By Shahriar Kia
October 10th will mark the 14th World Day Against Death Penalty, where people around the world will rally to support the abolition of executions. While we have reason to celebrate progress in seeing more countries abolish the death penalty in 2015, with 169 of the 193 member states of the UN having been execution-free in the past year, we also need to raise awareness and alarm in regions and countries where the state of human rights and the application of capital punishment has continued to deteriorate.
One of the countries of concern is Iran, where the ruling regime has executedmore than 1,000 people in the past year. Less than a week ago, the Iranian regime sent 27 people to the gallows in the span of three days, more than the yearly figures of most countries that still exercise capital punishment. Elsewhere, a young woman is waiting to join the long list of juvenile offenders executed by the Iranian regime. And a lot more is happening discreetly.
A 38-year history has proven that execution, torture, repression and the brutal violation of human rights are indispensable and vital elements of the domestic policy of the clerical regime ruling Iran, and are key to its survival and its continued hold on power in the country.
A stark example is the 1988 summer massacre, where the Iranian regime purged its prisons of opposition members and executed more than 30 thousand political prisoners in the span of a few months in order to restore the depleting morale of its commanders and rank-and-file. The massacre was ordered by Khomeini, the founder and then-supreme leader of the Iranian regime, in a fatwa which dictated every opposition member to be executed unless they repent from their ideals for freedom and democracy.
For the most part, the victims were members and supporters of People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), the main opposition group that is vying for the establishment of a free, democratic, and secular government in Iran. The PMOI has had a pivotal role in exposing the Iranian regime illicit nuclear program and its terrorist venturing in the Middle East region.
During the 1988 massacre, a group of four clerics, which later became known as the “Death Committee,” circulated through prisons and sealed the fate of prisoners in short, minutes-length trials. Many of the victims were executed merely because they had attended rallies or distributed newspapers belonging to the PMOI. No one was spared.
In an audio recording that was published for the first time after 28 years, the late Ayatollah Montazeri, who served as Khomeini’s deputy at the time, condemned the executions as “the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic.” Montazeri was later deposed from his position because of his disagreements with Khomeini.
The 1988 massacre is an outlook into the real nature of the religious fascism ruling Iran, a nature that will remain regardless of the faces that fill the regime’s showcase of high-level officials.
Sadly, the UN and the international community has done little to shed light on and punish this crime against humanity that is compared to the Srebrenica genocide. What’s more, the perpetrators of this atrocity continue to hold positions of power in Iran and continue their crimes with impunity. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, one of the leading members of the notorious Death Committee, now serves as justice minister in the administration of Hassan Rouhani, who is ironically touted by the West as a “moderate” figure in the Iranian regime.
Current efforts being made to renew ties with Iran and reintegrate the Iranian regime into the international community after years of isolation and animosity will only result in the ruling mullahs becoming more brazen in their crimes against the Iranian people.
An international campaign is now gaining traction to hold the Iranian regime accountable for the brutal massacre and persecution of political dissidents, and the movement is garnering increasing support from politicians and activists across the world, including in the U.S. Congress. A resolution introduced to the House of Representatives on September 21 by Homeland Security committee chair Mike McCaul called for the condemnation of the Iranian regime for massacre of political prisoners in 1988 and justice for the families of the victims.
The U.S., UN, and the international community can play a more prominent role in this regard.
This underlines the need to stay true to the fundamental values that have been earned and bled for over decades and centuries of human history. Crimes against humanity such as the 1988 massacre and the continued violation of human rights in Iran should not be forgotten or overlooked for the sake of political and economic benefits. The perpetrators must be held accountable and any relations with the Iranian regime must be predicated on the improvement of human rights conditions in Iran.
So while we get ready to celebrate and commemorate the efforts made to abolish the death penalty, we must also remember that there is still a lot that needs to be done.