The Start of a New Year in Iran


In 2008 let us help bring some ray of hope to those working towards freedom in Iran. The fate of Iran’s political prisoners, whose numbers are estimated at 30,000, should accompany every international meeting and diplomatic engagement

Nir Boms

While in many parts of the world people were just starting to recover from New Year’s Eve hangovers, it was business as usual in Iran. On January 2, thirteen Iranians, including the mother of two young children, were executed, giving Iran a solid lead in the execution count for the new year. According to Agence France Presse, Iran carried out at least 297 executions in 2007, a 40% increase compared to the 177 executions reported by Amnesty International in 2006.

Pictures from Qom – where one of the public hangings took place – show three blindfolded men hanging limply from nooses attached to cranes as dusk fell on a snowy night. The hangings, the first reported in 2008, were the latest in a growing number of executions in the Islamic republic, part of a campaign authorities claim is designed to “improve security.”

Security, of course, is a relative term. Among those who apparently threaten Iran’s security is Atefeh Rajabi, a 16-year-old orphan. She was hanged for having sex with an unmarried man. The list also includes 15-year-old Mahmoud Asgari and 17-year-old Ayaz Marhoni, who were executed in Mashhad for homosexual activity. Prior to their execution, the teenagers were held in prison for 14 months and severely beaten with 228 lashes each. It also includes 16-year-old Mona Mahmudnizhad who, together with nine other Baha’i women, was executed for teaching Baha’i classes to children.

The list also includes some more “generic” cases of those who appear to threaten the mullarchy way of life. These include political prisoners, student activists and representatives of minority groups trying to effect change in Iran.

One example is Emaddedin Baghi. A former journalist who became an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and an advocate for prisoners’ rights, Baghi was sentenced to three years in prison in 2000. He was released on bail in 2003, but again imprisoned in October 2007. Since that time, according to Reporters Without Borders, he has spent more than 70 days in solitary confinement in Evin prison. On December 26 he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized.

Mahmoud Salehi, a founding member of the Saqez Bakery Workers’ Association, was arrested in April 2007 for organizing a peaceful demonstration on May Day 2004 and for his trade union activities. Salehi was sentenced to one year in prison. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey says Salehi was hospitalized in December “after experiencing complications from the lack of proper treatment for his chronic kidney disease.”

Next on the list was Abdulreza Sanawat. A member of the Ahvazi Arab minority, he was charged with terrorism and mohareb (being at war with God) for his involvement in bombings in Khuzestan Province in 2005. The bombings followed a round of demonstrations against anti-Arab discrimination and reportedly resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Khuzestan, or the Al-Ahvaz District, a province of 43,000 square miles in southeastern Iran near the Iraqi border, is home to some 8 million Arabs. The recent wave of protests there took place on the backdrop of a reported Iranian plan to tighten its hold in the region. The plan included the deportation of 1.2 million Arab residents and the transfer of 1.5 million non-Arabs to the region over the past decade. Despite pleas from a team of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, at least 19 Ahvazi political and human rights activists were executed during the past year.

Meanwhile, several Ahvazi activists detained after a peaceful march in October 2007 have now died under torture according to new reports by the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization. The group received information that gruesome techniques, including the removal of fingers, nails and eyes, were used on the victims. According to the Leadership Council for Human Rights, the government ordered the families of the victims to bury them in remote, unmarked burial grounds typically used for animals.

In the closing days of 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning systematic human rights violations in Iran, including torture, flogging, amputations, stoning and public executions. It also asked Iran to abolish public executions and stoning and “to end the harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents and human rights defenders.” The beginning of 2008, however, saw no change in the standard Iranian response: total silence.

Let us hope that the world will not choose the same path this year. Iran’s record of executions should not be surpassed yet again. The fate of Iran’s political prisoners, whose numbers are estimated at 30,000, should accompany every international meeting and diplomatic engagement. In 2008 let us help bring some ray of hope to those working towards freedom in Iran.

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