Promoting the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran should be a pillar of any U.S. national security strategy.

by Masih Alinejad

Outside of the United States, few peoples in the world are more impacted by the results of the U.S. presidential election than the citizens of Iran. President Donald Trump has subjected Iranians to the most punishing sanctions regime in the world, while also making clear his desire to make a deal that will make Iran “very rich, very quickly.” While Vice President Joe Biden has been critical of Trump’s Iran strategy, his own strategy views Iran—and its 80 million inhabitants—primarily through the prism of another nuclear deal. Both miss the point.

For years, U.S. administrations have sought to address the symptoms of Iranian malignancy—its nuclear ambitions and regional extremism—while ignoring the underlying cause, the nature of the Iranian regime. The reality is that as long as Iran is led by a small clique of unaccountable men who rule with an iron fist, America’s four decades of hostility with Iran will never be resolved. For this reason, promoting the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran should be a pillar of any U.S. national security strategy.

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Women’s rights campaigner Masih Alinejad called on the international community during her address to the Oslo Freedom Forum, to ban the Islamic Republic from international sports events in response to the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari. Alinejad also called on Twitter and Facebook to suspend accounts of Islamic Republic leaders until the regime allowed access to social media services.

As in every year, various human rights activists from different corners of the world gathered for Oslo Freedom House’s annual conference this year in September to defend the cause of freedom of speech and human rights. Speaking at this highly prestigious event, Masih Alinejad brought forth the case of various voiceless Iranian protesters arrested during the #IranProtests. She talked about the case of Navid Afkari, a champion wrestler, who was arrested during 2017’s protests in Shiraz. After being exposed to egregious torture in prison, Navid was swiftly executed recently despite the international outcry that his execution has engendered.

Navid’s execution sent shockwaves across various segments of Iranian society. Iranians of various walks had coalesced around the goal of saving his life as the hashtag #NavidAfkari went viral. This hasty execution of this wrestler gave rise to calls to ban the Islamic Republic of Iran from worldwide sports championships. Masih Alinejad reiterated this call throughout her speech.

Along with Navid, there are countless prisoners who are in death row in Iran. Unfortunately, highlighted by Masih Alinejad, their cases receive scant attention in the international media, especially on social media. What is mind-boggling is that despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter remain forbidden in Iran, Iran’s rulers use such media to spread their own propaganda worldwide. Hence, it behooves on the administrators of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter not to become platform for these human rights violators. “History will judge you”, said Masih Alinejad in reference to social media platforms and she called on them not to allow their platform to become a media for spreading authoritarian governments’ propaganda.

Opened by Marianne Hagen, the State Secretary of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this year’s conference featured other human rights activists representing different causes worldwide, ranging from the cause of Uyghur Turks in China to pro-democracy activism in Sudan, Opposition to Putin’s rule in Russia, LGBTQ and environmental rights in Cuba along with the famous opposition leader of Belarus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya

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Opinion by Masih Alinejad and Roya Hakakian

Masih Alinejad is the founder of the #WhiteWednesdays campaign in Iran. Roya Hakakian is the author of “Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran.”

For the past 42 years, Iran’s clerical leadership has defended the regime’s harsh Islamic dress code by claiming that mandatory wearing of the hijab is women’s best defense against men’s sexual advances. Yet over the past few weeks, Iranian women have offered up a devastating rebuttal of that claim — by coming forward to accuse employers, colleagues and even some senior officials of sexual crimes and harassment.

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Amnesty International confirmed what many activists have been saying for months: – Islamic Republic engaged in systemic abuses of human rights and torture to punish protesters who objected to tripling of fuel prices last November.

According to Amnesty International, the clerical regime used “rape, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment” of those detained for involvement in the November 2019 unrest that shook the foundations of the Islamic Republic.

Amnesty’s report said Iranian security services used torture against detainees including “waterboarding, beating, flogging, electric shocks, pepper-spraying genitals, sexual violence, mock executions, pulling out nails and solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks or even months”.

Many of the tortured were forced into offering false confessions and received death penalty after appearing on “trial.”

Amnesty said it had confirmed 304 men, women and children killed by the security forces while Reuters put the death toll much higher, at around 1,500 people.

Amnesty also said detainees put on trial “suffered grossly unfair judicial proceedings” by being denied access to lawyers and forced to make confessions under torture. Dozens of protesters have been sentenced to long terms in prison.

The report quotes many survivors, including one who described the electroshock torture in detail:

“The electric shocks were the worst form of torture for me. One of my interrogators would instruct the others to ‘tickle him a little,’ by which they meant to administer a low voltage shock. But this so-called ‘tickling’ felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles,” the victim reportedly said. “If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. Each time I was given one of these stronger electric shocks, it felt like there was an earthquake in my body … I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body… To this day, I have continued to be affected.”

The extensive Amnesty report, titled, “Trampling Humanity: Mass Arrests, Disappearances, and Torture Since Iran’s 2019 November Protests,” confirms widespread reports in November and December of last year of Iranian police and military killing, torturing, and disappearing dissidents, particularly those of Kurdish and Turkic minorities.

Source: Amnesty

Opinion by Roya Hakakian

Roya Hakakian is the author of the memoir “Journey From the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran.”

Last fall, Iranian authorities arrested Alireza Alinejad, a 45-year-old father of two, who has not broken any laws, not even according to the officials who jailed him. There would be nothing newsworthy about yet another unwarranted arrest in Iran, except that this one involves an unusual story of familial love, with a brother making a profound sacrifice for the sake of his sister.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Iran has temporarily freed more than 50,000 prisoners to combat the disease’s spread in the country’s crowded jails, but Alinejad remains in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, vulnerable to covid-19 infection. At his first court hearing last week, the judge would not specify the charges against him and refused to grant parole. According to Alinejad’s defense attorney, the judge’s questioning focused on his sister’s activities.

His sister is Masih Alinejad, an exiled journalist and prominent critic of the clerical regime’s human rights abuses. She fled Iran in 2009 and has lived since 2014 in New York, where she hosts a TV show on the Voice of America’s Persian service. Her followers on social media, 3.5 million on Instagram alone, outnumber those of the country’s president and the supreme leader combined.

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