By Maryam Rajavi
September 30, 2015
The back-and-forth between supporters and opponents of the Iranian nuclear agreement has yielded at least one positive outcome: It has put a spotlight on the human rights situation in Iran.
What is happening there — the executions, imprisonments, intimidation and repression — is nothing less than a war by the regime against its own people.
As we look to the future, we should recognize that blocking the mullahs’ technological paths to the bomb is not enough to stabilize the region. There is a greater imperative to curtail their political and strategic means of revitalizing this menace in the future. That means keeping the pressure on the human rights issue, because by systematically denying people their rights, the regime maintains its illegitimate hold on power.
My fellow Iranians know that Tehran chased a nuclear weapon in order to compensate for the regime’s domestic vulnerability while expanding its influence in the region. The bomb was meant to safeguard and expand the survival of the ruling theocracy in the face of growing discontent at home.
That is why in the eyes of the Iranian people, the Iranian resistance’s exposure of the regime’s clandestine nuclear program, was such a watershed moment. It struck a blow for the forces of human rights and freedom at home as well as peace and stability in the region.
The nuclear program cannot be isolated from the regime’s flagrant human rights abuses or its regional machinations, which span from Yemen to Iraq to Syria to the Palestinian territories. These are interrelated components and core to Tehran’s political strategy.
It is no coincidence that when the nuclear talks with the West became more serious, Tehran intensified its repression. According to international observers, the number of executions in Iran — most by public hangings from cranes — has exceeded 2,000 during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.
And despite a budget deficit 50% deeper this year than last, Rouhani’s government has allocated 30% of the budget to the Revolutionary Guard Corps and other state security forces tasked with domestic suppression, not to mention the export of fundamentalism and targeting of dissidents abroad.
Under Rouhani, three brutal assaults took place on Iranian dissidents at Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq. In one of those attacks, directed by Iran’s Quds Force, 52 dissidents — whose safety in Camp Ashraf had been guaranteed by an international agreement signed by the United States — were massacred.
Inside Iran, the brutal crackdown on citizens — including the imprisonment and torture of teachers, students, workers, Sunnis, converts to Christianity, bloggers, journalists and many others — is on the rise. Amnesty International noted in April that “Iranian authorities have retained an iron grip over academic establishments.” Women are routinely harassed or detained for refusing to comply with compulsory veiling.
Despite indications of a serious and deepening power struggle, Rouhani and Iran’s “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are certainly united when it comes to finding religious justifications for human rights violations. Most recently, Rouhani defended the pace of executions in Iran by claiming that they “are based either on divine laws or on legislation adopted by the Majlis (parliament), which represents the people. We merely carry out those mandates.”
Their divine mandate apparently extends to exporting terrorism and supporting anti-democratic movements regionally. Immediately after the nuclear agreement in July, Khamenei insisted Iran would continue to provide “support for our friends in the region,” while Rouhani underscored “the continuation of our resilient Islamic movement all across the world of Islam.”
These friends and allies include the Assad regime in Syria, as well as regressive forces in Iraq and Yemen. Iranian support has acted as the most significant contributor to regional destabilization, and in fact helped fuel the rise of ISIS. Indeed, Tehran’s regional designs are the greatest barrier to mobilizing the region against threats to freedom.
My message to the United States and the West is that the long-term solution to the Iranian threat lies neither in foreign military intervention nor in collaboration with a regime that is so oppressive at home and so destabilizing abroad.
With the nuclear deal, however misguided it may be, in place, the right policy going forward is to encourage and support the Iranian people’s desire for democratic change and to speak out for human rights.
Rajavi is the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Iranian opposition groups committed to a democratic, secular and nonnuclear republic in Iran.