Iran’s summer of Discontent

Jun. 15, 2004


In recent years, summer in Iran has been marked by uprisings, strikes, public protests and the government’s harsh crackdown against them. There are signs this summer will be no different.

As the anniversary of the anti-government uprising of July 1999 approaches, widespread arrests of dissident students and women are taking place.

Some students are nabbed from their dormitories by plainclothes Revolutionary Guard agents, while many others are served arrest warrants. The US International Bureau of Broadcasting’s Radio Farda reported on May 29 that, “the persistent summoning and detention of students all over the country has caused fear and insecurity in universities.”

Teheran’s Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi has ordered a crackdown on “social corruption,” saying that “a serious fight has started to tackle the spread of social corruption in society, especially the improper dress code.”

Youths, particularly women, are the main targets of such campaigns.

These repressive actions are in line with a series of preventive measures taken by the Iranian regime to neutralize Iran’s democracy movement and to subdue an increasingly restive population.

The state-controlled daily Ressalat expressed concern over the spread of popular uprisings, stating: “Certainly, the psychological atmosphere of June and July requires the vigilance of the Hizbullah as never before.”

Similar repressive measures last year gave rise to number of arrests and executions. The recent country report on human rights practices published by the US State Department says, “The [Iranian] government’s poor human rights record worsened in 2003… Continuing serious abuses included: summary executions; disappearances; torture and other degrading treatment, severe punishments such as beheading and flogging; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention.”

According to an appalling report by the Human Rights Watch, Iran’s rulers “through the systematic use of indefinite solitary confinement of political prisoners, physical torture of student activists and denial of basic due process rights” work to silence the dissidents.

LAST MONTH, perhaps in light of the increasing concerns about Iran’s rampant human rights violations – particularly the torture death of the Iranian-born Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi last summer – Iranian judiciary chief Mahmoud Shahroudi ordered a ban on the use of torture. But in Iran, torture is very much a question of definition.

Although torture had already been banned in Iran’s 1979 constitution, it remained the mullahs’ weapon of choice in dealing with dissidents. In fact, Shahroudi’s decree was an explicit admission that widespread torture continues.

Most of the practices that fall under “religious punishment” in Iran’s penal code, such as lashing, amputations, eye-gouging, and stoning to death, are banned by the Convention Against Torture. In the perverted lexicon of the mullahs, these punishments are not considered torture.

Just this past weekend, the state-run daily Kayhan reported that four prisoners had been sentenced to death for “waging war on God” and “corrupting the Earth,” a charge that is usually saved for political dissidents. The daily added that the right hand and left leg of two other prisoners will be amputated.

Inside prisons a religious judge can arbitrary issue an order for tazir – a religious term for physical punishment of the detainee that ranges from lashing the victim to solitary confinement and electric shock.

The ban on torture, of course, does not apply to tazir. The memoir of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, an 82-year-old senior Iranian cleric and former designated successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, documents many of the atrocities committed by the clerical regime.

Among the damning revelations is the text of a 1986 private letter to Khomeini. Complaining about the ill treatment of prisoners, Montazeri wrote in part: “Do you know that crimes are being committed in the prisons of the Islamic Republic in the name of Islam the like of which was never seen in the Shah’s evil regime? Do you know that a large number of prisoners have been killed under torture by their interrogators? Do you know that in [the city of] Mashad prison, some 25 girls had to have their ovaries or uterus removed as a result of what had been done to them ? Do you know that in some prisons of the Islamic Republic young girls are being raped by force?”

Despite such repression, Iran’s pro-democracy activists will be out again this summer. They will be planning the next march, rally or public protest. For them, this is more than a summer activity. It is a campaign for freedom that, by now, carries the memory of thousands who were tortured, imprisoned and killed while working for this cause.

America and Europe regularly condemn Iran’s human-rights record. This summer, perhaps, they will find time to bolster Iran’s democracy movement which seeks to unseat Iran’s ruling tyrants.

Nir Boms is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Reza Bulorchi is the executive director of the US Alliance for Democratic Iran.


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