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I Keep Telling You People that the Human Rights Situation in Iran Is Awful

And here is more proof–assuming that more proof is actually needed:

Executions have surged in Iran and oppressive conditions for women have worsened, a United Nations investigator said on Monday, drawing attention to rights abuses just as Iran’s president is pushing for a diplomatic breakthrough with the West.

The investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, a former diplomat from the Maldives and now special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, made the comments on the eve of presenting his latest findings to members of the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. Shaheed said he had been shocked by the execution on Saturday of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, who was convicted of killing a man she had accused of raping her. The death sentence had prompted international outcry and efforts by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to rescind it. Under the Iranian Constitution, the president has no power over the judiciary.

In a briefing with reporters Monday morning, Mr. Shaheed suggested that Mr. Rouhani had only “limited authority” to make the broad changes that he promised when elected in June 2013.

From July 2013 to June 2014, Mr. Shaheed’s report says, at least 852 people were executed, in what he called an alarming increase from rates that were already high.

Among those put to death were at least eight juvenile offenders and four minority Arabs whom Mr. Shaheed described as “cultural rights activists.”

The death penalty can be applied in Iran for adultery, recidivist alcohol use, drug possession and trafficking, as well as crimes in which a person “points a weapon at members of the public to kill, frighten and coerce them,” the report said. Mr. Shaheed said minorities are sometimes charged for “exercising their rights to peaceful expression and association.”

Any further comment in this post is superfluous. The excerpt speaks for itself.

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Smart Diplomacy

Recall that back in 2008, Barack Obama promised that if he became president, he would strengthen alliances and draw friends over to the side of the United States–unlike that George W. Bush fellow who supposedly angered and alienated allies left, right and center.

Remember that? Good. Now read this:

The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname.

[. . .]

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

This entirely silly line of “argument” gets eviscerated here:

As a million people on Twitter are noting this afternoon, “the chickensh*t” served as a team leader in the IDF’s special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal. Team Hopenchange isn’t questioning his personal bravery, though, they’re questioning something they naturally consider more important — political bravery. Which is interesting because The One’s shown plenty of gutlessness on international affairs himself over the past few years. He abandoned Mubarak because he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of Arab populism, then abandoned Morsi once the winds of Arab populism changed. He backed off his “red line” in Syria once he realized the public wasn’t keen on bombing Assad, then accepted a transparently sham deal to disarm Damascus’s chemical weapons brokered by Vladimir Putin. He let Iraq fall to pieces, enabling the rise of ISIS, because keeping a residual force of U.S. troops there would have upset his base. Ten years from now, his legacy on Iran will almost certainly be that he missed the west’s last clear chance to stop the mullahs before they built a bomb, choosing to accept another transparently sham denuclearization deal instead because he feared a war more than he feared Shiite fanatics with nuclear weapons. How is this guy, or rather his surrogates, calling other leaders “chickensh*t”?

[. . .]

Let me understand this. Netanyahu considered attacking Iran, we pressured him not to do it, and now we’re mocking him as a “chickensh*t” for taking our advice? Logically, doesn’t that make The One “King Chickensh*t”? I’ve re-read that boldfaced part five times now and I still can’t quite process it. Not only are they sneering at Bibi for adopting the White House’s own policy, they’re flatly admitting — boasting even — that they made Iran’s nuclear program attack-proof. A bombing run might have worked three years ago but it won’t work now, thanks to … Uncle Sam’s delay tactics on behalf of Tehran. Iran might as well name its first ICBM the “Barack.” You’re welcome, A-holes.

So much for improving international alliances. So much for providing America with a cogent, intelligent, rational, realist foreign policy. Remind me why these guys got a second term, let alone a first one.

Some Things Never Change–Like the Awful Human Rights Situation in Iran

To wit:

Iran hanged a woman on Saturday who was convicted of murdering a man she alleged was trying to rape her, drawing swift international condemnation for a prosecution several countries described as flawed.

Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged at dawn for premeditated murder, the official IRNA news agency reported. It quoted a statement issued by the Tehran Prosecutor Office Saturday that rejected the claim of attempted rape and said that all evidence proved that Jabbari had plotted to kill Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former intelligence agent.

The United Nations as well as Amnesty International and other human rights groups had called on Iran’s judiciary to halt the execution, which was carried out after the country’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict. The victim’s family could have saved Jabbari’s life by accepting blood money but they refused to do so.

According to her 2009 sentencing, Jabbari, 27, stabbed Sarbandi in the back in 2007 after purchasing a knife two days earlier.

“The knife had been used on the back of the deceased, indicating the murder was not self-defense,” the agency quoted the court ruling as saying.

Britain, Germany, and a group of European parliamentarians, among others, condemned the execution, as did the United States.

“There were serious concerns with the fairness of the trial and the circumstances surrounding this case, including reports of confessions made under severe duress,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“We join our voice with those who call on Iran to respect the fair trial guarantees afforded to its people under Iran’s own laws and its international obligations,” she added.

I have nothing to add. This whole story is appalling beyond words.

In Which Jimmy Carter Tries to Rewrite History

I know that I am late to this, but it is worth noting that the 39th president of the United States is busy trying to change how we remember the past. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Jimmy Carter didn’t merely lose because he failed to get tough with Iran. He lost because the economic situation in the United States was nothing short of awful, and because he was considered responsible for the awful economic situation:

Inflation was still out of control, the economy was beset by another stage of torpor, and Ronald Reagan offered optimism in the face of the declining mood of the country. Moreover, during Carter and Reagan’s only debate in the 1980 presidential elections, Reagan closed by asking voters are they better off than they were four years ago; many agreed they were not.

Maybe Jimmy Carter thinks that we can’t Google and find all of this out; thus his attempt to change the narrative of the past. Nice try, I suppose, and I guess that if I had to bear the burden of Carter’s legacy, I would want to play games with history as well. But at the end of the day, whom does Carter think he is kidding?

The Human Rights Situation in Iran

It remains awful:

The heavy steel door swung closed behind me in the cell. I took off my blindfold and found myself trapped within four cold walls. The cell was small. High ceiling, old concrete. All green. An intense yellow light from a single bulb high above. Somehow I could hear the horror in the walls, the voices of previous prisoners whispering a painful welcome. I had no way of knowing whether they had survived. I had no way of knowing whether I would. So many questions were crowding my mind. I heard a man moaning. It was coming through a vent. I realized that he must have been tortured. Would I be tortured, too?

I was, and am, a philosopher, an academic. Life had not been easy for Iranian intellectuals, artists, journalists, and human-rights activists since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2005. As a thinker on the margin of Iranian society, I was not safe, and so, rather than stay in Iran, I had accepted a job offer in Delhi, India. I had come back to Tehran for a visit. On the morning of April 27, 2006, I was at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport to catch a flight to Brussels, where I was to attend a conference. I had checked in my luggage and gone through security when I was approached by four men. One of them called me by my first name. “Ramin,” he said, “could you follow us?”

“I’ll miss my plane,” I said.

“We just want to ask you a few questions.”

People around us were watching, but nobody moved. I realized that I had no choice but to go with them.

What follows is a horrifying account, one that lends credence to my longstanding belief that the regime in Iran is not worthy of the people it purports to lead.

Iran’s Political Establishment Has Not Reformed Itself

To wit:

Six Iranians arrested for appearing in a video dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song Happy have been sentenced to up to one year in prison and 91 lashes, their lawyer says.

The sentences were suspended for three years, meaning they will not go to prison unless they reoffend, he adds.

The video shows three men and three unveiled women dancing on the streets and rooftops of Tehran.

In six months, it has been viewed by over one million people on YouTube.

The majority of people involved in the video were sentenced to six months in prison, with one member of the group given one year, lawyer Farshid Rofugaran was quoted by Iran Wire as saying.

And (alas) more:

A blogger in ‘poor psychological condition’ has been sentenced to death after being found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook.

According to an ‘informed source’, speaking to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Soheil Arabi, 30, had kept eight Facebook pages under different names and admitted to posting material insulting to the Prophet on these pages.

Mr Arabi, who was arrested along with his wife in November last year by agents from the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is said to have written the “material without thinking and in poor psychological condition”.

Branch 75 of Tehran’s Criminal Court, under Judge Khorasani, found Mr Arabi guilty of insulting the Prophet, or “sabb al-nabi”, on 30 August.

Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

From time to time, I am obliged to state my strong belief that the Iranian regime is unworthy of the Iranian people. This is one such time.

We Finally Have a Strategy to Deal with ISIL

It involves . . . well . . . um . . . let me give the microphone to the secretary of state:

John Kerry suggested today that the task of defeating the Islamic State could fall to Iran and the Syrian government if the US was “failing miserably” in its effort to defeat the jihadists.

The hypothetical scenario raised by the secretary of state is likely to be a new frustration for the White House, which has spent the day quashing speculation by American generals that US ground troops could be sent back to Iraq.

Mr Kerry’s words may also heighten Sunni suspicions that the US secretly intends to ally with the Shia governments in Damascus and Tehran against Isil.

Mr Kerry made the suggestion as he faced hostile questions from Republicans during a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

He was asked by Marco Rubio, a hawkish Republican, whether American combat forces could be deployed to the Middle East if commanders deemed it was necessary for defeating Isil.

Mr Kerry repeated President Barack Obama’s pledge not to deploy ground troops under any circumstances but then raised the prospect of Iranian and Syrian intervention.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals but you’re presuming that Iran and Syria don’t have any capacity to take on Isil. I mean, who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen here,” he said. “If we’re failing and failing miserably who knows what choice they’re might make.”

If you read that excerpt without giggling and slamming your head against your desk, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. The secretary of state of the United States of America is publicly speculating on the possibility that we might be “failing and failing miserably” in the fight against ISIL, and that if we are, the Iranians and the Syrians will come in to save our bacon militarily.

Presumably, this kind of talk is supposed to make me confident that the adults are in charge in the Executive Branch. But somehow, I find myself less than reassured.

The Fields Medal Has Its First Female Recipient

And she’s an Iranian, which I suppose I cannot help but point out with more than a little pride:

As an 8-year-old, Maryam Mirzakhani used to tell herself stories about the exploits of a remarkable girl. Every night at bedtime, her heroine would become mayor, travel the world or fulfill some other grand destiny.

Today, Mirzakhani — a 37-year-old mathematics professor at Stanford University — still writes elaborate stories in her mind. The high ambitions haven’t changed, but the protagonists have: They are hyperbolic surfaces, moduli spaces and dynamical systems. In a way, she said, mathematics research feels like writing a novel. “There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better,” she said. “Things evolve, and then you look back at a character, and it’s completely different from your first impression.”

The Iranian mathematician follows her characters wherever they take her, along story lines that often take years to unfold. Petite but indomitable, Mirzakhani has a reputation among mathematicians for tackling the most difficult questions in her field with dogged persistence. “She has a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics,” said Curtis McMullen of Harvard University, who was Mirzakhani’s doctoral adviser.

With her low voice and steady, gray-blue eyes, Mirzakhani projects an unwavering self-confidence. She has an equal tendency, however, toward humility. Asked to describe her contribution to a particular research problem, she laughed, hesitated and finally said: “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve had a very huge contribution.” And when an email arrived in February saying that she would receive what is widely regarded as the highest honor in mathematics — the Fields Medal, which was awarded August 13 at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea — she assumed that the account from which the email was sent had been hacked.

Other mathematicians, however, describe Mirzakhani’s work in glowing terms. Her doctoral dissertation — about counting loops on surfaces that have “hyperbolic” geometry — was “truly spectacular,” said Alex Eskin, a mathematician at the University of Chicago who has collaborated with Mirzakhani. “It’s the kind of mathematics you immediately recognize belongs in a textbook.”

It ought to go without saying, of course, that if you want to see the true face of Iranians, look not at the mullahs running the Iranian government. Look instead at the likes of Maryam Mirzakhani. She, not the mullahs, represents what the overwhelming majority of Iranians aspire to be. And of course, in the mullahs’ collective mindset, women like Mirzakhani should not be allowed to have anything resembling a life outside the home.

This Passes for “Moderation” in Iran

Those who believed that an era of political and social liberalization was about to dawn in Iran will not like reading this article:

Eight social media activists in Iran have been sentenced to a total of 127 years in prison, after they criticised the country’s government on Facebook.

The eight people – whose identities have not been revealed – were administrators of unnamed Facebook pages.

An Iranian court found them guilty of using the pages to spread anti-government propaganda, attemp to undermine national security, and insult Iran’s leaders. It is unclear whether they were acting together.

It is understood that those convicted will appeal the ruling, having each been handed sentences between 11 and 21 years, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported according to Sky News. The terms were passed in April after the eight appeared in court several times.

The rest of us will be appalled, but entirely unsurprised.

Inequality in Iran

This is what happens when a government is not only massively totalitarian, but also corrupt beyond belief:

The nouveaux riches in Tehran drive Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis and live in multimillion-dollar luxury apartments replete with walk-in closets, Bosch appliances and computerized shower systems.

I was stunned when I caught a glimpse of what Iran’s megarich can afford — on, of all things, a program made by Press TV, an English-language news organization sponsored and monitored by the Iranian state. It was not just the wealth that struck me, but how freely Iran’s “one percenters” flaunted the symbols of Western decadence without fear of government retribution.

Thirty-five years after a revolution that promised an egalitarian utopia and vowed to root out “gharbzadegi” — the modern Westernized lifestyles of Iran’s cosmopolitans — how have some people become so rich?

Much of Iran’s wealth, it turns out, is in the hands of the very people in charge of maintaining social justice. Hard-line clerical leaders, together with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (the branch of Iran’s military in charge of protecting the country’s Islamic government), have engineered a system where it is largely they, their family members and their loyal cronies who prosper.

“When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became supreme leader in 1989, he built his own system of patronage by building a network with the I.R.G.C.,” said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an author of its report “The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an economist, and the political scientist Emanuele Ottolenghi, writing in The Wall Street Journal, estimated that the Revolutionary Guards Corps controls about 20 percent of the market value of companies traded on Tehran’s stock exchange, across the telecommunications, banking, construction, metals and mining, automotive and petrochemical sectors. Mr. Nader said the corps was also involved in sanctions-busting and the smuggling of alcohol and drugs into Iran, both forbidden under Islamic law.

The corps also runs large parts of the economy. Since 2006, Al-Monitor reported, it has been awarded at least 11,000 development projects, from construction and aerospace to oil and gas. Khatam al-Anbiya, a company that acts like the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the construction of roads, bridges and public works, subcontracts to firms owned by businessmen with connections to the Guards.

And of course, it ought to go without saying that if one confronts any of the thugs running the Iranian government about the fact that they have constructed a mafiocracy in Iran, they will either try to deny the undeniable, or they will pretend that God somehow wants the governing mafia to be wealthy and prosperous . . . while the rest of the country suffers.

Your Unsurprising News of the Day

“Happiness in Short Supply in Iran.” Tell us about it:

The media storm that erupted after police arrested six young Iranians for dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” in an online video prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to tweet, “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Iran’s leadership is right to be concerned about the country’s happiness. Gallup’s most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians also reported the highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq.

[. . .]

Iranians have every right to feel negative, given the high unemployment coupled with high inflation in their country that has crippled their ability to provide for their families, along with international sanctions over their nuclear program that have hurt their livelihoods. Additionally, 48% of Iranians in 2013 said they would not recommend their city or area where they live to a friend or associate as a place to live.

(This story was covered here.) So, I guess the big takeaway here is that it just happens to be very difficult to feel happy in a country run by a repressive, totalitarian, dictatorial government which lacks any sense of priorities or perspective, and which repeatedly acts against the best interests of Iran and the Iranian people.

Who woulda thunk it?

“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?

Behold the “Moderate” Iranian Government

In all of its glory:

An Iranian court convicted on Sunday the editor and a contributor of a banned newspaper over a series of charges, including lying about Islam and spreading anti-regime propaganda, reports said.

The media watchdog banned the reformist Bahar daily in October 2013 after it published an article the authorities deemed as an insult to Shiite Islam for questioning one of its core beliefs. Its editor-in-chief, Saeed Pourazizi, who was detained and released on bail following the closure, was on Sunday convicted of “propaganda against the establishment and spreading lies and rumours,” ISNA news agency reported. The Tehran criminal court found Ali Asghar Gharavi, the article’s author, guilty of writing “against the standards of Islam” and “spreading lies and rumours,” the agency added.

On Priorities and the Regime in Iran

They don’t seem to get along:

A red carpet peck on the cheek by Leila Hatami, the Iranian actress at the Cannes Film Festival has been reported to the country’s courts by activists who are seeking a public flogging as punishment for violating Islamic laws.

Hizbullah Students, a group of university students with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard yesterday filed a complaint with Iran’s judiciary for the prosecution of the film star who starred in the Oscar-winning, A Separation.

Miss Hatami was condemned by Islamic Republic officials for kissing Gilles Jacob, the President of Cannes Festival, while attending the event as a member of the jury.

Mr Jacob tried to play down the incident, describing it as “a usual custom in the West” after it was condemned as an insult to Iranian womanhood.

“I kissed Mrs Hatami on the cheek,” Mr Jacob said. “At that moment, for me she represented all Iranian cinema, then she became herself again.”

According to the Guards-run Tasnim news website, the Hizbullah Students organisation called for Hatami to be flogged for “kissing a strange man”. The maximum sentence the offence can incur is 50 lashes.

[. . .]

Hossein Nushabadi, Iran’s deputy minister of culture, declared Hatami’s appearance in Cannes “in violation of religious beliefs”.

“Iranian woman is the symbol of chastity and innocence,” he said.

Apparently, we are supposed to believe that life in Iran is so incredibly problem-free that the authorities can afford to get outraged over patently non-outrageous things.

Quote of the Day

Just days after Iran’s president denounced Internet censorship as “cowardly,” six young Iranians were arrested and forced to repent on state television Tuesday for the grievous offense of proclaiming themselves to be “Happy in Tehran,” in a homemade music video they posted on YouTube last month.

By uploading their video, recorded on an iPhone and promoted on Facebook and Instagram, the group was taking part in a global online phenomenon, which has resulted, so far, in hundreds of cover versions of the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” recorded in more than 140 countries.

“Happy in Tehran” was viewed more than 165,000 times on YouTube before it attracted the attention of the police and was made private.

Robert Mackey. We are now entirely justified in paraphrasing Mencken; theocratic government in Iran is defined by the haunting fear that Iranians, somewhere, may be happy.

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.

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