “for campaigning against the death penalty and participating in a sit-in in prison in December 2019 to protest the killing of anti-government protesters a month earlier,” according to news reports. In an Instagram post, Mohammadi said one of her charges was having a party and dancing while in prison. She declared she will not “accept any of these sentences.”

Her treatment shocks the conscience and portends the possible horrors all other political prisoners face.  Her courage should inspire all of us to fight for her and all Iran’s political prisoners.

The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance—We Must ACT Now

I’ve joined with relatives, former prisoners, prominent voices of conscience (Gloria Steinem, Ariel Dorfman, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, University of Delhi’s Dr Saroj Giri, NASRIN documentary producers Jeff Kaufman and Marcia Ross), and over 1,800 others in signing an Emergency Appeal – The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance—We Must ACT Now which demands freedom for ALL of Iran’s political prisoners, while rejecting any U.S. aggression toward Iran, no matter the excuse.

On the latter point, the Appeal states:

The governments of the U.S. and Iran act from their national interests. And, in this instance, we the people of the U.S. and Iran, along with the people of the world, have OUR shared interests, as part of getting to a better world: to unite to defend the political prisoners of Iran. In the U.S., we have a special responsibility to unite very broadly against this vile repression by the IRI, and to actively oppose any war moves by the U.S. government that would bring even more unbearable suffering to the people of Iran.

This approach is all the more important now that the issue of Iran’s political prisoners is entwined with the restarted nuclear negotiations (with the different sides possibly wielding them as bargaining chips), the coming G7 meeting, and the June 18 Iranian presidential election, in which a leading candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, was responsible for the massacre of 4,000-5,000 political prisoners in 1988.

As the Appeal concludes:

All those who stand for justice and yearn for a better world must rally to the cause of freeing Iran’s political prisoners NOW!

I invite Counter Currents readers to join me in endorsing it.

Larry Everest is a signatory to the Emergency Appeal, the author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004) and Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre (Banner 1984), and a contributor to Revolution/revcom.us.  He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @LarryEverest



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