- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2010

While the world rightly sanctions Iran over its nuclear proliferation, it is has been far less forceful in censuring the appalling human rights abuses in the Islamic republic. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, anxiously awaits her impending stoning sentence. The Tehran regime has announced that the execution of political prisoner Jaafar Kazemi is imminent. His crime? Refusing to appear on state television to denounce the activities of his teenage son, who has joined the opposition People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf. Last month, the regime amputated the hands of six men accused of stealing.

Such brutality is not uncommon in Iran, which to date has executed more than 120,000 political prisoners. In the summer of 1988, after reluctantly signing a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the massacre of 30,000 Iranian men and women who continued to support the opposition movement, according to survivors of the slaughter.

A special body, known to prisoners as the “Death Commission,” was tasked with implementing Khomeini’s fatwa. In five-minute-long kangaroo trials, prisoners were asked about their politico-ideological allegiances. Those who showed the slightest sign of maintaining sympathy with the Mujahideen were sent for execution in groups of five or six at a time.

Officials who led the 1988 massacre continue to hold high offices, and several are retired judges. Top officials include Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, recent presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, and the former head of the Supreme Court Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili.


Iran’s current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is said by former political prisoners to have been a prison official attached to the Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s, and he infamously became known to prisoners as the “man of a thousand bullets,” a nickname coined notoriously over his role in firing the final execution bullets for large numbers of prisoners.

Following the disputed presidential election last summer and the wave of public protests that ensued, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government arrested thousands of political opponents.

As protests became more radicalized and adopted a call for regime change, the human rights situation once again rapidly deteriorated. The regime has stepped up arbitrary arrests of its opponents, students, women, human rights and democracy activists, and ethnic and religious minorities. United Nations agencies and international human rights organizations have reported a systematic use of torture, including burning, flogging, amputation, gang rape and political executions in prisons.

To justify political executions - banned under Islam - the regime charges its opponents with “Moharebeh,” or waging war on God, and it points to the PMOI’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Mr. Kazemi is one such victim whose plight was highlighted last week by Amnesty International, which claims that at least six other relatives of opposition members are on death row on the same pretext. It was reassuring that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this month highlighted their cases and urged Iran to halt the executions. She should revoke the PMOI’s terrorism designation, following the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals last month, which brought it into question.

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi last month urged the U.N. Security Council to set up a special tribunal to try the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre because today they hold senior political and judicial positions and continue their murderous and criminal acts.

As permanent members of the Security Council, the United States and Britain have a duty to uphold the principles of democracy and speak out when a U.N. member state commits a crime against humanity. We have a responsibility now to back the Iranian opposition’s call for an international tribunal, similar to the current one investigating war crimes by the former president of Liberia, and we should officially present a resolution at the Security Council to this effect. While innocent women such as Mrs. Ashtiani await their stoning sentence and men such as Mr. Kazemi await execution, surely Western governments must cut all bilateral trade and political ties with the regime until human rights abuses come to an end.

David Amess is a Conservative member of the British Parliament and a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.