The regime in Tehran commits abuse “as a matter of government policy,” with impunity for perpetrators “throughout all levels of the government and security forces,” according to an annual review the State Department released on Wednesday. The meticulous review is part of the department’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which documents violations across the globe, including unabated repression in Iran, where society remains under siege by a ruthless Islamist dictatorship.
According to the State Department, the regime in Tehran routinely perpetrates arbitrary or unlawful killings and arrests; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; unfair trials with no semblance of due process; repression of civil liberties, including press freedom, internet freedom, academic freedom, and freedom of peaceful assembly; rampant corruption and lack of transparency in government; and discrimination against women, the LGBTI community, and ethnic and religious minorities.
The report repeatedly contrasts Tehran’s behavior with key provisions of the Iranian constitution. For example, while the constitution enshrines the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, these “rights were not upheld.” In fact, “rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers.”
Similarly, states the report, while “the constitution prohibits all forms of torture ‘for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,’ use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remained prevalent, especially during pretrial detention.” And while the “constitution provides that the judiciary be ‘an independent power’ that is ‘free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection,’” the “court system was subjected to political influence.”
Tehran also deflected efforts to hold it accountable. The regime “restricted the operations of and did not cooperate with local or international human rights NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights,” the report said. “The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.”
In a Wednesday statement announcing the release of the full 2019 Country Report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo specifically highlighted one egregious case of human rights abuse in Iran.
Pouya Bakhtiari, a 27-year-old engineer, was shot in the head and killed by security forces during nationwide protests last fall. Yet “the family’s nightmare was not over,” Pompeo said. Since then, “the regime has denied them the right to mourn Pouya in accordance with their faith. When they tried to hold a funeral, Pouya’s 11-year-old nephew, his grandparents, his parents, and other relatives were all arrested. They’ve been released now, but live in fear under house arrest.”
“Today,” Pompeo added, “I want great Iranians like the Bakhtiaris to know America remembers those lost and stands for their freedom.”
This story typifies the tales documented in the report. It also underscores the strategic imperative of addressing Tehran’s human rights abuses as part of Washington’s larger maximum pressure campaign against Iran. An emphasis on human rights violations strikes at the heart of the regime’s legitimacy. Yet the Trump administration, notwithstanding intermittent statements on the subject, has not required Iran to halt its human rights violations as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions.
That policy needs to change. To send Iran this message, Washington can start by sanctioning the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Iran’s state-run media conglomerate, which routinely broadcasts the forced confessions of political prisoners. It should also sanction the range of other Iranian officials responsible for committing some of the worst human rights abuses. In so doing, the Trump administration can demonstrate that U.S. pressure will remain unrelenting until Tehran halts the full range of its misconduct.
Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Tzvi and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi on Twitter @TzviKahn. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.