At Markaz, the Brookings Institution’s Suzanne Maloney writes about the ongoing imprisonment of Siamak Namazi by the Iranian government. Namazi is the one Iranian-American still being held by Iran after Tehran freed four other Iranian-Americans in a prisoner deal last month. Another American citizen, Robert Levinson, is also missing and presumably held somewhere in Iran, although the Iranian government formally denies that they have him and nobody can seem to figure out exactly where he is or who has him. Namazi reportedly just broke a hunger strike that he had been on for an unknown amount of time, though nobody outside of Evin Prison knew he was even on a hunger strike, since the Iranian judiciary won’t allow Namazi to see his own lawyer, let alone family or friends.
Maloney makes the case that international publicity can help win the release of people whom Tehran has unjustly imprisoned, so it’s good news that Namazi’s situation has been getting an increased amount of attention since the prisoner deal a month ago. But as attention is focused on Namazi’s case, or that of Jason Rezaian, or any of the countless bullshit arrests of political opponents or alleged spies that are constantly being carried out by the Iranian government, it’s important to understand that the real problem is the rot at the core of Iran’s unaccountable political system. Here’s Maloney:
But here’s the thing: the forces that led to Siamak’s arrest are not susceptible to evidence. If they were, he would never have been arrested in the first place, and he certainly would not have spent four months behind bars in the notorious Evin Prison. Siamak’s detention exposes yet again the central enduring failing of Iran’s post-revolutionary system: the absence of rule of law.
That is the reason for Siamak’s arrest—not his work for an Emirati oil company enmeshed in a contract dispute with Tehran; not his consulting activities or his advocacy of bilateral diplomacy; and certainly not the bogus smears against his family (remarkably, published under a pseudonym by an ostensibly reputable American publication even as Siamak was under interrogation in Iran). As I wrote when Jason Rezaian was first seized, there is no logic to Iran’s abuses, and no justification. All these explanations are attractive as defense mechanisms, a way to rationalize each arrest as an isolated incident with identifiable, even if not understandable, causes.
It is, of course, a false comfort. As is the canard that each arrest—each abuse of the basic rights of Iran’s citizens—can be attributed to Iranian hard-liners and the power struggle that has defined the country’s post-revolutionary politics. The hard-liners are only a symptom. The problem is the nezam—the system—and its engrained reliance on repression and a political culture of paranoia with roots in Iran’s pre-revolutionary history.
With the nuclear deal in his pocket and Syria…well, who knows, Barack Obama ought to spend some time in the last year of his administration leaning on Iran for its treatment of political prisoners (Maloney mentions Mir Hussain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the leaders of the 2009 Green Revolution who have been under house arrest for more than five years as a result) generally and its treatment of American citizens like Namazi and Levinson in particular. I’m frequently critical of Washington for only focusing on human rights abuses when they’re committed by our geopolitical foes and not so much when they’re committed by our friends, but that’s a call for us to be tougher on our friends, not to take it easier on our foes.
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