Mass Atrocity Monday, 4/28/2014

On April 17, prisoners held in Ward 350 of Tehran’s Evin Prison were brutally attacked by their guards. According to human rights organization FIDH, dozens were injured and more than 30 prisoners were sent to solitary confinement, where they were further abused.

Ward 350 holds political prisoners, and many of its residents were incarcerated for their participation in the 2009 Green Revolution. Families of the prisoners say that the attack was carried out by members of the Prison Special Guard accompanied by plainclothes thugs sent by the Intelligence Ministry. Officials claim that there was no violence, simply a “routine crackdown on illegal possession of cellphones“.

EvinHouseofDetention

For 42 years, successive Iranian regimes have used Evin Prison to hold alleged enemies of the state. It is notorious in Iran, a byword for torture, rape, and forced confessions. But the persistent abuses, and even this month’s mass violence, pale beside what happened inside Evin and other Iranian prisons a quarter-century ago.

In late July 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning all imprisoned enemies of the revolution to death. He set up special commissions to carry out these executions, and instructed them to begin work immediately. As Geoffrey Robertson relates:

“[P]risons in Iran crammed with government opponents suddenly went into lockdown. All family visits were cancelled, televisions and radios switched off and newspapers discontinued; prisoners were kept in their cells, disallowed exercise or trips to the infirmary. The only permitted visitation was from a delegation, turbaned and bearded, which came in black government BMWs or by helicopter to outlying jails: a religious judge, a public prosecutor, and an intelligence chief.”

Over the next 5 months, at least 4,000 and possibly as many as 30,000 political prisoners were slaughtered on the say-so of these “death commissions”.

The first victims of the purge were members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (alternately: the MEK, the PMOI, or the MKO), a leftist revolutionary organization that had split from the regime in 1981. Shortly before the killings, MEK forces had invaded western Iran from Iraq. Many in Iran felt that the prison massacres were retaliation for the unsuccessful attack, but evidence suggests that the regime had planned the executions the year before, when officials began “re-questioning and separating all political prisoners according to party affiliation and length of sentence”.

MEK prisoners were taken before the death commissions and asked a single question: “What is your political affiliation?” Anyone who answered “Mojahedin” was taken away and executed. Prisoners who gave the correct answer of “Monafeqin” (“hypocrites”, the regime’s term for the MEK) were asked a series of follow-up questions about their loyalty, including whether they would be willing to walk over land-mined fields. A wrong answer to any of these also led to execution and burial in an unmarked, mass grave.

Once the Mojahedin had been exterminated, the death commissions turned their attention to members of other left-wing groups. These prisoners faced a more involved interrogation, aimed at uncovering their religious beliefs. Those who were found to be apostates from Muslim families were executed. Others, including female leftists, were tortured until they agreed to pray. By November 1988, “the country’s political prisoners had either been executed or else flogged into submission by a regime which would think it safe to release them over the next few years“.

It was months before the families of the executed heard any news of them. When they were finally notified, they were not told where the bodies were buried, and were required to sign away their right to hold a funeral or memorial service. Officially, these deaths simply did not occur.

The 1988 prison massacre is remarkable not only for its scale, but for the success with which the Iranian regime managed to keep it hidden from the international community. One researcher, chronicling these events twenty years after the fact, noted that he had “found no more than ten or fifteen English-language news reports of the massacre and only a handful of book chapters addressing the topic”.

In 2007, victims’ groups founded the Iran Tribunal, to provide symbolic justice for the mass slaughter. In its final judgment last year, this people’s tribunal concluded that the execution of thousands of political prisoners constituted crimes against humanity for which (contra international legal precedent) the State of Iran could be held responsible. But despite the headlines generated by these proceedings, and the fact that human rights groups have continued to report on the massacre, Iran faces little resistance from the international community to its official policy of denial. And as long as the regime refuses to acknowledge this atrocity, thousands of families are left wondering where their loved ones are buried.

*photo of Evin Prison from Wikipedia.

WTF Friday, 10/18/2013

Iran: a criminal justice system so harsh, you could find yourself serving consecutive death sentences.

A man given the death penalty for possession of a kilogram of crystal meth somehow survived his hanging last week, only to be told that the authorities plan to take another whack at it once he recovers. 37 year old Alireza M. was hanged for 12 minutes, declared dead, then sent to the morgue and wrapped in plastic before he revived.

Human rights activists, his family, and anyone with a soul are calling for a pardon, on the grounds that he has suffered enough. But sentencing judge Mohammed Erfan has declared that“The sentence is approved and the sentence is death, so we will follow through with the execution order again”. 

Anyone else visualizing this judge as a creepy cousin to the Munchkin coroner? Keep hanging those meth dealers until they’re “really most sincerely dead”, dude.

Somebody Call the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

According to Reuters, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced his willingness to be “the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists.”

So far, they’ve sent a monkey, which may or may not have died in transit, as well as some worms, a mouse, and a turtle. Iran’s space program has been the subject of controversy in the international community due to concerns about the possible uses to which the technology might be put. I’m thinking sending Ahmadinejad into space may be a compromise solution everyone can get behind.

Say What, Mittens?

In last night’s foreign policy (where “foreign policy” now includes wrangling about U.S. standardized test scores) debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney said something weird about Iran.

Actually, he said a number of weird things about Iran, including claiming (and not for the first time!) that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea.” But for my money, the strangest thing he said was:

“I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.”

He’s said this one before as well, and I’ve wondered what he could possible mean by it. Well, last night, TPM asked Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom to clarify, and my confusion only increased.

Apparently, the Romney campaign is under the impression that the “World Court” could arrest Ahmadinejad for allegedly saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” Here are some problems with that plan:

  1. The “World Court” is the International Court of Justice. It has no criminal jurisdiction, and therefore cannot indict or arrest anyone.
  2. The Genocide Convention is a treaty among states (including the U.S. and Iran) that says that the parties to the treaty must prevent and punish genocide crimes. It does establish that incitement to genocide is a crime under international law, but it is not a criminal statute under which individuals can be indicted.
  3. If Romney and his advisors perhaps meant to invoke the International Criminal Court, rather than the ICJ, well, that’s a problem too. Although incitement to genocide IS a crime under the Rome Statute, the U.S. isn’t a party to the ICC, which means it can’t refer cases to the Prosecutor. 
  4. Romney is advised on foreign policy by John Bolton, who famously described the U.S.’s decision to pull out of the ICC as “[t]he happiest moment of [his] government service”, so it seems unlikely that a Romney administration would mean an about-face for U.S. policy on the ICC.
  5. Even if the U.S. did join, the ICC can only prosecute cases in which either the crime is committed on the territory of a state party, or the perpetrator is a national of a state party. (Unless the Security Council gets involved, but that’s not a possibility here.) Iran has not joined the ICC.
So I’m still stumped. The only (barely) legally plausible option here is to bring a case against Iran in the ICJ for violating its treaty obligations under the Genocide Convention. But the persistent use of the word “indictment” by both Romney and his surrogates suggests that isn’t what he’s got in mind. Anyone understand what’s going on here?

 

 

WTF Friday, 7/13/2012

Apparently it’s not just Friday the 13th, it’s also the End of Days.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has issued a statement instructing the nation to begin preparations for the wars that will herald the Mahdi’s return. Iran watchers are understandably a bit twitchy about the prediction of apocalyptic war coinciding with escalating tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, but this may or may not be news. A 30-something Iranian friend writes: “That speech is recycled from 1979-89. Think I spent all of my early childhood prepping for the end of times.”

So I guess depending on how long you think it’ll take you to get ready for the end of the world, you could start your preparations now, but maybe leave off massacring the infidels until a bit later…

A Little Extra "WTF" for Your Friday

Last week the internets were briefly abuzz with the news that the Iranian government was encouraging the rape of jailed political dissidents by distributing condoms to imprisoned criminals.

We’re a bit perplexed by this one. Undoubtedly, Iran has a prison rape problem deserving of internet buzz. But, the condom thing? What’s the logic here? Do we think there’s a sizable class of prison rapists who were previously refraining on account of the lack of prophylactics?

Or, alternately, if we believe the condoms are operating more as a symbol of regime sanction than a disease-prevention method, do we think there’s a substantial number of prisoners who are otherwise disinclined to rape, but will do so upon receipt of a signal of regime approval only slightly stronger than the usual guards-looking-the-other-way complicity?

Neither of these explanations seems particularly plausible to us. Additionally, the Guardian article that broke this story (based on letters written by jailed activists and their families) does not suggest that political prisoners are the primary targets of rape. In fact, one of the letters describes the targets of violence as “those who have pretty faces and are unable to defend themselves or cannot afford to bribe others.”

This sounds to us like a terrible situation, but one that is perhaps not that different from the way that prison rape is terrible all over the world – even in places where a regime is not currently engaged in a brutal crackdown on legitimate political dissent. We’ve read enough civil-rights cases involving prison rape to know that there’s usually an element of complicity by the guards, who either actively participate or fail to intervene despite knowing what’s going on, often because they are afraid of the prisoners committing the rapes. We wonder whether the condoms here are just a sign of status vis-à-vis the guards, rather than the result of a coordinated policy.

(That said, it’s nice to see prison rape discussed as a horrible crime for once, rather than a joke/legitimate feature of the prison experience.)

Illegally Detained People We’re Only One Degree of Separation from: Installment #2

Perhaps, like me, you remember hearing about three American hikers who were detained in Iran in 2009.  And maybe, like I did, you sort of vaguely assumed that the situation had been resolved long ago.

Well, we were wrong.  A friend of theirs wrote to me the other day, and it turns out that nearly two years later, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still in prison in Iran.  The third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released on humanitarian grounds last September.  All three are charged with illegal entry (they were hiking near an unmarked border between Iraq and Iran) and with espionage.

Bauer and Fattal were due in court yesterday morning, and their families were hopeful that they would finally be freed.  Instead, they were not brought to the courthouse, and the hearing was postponed indefinitely.  Their lawyer, Masoud Shafii, was not able to meet with them and has not been able to discover the reason for the postponement.

Baseless accusations and subsequent egregious rights abuses against young men are not uncommon in Iran.  As one friend from there points out, this is a country where “everyone knows at least one young dude who has disappeared or been overtly extrajudicially executed.”  However, in Bauer and Fattal’s case, the arbitrary violation of their rights is almost certainly grounded in an attempt to piss off America, rather than run of the mill regime paranoia.

My thoughts are with these guys and their families, and yours should be too.  For more information, check out Free the Hikers.

WTF Friday, 5/6/2011

Intern Chris is off today, so here are two things that made me say “WTF… Friday?” in the past 24 hrs.

  1. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff has been accused of being a magician and consorting with djinns.  Of course.
  2. Rabbit dressage is apparently a thing now.  And, because it’s that awesome, let’s go to the video:

Hattip to Margot for the bunnies!

Who’s Revolting?

After a chorus of “Egypt isn’t Tunisia” and “___ isn’t Egypt” it has become apparent that popular revolution is kind of contagious. In case you’re having trouble keeping track, here is a list of places where news happened today:

Algeria – Pro-democracy protesters plan to demonstrate against the regime tomorrow (Saturday) in spite of a promise from the government to repeal the 1992 emergency law.  Police flooded the capital city Algiers to prevent demonstrations last weekend.  According to the New York Times, the protest movement does not have widespread support, but “[c]onditions are ripe for revolt.” Stay tuned…

Bahrain – Security forces opened fire on protesters tonight, killing at least four people and wounding many more in the capital, Manama.  Police have already shot and killed at least five protesters this week in an attempt to crack down on demonstrations calling for political and economic reform.  A large crew of foreign journalists are on the ground there, reporting that the city’s main hospital is overwhelmed with casualties.  For our American readers:  Please note that the Fifth Fleet, which oversees all U.S. naval operations in the Middle East, is headquartered in Bahrain.  This may explain the deafening silence from the U.S. over the last few days. After tonight’s incident, however, President Obama gave King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa a call to let him know that gunning down unarmed protesters is not the kind of behavior we like to see from our allies.

Djibouti – Thousands of people (in a country of under a million) hit the streets today to call for the resignation of president Ismail Omar Guelleh.  Things got ugly tonight when stone-throwing protesters were tear-gassed by the police.  Opposition leaders allege that police also fired on the crowd.

Iran – The government cracked down forcefully on rallies in support of Egypt’s revolution earlier this week.  Following calls in Parliament for the arrest and/or execution of opposition leaders Hussein Moussavi and Mahdi Karroubi, Moussavi’s daughters report that they have not heard from their parents since Tuesday and fear they have been detained.  The regime has called on its supporters to demonstrate against the protest movement today.  In turn, the opposition has asked its followers to rally on February 20.

Iraq – The New York Times reports protests “calling for better government services, including more electricity, and in some cases, for local government officials to resign” in several cities throughout the country. While things have generally remained peaceful, as many as five people lost their lives yesterday when private security guards fired on the protesters in Sulaimaniya. For an eyewitness account, head on over to The Moving Silent.

Jordan – The ongoing protests turned violent today as pro-government forces clashed with demonstrators calling for constitutional reforms. Al-Jazeera reports that police stood by as government supporters attacked and beat peaceful protesters.

Libya – Following the arrest of human rights attorney Fathi Terbi on Tuesday (he was subsequently released) Libyans have taken to the streets to protest the Qaddafi regime. Initial reports in the international media suggested that the protests were directed against Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, but it’s pretty clear from the statements of local activists that they are in fact demonstrating against Qaddafi, who has been in power for a staggering forty-two years. As Najla Abdurrahman explains, the inaccurate reporting is “indicative of a much larger problem that Libyans have struggled with for decades.” She argues that the “virtual vacuum of information” created by Qaddafi’s “strict censorship policies, highly restrictive press laws, and uncompromising repression of even the slightest expression of dissent” poses “considerable obstacles for Libyans both inside and outside the country attempting to communicate their struggles to the world.”  Despite the difficulties confirming information, it is clear from the most recent reports that the regime is violent repressing the protests.  The death toll figures being mentioned are growing every few minutes (Amnesty International confirmed 46 deaths earlier today, Human Rights Watch now says 84), and the current word is that the government has turned off the internet.  It’s not looking good.

Yemen – Despite concessions from President Ali Abdullah Saleh following opposition-organized protests in late January and early February, popular protests have continued, and have become increasingly violent.  The official opposition has held back on affiliating itself with the movement, but has denounced the excessive force of the Saleh regime’s response.

Note:  If you don’t have time to sit in front of Al Jazeera English all day or continually refresh Twitter, you can follow event using Blogs of War’s nifty crisis monitoring service.  I like the general “revolution” feed, but you can specialize by country if you prefer.

WTF Friday, 1/14/2011

So a quick breakdown of the guest list for Iran’s nuclear tour. The EU said no last week, while Britain, France, and Germany were never invited (awkward), nor was the U.S. (duh). China and Russia have declined (kinda rude honestly). Now only envoys representing “developing” countries such as Cuba, Egypt, the Arab League, Syria, and Venezuela (Iran’s bff’s) are expected to attend, while there seems to be no word yet on Turkey and Brazil (waiting to see if they get invited to something better).

“Well if the DR can do it, why can’t we?” The U.S. getting ready to resume deportations of Haitian immigrants.

The Tunisian government has declared a state of emergency amidst protest. A curfew has been imposed, people cannot gather in groups bigger then 3 in the open and security forces can open fire on those not obeying orders. The 1,800 tourists gathering at the airport to be whisked away by Thomas Cook may wanna divide themselves into 600 groups.