My newest piece at LobeLog looks at the bleak human rights situation in Iran, a situation that may ultimately be improved by the nuclear deal but that, in the short-term, is clearly being harmed by the nuclear deal, as hardliners seize on judicial cases as a place where they can flex their muscles and deny reformers (who supported the nuclear talks) another political victory.The Jason Rezaian case is well-known to the American audience, but that’s just one of many examples:
Extended prison sentences and lashings for benign or downright inscrutable crimes is only part of the problem. Consider, for example, Iran’s shocking capital punishment record. Iran may execute over 1,000 convicts this year, a number that would dwarf the 753 reportedly executed there last year. Iran routinely executes people for crimes committed as juveniles, as in the cases of Fatemeh Salbehi and Samad Zahabi, executed over the past two weeks for crimes committed when they were 16 and 17 years old, respectively. Iran executes more people per year than any country apart from China (whose execution statistics are unknown). On a per-capita basis, Iran is easily the world’s leading executioner. Startling on their own, these figures are downright chilling when coupled with what we know about the arbitrary nature of the Iranian justice system, which has been clearly illustrated by the Rezaian case.
In the longer term, Iran’s human-rights situation may well improve as a result of the nuclear deal, with the lifting of sanctions and the transformation of Iran’s economic and political environment. But the struggle to improve human rights in Iran has become a short-term casualty of the deal. Elections are approaching next year for the Iranian parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the scholarly body that will be responsible for selecting the 76-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s successor as Supreme Leader. So, the political stakes for both reformers (energized by the completion of the nuclear deal) and hardliners (who largely opposed the nuclear talks) are high, and hardliners are warning the Iranian people of the potential for international meddling in Iranian affairs. For example, Ahmad Jannati, a leading hardline cleric and the chairman of Iran’s Guardian Council (the body that advises the Supreme Leader on religious matters), cautioned in a sermon on Friday that the nuclear deal could lead to international demands that Iran change its penal code, recognize equality between the sexes, and permit same-sex marriage.
One of the open questions here is just how much Iranian President Hassan Rouhani really wants to make human rights “his” issue. He talked a pretty good game on that front during his 2013 presidential campaign, but (and you might want to sit down for this) sometimes politicians just say stuff when they’re campaigning and then don’t do anything about it after they get elected. Rouhani’s presidency certainly hasn’t been a boon for Iranians’ human rights, but it’s not clear whether that’s because he’s been unable to do anything on that front (a circumstance that could be partially — though by no means entirely or even mostly — remedied by next year’s elections) or because he doesn’t really want to do anything about it (Rouhani has a bit of a history of opposing protest movements, though he’s had a decade and a half to reconsider his actions in that case). It could even be argued, if you want to be really cynical about it, that Rouhani’s 2013 candidacy intentionally said a lot of nice things about human rights, with no intention of doing anything about it, so that the Supreme Leader could hold up the fact that Rouhani was allowed to run on that message as evidence that the regime is being responsive to the Green Movement protests.
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