By Alejo Vidal-Quadras
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Ms Federica Mogherini, plans to travel to Tehran on Tuesday to open a new dialogue on “bilateral issues” with Iranian officials a fortnight after the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers. Yet her trip puts in peril Europe’s democratic values.
It is an illusion to imagine that the nuclear agreement will lead to an improvement in the human rights situation in Iran. All the signs indicate that the agreement will embolden the mullahs to further abuse their citizens and to prevent an opening of the political atmosphere which could lead to a repeat of the upsurge of anti-government sentiments that took place in the 2009 uprisings.
Hours before Ms Mogherini announced her planned trip, the regime hanged 10 prisoners collectively in its Gohardasht Prison. On the same day Amnesty International announced that the Iranian authorities had executed an astonishing 694 people between January 1 and July 15, 2015, in an unprecedented spike in executions in the country.
“This is equivalent to executing more than three people per day,” Amnesty International said. “Iran’s staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the state carrying out premeditated, judicially-sanctioned killings on a mass scale.”
Last December, the United Nations General Assembly slammed Iran’s flagrant violations of human rights, criticizing its use of inhuman punishments, including flogging and amputations.
There are no signs that human rights situation has improved during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency. On the contrary the facts paint a grim picture:
Since Rouhani took office almost two years ago there have been more than 1,800 executions in Iran, more than in any similar period in the past 25 years. Iran holds the record of the most number of executions in the world per capita and is the biggest executioner of juvenile offenders. Executions of citizens of ethnic and religious minorities have increased dramatically. A number of Christian priests are incarcerated for advocating their beliefs. Iran is the largest prison for journalists in the Middle East; dozens of journalists are today in detention. Iran is also one of the largest customers of internet filtering equipment, and it blocks around five million websites dedicated to arts, social issues and news, and it filters the contents of blogs and social media.
Misogyny is at the heart of the regime’s theocratic rule. Last October, organized gangs affiliated with the regime carried out acid attacks on Iranian women for supposedly improper ‘veiling’. In the same month, in defiance of international appeals, Iran executed Ms Rayhaneh Jabbari, 26, whose crime was defending herself against an intelligence agent who had attempted to rape her.
Ms Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old artist, was sentenced to a 12 year jail sentence in May for drawing a cartoon mocking senior Iranian officials. It is hard to imagine that a young woman be jailed for such lengths simply for drawing a cartoon, but this is the reality of the theocracy ruling Iran.
In total this regime has executed more than 120,000 political prisoners, the vast majority members of the main Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI (also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, MEK).
Next Saturday will mark the 27th anniversary of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, primarily members and activists of the PMOI. One of the members of the three-man ‘death commission’ that sent the political prisoners to the gallows is Rouhani’s Minister of Justice.
Ms. Mogherini’s meetings with the regime’s leaders will encourage them to continue torture and executions as well as their export of terror and fundamentalism in the region, and it will undermine the Iranian people’s determination to achieve democratic regime change.
Though in 2012 the EU adopted an ambitious strategic framework to put human rights and democracy at the center stage of its policies, in the nine months that Ms. Mogherini has been EU foreign policy chief, despite 1,000 executions in Iran, she has refused to utter even a single verbal condemnation of the daily atrocities.
The nuclear agreement should not be an excuse for the EU to be silent in the face of the Iranian regime’s appalling human rights conduct. Ms Mogherini should make the key theme of her trip to Iran a public pronouncement to the Iranian authorities to halt executions and free political prisoners. Otherwise the regime will use her visit as a propaganda tool to discourage calls for democracy among the Iranian people. It is time for Europe to choose side between a theocratic regime and an oppressed people. Europe should not be shy to stand with the freedom-loving people of Iran and support their cry for freedom, democracy and human rights.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras was Vice-President of the European Parliament from 1999-2014, he currently chairs Brussels-based NGO, International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)