The United Nations and a human rights group are expressing alarm at Tehran’s brutal treatment of imprisoned dissidents who have stepped up criticism of Iran’s religious regime.
A foreign policy analyst told The Washington Times that, despite international condemnation, Iran believes it has nothing to fear given its unchallenged ability to intervene in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as aid Israeli enemy Hamas and harass the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf.
“Iran will pay no price for clamping down on dissent,” said retired Army Col. Robert Maginnis, a counterterrorism specialist. “We have little leverage in the region, and no other nation in the region will hold it accountable.”
An Iranian exile opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, says more than 20 political prisoners at Iran’s most notorious maximum-security prison are on a 35-day hunger strike after being subjected to inhumane conditions. Dissidents in other prisons have joined them.
Iran’s ruling mullahs have a history of crackdowns on dissenters, who in some cases are imprisoned for years or face execution by hanging.
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said the hunger strike indicates growing opposition to Iran’s hard-line Islamic rule.
“While the clerical regime is very savage and has deprived these political prisoners, the majority of whom are from the MEK, from their most rudimentary rights as political prisoners, this episode clearly indicates that the spirit of resistance is alive and growing in Iran,” he said. “These prisoners have turned into a symbol of solidarity for all Iranians as their plight has become a widely discussed social issue.”
Mr. Gobadi said the dissidents have smuggled out letters telling of their treatment — angering the regime, which subjected them to even harsher conditions.
On Friday, Asma Jahangir, the U.N. special rapporteur for Iran, issued an official protest to the government in Tehran.
“I am deeply alarmed by reports about the deteriorating medical conditions of the prisoners on hunger strike and that their torture and ill treatment have continued since their transfer,” said Ms. Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who reports to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I urge the government of Iran to look for a prompt solution to the extreme situation created by the hunger strike through good faith dialogue about the grievances and underlying human rights violations, ensuring full respect for their dignity and autonomy,” she said.
On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Ms. Jahangir relied on “inauthentic sources,” according to a report in the state-run Al-Alam network, an Arabic news channel.
The United Nations has posted online Ms. Jahangir’s latest report on Iran. She castigates the mullahs for crushing dissent with sham “revolutionary” courts and for subjecting prisoners to inhumane conditions.
“Those arrested owing to their political or other beliefs or those who challenge the authorities are not granted a fair trial or due process — even the elements thereof that are available under Iranian laws,” she wrote. “Revolutionary courts are viewed not as a forum for granting justice, but as an extension of the coercive executive branch of the government that operates to control all criticism or independent actions for securing rights.”
In Iranian prisons, she said, “punishments such as flogging, blinding, amputation and stoning, which violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill treatment, continue to be implemented. Major overcrowding in Iranian jails, unhygienic detention facilities, lack of proper medical care, torture and ill treatment by prison officials, and solitary confinement continue to be daily realities for thousands of prisoners in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
While not referring to the hunger strike, Mr. Qassemi said: “Unfortunately, the special rapporteur seems to have turned a blind eye to the multiple cases of human rights advances in Iran and tried to display a dark and one-sided image of the status of human rights in Iran with the repeated employment of vague phrases and expression of unreasonable concern on the basis of inauthentic data.”
According to Voice of America, Tehran’s prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, said, “We say to some prisoners who go on hunger strike and make other threats that these actions have failed and the judiciary will not surrender.”
Harsh conditions, hunger strikes
Amnesty International said the dissidents were transferred to a prison section where cells have covered windows and there is no access to clean water, food or beds.
“The fact that detention conditions have become so poor that desperate prisoners feel they are forced to go on hunger strike to demand the most basic standards of human dignity is disgraceful and highlights the urgent need for reforms to Iran’s cruel prison system,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Amnesty International.
Iran is increasingly on the offensive in the region, both diplomatically and militarily.
Tehran has spent millions of dollars to intervene in Syria with troops and militia members and to finance what could be permanent missile bases to protect the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Iran controls large numbers of Shiite militias operating in Iraq, is stirring an uprising in Yemen and has announced it is renewing aid to the extremist Palestinian Sunni group Hamas, which is dedicated to destroying Israel.
Critics say some of Iran’s adventurism is being financed by pallets of cash and unfrozen bank accounts, compliments of the 2015 deal backed by the Obama administration with Tehran that lifted economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programs. President Trump is reviewing U.S. participation in the nuclear deal after harshly criticizing it as a candidate last year.
Iran’s gains in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have some fearing it is about to achieve a strategic milestone.
“Tehran is renewed and empowered to reach its long-sought Shia Crescent, an emerging future reality,” Mr. Maginnis said. “The region is now multipolar with centers forming in Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. As each jockeys for power, they tend to ignore criticism from abroad but focus on their power-driven agendas.”
The protesting dissidents are being held at the notorious Gohardasht Prison (also referred to Rajai-Shahr) west of Tehran.
It is the regime’s main holding cell for dissidents and also the site of executions. In 1988, the mullahs ordered executions of thousands of opposition leaders, and many were carried out at Gohardasht.
The MEK’s Mr. Gobadi said Iran’s political prisoners have stepped up criticism in recent months “regarding the deteriorating and dreadful conditions” at Gohardasht and other prisons.
“Some of the prisoners had smuggled out letters describing the inhumane conditions at different prisons,” he said. “Some had called for justice for their loved ones who have been executed by the Iranian regime, including a call for justice for the victims of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners.”
Mr. Gobadi said that in response to the dissent, the warden went to Hall 12 and told the prisoners that they would be transferred to a much more restrictive area, Hall 10. The prisoners responded with the threat of a hunger strike.
“Facing resistance from prisoners, the prison’s head of security and a large number of guards entered the hall and forcibly transferred the prisoners, beating some of them in the process,” he said. “The prisoners were not allowed to take personal belongings, including their medicine. Some prisoners’ eyeglasses were broken, and some had their personal items and money stolen. The conditions at Hall 10 are unbearable.”
Mr. Gobadi said that since the regime’s violent revolution, about 120,000 MEK members and allies have been executed.
“Yet, despite such a spell of repression, the network of the MEK supporters and activists is the biggest network outside of the regime and includes people from all walks of life and various social strata, including the vast number of relatives and families of the regime’s victims,” he said.
He said the regime fears MEK’s “growing attraction. There is almost no day that the state media is not riddled with anti-MEK propaganda.”