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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Meantime, in Iran...

... the Thugocracy has become even more repressive and apprehensive,  as it witnesses people in the MENA region rebelling against dictatorial regimes . So apprehensive, Haleh Esfandiari explains, on the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS webiste, that the regime has begun to turn on its own.

Some excerpts :
 We are witnessing today the intensification of the post-election crackdown, perhaps the severest the country has experienced since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. This campaign is aimed not only at the usual dissidents among the intelligentsia, political activists, students, and journalists, but also at men once considered regime insiders. Iran’s leaders have turned against their former comrades-in-arms, fearing the reformists will take the country in a more liberal direction. In doing so, hardliners in the regime have joined hands with the Revolutionary Guards, the Intelligence Ministry, and their collaborators in the judiciary, whose chief is appointed by the Supreme Leader, and whose Revolutionary Court is used to try those accused of crimes against the government. The repression has included widespread arrests of reformist politicians, student and women activists, trade union leaders, journalists, lawyers and public intellectuals; show trials and trials behind closed doors; coerced televised “confessions”; lengthy detentions without trial and long prison sentences after trial; and, perhaps most disturbingly, widespread executions.
Executions have drastically increased under the Ahmadinejad government. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 86 persons were executed in 2005, the year he became president. That figure has risen steadily to 346 in 2008, 388 in 2009, and 542 in 2010—of which only 242 were officially announced. In January 2011 alone, the organization reports, 86 people were executed—almost one execution every eight hours. Iran, with its much smaller population, now stands second only to China in the number of executions it carries out.
Among the executed were several leaders of Turk and Baluch ethnic minorities as well as the Dutch-Iranian dual national Zahra Bahrami, who was arrested during the 2009 post-election protests, but sentenced to death as a drug trafficker. Drug trafficking—a capital offense in Iran—has become a convenient cover for political executions. Two post-election protesters were hanged at Evin prison on January 24, for “warring against God,” a vague charge that became common after the Islamic Revolution and provides a convenient pretext for imprisoning or killing opponents of the regime. Many more prisoners are on death row.
Harsh prison sentences for political dissidents are becoming increasingly routine. Last year Emadeddin Baghi, an extraordinarily brave journalist and human rights activist who has called attention to the abuse of political prisoners in Iran, was sentenced to six years in prison and stripped of his civil rights for five years, a verdict that will prevent him from voting, running for office, and probably from engaging in journalistic and NGO activities. He was charged with “activities against the national interest” and “publicity in favor of the regime’s enemies”—in part for having interviewed the late Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, a critic of the regime, for the BBC in 2007. The regime is also targeting lawyers who defend political dissidents—another practice not common in the past.
The human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi enjoyed a degree of immunity after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. But in December 2008, security authorities raided her offices and her Center for the Defense of Human Rights, and subsequently shut down the center. Ebadi is now living in forced exile abroad. Two of the lawyers associated with her center have been arrested. One of them, Mohammad Ali Seifzadeh, was sentenced last year to nine years in prison and barred from practicing law for ten years. And in January, Ebadi’s own lawyer, Nasrine Sotoudeh, was sentenced to eleven years in prison and barred from practicing law and traveling out of Iran for twenty years. Sotoudeh’s criticism of Iran’s human rights record and her defense of dozens of political prisoners provoked the decision to punish and silence her.
Torture is hardly new in Iran’s judiciary system, but it has taken particularly grisly forms since the post-election crackdown. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, personally ordered the shadowy Kahrizak prison in Tehran’s suburbs closed after news leaked out that a number of those held there after the election protests died under torture. In 2009, Karroubi made public letters he had received from families of victims alleging rape of male and female prisoners at this prison. Torture, intimidation, and threats of trial and imprisonment are also being used to extract false confessions from political prisoners, forcing them to implicate themselves or others for allegedly engaging in antigovernment activities or working for foreign powers.