July 30, 2007
As the U.S. wound up its second meeting with Iran to discuss the security of Iraq, the Iranian regime continued to face its own escalating insecurity. The deterioration of Iran’s economy, increase in civil unrest and sharp deterioration of human rights under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are three examples of a nation unraveling at the seams.
Ahmadinejad has taken desperate measures to reign in the escalating civil unrest throughout Iranian society by closing newspapers, enforcing strict dress codes and stepping up public hangings and stonings. The high priority of implementing these new “security measures” was made clear in a July 2007 interview with the director of Iran’s prison system, Ali Akbar Yessaqi, who spoke with Iran’s state-controlled news agency (ISNA). In his interview, Yessaqi conceded the existence of the regime’s secret prisons [torture centers] for political prisoners, the execution of juveniles and the policy of making arbitrary arrests, and also reported that Tehran is building 41 new prisons in Iran.
The Iranian regime’s rise in executions in recent weeks included a group execution in Tehran’s Evin Prison on July 22, where 12 prisoners were hung simultaneously. Two out of the 12 condemned men were political prisoners who were transferred from another prison to be executed with the others — an all-too-common method of silencing dissidents in Iran. On many occasions, political prisoners have been tagged with trumped-up convictions of drug trafficking and other crimes in order to receive the death penalty.
Amnesty International has recorded at least 124 executions since the beginning of 2007. Two recent victims of the Iranian authorities' use of the death penalty were those whose alleged crimes were committed before the age of 18. In addition, the human rights organization reported that in one case, an 18-year-old girl, Nazanin, was sentenced to be executed for having, at age 17, stabbed to death one of three men in a park who were attempting to rape her and her younger niece.
The pace of executions in Iran is stunning. In July alone, several public hangings were carried throughout the country: in the northern province of Mazandaran, the southeastern province of Sistan-va-Baluchistan, the central cities of Arak and Isfahan, the southern province of Fars, and in the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan, where three men were hanged as a group. Another group hanging took place in an undisclosed city, as witnessed in a shocking video smuggled out of Iran by members of Iran's main opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), this month that shows a young woman and two men being hanged in a public square.
Hanging is not the only form of capital punishment routinely enforced in Iran: in the first week of July, a man convicted of adultery was stoned to death in Qazvin province, while senior Iranian officials defended this medieval act.
One senior Iranian cleric, Ahmad Jannati, the leader of the regime’s Council of Guardians, defended the increased executions in religious terms: “If it was Imam Ali (the first Shi’ite leader after Prophet Mohammad), he would have executed more people because he was not a man who would have compromised with those who disrupt [the] security of the society.” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended the executions as a way for Iran to protect society “with all its power.”
Sixteen people were arrested on July 9, the eighth anniversary of the student demonstrations in 1999 that were violently suppressed by security forces. One of the student activists of the 1999 demonstrations who had once served six months in prison in Tehran, and was recently rearrested by the Iranian regime as a "street hooligan," was sentenced to death for breaching the "security" of the country.
Security crackdowns in July also included an upsurge in arrests of women and men who do not strictly follow the regime’s dress code. Tehran’s police spokesman, Mehdi Ahmadi, stated on July 23 that the department had hired additional officers for this push, including 100 women. The new campaign, he said, would target women who “dressed like models,” in other words, those that were badly veiled or wore form-fitting overcoats or trousers that showed their ankles. The expanded security force also goes after men who wear “Western-style haircuts and clothing”— and the hairdressers and shop owners who outfit them.
Ahmadi emphasized that the plan was not just restricted to enforcing Islamic dress rules, but also targeted all those who disrupt "security" in society, exposing the desperation of a regime facing widespread dissent from an extremely young population, 67 percent of which is under the age of 25.
Earlier in the year, in a hideous act, Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, was detained with other Iranian-Americans by the regime on baseless charges.
Despite increased crackdowns on dissent during Ahmadinejad’s presidency, protests continue to spring up among Iran’s workers, teachers and bus drivers who repeatedly form demonstrations over their low and unpaid wages. In March, officials arrested 1,000 teachers among the 10,000 protesting their salaries outside the parliament in Tehran; the income of high school teachers in Iran — even though higher than that of many government workers — puts them below the poverty line. Bus drivers have gone on strike to protest the government’s refusal to recognize their union rights, and thousands of them have been arrested. The regime also arrested the wives and children of union activists in order to compel the activists to come forward. Workers’ riots and demonstrations reveal how profoundly Ahmadinejad has failed to deliver on his promises to be the champion of the Iranian worker and put the country’s oil wealth “on people’s tables.”
University students, enraged at these actions and other "fascist" policies of Ahmadinejad's “dictatorship,” continuously form campus protests that are met with bloody crackdowns by the authorities. Students carrying banners demanding “freedom of expression” are routinely beaten with chains, stabbed and arrested with no further word to their families.
People are increasingly frustrated with the economy’s poor growth, rising inflation and lack of distribution of oil wealth. In addition to rationing gasoline in late June, the world’s second largest crude oil producer has seen both inflation and unemployment soar to 30 percent, housing prices double in one year and food prices skyrocket since U.N. sanctions were imposed last December.
Looking to Iran for help in ending the chaos in Iraq, as the U.S. tried to do in a second round of talks in July, is an untenable approach. Not only is Tehran the main source of violence and insecurity in Iraq as it strives toward its own expansionist goals, but it is also mired in domestic crises that expose the failings of a grossly troubled and highly unpopular regime seeking to guarantee its own survival at the expense of Iraq's demise. The United States is better off exploiting Iran's internal vulnerability and reaching out to — not the Ayatollahs — but the people of Iran, who are already determined to replace the regime with a democratic, secular and pluralistic system. This is the only way that Iraq would see peace, security and stability as well.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org.