Iran ended 2020 with an eleventh-hour execution of a child offender, sending the world a signal that the authorities there are in no mood to strike a reformist image as world powers deliberate on the future of nuclear-related sanctions on the regime.
On New Year’s Eve, Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee was executed for an offence he allegedly committed when he was 16 years old. Rights group pointed out his conviction was based on a forced confession. The execution, categorically prohibited under international law, prompted condemnation by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet whose office pointed out that the execution took place despite interventions and engagement by the UN Human Rights Office with the Government of Iran.
The European Union meanwhile said it “condemns this execution in the strongest terms and recalls yet again that the death sentences for crimes committed by persons below the age of eighteen are contrary to international obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Rezaiee was not the first juvenile offender executed in Iran in 2020. He was the fourth, according to the UN Human Rights Office. The authorities in Iran also hanged eight women and eight political prisoners in the same period. And Iran continues to remain the world’s foremost global executioner per capita. Other victims last year included Iran’s wrestling champion Navid Afkari and father-of-two Mostafa Salehi, both for taking part in anti-government protests in 2018.
In condemning the latest execution, neither the UN nor the EU suggested in their statements that there would be any punitive measures undertaken against Tehran.
Therein lies the problem.
The international community’s hollow words and inaction over such atrocities, coupled with an overzealous eagerness by the West to strike economic deals with Iran, have fueled a sense of impunity among Iranian officials.
Some Western officials argue that putting pressure on Tehran would weaken pragmatic elements within Iran’s clerical establishment who might otherwise be willing to enter into a nuclear deal with the West. In reality, the notion that the Iranian theocracy is willing and capable of reform is pure fiction.
Remember that in November 2019, when Iranians took to the streets chanting regime change, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered a crackdown which included the murder of 1,500 protesters on the streets.
And just two days before a scheduled Iran-Europe Business Forum last month, where Iran’s ostensibly ‘reformist’ Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif was scheduled to speak alongside EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the Iranian authorities hanged Ruhollah Zam, a France-based journalist lured to Iran, sending an unmistakable message that while Tehran seeks all the economic benefits of a nuclear deal, it is not willing to even present a veneer of morality in its actions.
Under pressure from human rights activists and journalists worldwide, the EU was forced to cancel its participation in the seminar. But again, no punishment was meted out to Tehran, even though just days earlier the EU had adopted a “global human rights sanctions regime,” which can target those responsible for serious human rights violations worldwide, no matter where they occurred.
The most prominent case where Europe, and the UN, have failed to challenge Tehran is its 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
That massacre, carried out based on a fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini, involved Death Commissions who secretly sent more than 30,000 political prisoners to the gallows. The majority of the victims were members of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), but other leftist groups were also targeted.
According to a recent letter by seven UN experts, global inaction over the 1988 massacre “emboldened” the Iranian authorities to “conceal the fate of the victims and to maintain a strategy of deflection and denial.”
Iran’s current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei and a host of other senior government and judicial officials are members of the 1988 Death Commissions. They have seized on the global inaction to murder anti-government protesters and terrorize the nation with impunity.
Human rights groups such as Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) and Amnesty International who have carried out separate investigations into the 1988 massacre have described it as an ongoing crime against humanity. They and the UN’s independent experts have indicated that there ought to be a formal international investigation of the 1988 massacre to achieve accountability and justice.
Iran’s judiciary is currently being run by mass murderers. The regime’s propagandists such as Foreign Minister Zarif seek to cover up this reality so the world will not act as the regime continues its killing spree. Rezaiee’s execution should have blown this cover. It’s time to hold a regime that executes women and children accountable. It’s time to end business as usual with Tehran.
The EU, which was founded on the principle of human rights, should be first in line in 2021 to request a UN investigation into the 1988 massacre and to impose its own biting sanctions on the perpetrators of Iran’s greatest crime against humanity.
*Hanif Jazayeri is Secretary of London-based NGO Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) and a news editor. His Twitter handle is: @HanifJazayeri