A Modest Improvement in Internet Freedom in Iran

Instead of banning websites completely, the Iranian regime is now just censoring their content. Sure, Iranians will only see redacted versions of websites, but at least they’ll see them. I guess this is supposed to mean that everything is both hunky and dory in Iran now.

How very wonderful all of this is. Utopia has finally been achieved in Iran. Must be the effects of all of that political liberalization.

Nota bene: Some people might think that this blog post is featuring sarcasm rather heavily. I can’t possibly imagine where they would get such an idea.

“Moderate” Governments Don’t Jail People Over Facebook Postings

Just thought I’d throw that opinion out there:

An Iranian court has sentenced eight people to jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years for crimes including anti-regime propaganda posted on Facebook, an opposition website has said.

Kaleme, which did not cite a source for its report, said the sentences were delivered last week giving the eight Facebook users a combined 123 years in jail.

They were charged with “insulting the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the authorities, anti-regime activities, sacrilege and spreading lies,” Kaleme said.

There was no official confirmation of the court ruling and AFP could not independently verify the report.

Incidentally, are we still under the impression that the current Iranian president–weak though he is in comparison to the supreme leader–is a moderate?

Torture in Iranian Prisons

Needless to say, this is both entirely obscene, and entirely unsurprising, given the nature of the current regime in Tehran:

Political prisoners in Tehran’s Evin prison have allegedly been subjected to humiliating physical abuse, including being forced to run a gauntlet of guards armed with batons, it has emerged.

Iran‘s president, Hassan Rouhani, has been silent despite chilling details being revealed by prisoners and their families about how Thursday’s disturbances marked a dark episode in one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

Dozens of inmates held in Evin’s ward 350, including journalists, lawyers and opposition members, were injured, with some suffering skull fractures, broken ribs, wounds and swelling on their bodies after guards and intelligence officials created a tunnel and made prisoners run through it as they beat them with batons, according to opposition sources.

Emad Bahavar, who is serving a 10-year sentence because of his political activities, recounted some of the horrific moments in a letter sent out of jail and published on an opposition website, Kaleme, on Tuesday.

In separate interviews, a group of relatives who met a number of prisoners beaten up in Evin’s violence last week echoed Bahavar, saying some could hardly speak and others had bruises on their bodies. The incident has been described by activists as Iran’s “black Thursday”.

“‘Beat them up,’ they shouted. Forty guards armed with batons then rushed down the stairs … they sent more guards as it went on,” Bahavar wrote in his letter. “They made us stand in a row facing the wall in ward 350’s corridors while being handcuffed and blindfolded. They started to beat us up from behind. You could hear a whining noise. Outside the ward’s gate, the guards stood liked a tunnel and forced us to go through it before taking us on to a minibus. You could see blood on the way and inside the minibus.”

Recall that the election of a supposedly “moderate” president was supposed to alleviate at least some of the totalitarian burdens that Iranians are forced by their government to bear. This has not happened because (a) the president is not all that powerful in the Iranian system of government, and (b) because the Iranian president may not be the moderate people think he is.

What Iranian “Reformers” Hath Wrought

Presumably, this is what we are supposed to expect from a government that allegedly is more enlightened than it used to be:

At least 80 people and perhaps as many as 95 have been executed in Iran already this year, a surge in the use of the death penalty that has dampened hopes for human rights reforms under President Hassan Rouhani, the United Nations said on Friday.

[. . .]

In September, dozens of political prisoners were released, raising hopes that he would also improve human rights in a country that ranks second after China on Amnesty International’s list of states with the highest use of capital punishment.

“There were some encouraging signs last year where political prisoners were released … But it appears at least in the past seven weeks that in fact executions have been scaled up,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

“We regret that the new government has not changed its approach to the death penalty and continues to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences. We urge the government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.”

Last year Iran executed between 500 and 625 people, including at least 28 women and two juveniles, Shamdasani said.

“A number of individuals were also executed in secret and at least seven people have been executed in public this year,” she said, adding that most were killed by hanging.

Possession or transport of drugs, “even in relatively small amounts” of less than 500 grams, frequently leads to execution, said Roya Boroumand, director of the U.S.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation that tracks executions in Iran.

“More than 100 crimes carry the death penalty,” Boroumand told Reuters. “If the international community takes lightly the execution of drug dealers, it is leaving a free hand to the police and judiciary to do what they want,” she said.

We won’t even get into the nightmares with which political prisoners need to put up.

Quote of the Day

As Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani was dangling from a noose two weeks ago, desperately grasping for his last breath of air, one wonders what he would have thought about Western leaders who call President Hassan Rouhani a moderate.  What exactly is moderate, Shaabani could have thought, about a regime which brands a poet an “enemy of God” and strangles him to death?

David Keyes. Maybe it is worth mentioning anew that Hassan Rohani may not be a moderate.

Reform Cannot Come Fast Enough to Iran

I’m sure that Iranians will be the first to tell you as much:

In a rare expression of regret by an Iranian official, President Hassan Rouhani has said that he is sorry for any troubles with the distribution of a food ration to the poor, following reports that three people have died waiting for the goods in subzero weather.

Local media have reported that the three died in recent days while standing in line in freezing temperatures. Authorities were quoted as saying that they had pre-existing heart problems.

Most provinces in Iran have experienced unusually low temperatures in recent days.

Rouhani told state TV late Wednesday that he “as the president expresses regret if people have faced trouble in receiving the commodity basket.”

It’s unusual for an official in Iran to take responsibility for problems in a governmental plan.

That last sentence is as troubling as anything found in the excerpt. Incidentally, maybe Iranians wouldn’t have to freeze to death while waiting for food if they had a government that cared as much about the lives of Iranians as it does about exporting terrorism, developing nuclear weapons technology, and preventing Iranians from enjoying basic civil liberties and political freedoms.

In Other Shocking News, the Nuclear Deal with Iran Is Not Working Out

Fareed Zakaria has been visited by an epiphany:

In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani forcefully asserted that Iran would not destroy its nuclear centrifuges “under any circumstances”.

Rouhani’s comments come just days after the U.S. and Iran began to implement a deal which the White House claims will scale back Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration claims the goal of the deal is to prevent a nuclear Iran, yet Rouhani’s comments show Iran views the deal much differently.

Reacting to Rouhani’s position, Zakaria told CNN that the Iranian President’s comments struck him as a “train wreck”.

“This strikes me as a train wreck. This strikes me as a huge obstacle because the Iranian conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart,” Zakaria said.

Who could have possibly seen this coming?

The “Moderate” Islamic Republic of Iran

It is anything but:

Iran has gone on an execution binge in the past two weeks, hanging some 40 people, including 19 in one day, according to international human rights groups inside and outside of Iran.

Iran hanged a total of 19 prisoners on Tuesday, including one who was executed publicly, according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), which tracks the Islamic Republic’s flawed judicial system.

Forty executions have taken place since the beginning of January, including 33 in just the past week, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Iran, which human rights activists say is one of the world’s leaders in the abuse of prisoners, hit an all time execution peak in 2013 when it killed some 529 citizens.

The rate of executions has spiked under the leadership of President Hassan Rouhani despite his claims to be a “moderate” reformer.

It is worth noting that a lot of people believed that because Rohani is a pragmatist, it means that he must also be a “moderate.” But this is not the case; pragmatists can also be hardliners who have found more convenient ways in which to implement hardline goals. Regular readers will recall my skepticism regarding Rohani’s supposed moderate tendencies. I wish that skepticism were misplaced, but alas, it appears that it was not.

Hassan Rohani: Really NOT a Moderate

So, much of the media is making a fuss over the possibility that we might actually have an Iranian president who acknowledges the Holocaust and all of its horrors–including the horrors specifically visited on Jews. It’s amazing that we are still debating whether the Holocaust happened, and it is even more amazing still that there are those who are positively rejoicing at the possibility that Hassan Rohani may potentially be not quite as antediluvian as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but given all of the fatuous nonsense that we had to put up with during the Ahmadinejad presidency–including, but not limited to Holocaust denial–I suppose I can understand if people want to celebrate small victories.

Only, here’s the problem: We may not have even a small victory to celebrate. As Michael Moynihan writes, Rohani is not nearly as enlightened on the Holocaust as some might want to believe he is. Consider the following regarding a recent Rohani interview on CNN:

. . . Christiane Amanpour, an Iranian-Brit who apparently speaks Farsi, asked the inevitable question, the one that would uncover further evidence of moderation and counterbalance the sinister views of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously revealed himself to be an amateur scholar of the Second World War: Does the right honorable gentleman from Tehran believe the Holocaust actually happened? The translator, perhaps fearing that rendering every word would weaken the meaning, offered the following English rendering of Rouhani’s response: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn…”

A bit slippery, but surely an improvement over Ahmadinejad’s contention that Auschwitz was an elaborate hoax. But according to the Fars News Agency—which is just like a real news agency, except run by Iran’s psychopathic Revolutionary Guards—this wasn’t exactly what Rouhani said:

“I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, (but) the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

*The Wall Street Journal verified the broad strokes of the Fars News Agency translation (no one else bothered), and there are indeed subtle but substantial difference between these two versions. So to recap: CNN probably botched a Farsi translation and an official Iranian news agency rushed to its leader’s defense, lest the libel spread that he acknowledged the Holocaust as a real historical event.

But while Revolutionary Guards philologists are rather insistent that Rouhani never said “Holocaust,” condemned “whatever criminality [the Nazis] committed against the Jews,” or said the word “reprehensible,” all agree that he employed the old Holocaust deniers tricks of “questioning” the death toll, averring that many others groups were also victims, and claiming that a well-established historical fact requires further examination by “historians and researchers,” while repeatedly pointing out that he is “not a historian” (Ahmadinejad told NPR in 2010, that he was “not a historian” but that “we should allow researchers to examine all sorts of questions because it’s quite clear that when they do, they will reach different conclusions”). And even in CNN’s translation, Rouhani condemns unspecified “crimes,” while encouraging historians to “clarify” what actually happened.

Moynihan’s entirely justifiable conclusion is that Rohani, just like any other “skilled Holocaust denier,” “parses, dissects, and molests language, quibbling with the word ‘denial’—they typically acknowledge that many Jews died, but were victims of various typhus epidemics—and wondering why shadowy forces are hamstringing dissenting historians.” He tells us that there is little to no difference between Rohani on the one hand, and Holocaust-denying “historian” David Irving, who gets condemned by the New York Times, even though the Times claimed that Rohani was no Holocaust denier. To be sure, there are arguments back and forth over what Rohani really said, and you should read the whole of Moynihan’s piece to get a sense of those arguments, but it would appear that we have yet more evidence that Hassan Rohani may not be the moderate that many think he is.

Deeds. Not Words. Deeds.

Ray Takeyh is right on the money when he reminds us what we should expect from Hassan Rohani before we go around calling him “a reformer”:

Rouhani’s attempt to refashion Iran’s image and temper its rhetoric should be welcomed. After eight years of Ahmadinejad provocations that often unhinged the international community, a degree of self-restraint is admirable. However, judge Tehran by its conduct and not its words.

It is not enough for Rouhani to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Is he prepared to withdraw the Revolutionary Guard contingents that have done much to buttress Assad’s brutality?

It is not sufficient for Rouhani to speak of transparency; he must curb Iran’s troublesome nuclear activities and comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

And it is not enough for Rouhani to speak of a tolerant society unless he is prepared to free his many former comrades and colleagues who are languishing in prisons under false charges.

Rouhani’s reliability has to be measured by his actions, not by his speeches or tweets.

There are many out there who are willing to believe that Rohani is a reformer based solely on cosmetic gestures and somewhat more mild rhetoric–especially when compared to Ahmadinejad. These people might very well be setting themselves up for a major disappointment


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